Archive for May, 2020


Police ask public to be vigilant after buzzard & two peregrines found dead in Staffordshire Moorlands

Press release from Staffordshire Police (20 May 2020)

Three birds of prey found dead in Staffordshire Moorlands

Police have raised concerns after three birds of prey were found dead in the Staffordshire Moorlands [inside the Peak District National Park].

On Saturday (16 May) a buzzard and peregrine falcon were sadly discovered dead in a wooded area of Longnor, and yesterday (Tuesday 19 May) a second peregrine falcon was found dead near Wetton.

As there were no visible signs of injury, the birds will now be forensically examined to establish the cause of death. At this time officers cannot rule out the possibility that the birds were poisoned.

A police investigation is on-going as under the Wildlife and Countryside Act it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take wild birds.

[Photo by Staffordshire Police]

Officers are asking local residents and visitors to these areas to report of any suspicious behaviour and be vigilant for the signs of criminal activity, including dead or injured birds, poisoned bait and traps.

Reports are handled in the strictest of confidence – so anyone with any information is asked to get in touch by calling 101, or completing an online form at; quoting incident number 284 of 19 May.

Staffordshire Police continues to support Operation Owl – a national initiative to raise awareness and prevent the persecution of birds of prey in our countryside.

Chief Inspector Mark Thorley, commander of the Staffordshire Moorlands Neighbourhood Policing Team and rural crime lead, said:

If the birds have been specifically targeted, this is a dreadful crime and those responsible must be brought to justice.

If you come across a dead bird or suspicious object, this could be a wildlife crime scene. Please do not touch or move anything. Every piece of information may be crucial in prosecuting an offender so please take photographs if you can and make a note of your surroundings and landmarks to help officers to locate it.

Any information, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, could help with our on-going investigation so please get in touch with us directly or any of our partners listed below.”

Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.
Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme hotline 0800 321 600.
RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime hotline 0300 999 0101.


UPDATE 2 October 2020: Birds of prey illegally poisoned in Staffordshire / Peak District National Park (here)


Wild Justice response to RSPB consultation on gamebird shooting

Last year the RSPB announced it was undertaking a policy review on gamebird shooting (see here).

This was prompted by ongoing environmental concerns including ‘the ongoing and systematic illegal persecution of birds of prey such as hen harriers on some sporting estates; the ecological impact of high numbers of game birds released into the countryside increasing the density of generalist predators; the mass culling of mountain hares in some parts of our uplands; the use of lead ammunition; the impact of burning peatlands and medicating wild animals for sport shooting’.

The policy review process comprises three elements, including a consultation of RSPB members as well as with others with an interest in gamebird shooting, whether that be for or against (see here).

[Shot pheasants, photo by Getty]

The consultation period closed in April and the RSPB is currently assessing those responses and intends to publish them (or at least those who gave permission for their response to be published) in due course.

Nine organisations from the game shooting industry have already published their joint response, which was interesting in that they chose to write a letter waffling on about the GWCT’s proposed ‘principles of gamebird management’ instead of responding to the questions posed in the RSPB’s consultation questionnaire. The tired old cliches are all in there and the obligatory accusation that the RSPB threatens future ‘partnership working’ (ahem) if it decides to change its stance on gamebird shooting. The game shooting industry’s letter can be read here: RSPB-consultation-Shooting Industry response-16-04-20

Wild Justice also responded to the consultation and its response has been published on its blog today – see here. As with the game shooting industry response, you’ll probably detect some irritation from Wild Justice with some of the RSPB’s proposed principles, and this irritation builds throughout the WJ response, but for completely different reasons to the irritation shown by the game shooting industry!

Irritations aside, the RSPB’s policy review of game shooting is very welcome and it’ll be fascinating to see where it ends up. The results are due to be announced at the RSPB AGM in October.


Game-shooting industry displays zero credibility in fight against raptor persecution

The game-shooting industry continues to bang nails in to its own coffin with its latest magnificent display of zero credibility when it comes to tackling the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey across the UK.

Have a look at these responses from the major game shooting organisations to last week’s news of a reported raptor persecution surge during lockdown. For those who missed the news, see here, or for ease have a look at this brilliant infographic published on Twitter by @RobThomas14, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University:

First up, a letter in the Daily Mail from Amanda ‘pass me the Brasso for my neck’ Anderson of the Moorland Association (which is a carbon copy of the statement published on the MA’s website):

In a similar display of denial, delusion and detraction, here are some others:

They just don’t seem able to comprehend how utterly ridiculous they look. It’s the digital equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and dancing around singing ‘I can’t hear you, la la la’ while increasingly well-informed members of the public stand and stare at them in disbelief. You just need to have a glance on Twitter to see the public’s reactions to these statements of denial and it quickly becomes obvious where public opinion is heading.

And once the details of these most recent crimes become public (i.e. when the police have reached a stage in their investigations when it will be appropriate for such detail to be released), we predict public opinion will be further enraged, causing significant difficulty for those in the industry who continue to shield the criminals.

