Archive for September, 2019


Damning report highlights illegal killing of birds of prey on Nidderdale AONB grouse moors

The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is an absolute hell hole for many birds of prey.

[Photo: Ruth Tingay]

This is no secret. The illegal killing of raptors on the grouse moors of this AONB has been documented and reported on for years, by the RSPB and by this blog. The area is notorious amongst raptor conservationists for the number of hen harriers that ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances (that’s a euphemism for ‘they have been killed’) and the number of red kite corpses that have been found either shot or poisoned, or sometimes both.

It’s a gaping black hole on the breeding distribution maps of many raptor species and despite this being a so-called protected area, in the words of Mark Avery it’s actually a massive wildlife crime scene.

Here’s a map we produced a while ago showing the boundary of the Nidderdale AONB (yellow line), illegally killed red kites (red dots), missing satellite-tagged hen harriers (orange stars), shot hen harrier Bowland Betty (red star), shot hen harrier River (red triangle, which we now know should be closer to the red star on the Swinton Estate).

Nidderdale AONB lies directly east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, another raptor persecution hell hole. Last year, the Park Authority responded to public concerns about the killing of raptors on grouse moors by producing an evidence report on the scale of the problem. As we wrote at the time, ‘This report, which is very well written and referenced, is a significant move. There’s no attempt to deny or hide or obfuscate the facts, as we’ve seen so often before. It is a clear description of what’s been happening in this National Park and places grouse moor management at the centre of it all. It’s well worth a read‘.

Fast forward a year and now the Nidderdale AONB has done exactly the same:

You can download the report here: BoP-in-NiddAONB-Evidence-Report-FINAL-Sept-2019

It’s another well-written, fully-referenced report and there’s no hint of denial or obfuscation. It is particularly pleasing to see the use of RSPB persecution data, not just the inaccurate, out of date, watered-down RPPDG data that some pro-shooting organisations rely upon to minimise the perceived scale of the problem. Once again, the report’s conclusion is that grouse moor management is in the frame.

Well done to the author(s) of this report and well done to the Nidderdale AONB for having the balls to publish it.


Marsh harrier shot, rescued, rehabbed & released in Yorkshire

There was some brilliant video footage posted on Twitter yesterday showing a rehabilitated Marsh harrier being released back in to the wild by the indefatigable Jean Thorpe (@jeanthorpeRR).

[Photo by Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve]

From the information provided, it was reported that the Marsh harrier had suffered a broken wing caused by a shotgun pellet and was found injured next to a game-shooting estate near Scarborough.

The x-ray details suggest this was on 18th August 2019.

Expert veterinary care and rehabilitation by Mark Naguib of Battle Flatts Veterinary Clinic and Jean and this harrier was able to be released.

We haven’t seen any previous reports about the illegal shooting of this Marsh harrier, nor any police appeals for information.

[Jean releasing the harrier, photos by Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve]


Golden eagle with trap dangling from its leg: statement from Environment Cabinet Secretary

In August Police Scotland published a photograph of a young golden eagle that had been seen flying in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegally-set trap clamped to one of its legs.

This photograph, along with the Police’s appeal for information, went viral and was reported on news channels around the world (e.g. here), highlighting Scotland’s shameful record of illegal raptor persecution.

There’s been no further update on the fate of this eagle. Undoubtedly it’ll be dead and if it had been found by anyone associated with the criminal element of the game-shooting industry the corpse and trap will be long gone….nothing to see, deny, deny, deny, it was all a set up, fake news, it never happened, etc etc.

Meanwhile, those who aren’t fooled by the propaganda and know exactly what goes on on game shooting estates have been asking pertinent questions.

Step up Colin Beattie MSP (SNP: Midlothian North & Musselburgh) who lodged the following written question on 2 September 2019:

Question S5W-25069 – 

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of reports of a golden eagle found with an illegal trap on its legs, what action it is taking to protect wild birds as a matter of urgency ahead of the publication of the findings of the Grouse Moor Management Group (the Werritty report).

A brilliant question. Forget ‘waiting for Werritty‘ which has been the Scottish Government’s default response to every single raptor persecution crime since May 2017, Colin wants to know what action is being taken NOW.

