Archive for April, 2020


Satellite-tagged red kite ‘disappears’ on grouse moor in North Pennines AONB

Press release from RSPB (30 April 2020)

Red kite vanishes in suspicious circumstances

Durham Police, the RSPB, the North Pennines AONB Partnership and Friends of Red Kites are appealing for information following the disappearance of a red kite in County Durham.

The young bird was fitted with a satellite tag at Rowlands Gill, near Gateshead in June 2019 by Friends of Red Kites (FoRK) with NERF support. It has been monitored since by the RSPB.

[Red kite ‘KK’ being fitted with a satellite tag as a nestling. Photo via RSPB]

The bird, nicknamed ‘KK’, toured northern England, making it as far as the Peak District, then returned north and has been faithful to the Derwent Valley region ever since.

KK’s tag had been functioning normally until it suddenly and unexpectedly stopped transmitting. The last fix came from an area of driven grouse moor near the Derwent Reservoir on 17 April. It has not been heard from since.

Emma Marsh, RSPB England Director, said: “If you’ve seen a red kite wheeling high overhead you’ll know that they’re splendid birds. They enrich our landscapes and bring joy to many.

When a tag which has been functioning reliably suddenly cuts out, this gives us immediate cause for suspicion. The additional fact that the tag’s last data fix came from an area dominated by driven grouse shooting rings serious alarm bells.

The connection between driven grouse shooting and the illegal killing of birds of prey has been well documented. Sudden, unexplained disappearances of tagged birds of prey are happening far too often in these landscapes. Satellite tags continue transmitting even after death, so if this bird had died naturally we would expect to be able to recover it.”

Red kites are specially protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) which makes it an offence to deliberately kill or injure this species. Those found to have done so could be given an unlimited fine and/or a prison sentence.

Harold Dobson, spokesman for the Friends of the Red Kites, said: “It’s 15 years since the first red kites were re-introduced in the Lower Derwent Valley. They are faring well in the valley itself and we enjoy watching these impressive, majestic birds of prey.

As mainly scavengers, the red kites are of no threat to anyone. However, we fear that human persecution is preventing them from naturally expanding their range: since 2010, seven red kites have been found poisoned or shot near the Derwent Gorge and surrounding Durham Moorland. We fear that this may be the tip of the iceberg and that many more persecuted kites are never found.”

Inspector Ed Turner, the lead for wildlife and rural crime for Durham Constabulary said: “The fate of this red kite is not yet clear, we are working with the RSPB to establish what has happened since its transmitter unexpectedly stopped on 17 April 2020. Until we can rule out the possibility that a crime has not been committed, then we will be taking this matter very seriously and if anyone has any information please contact the police quoting 22042020-0078.

Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership, said: “Though the fate of this bird isn’t certain, the fact that it was carrying two reliable trackers means this looks very like a crime may have been committed. This is an area where a significant number of kites have been shot or poisoned and we’d really appeal to anyone who knows anything that might help shed light on this incident to come forward.”

If you have any information about this incident, please contact the police on 101, quoting the reference number 22042020-0078. Alternatively, if you have information about birds of prey being killed or targeted near you, please call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.



GWCT in extraordinary attack on Bradford Council

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) reputation took another nosedive yesterday when it launched an extraordinary (and unsubstantiated) attack on Bradford Council.

Video footage had emerged on Twitter of a tractor being used to cut heather on Baildon Moor at a critical time for ground-nesting birds. The moor is owned by Bradford Council.

GWCT was tagged in to the tweet and Andrew Gilruth, Director of Communications, went from nought to nasty without any apparent hesitation or pause for thought.

The video was posted on the GWCT’s YouTube account (here), a blog was posted on GWCT’s website (here) and a string of bullying tweets spewed forth to Bradford Council. The council was directly accused of causing the damage.

