11
Jul
19

Shot hen harrier’s corpse found on Swinton Estate, a grouse moor in North Yorkshire

In January this year, the RSPB reported that a satellite-tagged hen harrier called ‘River’ had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in November 2018 on an unnamed grouse moor in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) (see here).

This was an area where the day before River ‘disappeared’, the RSPB had filmed an unidentified gunman with two dogs at a known hen harrier roost (see here).

Nothing more was heard from River’s tag until the end of March 2019. What happened next is recounted in an RSPB blog published this afternoon:

SHOT HEN HARRIER FOUND ON NORTH YORKSHIRE GROUSE MOOR

By Mark Thomas, Head of Investigations, RSPB

Another satellite-tagged hen harrier, found dead on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire, has been confirmed as shot.

You may remember River, the young female hen harrier who suddenly disappeared in November 2018 in suspicious circumstances. We wrote about it here. Now, further information has emerged – and it’s not good news.

River was satellite tagged in Lancashire in 2018 as part of the RSPB EU Hen Harrier LIFE project. In November 2018 she sent out her last transmission from a roost location on a driven grouse moor in North Yorkshire, within the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. My staff and North Yorkshire Police searched the area but found no trace of the bird or the tag.

Then surprisingly at the end of March 2019, River’s tag gave off another signal confirming that she was dead and giving a precise location. These satellite tags are solar powered, and it’s possible that the bird’s body was disturbed, allowing the tag to ‘wake up’ and get back in touch with us. The longer, brighter days might have had their effect too.

This latest ‘ping’ gave us an exact location of River’s body, and again my staff and the police officers set out to recover her. They found her dead on Ilton Moor on the Swinton Estate on 5 April 2019. She was just 3.7km away from where her last transmission in November had come from, both on the same estate.

[Hen harrier River’s corpse being retrieved from a grouse moor on Swinton Estate. Photo by RSPB]

River’s decomposed body was recovered and taken to be X-rayed by the Police. Yesterday I received confirmation from North Yorkshire Police that her body contained two pieces of shot, one of which had later been retrieved and confirmed as such by the Police.

We don’t know precisely when or where River was shot, or who did it, but clearly she has been the subject of illegal persecution.

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail. However, hen harriers like River continue to suffer at the hands of people clearly breaking these laws, and clearly undeterred by the consequences.

River is the latest hen harrier to be shot, adding to the evidence that these birds are being routinely illegally killed, often on land being used for driven grouse shooting.

The RSPB is calling for the licensing of driven grouse moors. With just a handful of breeding hen harrier pairs left in England, this is a species with everything to lose if the status quo continues.

If you have any information which might help identify who shot River, or if you know anything about birds of prey being killed in your area, you can contact my team in confidence on our hotline: 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

This news has a certain amount of inevitability about it. A hen harrier has been shot and her corpse has been found on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire.

According to Mark’s blog, River’s corpse was retrieved from the Swinton Estate. Mark quite rightly states that it’s not possible to identify when, exactly, she was shot, or where or by whom. However, River’s demise mirrors that of so many other young satellite-tracked hen harriers – in fact 72% of them according to this recent scientific research.

The Swinton Estate may be a familiar name to some blog readers – it’s where the shot corpse of hen harrier Bowland Betty was discovered in 2012 (see here). Again, it was not possible to identify who had shot her, or where (she may have been shot elsewhere and managed to fly some distance before collapsing and dying on Swinton) and so nobody was charged or prosecuted for killing her.

The Swinton Estate may be a familiar name to other blog readers because we’ve previously reported on an estate gamekeeper who was convicted in 2014 for illegally setting a pole trap, twice, in 2013 (see here). He told the court the pole trap was nothing to do with targeting protected raptor species, but had been set with the intention of catching squirrels. No matter, he was still convicted because, quite rightly, barbaric pole traps have been illegal for decades.

The Swinton Estate name has cropped up in recent weeks as it’s rumoured to be hosting at least two hen harrier breeding attempts, and we believe one of those nests has since been ‘brood meddled’ by Natural England with either the hen harrier eggs or chicks removed and taken in to captivity (see here).

Please note: the location of this brood meddled nest is as yet unconfirmed because Natural England is refusing to publish further details, laughably ‘in the interest of the welfare of the harriers’.

We expect to learn these details later in the year so we’ll certainly be returning to this story. If the brood meddling has taken place on Swinton, we’ll be wanting to know whether Natural England knew about the discovery of River’s shot corpse before the decision to brood meddle was taken.

There’s something else that stood out in Mark’s blog. This statement:

River’s decomposed body was recovered and taken to be X-rayed by the Police. Yesterday I received confirmation from North Yorkshire Police that her body contained two pieces of shot, one of which had later been retrieved and confirmed as such by the Police‘.

Question 1:

Why did it take North Yorkshire Police over three months to notify the RSPB of the x-ray results?