The Government’s response came from Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham on 12 Sept, as follows:

The Scottish Government is strongly committed to safeguarding the welfare of all animals, including wild birds such as raptors.

The illegal persecution of our birds of prey is an extremely serious issue and, as we announced in our Programme for Government for 2019-2020, we will bring forward a Bill increasing the maximum penalties for certain wildlife offences, including those associated with illegal killing or injuring of wild birds. This will deliver a commitment to implement the recommendation to increase wildlife crime penalties in the review undertaken by Professor Poustie.

We also committed in the Programme for Government that we will respond to the independent review on grouse moor management. The review is examining how we can ensure that grouse moor management is sustainable and complies with the law and it would not be appropriate to make decisions in advance of its report. We will carefully consider the recommendations in the report and other relevant evidence when deciding our response.

The measures on wildlife crime penalties build upon a range of other work we have undertaken to tackle this issue, including: supporting the use of satellite tags to monitor birds of prey; introducing new offences for harassing birds of prey or damaging their nesting places; setting up a poisons disposal scheme to remove poisons used to kill wild birds; strengthening Police Scotland wildlife crime resources, including in the Cairngorms; and introducing vicarious liability so that landowners can be held responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees.

Roseanna’s response carefully avoids answering Colin’s question directly. Colin asked what Scot Gov was doing ‘as a matter of urgency ahead of the publication of the Werritty report’. Roseanna’s response confirms, in effect, that Scot Gov is doing absolutely nothing at all in advance of the Werritty report.


And guess what? We’re still waiting for Werritty, despite being told by Scot Gov at the end of July that the report was due ‘in the next few weeks’. What an embarrassing fiasco it has become.

Whoever wrote Roseanna’s response was surely having a laugh, judging by the last paragraph. Yes, Scot Gov has introduced new offences for harassing birds of prey or damaging their nesting places but as far as we’re aware, there have been no prosecutions for these offences even though there have been a number of reports of raptor nests being deliberately burned out on grouse moors.

And yes, Scot Gov set up a poisons disposal scheme (two, in fact) to remove poisons used to kill wild birds and yet still we’re seeing raptors being illegally poisoned and still gamekeepers are being found guilty of possessing these illegal poisons.

And yes, Scot Gov did support a pilot scheme for a number of police special constables (essentially volunteers working in their own time) in the Cairngorms National Park but there has been no (public) assessment of the scheme’s impact and raptor persecution crimes were still reported in the National Park during the scheme’s duration.

And yes, Scot Gov did introduce vicarious liability so that landowners could be held responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees but so far this has only resulted in two successful convictions in 7.5 years and only last month yet another landowner avoided any charges of alleged vicarious liability and the Crown Office chose not to explain this decision to the public.



Buzzard shot & injured: Humberside Police appeal for info

Humberside Police press release (12 September 2019)


East Riding of Yorkshire

We are appealing for information in relation to the shooting of a female buzzard.

On the 16 August the bird was found injured on the B1246 between Kilnwick Percy Hill top and Warter village near Pocklington in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

The bird was still alive and when x-rayed was found to have two shotgun pellets within its body. The injuries were fresh indicating that the bird had been recently shot.

Fortunately the injuries were such that the bird has been nursed back to good health and has now been released. The exact location of where the shooting of this bird took place is not confirmed. What is known is that the bird had been shot on or close to the date it was found (16 August).

Buzzards and other birds of prey are protected from persecution by Section One of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 which makes it an offence to intentionally kill, injure such a bird. The penalty for these offences are a term of six months imprisonment and or an unlimited fine.

Chief Inspector Paul Butler the wildlife & rural crime lead for Humberside Police said, “This type of criminal behaviour towards our birds of prey sadly continues. This is now the sixth confirmed persecution incident involving seven birds of prey in the last two years across our force area.

The persecution of birds of prey is a national wildlife crime priority and Humberside Police takes this issue very seriously.

We have now adopted Operation Owl which is a national initiative to raise awareness of the problem and to tackle and prevent this type of criminality.

A large number of our wildlife crime officers have also received specific training in identifying and dealing with these offences.

