Brood meddled hen harrier chick vanished from grouse moor on Bowes Estate, County Durham

Durham Constabulary has issued a press statement about one of the two brood meddled hen harrier chicks that vanished off the face of the earth in September, which the Moorland Association was so keen to play down.

From it we learn that this young male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ on 9th September 2019 (what’s that, just over a month from being released from captivity?) and its last satellite tag signal came from a grouse moor on the Bowes Estate in County Durham.

[Bowes Moor, photo from Natural England]

It’s good that the police have managed to put together a press release about this missing hen harrier but the content is quite extraordinary. As you’d expect it includes statements from ‘partner’ organisations such as Natural England and the North Pennines AONB Partnership, but it also includes what almost amounts to a testimonial from the Bowes Estate, including the line:

The police have stressed that there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing by Bowes Estate or its staff…...”

Really? That would be an astonishing statement from the police. A police spokesman said that the possibility of a crime being committed had not been ruled out, so presumably everybody is still under suspicion, whether connected to the estate or not? And no, that doesn’t mean we’re accusing the estate staff of anything.

Here’s the press release in full:

Concerns over welfare of missing hen harrier

4 October 2019

Concerns have been raised about the welfare of a satellite tagged hen harrier which has dropped off the radar in County Durham.
The signal from a young male hen harrier was lost while it was flying over the Bowes area on September 9. It is one of two which have gone missing recently in northern England.
Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey. Like all wild birds, they are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Inspector Ed Turner, from Durham Constabulary, said: “The fate of these birds is not yet clear. Until we can rule out the possibility that a crime has been committed, we will be taking this matter seriously and bringing our increased knowledge and awareness to bear on it wherever possible.
Natural England Director, Rob Cooke, said: “We are extremely concerned by the unexplained disappearance of this young hen harrier.
Restoring the hen harrier population to favourable conservation status across their entire range is one of Natural England’s key objectives, so any loss from such a small population is significant.”
A spokesman for Bowes Estate said: “We have been informed by Natural England that a satellite tagged hen harrier ceased transmitting on Monday, September 9 and the last known signal came from our moorland.
Staff have been collaborating with Natural England on the ground to ensure the increase in hen harrier population as part of the Defra Hen Harrier Action Plan.
We have a good relationship with Natural England fieldworkers and harriers, along with other birds of prey, are regular visitors hunting over the moor and frequently use roost sites on the estate.
We have been proactively scouring the large area on our land looking for any sign of the bird but have so far had no luck.
Satellite tags are not infallible and we very much hope that the harrier will start re-transmitting soon meaning the bird is safe and well.
We want to stress that the estate and its management oppose all forms of wildlife crimes and are fully supportive of all efforts to restore the UK’s hen harrier population.
The police have stressed that there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing by Bowes Estate or its staff and the estate is fully cooperating with the police. We join the police in appealing for information.”
The North Pennines AONB Partnership said it would be supporting the police in the search for evidence and would encourage the public to share information or any sightings.
Director Chris Woodley-Stewart said: “Juvenile mortality in raptors is common, but the trackers on birds that have been killed by predators or died from other natural causes/accidents usually continue to give out a signal, facilitating their recovery.
Though rushing to judgement isn’t wise, and for now we still hope they turn up safe and well, as the police have said, there is also a possibility that crimes have been committed in relation to the missing bird.
In mid-September we hosted a full day raptor crime training session with four police forces, aided by the RSPB, the North East Raptor Forum and a local estate that is also committed to ending raptor persecution.
Should the birds be re-found alive, this would be great news. If they have died a natural or accidental death, this is sad but not uncommon. But if a crime has been committed, police are now better informed than ever and are eager to stamp it out.
We urge people to keep a keen eye out for hen harriers in the North Pennines and report any sightings to the RSPB. If you have evidence of any illegal activity in this matter, we urge you to contact Durham Constabulary.”
Anyone with any information about the hen harrier’s disappearance should contact Durham Constabulary on 101, quoting incident number 87 of September 17.
Alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Bowes Moor is managed for grouse shooting and Natural England has a restoration plan in place for the SSSI. It makes for a very interesting read (increased frequency of burning, burning in designated ‘no burn’ areas, active draining, vehicle damage on blanket bog…….):

Bowes Moor SSSI Restoration Plan 2018_2028

A ‘seriously injured’ Marsh harrier was found in the Bowes area in 2011 with gunshot injuries to both wings and a leg (see here) leading to an offer of a reward for information. We’re not aware of any subsequent prosecutions (thanks Guy Shorrock for the info).

We’re still waiting for further details of the second brood meddled hen harrier that vanished. We know it disappeared in September, in North Yorkshire, on a grouse moor, but no further information has been revealed yet.

24 Responses to “Brood meddled hen harrier chick vanished from grouse moor on Bowes Estate, County Durham”

  1. October 5, 2019 at 10:15 am

    It must be pleasing for the estate that before the investigation has been completed and the fate of the bird is as yet undetermined, that the police are able to release a statement confirming that there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing by Bowes Estate or its staff.
    It must strike most people that there is something wrong here.

    • 2 The Fifer
      October 7, 2019 at 4:42 pm

      Pretty sure a similar claim was made by the Perthshire estate where two Golden eagles went missing earlier this year.

