Archive for May, 2020

31
May
20

National Gamekeepers Organisation’s pathetic response to Channel 4 programme on rampant raptor persecution

Two weeks ago the RSPB announced that it had seen a ‘surge’ in reported raptor persecution incidents since the Coronavirus lockdown (see here).

The response from the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO) was its usual attempt to undermine the credibility of the RSPB, bleat about being a signatory to an as yet undemonstrated stance of ‘zero tolerance‘ of raptor persecution, and to demand information from the police on recent raptor crimes (see here). Here is a copy of the NGO’s response, copied from it website (red bit highlighted by RPUK):

Fast forward two weeks and we had the excellent Channel 4 News special investigation featuring raptor persecution on North Yorkshire grouse moors (see here), which featured the utterly compelling dialogue between a senior police officer and the CH4 correspondent, as follows:

Alex Thomson (Channel 4 News correspondent): Lockdown has seen a sharp increase in reports of birds of prey found dead. We joined Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police as he followed up reports of a dead bird of prey seen in the Nidderdale area.

Inspector Matt Hagen: I’m absolutely shocked and disgusted at the level of raptor persecution that I am coming across.

Alex Thomson: Inspector Hagen told us that of 30 birds he’s collected in the past six months, only one has died of natural causes and his investigations lead clearly to a single group of suspects.

Matt Hagen: All the shooting investigations that we’ve got going on at the moment are involving gamekeepers on grouse moors.

Alex Thomson: All of them?

Matt Hagen: All of them.

Alex Thomson: Every single one?

Matt Hagen: That’s right.

The National Gamekeepers Organisation has now published a response to the Channel 4 News programme. Bear in mind that the programme delivered exactly what the NGO had previously asked for (i.e. details from the police instead of the RSPB) that placed gamekeepers at the centre of every single current criminal investigation relating to the illegal killing of birds of prey in North Yorkshire. Here’s what the NGO now has to say:

The NGO says the news “is a concern“. The NGO says it is seeking “clarification on the source of the information and statistics provided“. Where’s the condemnation? Where’s the disgust? Where’s the reaction to those shot buzzards being pulled out of a hole on a grouse shooting estate? This response is pathetic.

The NGO says it is part of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG)  – which came as a bit of a surprise to us given that it resigned ‘permanently’ from the partnership after a massive tantrum in January last year (see here and here). Those decent organisations on the RPPDG who genuinely want to tackle illegal raptor persecution (e.g. RSPB, Northern England Raptor Forum, BAWC, North Pennines AONB, Sheffield Wildlife Trust) really need to start thinking about their positions on this forum. By remaining, they legitimise organisations such as the NGO (and others) who are able to use their membership as a badge of respectability and credibility.  They’re making the good guys look like mugs.

30
May
20

Channel 4 News highlights raptor persecution on North Yorkshire grouse moors

Following the news yesterday that a buzzard had been found confirmed poisoned in the Nidderdale AONB (see here), that the RSPB had seen a further increase in reports of raptor persecution since lockdown, including four new cases in the Peak District National Park (see here), and the discovery of five dead buzzards hidden in a hole on a grouse shooting estate in Bransdale in the North York Moors National Park, four of which have so far been confirmed as shot (see here), Channel 4 News featured a timely ‘special investigation’ piece last night, exploring the link between the illegal killing of birds of prey and grouse shooting estates across North Yorkshire.

The six minute film can be viewed here.

It includes interviews with North Yorkshire Police Inspector Matt Hagen (head of NYP Rural Crime Team) whose commentary was utterly damning (see below), Will Watson, a gamekeeper from an unnamed Nidderdale estate who said raptor persecution needs “nipping in the bud” as though this is a newly-emerging problem!, Duncan Thomas from BASC who reeled out the tired old patter that it was an “absolute minority of people” that “may commit offences“. He also claimed that BASC “have expelled members” following convictions for raptor persecution (really? When was that, then?) and that the industry is “very good at policing ourselves” (completely missing the point that if that was the case, there’d be no need for this programme to be aired), Guy Shorrock from the RSPB who pointed to the evidence that raptor persecution on grouse moors is organised crime on an industry-wide scale, and four Nidderdale residents (Keith Tordoff, Debra Jenkins, Charlotte & Chloe Amber) who were courageous enough to go on camera and speak out against illegal raptor persecution, even though at least one of them has previously received abuse and threatening letters for his efforts.