Bradford Council responded by saying it had not authorised the heather cutting and had reported the incident to Natural England and to the police. A councillor (Alex Ross-Shaw) also confirmed these details. GWCT then started to backtrack (although noticeably didn’t apologise) but the harm had already been done to Bradford Council’s reputation, not least thanks to Andrew Gilruth’s rather unpleasant sneering and spin-doctoring.

It’s not hard to understand the trigger for such nastiness. Many of you will recall it was Bradford Council that banned grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor in 2018 after a concerted campaign by locals (see here) and last year it threatened legal action after allegations that grouse shooters were driving red grouse off Ilkley Moor on to a neighbouring moor to be shot (see here).

For those of you not on social media here is a taste of the content:

Interestingly it looks like someone’s had a quiet word with the GWCT  – perhaps it was Bradford Council’s lawyers, because this morning the GWCT blog has been carefully edited to remove the baseless accusations previously levelled at the council. The changes are underlined in orange:

Funniest of all, at the foot of the revised blog is this appeal for cash, to help GWCT continue its so-called ‘vital work’ (that’ll be smearing the reputation of those who don’t support grouse shooting).




Langholm Moor community buyout – an update

Last summer a local community got together to investigate the feasibility of buying part of Langholm Moor, to turn it from a knackered grouse moor into a nature reserve for the benefit of everyone, after the Duke of Buccleuch announced his intention to sell (see here and here).

A crowdfunder was launched to help pay for an initial feasibility study (here) (to which many RPUK blog readers contributed, thank you) and Kevin Cummings, who is leading the community buyout project, has written a couple of interesting guest blogs about the process, one for Mark Avery’s blog (here) and one for the Revive coalition (here).

Yesterday, those who contributed to the crowdfunder received an email from the project, as follows:

This is an update to the kind donors to our crowd funder. Something hopeful in these straitened times.

The feasibility study you helped fund is now complete and showed that the Langholm Initiative can sustainably manage the land and provide the significant community and environmental benefits we hoped for. It provides a hugely exciting vision, creating the ‘Tarras Valley Nature Reserve’ covering about 10,500 acres of moorland, woodland, farmland and including nearly 7 miles of the Tarras Water. 

We have a unique opportunity to create an ambitious legacy for the future. Langholm Moor, a special place with huge cultural importance and populated with some of our rarest and most beautiful wildlife, could become a community-owned nature reserve, supporting positive climate action, native woodland creation, small-scale renewable energy and sustainable business development.

You can read the details of our plans developed through the feasibility study here.

If you want to keep up to date and show support for our work you can join the Initiative.

Full membership is available to those living within DG13 and DG14 postcodes, associate membership for those living outside these areas   

Efforts are now underway to secure purchase funds, through an application to the Scottish Land Fund, and by seeking private donations in due course.


Well worth taking a look around the project website (here) and reading the summary reports, starting with this prospectus (here) and this summary of the feasibility study and business plan (here).


Trapping and killing stoats – the new rules

The trapping and killing of wildlife to increase the number of gamebirds available for shooting parties is a daily routine for many gamekeepers.

It is legal to kill some species (e.g. stoats, weasels, foxes, crows) as long as certain conditions are met and it is illegal to kill other species (e.g. most birds including raptors, some mammals) unless a specific licence has been issued for limited purposes.

Earlier this month new legislation was enacted concerning the legal killing of stoats (see earlier blog, here) and there are now General Licences which include new rules and regulations, particularly around the use of Fenn traps, although there is still a lot of uncertainty on some issues.

[A Fenn trap set on a log, photo from the Untold Suffering report published by the Revive Coalition last year]

For those of you interested in this subject there are two excellent blogs that are worth taking the time to read:

The first one is by the animal welfare charity OneKind and it explains some of the welfare issues associated with Fenn traps and why these traps are no longer permitted to be used to trap and kill stoats. Read the blog HERE

The second blog is by author and former police wildlife crime officer Alan Stewart and it explains and critiques the new legislation relating to the killing of stoats. Read the blog HERE

If you’re out walking on your permitted exercise route and you spot one of these traps it’s worth taking a photo, noting the location (use the app What3Words, it’s brilliantly accurate and easy to use) and reporting it. Given the police are pretty busy at the moment it’s probably worth reporting it to OneKind and the RSPB. Their expert staff can assess the photograph and either advise you that the trap looks lawful or they can report it to the police if it looks dodgy.