Question 2:

Under what circumstances did North Yorkshire Police ‘later retrieve’ one of the two pieces of shot found in River’s body? WTF?!

There’s something very, very odd going on here.

UPDATE 12 July 2019: How to discuss an illegally shot hen harrier, without mentioning that it’s been illegally shot (here)


18 Responses to “Shot hen harrier’s corpse found on Swinton Estate, a grouse moor in North Yorkshire”


  1. 1 Paul V Irving
    July 11, 2019 at 4:45 pm

    There are some of us that know this estate well, until moving to Wales in February ’18 it was the area of upland I most often visited and had done so since about 1992. It has always been a ” persecution hotspot” xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

    The estate has a long history of incidents of nests failing, even completely disappearing in the case of one Buzzard nest, known birds ( wing tagged) disappearing and never seen elsewhere or birds suddenly developing “Malta Moult”or found poisoned. Over the years this has involved Hen Harriers, Buzzards, Goshawks, Sparrowhawks, Long and Short Eared Owls, Eagle Owl, Raven, Merlin and Peregrine. The traditional Peregrine Territory on the estate occupied from 1981 t0 2000 never reared young!

    Since 2005 management has intensified with many more fires of smaller size each year and no signs of rewetting, hundreds of deployed rail traps and at least 6 crow cage traps. Hen Harriers have in the past attempted to breed in the area with this estate having nesting attempts in every year 2003-2007 , involving 11 attempts of which 3 reared young but not since 2005.

    We have a very good idea who shot Bowland Betty,xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

    This is exactly the sort of game estate (they also have pheasant, Red leg, duck and goose shooting) that we need at the very least a licensing system for) xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

    [Ed: Thanks for your experienced perspective, Paul. You’ll understand why some of your comment has had to be edited]

    • 2 Pete Seaman
      July 11, 2019 at 9:15 pm

      As another who has birded on this and neighbouring estates I can only agree with most of what Paul says and,like others,can fill the xxxx’s in quite well.If ever there was an argument for licencing this must be it

    • 3 AndyH
      July 12, 2019 at 8:43 am

      Surely if the person responsible is known then he (because I very much doubt it will be a ‘she’) could be targeted by the public? (in a responsible manner of course).

  2. 6 Secret Squirrel
    July 11, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    “Question 2:

    Under what circumstances did North Yorkshire Police ‘later retrieve’ one of the two pieces of shot found in River’s body? WTF?!”

    A guess, but I imagine it’s nothing more than one of the pieces being obtained from the vet who did the PM by the Police and subjected to forensic checks to confirm it was actually (lead) shot. Police have a way of talking about evidence that sometimes isn’t immediately comprehensible, but that sounds like proper evidencial procedure.

  3. 8 Brian
    July 11, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    Hope I never see the name of who they think is responsible for shooting Bowland Betty

  4. 9 Kathryn Mulloy
    July 11, 2019 at 8:13 pm

    We just have to trust that the North Yorkshire police – who have had training re raptors, I believe, – are serious about catching these criminals. I also believe – from an item on ‘Countryfile’ – that this police force has had training re badgers and is determined to protect badgers from persecution.

    • 10 Mark Rasbeary
      July 11, 2019 at 8:35 pm

      North Yorkshire Police WCO’s are all trained in Wildlife crime, as they attend the National WCO course.
      They should also receive continuation training, along with partnership working alongside both Statutory agencies and NGO’s.
      In my experience, it is not the individual WCO that lacks commitment, it is the senior management.
      Hopefully, this is no longer the case in NYP.

  5. 11 Northern Diver
    July 11, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    Was River one of the harriers tagged in Bowland?

  6. 12 Mike Mills
    July 11, 2019 at 9:36 pm

    Maybe Supt Nick Lyall could throw some light on the goings on in this neck of the Moors?

  7. July 11, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    So is the Hawk and owl Trust going to withdraw from the Brood Persecution scheme?

  8. 14 Mike fennelly
    July 11, 2019 at 10:05 pm

    It totally disgusts me, they should lose there licence to shoot for one year evey time a bird of pray is found to be killed by poison or shooting 😡😡😡😡😔😔😢

    • July 11, 2019 at 10:14 pm

      That’d be a bit tricky, Mike.

      First of all, there aren’t any licences to revoke.

      And secondly, even if a bird has been found shot or poisoned (or trapped, or bludgeoned, or stamped on etc etc) on a particular estate, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the estate/its employees were responsible.

      Sometimes they will be, but other times they might not be (e.g. if a neighbouring estate employee lays poisoned bait on the boundary fence).

  9. 16 TOBornotTOB?
    July 13, 2019 at 11:03 am

    Two illegally killed Hen Harriers end up on the same shooting estate; that’s unfortunate. I wonder what the estate and the Moorland Association will say when it happens for the third time as it surely will. They are running out of wriggle room!


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