BASC was clearly worried about how this film would portray the game shooting industry because a few hours prior to the programme airing, this statement appeared on the BASC website, which says more about BASC staff’s concerns about criticism from their members than it does for its concerns about ongoing raptor killing.

The programme starts explosively with what looks like Police body camera footage as officers retrieve the five dead buzzards concealed in a hole at Fox Hole Crags on the edge of Bransdale:

Take a look at the date stamp of this footage – 18 April 2020, in the middle of lockdown. Those buzzards looked ‘freshly dead’. The significance of this date will become apparent.

The most interesting part of the programme was the interview with Inspector Matt Hagen, who Channel 4 accompanied while he was investigating the discovery of yet another dead buzzard in Nidderdale.

Here’s the transcript:

Alex Thomson (Channel 4 News correspondent): Lockdown has seen a sharp increase in reports of birds of prey found dead. We joined Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police as he followed up reports of a dead bird of prey seen in the Nidderdale area.

Inspector Matt Hagen: I’m absolutely shocked and disgusted at the level of raptor persecution that I am coming across.

Alex Thomson: Inspector Hagen told us that of 30 birds he’s collected in the past six months, only one has died of natural causes and his investigations lead clearly to a single group of suspects.

Matt Hagen: All the shooting investigations that we’ve got going on at the moment are involving gamekeepers on grouse moors.

Alex Thomson: All of them?

Matt Hagen: All of them.

Alex Thomson: Every single one?

Matt Hagen: That’s right.

Matt Hagen’s responses couldn’t have been clearer. Unequivocal, unambiguous and even to the uninformed Channel 4 viewer who might never have heard about raptor persecution, utterly compelling. Even the spin doctors from the grouse shooting industry will struggle with such devastating commentary, particularly because it came from a senior police officer directly involved with the investigations.

Now, about the date on that Police body cam footage where the dead buzzards were being pulled out of a hole in Bransdale in the North York Moors National Park – 18 April 2020. Channel 4 News filmed this interview with Matt Hagen over one month later, which indicates that grouse moor gamekeepers are under investigation for the shooting of those birds.

We’ll be exploring this further….

Well done to Alex Thomson et al at Channel 4 News for getting this issue on prime time TV.

29
May
20

Shot buzzards found concealed on a Bransdale grouse shooting estate in North York Moors National Park

North Yorkshire Police have issued the following press release today:

Appeal for information after buzzards found shot in Bransdale

North Yorkshire Police is appealing for information after five dead buzzards were found hidden in a hole in the ground on land below Fox Hole Crag, on the edge of Bransdale in the North York Moors.

Following information reported to the police in April 2020, officers attended the location and discovered five dead buzzards. The buzzards were then x-rayed, with four found to contain pieces of shot.

[X-ray showing one of the shot buzzards, via North Yorkshire Police]

So far, eight individuals have been interviewed under caution in connection with the incident. Enquiries are ongoing and if you have any information which could help this investigation please call 101 quoting reference number 12200063953.

All birds are protected by law, and it is a crime to intentionally kill, injure, or take any wild bird. Persecution of birds of prey is one of the five national wildlife crime priorities.

Find out more about how to recognise the signs of bird of prey persecution here:  www.northyorkshire.police.uk/opowl-getinvolved

ENDS

Gosh, who might have been out shooting buzzards inside a National Park when everyone else was in lockdown? What a mystery.

The estate name hasn’t been given, but there aren’t that many estates in Bransdale.

[Bransdale (the dale, not the estate) according to Google maps]

[Fox Hole Crag, where the shot buzzards were found concealed in a hole]

[A view of one end of Fox Hole Crag, taken from near Fox Hole. Photo by Gavin Hatton, creative commons]

Looking at the site, North Yorkshire Police deserve some serious credit for locating hidden buzzards up there. They also deserve credit for bringing in eight individuals for questioning under caution. It’d be interesting to know whether any of those suspects gave anything more than a ‘no comment’ interview. Let’s hope the reported ‘ongoing enquiries’ include detailed forensic work on those corpses and anything else that might have been recovered from the site.

There have been a number of persecution incidents reported from this area in the past. In 2010 a shot goshawk was found at Bransdale (see here) and a post mortem reportedly revealed it had also been poisoned (see here). In 2012 a walker crossing the moorland in Bransdale found a dead sparrowhawk, also reported to have been shot (see here). In 2019 a buzzard was reportedly found shot on Bransdale Moor (see here).