With ‘friends’ like this, who needs enemies?

When Wild Justice announced last week that it was launching a new fund to support police officers investigating the illegal persecution of birds of prey in the UK (see here), not everybody welcomed the initiative.

That was hardly a surprise. Criticism was fully expected from those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, i.e. those who benefit the most from the difficulties faced by police forces in bringing the raptor-killing criminals to justice. The existence of this new fund will hopefully increase the opportunities available to the police to secure sufficient evidence against these criminals to proceed with prosecutions, so of course there’d be some who would try to undermine it from the outset.

However, one particularly vocal critic emerged, on twitter and on this blog, who hid his identity behind the pseudonym ‘EXWCO’ [ex-wildlife crime officer, for those unfamiliar with the lingo] whilst making thinly-veiled accusations against Wild Justice as well as against Police Supt Nick Lyall (Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, RPPDG) and the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) as both had been named in Wild Justice’s original announcement. For those who missed ‘EXWCO’s’ comments on this blog, please see here.

To be honest, it was difficult to understand exactly what ‘EXWCO’ was objecting to – his criticisms were a bit all over the place but what was clear was that he disliked Wild Justice (fair enough), that he thought that the NWCU’s impartiality would be ‘compromised’ if it administered the new fund (because the money had come from Wild Justice – no, me neither) and that Nick Lyall’s credibility was undermined because he’d given a supportive quote (no, me neither). As has been pointed out by blog reader Gareth Jones on the earlier post, the NFU and other organisations fund / lend /sponsor equipment for a number of police forces so why should the Wild Justice fund be treated differently?

Yesterday, ‘EXWCO’ decided to reveal his identity to the public at large – it’s a guy called Pete Charleston, a former police wildlife crime officer and someone who has held other related roles since retiring from the police. He’s perhaps best known for his work with the Bat Conservation Trust and his role as Chair of the LINK Wildlife Crime Group, which is how I know him as I represent Wild Justice in that partnership and is why I’m so surprised that he’s chosen to behave as he has in response to Wild Justice’s new fund. I’m pleased to see that he has now resigned from his leadership position at LINK because, in my opinion, it’s clearly untenable in light of his online behaviour in recent days.

[Pete Charleston, photo by Charlie Moores]

As well as setting up his twitter account, Pete has also set up his own blog and written an introductory post which takes a few pot shots at RPUK, Wild Justice and Nick Lyall – see here.

It’s good to see he has also referenced his direct involvement in game shooting. That explains a lot, doesn’t it?

Just a couple of points. Pete has done his best (but failed in my opinion) to cast himself as an impartial observer and has questioned the impartiality of the NWCU and the credibility of Nick Lyall. He’s got some brass neck to be raising questions of credibility when you see what he sent around to a number of colleagues a few days ago:

So he sends around an email attempting to distance himself as being the author of the new ‘EXWCO’ twitter account, but a few days later he admits on his very own blog that he created the account:

And for even more evidence of the shiniest brass neck in brass neck land, have a look at this tweet, sent from Pete’s account and addressed to the Countryside Alliance, BASC, NWCU, RPUK and Wild Justice:

Integrity and credibility? Yeah, right.

What a shame.

And all because Wild Justice chose to establish a fund to help police officers bring wildlife criminals to justice.


Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) supports new raptor forensic fund

Following last week’s announcement of Wild Justice’s raptor forensic fund, which aims to provide financial assistance to support police officers investigating the illegal persecution of raptors in the UK (see here), the fund has been boosted by further contributions.

The Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) has made a substantial donation of £1,000 to support the fund.