  2. 3 Ivan S
    October 5, 2019 at 10:24 am

    So it lasted less than six weeks after the letter from Moorland Association, Natural England and Nick Lyall asking estates not to off brood meddled hen harriers… self regulation in action

    • 4 Nigel Bastin Raptor researcher for the BTO.
      October 5, 2019 at 11:05 pm

      More than likely one of the xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx the same ones that shot goshawk I was monitoring near xxxxx xxxxx this is the second time tagged birds have disappeared on xxxxx xxxxx grouse moors. And still nothing changes whilst I was manager of xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx moor the local keeper used to shoot all the short eared owls, when I reported it to the local police in xxxxx xxxxx they didn’t even investergate far to many landed gentry for the police to do anything about raptors disappearing, one of the reasons I moved back to the west Country.

  3. October 5, 2019 at 11:04 am

    An invitation surely, for “the other” police authority, involved in the case of the other missing HH, to issue a public statement.

  4. 6 Loki
    October 5, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    The usual guff following the disappearance of a healthy young harrier. I hope tag technology advances to live video streaming so our suspicions are confirmed. Sick to the back teeth of this. Especially after seeing persecution-free hen harriers in Orkney last week.

  5. 7 lothianrecorder
    October 5, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    The same trend as we seem to be seeing increasingly from politicians, a pretence that we don’t all know what is going on supported by shameless lying, to the extent they are happy to be filmed saying one thing then immediately deny they said it. So sad that those who should know better are happy to join in and cover up for their friends, rather than calling them out…

  6. October 5, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    This press release has restored my trust in the police, Moorland Association and all their estates, Natural England and everyone except the one bad apple that killed all the Hen Harriers this year and all previous years. All i need was this press release and now the balance in the universe has been restored. All hail Spaffler Boris and Tumpity Trump.

  7. 10 Barney
    October 5, 2019 at 8:05 pm

    So brood meddling has failed at the first hurdle so get grouse shooting banned once and for all, I’m sure the nasty brigade will find some other law to break as long as it suits

  8. 11 Jimmy
    October 5, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    NE + Police + Estate = Joke Shop

  9. 12 John Clare
    October 5, 2019 at 8:30 pm

    When I read the assertion from Bowes Estate that the Police had no suspicions that the estate was in any way involved, a very loud bell rang in my mind. Where had I read something vey similar only recently? A little research provided the answer. It’s in an RPUK blog relating to the finding of a shot Hen Harrier on Swinton Estate, the ‘donor’ estate for this brood-meddling fiasco, and can be found here:
    The Bowes statement is an almost word for word copy of the Moorland Association’s statement in the Swinton case, viz: ‘The Police …..stressed that there was no suspicion of wrongdoing by the Swinton Estate or its staff’. What an interesting coincidence.

    • October 7, 2019 at 11:35 am

      Thanks i had forgot that River was found shot on Swinton Estate.
      Other know crimes there.
      Gamekeeper convicted for setting illegal pole trap in 2013 ‘for catching squirrels’ ha!.

      Bowland Betty was found shot on Swinton Estate in 2012.

      This Peregrine territory 2 on Swinton Estate (thanks Paul Irving).
      From Birds of Prey in Nidderdale AONB Evidence Report Sept 2019:
      ‘8.4.2 Territory two: This territory has two sites and is entirely within land managed as a grouse moor. It was first occupied in 1986, but has not been occupied since 2005. This territory was occupied 15 times, but never reared young and apparently only ever hatched young once, in 1992.’

      I wonder why they refused to allow the release of the juveniles of this years brood persecuted nest. They must have been being kind, realising how much bad luck the estate has had with crime and dead raptors. Couldn’t take the risk of more bad luck. Bless.

      Luckily NE know that Swinton Estate is cursed with bad luck and only have the welfare of birds of prey in their hearts. Sweet.

  10. 14 Bimbling
    October 5, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    Similar assurances about the innocence of the estate was made about the golden eagles on Auchnafree. Couldn’t understand then, and don’t understand now, how such a clear assurance can possibly be made.

  11. 15 Shaun
    October 6, 2019 at 9:29 am

    [Ed: comment deleted as potentially libellous]

  12. 16 AndyH
    October 6, 2019 at 2:53 pm

    [Ed: comment deleted as libellous]

  13. 17 Iain Gibson
    October 6, 2019 at 5:27 pm

    I’ve known a fair number of gamekeepers of grouse moors over the past fifty years, and most of them were ruthless killers of Hen Harriers. Following recent efforts to protect the birds on one particular SPA, a population of breeding harriers consisting of up to 14 pairs have all but vanished, possibly some due to reduced field vole biomass, but others apparently due to persecution by “persons unknown.” Strangely following this apparently significant effort to remove harriers, which in itself was apparently “successful,” grouse numbers crashed from the high period of grouse in the best years for harriers. During that period four harrier nests were monitored with CCTV, and the resulting evidence revealed that of over 500 prey items identified, not a single grouse, full-grown or chick, was brought to any of these sample nests. These breeding seasons were very successful for grouse productivity, despite high numbers of breeding harriers, so what does that tell us?

  14. 18 Mike Haden
    October 6, 2019 at 8:45 pm

    Surely the comment from the estate should have been something like

    The Estate staff have been extensively briefed on the standards that are required to work for the the estate, particularly that illegal actively of any sort is not tolerated. The estate is confident that non of it’s staff are involved, and the estate management is fully liaising with the police. If any of it’s staff has been found to be involved, in anyway, with this incident then they will guilty of gross misconduct and be subjected to full disiplinary proceedures as require by employment law.

    whereas what they really would like to say

    [Ed: rest of comment deleted as libellous]

  15. October 7, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Funny that Durham Police are willing to allow Bowes Estate to put out their propaganda on the official police press release. Very chummy.
    And yet couldn’t even be bothered to make a press release for this:

    Pretty sure i also read some obstructive attitudes from Durham Police previously on RPUK. Seem to remember they had to be almost forced to retract a misleading statement (but can’t find it).

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