There are many, many connections between Bransdale and figureheads in the grouse shooting industry and beyond; we’ll be examining some of those relationships in a series of forthcoming blogs. This incident may well provide the perfect platform for a demonstration of the grouse-shooting industry’s recent (but so far undemonstrated) claim of ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution.

For now, if you have any information that could help the police’s criminal investigation please contact North Yorkshire Police on Tel: 101 and quote ref: 12200063953.

Don’t forget, tonight at 7pm Channel 4 News has a special investigation in to the wider issue of raptor persecution in North Yorkshire and Countryfile will also be covering it on Sunday evening.

UPDATE 30 May 2020: Channel 4 News highlights raptor persecution on North Yorkshire grouse moors (here)

UPDATE 31 May 2020: National Gamekeepers’ Organisation’s pathetic response to Channel 4 programme on rampant raptor persecution (here)

UPDATE 1 June 2020: BBC Countryfile highlights raptor persecution on grouse moors (here)

UPDATE 2 June 2020: 4 shot buzzards on a Bransdale grouse moor: shooting industry’s response (here)

29
May
20

RSPB provides update on raptor persecution surge during Coronavirus lockdown

Two weeks ago the RSPB said there had been a ‘surge’ in raptor persecution crimes during the Coronavirus lockdown period resulting in a number of police searches on various grouse moors across the UK (see here).

The shooting industry’s leaders responded to this news with their usual mind-bending, truth-twisting denials and obfuscation (see here).

This morning, in response to some of the accusations and denials made by the shooting industry, the RSPB has published a short video update:

The ~2 min video features Mark Thomas, head of investigations and the transcript is as follows:

Hi, it’s Mark Thomas from RSPB Investigations.

Thank you for your concern, disappointment and overall overwhelming support since last week’s news release about the surge in raptor crime.

Of the 56 incidents, 81% of those confirmed so far have a connection with land use for shooting, both in the uplands and in the lowlands.

Interestingly, the shooting world seem fixated on trying to show these incidents didn’t actually happen, particularly the red kite in Leeds which was shot on the city outskirts close to other confirmed persecution incidents. The latest news on this one is that a shooting syndicate are helping police with their enquiries.

This doesn’t look, feel or sound like zero tolerance, more like the usual denial. In fact the only progressive voice has been that of Shooting Times, who called out the issue and then swiftly became targets from their own peers. What chance of self regulation?

So where are we a week on?

Well unsurprisingly the figures have gone up, more confirmed and potential offences have come to light from the police, including four from the Peak District National Park alone. One of those being a buzzard that was found mortally injured and had to be put to sleep, the x-ray showing it had been shot with a shotgun on not just one but two separate occasions. 

We’ve also received news from Norfolk Police of a shot buzzard in west Norfolk that also had to be put to sleep, and another dead buzzard in North Yorkshire which is currently being investigated.

We are aware of, and have been involved in, a number of other police investigations, some that we can’t talk about. Put simply, this is not going away.

We’ve been in close contact with the police and the National Wildlife Crime Unit, in fact supplying the NWCU with detailed line-by-line breakdown for each of the incidents we’ve detailed.

As always, we are science and evidence based. This isn’t an issue to be discussed behind closed doors, it’s of national public concern and a measure of that interest is why it’s being featured on Channel 4 News tonight and on BBC Countryfile on Sunday.

Please do tune in and let us know your views.

And finally, please do keep your eyes and ears open in the countryside. We need you to do that.

Thank you as ever.

ENDS

29
May
20

Buzzard illegally poisoned in North Yorkshire’s Nidderdale AONB

A couple of weeks ago North Yorkshire Police was warning Nidderdale residents about potential poisonous baits in the community after two dogs fell ill and one subsequently died – an investigation is ongoing but a veterinary expert suspected poisoning (see here).

Now North Yorkshire Police are having to warn the public again after toxicology analysis has confirmed that a buzzard found near Pateley Bridge in March had been illegally poisoned.

Here is the North Yorkshire Police press statement (27 May 2020):

Analysis shows buzzard killed by combination of four different pesticides

North Yorkshire Police is urging pet owners to be vigilant after analysis of a dead buzzard found near Pateley Bridge showed the presence of four pesticides in its system which are believed to be the cause of death.