In a press release issued to announce its support, NERF said,

‘Unfortunately every one of our member groups has experience of raptor persecution within their own study areas. Many of us have also been involved in cases where the search for forensic evidence, vital to support the case, was not pursued because of lack of funding thereby resulting in the investigation being abandoned prior to trial. We believe that this initiative will make a very significant impact on the investigation of raptor related criminal cases‘.

Steve Downing, NERF’s Chair said:

As a former Wildlife Crime Officer I fully appreciate the complex decision making process that is used to assess competing applications for funding the forensic analysis of potential exhibits. Every application for forensic funding is justifiable, however it is understandable why some crimes take precedence over cases of raptor persecution. This raptor related forensic analysis fund is a very valuable tool that will make a tremendous difference in the battle to detect wildlife crime and Wild Justice is to be commended for introducing the scheme“.

To read NERF’s full press statement, which is excellent by the way, please visit here

In addition to NERF’s donation, the fund has also received a substantial donation from an individual member of the public who wishes to remain anonymous.

If anyone else would like to contribute to this new fund, please get in touch with Wild Justice by emailing and entering ‘Raptor Forensic Fund’ as the subject header.

Thank you

As many of you will be aware, the launch of this fund has caused quite a bit of criticism from one individual in particular, who has used the pseudonym ‘EXWCO’ [ex-wildlife crime officer] to hide his identity whilst making some thinly-veiled accusations and threats. For those who haven’t read these, have a look at the comments thread on the previous blog post about this fund (here).

‘EXWCO’ has now revealed his identity and we’ll be examining this individual’s motivations and credibility later today.


Red kite found shot dead on land managed for pheasant shooting in Wales

Three red kites have been found dead on land managed for pheasant shooting in Wales.

On Sunday (19 April 2020) two corpses were found by a member of the public and photographed but then ‘disappeared’ before they could be collected. A third corpse was found by TV presenter Iolo Williams and an x-ray confirmed it had been shot.

[The shot red kite found by Iolo Williams]

The RSPB and Dyfed-Powys Police have today issued the following appeal for information:


Police and the RSPB are appealing for information regarding the shooting of one red kite, and the suspected shooting of two more in Wales.

A protected red kite was found shot dead in Tregynon, near Newtown, Powys on Sunday 19 April 2020. At least two more are suspected to have been illegally killed in the area, which is managed for pheasant shooting.

A local woman found the two dead red kites while out walking with her family on 19 April. She photographed the birds and planned to return the next day.

She posted her photographs on social media, where they came to the attention of wildlife presenter Iolo Williams. The former RSPB employee ventured out that same evening to the location the birds had been seen, but when he arrived the bodies had disappeared. However, he discovered a third bird lying dead on the ground. The body was x-rayed and found to contain three pieces of shot in its chest and each of its wings.

Police officers conducted a patrol of the area but uncovered no leads. They are now appealing to the public for information.

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

Julian Hughes, head of species at RSPB Cymru, said: “Red kites have made a comeback in Wales after a collaborative effort by farmers, conservationists and communities. For most of us, the sight of these glorious birds – recognisable by their long wings and forked red tail – is a source of joy. They should be celebrated, not persecuted“.

Iolo Williams, broadcaster and former RSPB species officer, said: “The red kite is Wales’ national bird and many of us remember it being incredibly rare and confined to mid-Wales. Hundreds of landowners, wardens and volunteers worked incredibly hard for so many decades to ensure the kite population thrived that I am both baffled and disgusted by this horrific incident.”

PC Charlie Jones, of the Dyfed-Powys Rural Crime Team, said: “It is illegal to intentionally harm or kill a red kite, or any other bird of prey, making this an act of criminality. Wales is home to a significant population of breeding red kites and therefore we take any offences against them very seriously, and wish to hear from anyone who has information which may help with our investigation.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Dyfed-Powys Police on 101.

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, email RSPB Investigations on or fill in the online form:


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