I would encourage anyone with information about anyone involved in this type of offence in our area to come forward with this information which will be treated in confidence

If you have any information which could assist the investigation of the above incident please contact PC 1708 Ward on 101 quoting investigation number 16/100243/19.



Inaccurate reporting of Wild Justice’s successful legal challenge against DEFRA on gamebird releases

Following on from yesterday’s news that DEFRA has conceded the legal challenge from Wild Justice on the annual release of millions of non-native gamebirds (see here), it seems so-called journalists from mainstream pro-shooting papers are falling over themselves to report events inaccurately.

For example, this is how Colin Fernandez (Environment Correspondent!) of the Daily Mail has reported it:

The headline (and the second paragraph of the main text) is wholly inaccurate (and will undoubtedly be the subject of a complaint). Neither Chris nor Wild Justice ‘tried to ban the release of gamebirds into the countryside’ with this legal challenge. On the contrary, Wild Justice was seeking regulation, not a ban. Had the ‘Environment Correspondent’ and the headline writer(s) at the Daily Mail bothered to do their homework and actually read the details of the legal challenge, they would have seen that it was about whether DEFRA was required to undertake assessments of the ecological impact of releasing non-native gamebirds in to the countryside, and absolutely nothing to do with calling for a ban on gamebird releases.

And why single out Chris? This legal challenge was made by Wild Justice, not by Chris alone – why try and vilify him? It’s irresponsible reporting like this that results in death threats.

It’s not just the Daily Mail. Journalist Helena Horton at the pro-shooting Telegraph is also struggling to report with accuracy:

Again Chris has been singled out and again it is falsely claimed that he called for the ‘banning’ of gamebird releases.

And these people are paid to write this garbage?

It’s not the first time the Telegraph has been caught out publishing false information about Wild Justice (see here).

If you want to read an accurate report of Wild Justice’s latest legal challenge, try this account on the Wild Justice blog.



DEFRA concedes legal challenge from Wild Justice on non-native gamebird release

In July, Wild Justice launched a legal challenge against DEFRA about an alleged failure to assess the ecological impact of releasing millions of non-native gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridges) in to the countryside every year (see here).

A pre-action protocol (PAP) letter was sent to DEFRA (this outlines the legal challenge and offers DEFRA an opportunity to respond before formal papers are lodged at court seeking leave for a judicial review) and Wild Justice launched a crowdfunder with a target of £44,500 to ensure the case could proceed through the courts.

DEFRA was due to respond to the PAP letter within three weeks but managed to procrastinate for nine weeks (see here) before finally conceding the legal challenge today:

Wild Justice will be commenting further on this in the coming days.

For now, a massive thank you to all those who supported the crowdfunder – those funds are now ring-fenced to continue the legal challenge if DEFRA’s promised review and subsequent decision-making is deemed inadequate.

UPDATE 12 Sept 2019: Inaccurate reporting of Wild Justice’s successful legal challenge against DEFRA on gamebird releases (here)


Hen harrier brood meddling letter: you won’t see this on the Moorland Association’s website

News of this year’s Hen Harrier Brood Meddling trial continues to trickle through.

Yesterday, Mark Avery posted a fascinating email from one member of the Scientific Steering Group to all the others, outlining concerns about the safety of the brood meddled birds once they’ve been released back to the wild (er, yes, this has been the most glaring flaw in the brood meddling plan – has the scientific steering group only just recognised this?!).

Here’s another letter that’s been brought to our attention (thanks to the blog reader who sent it), this time written by senior figures at Natural England, Police and the Moorland Association and addressed to Moorland Association members (predominantly grouse moor owners) and some sporting agents:

Gosh, you won’t find a copy of this letter on the Moorland Association’s website – although it should be right up there, pinned to the front page, to be read first before all the usual propaganda about the so-called ‘triumph’ of this year’s breeding success (less than 5% of the country’s carrying capacity is nowhere near a triumph) and how grouse moor owners have apparently been ‘voicing their support’ for Hen Harrier Day! Really? Where was that, then?

‘Stop killing hen harriers’ is this letter’s message, writ large.

It’s interesting that we’re already a third of the way through September and as yet we’ve not heard of any of this year’s satellite-tagged cohort ‘disappearing’. Most unusual.

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