In March 2020, a member of the public saw a buzzard fall out of a tree in Pateley Bridge, Nidderdale. It was taken straight to a local vet but sadly died soon after. The buzzard was sent to the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS), administered by Natural England, for further analysis due to the circumstances surrounding its death.

[The illegally poisoned buzzard, barely still alive. Photo via North Yorkshire Police]

This analysis identified the presence of three pesticides in the buzzard’s gizzard and crop with a fourth pesticide detected in its kidney. The report received by the police from WIIS noted the bird’s good body condition and the fact there was a good quantity of mixed food in its crop – two factors which indicate it likely died as a result of exposure to the pesticides.

The pesticides identified in the buzzard’s system were; Bendiocarb, Carbofuran, Isofenphos, and Chloralose. Bendiocarb is licenced for use in England as an ingredient in a number of insect control products but should not be released into an environment where wildlife could come into contact with them. Carbofuran, Isofenphos and Chloralose are all banned substances which should not be used under any circumstances.

Unfortunately several birds of prey have been the victim of poisoning in Nidderdale over the past few years with similar mixtures of poisons found in the dead birds in the past.

North Yorkshire Police is investigating this incident and has so far not found any evidence to suggest how the pesticides reached the buzzard in this case or previous cases. Often, the poison may be laid on bait such as a rabbit carcass or other so police urge dog owners to be careful and not allow their dogs to eat any dead animals they might come across on a walk or during exercise.

Anyone with any information which could help the police track down those responsible for the illegal use of these is asked to contact North Yorkshire Police, quoting reference 12200084524.

Anyone misusing pesticides may be committing a variety of offences. If you come across an object which you believe may be contaminated with a pesticide or other poisons, please do not touch it. Instead take lots of photos of the scene and a detailed grid reference if possible. Report the situation immediately to the police giving all the information collected and why you suspect involvement of a poison.

The buzzard population has recovered in Yorkshire over the past few decades and they are now a common sight in Nidderdale.  All birds are protected by law and it is a crime to intentionally kill, injure, or take any wild bird.  Persecution of birds of prey is one of the five priority crimes for the National Wildlife Crime Unit.  If anybody has information about persecution of birds of prey please call North Yorkshire Police on 101.

Find out more about how to recognise the signs of bird of prey persecution here: www.northyorkshire.police.uk/opowl-getinvolved

ENDS

The combination of four poisons used in the latest crime is interesting – it’s a familiar lethal cocktail that has been used on various grouse moors across the UK in recent years. It’s almost as though a batch has been pre-prepared and then distributed. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the geography of these occurrences matched the movements of, say, certain gamekeepers moving between jobs? There’s an analysis for the National Wildlife Crime Unit to undertake….

The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is a well-known raptor persecution hotspot and Nidderdale residents will be used to receiving these warnings about illegal poisonous baits; there have been several police warnings in recent years (e.g. see hereherehereherehereherehere) as poison has been used routinely to kill off red kites inside this AONB and the surrounding area (e.g. see here).

And it’s not just red kites that are targeted here. We’ve blogged about Nidderdale many, many times including the poisoning and shooting of red kiteshen harriersbuzzardsmarsh harriers on Nidderdale grouse moors (as reported by the AONB partnership in September 2019). As recently as January this year the police were appealing for information after a kestrel had been found shot and just three weeks ago they appealed for information after the shooting of a buzzard.

The shooting industry’s claimed stance of ‘zero tolerance’ on the illegal killing of birds of prey becomes more discredited every single day.

[Nidderdale AONB sign, photo by Ruth Tingay]

28
May
20

Shameful Natural England issues another licence for hen harrier brood meddling

Last week, Natural England announced that it had issued another licence to enable hen harrier brood meddling to take place this year.

For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA and carried out by Natural England, in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England.

It is supposed to test whether those people responsible for killing hen harriers illegally would stop killing hen harriers if the chicks were brood meddled (removed from the grouse moor in June at the critical grouse-rearing stage and then returned to the wild in August). We all know this won’t work because we know that young hen harriers are killed routinely during the grouse shooting season, and especially in September and October and yet still DEFRA, Natural England and their grouse shooting mates have pressed ahead with this five year ‘trial’. For more background on hen harrier brood meddling see here.

Here is a copy of Natural England’s recent announcement:

Breeding hen harriers in England are at a critical population level. Natural England is involved in a number of initiatives to help ensure hen harriers recover including Defra’s Hen Harrier Recovery Plan.

One of these initiatives is the hen harrier brood management trial. The 5 year brood management trial is designed to determine how many hen harriers can live alongside grouse before they have an impact on grouse numbers through predating them. Natural England is also involved in monitoring surveys, protecting hen harriers from persecution and exploring re-introduction into the South of England.

Brood management involves the removal of hen harrier eggs and/or chicks to a dedicated hatching and rearing facility, where they are hand-reared in captivity, before being transferred to specially-constructed pens in hen harrier breeding habitat, from which they are then re-introduced into the wild in the uplands of northern England.

We issued the first 2 year trial licence in 2018. Earlier this year we received an application to renew this licence for a further two years. A renewal licence application has now been processed and we issued the licence on 20th May 2020.

Successful brood management intervention took place in 2019. All five chicks from the intervention nest were successfully raised to become healthy fledglings and released. That is a strong success rate compared to the 2018 nesting data which show that five of the 14 wild nests failed entirely and only two of the 14 wild nests were able to fledge five chicks.

We understand that some people may have questions and concerns over the taking of birds from the wild and so I wanted to outline more about this decision.

Evidence suggests that hand-rearing hen harriers in captivity before releasing them into the wild can lead to an improvement in their numbers and therefore their conservation status. Brood management is the sixth action within the Defra Hen Harrier Recovery Plan. One of the success criteria of the plan is to build confidence with land managers that thriving harrier populations can coexist with local business interests and contribute to a thriving rural economy.

This intervention may only occur in areas where there are already enough hen harrier nests to protect their numbers in the local population. The ‘trigger’ for brood management to commence is two successful nests occurring within 10km of each other, on a grouse moor.

The licence is time-limited for a 2-year period and places stringent conditions on the trial. We have rigorously scrutinised the licence application and will work closely with the licence applicant throughout the duration of the trial to ensure that all elements are carried out proportionately and effectively, to bring about the best possible outcome for hen harriers.

The applicant will have to provide evidence that they have taken every precaution to ensure the welfare of the birds or local populations are not affected.

We understand that there are active hen harrier nests this year that meet the licensed criteria for trial brood management and willing landowners who want to be part of the trial.

We will shortly publish the redacted licence and a link will be provided here.

ENDS

There is so much to say about this, but we’ll come back to it in separate blogs.

For now, we have asked Natural England to provide the following information:

  • What is the status of the five satellite-tagged hen harrier chicks from the 2019 brood meddled nest? The last we heard three of the five had ‘disappeared’ (here) although then one came back online (here) and it then became apparent that some of the satellite tags used last year were different to the tags used previously and were not as reliable (see here).
  • Can we see a copy of the annual report of the 2019 brood meddling trial that the HH Brood Meddling Project Team is required to provide, as laid out in the Brood Meddling Management Plan.
  • Can we see a copy of the approved minutes of the Scientific Advisory Group’s meetings, to date.
  • Can we see the ‘report by licensee of action taken under the 2019 licence’ which was due to be submitted to NE no later than 14 days after the licence expired (20 Jan 2020) as a condition (#8) of last year’s licence.

More soon, including some shocking new information…….

[Sketch by Gerard Hobley]

27
May
20

Stoat killed in illegal trap on grouse moor in Teesdale

There’s an article in the Northern Echo today reporting the discovery of a dead stoat in an illegally-set Fenn trap on an unnamed Durham grouse moor.

A member of the public had found the stoat and reported it to the League Against Cruel Sports, who reported it to Durham Police.

[Dead stoat caught in illegal Fenn trap on unnamed Teesdale grouse moor, photo via Northern Echo]

An unnamed spokesperson for Durham Constabulary said:

We received reports of a suspected illegal Fenn trap in the Teesdale area and on investigation, found it was illegal and the trap subsequently removed by the landowner.

We would like to remind all those concerned that following new legislation that came into effect on April 1, 2020, the use of Fenn traps and all copycat designs have now been made illegal to trap stoats.

We would encourage landowners to comply and remove any traps that are illegal if they have not already done so.

If members of the public should see any traps which they think are illegal they can contact us by calling 101.”

We’ve blogged previously about the new rules for trapping stoats (see here).

We know that Fenn traps have also been found set in position on other grouse moors since the traps became illegal and we’re aware that at least some of these have been reported to various police forces.

It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes before someone is actually charged with an offence for continuing to use these now-illegal traps for killing stoats, rather than the landowner simply being ‘encouraged to comply’ with the law.




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