There was one notable exception amongst the responses from the game-shooting industry to the news of the raptor persecution surge, from an unexpected quarter. Paddy Galbraith, the Editor of Shooting Times has seen the writing on the wall and tweeted this:

No denial, no delusion, no detraction, no attempt to shoot the messenger, just an open acceptance of what everybody already knows is going on, and what looks to be a sincere plea to bring it to a halt. Good for him.

UPDATE 29 May 2020: RSPB provides update on raptor persecution surge during Coronavirus lockdown (here)


Full cost of Werritty Review finally revealed

The long-awaited review on grouse moor management (commonly known as the Werritty Review, named after the review group Chair, Prof Alan Werritty) and its options and recommendations for grouse moor regulation was finally submitted to the Scottish Government six months ago (18 November 2019) – see here.

The review was made public five months ago to the day (19 December 2019) – see here.

While there have been a couple of preliminary responses to the Werritty Review and its recommendations (e.g. Cab Sec Roseanna Cunningham here and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon here) we’re still waiting for the Scottish Government’s formal response. Understandably, this has been delayed as Ministers focus on dealing with Covid19.

Meanwhile, we’ve been interested in finding out how much the Werritty Review cost the taxpayer. This hasn’t been a straightforward process as ludicrous obstacles were put in our way (e.g. see here) but we do now have an answer, of sorts.

After a series of Freedom of Information requests, we now know that the full cost of the Werritty Review was £86,238.25, and we now know how some, but not all, of those costs were dispersed:

The comments in red in this table have been added by RPUK.

Interestingly, a number of names involved in the Werritty Review have been redacted from this table of costs. Looking through the full list of panel members and special advisors, as announced by the Scottish Government back in November 2017 (see here), through a process of elimination we believe the missing names from this costings table to be:

Professor Ian Newton [ornithologist] (panel member)

Alexander Jameson [moorland manager] (panel member) who worked for Strutt & Parker up to Dec 2018 but then went freelance, according to his LinkedIn profile

Mark Oddy [moorland manager] (panel member)

Dr Adam Smith [GWCT] (special advisor)

We can only speculate on the identities of the redacted names but it’s quite interesting to see the variation in per diem payments, presumably as a result of the different levels of input (time) but also perhaps as an indication of the participants’ perceived value as they negotiated their rates. This may also be the first time that all members of the review group have seen how much the others were paid, or not paid, as the case may be.

Of more interest (to us, at least), is how the the total cost of £86,238.25 compares with other Scottish Government-commissioned reviews. £86K seems an awful lot of money to those of us who work in conservation ecology and are used to being paid much lower rates for what could arguably be conceived as reports of much higher quality (i.e. actually fully-referenced!) but to others in different industries, £86K may seem a pittance, especially considering the number of individuals involved and the extended period (two years) it took to produce this review.

Unfortunately we don’t yet have any figures with which to directly compare but we will submit an FoI to find out how much the Scottish Government paid for the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, lauded by highly-respected international scientists as being ‘exemplary’ and ‘thorough’ (see here). If there are other report authors who’d be willing to share some information here then please use the comments box.

Context aside, £86K is still a lot of money from the public purse and far too much for the Scottish Government to kick the report in to the long grass. Of course, there are other priorities right now but in the not too distant future we expect this review to rise back towards the top of the ‘things we can’t ignore indefinitely’ list.


Don’t laugh, but here’s the new Moorland Association chairman, Lord Masham

The Moorland Association, a lobby group for England’s grouse moor owners, has elected a new Chairman and its choice speaks volumes.

Mark Cunliffe-Lister (Lord Masham in some circles) owns the Swinton Estate in Nidderdale. This estate may sound familiar to some readers, and that’s because we’ve had reason to blog about it several times over the years.

The grouse moor on Swinton Estate is where satellite-tagged hen harrier Bowland Betty’s shot corpse was found in 2012 (see here) although there was no evidence to suggest her killing had anything to do with anyone on the estate, it was just rotten luck that she died there. The grouse shooting industry then pretended that she hadn’t been shot at all, even after forensic evidence confirmed she had indeed, been shot (see here). It was just rotten luck that people preferred the opinion of expert forensic scientists from the University College London Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science instead of the non-expert opinion of some non-expert, non-scientists at the Countryside Alliance.

In another example of rotten luck another shot hen harrier’s corpse was found on a grouse moor at Swinton Estate in 2019 (see here); this time it was a satellite-tagged bird called River who had disappeared on the estate in November 2018. The day after she vanished, at dusk an unidentified gunman had been seen with two dogs walking through a known hen harrier roost site on the estate (see here). Again, there was no evidence to suggest River’s killing had anything to do with anyone on the estate, it was just rotten luck (again) that she died there.

[Hen harrier River’s corpse being retrieved from a grouse moor on Swinton Estate in April 2019. Photo by RSPB]

In another case of rotten luck (there’s a lot of it about in Nidderdale), a Swinton Estate gamekeeper was convicted in 2014 for setting an illegal pole trap on the estate (see here).

[Photo of the illegal pole trap set by a gamekeeper on Swinton Estate, photo by RSPB]

Now, some might argue that the Swinton Estate should have been expelled from the Moorland Association after this gamekeeper’s conviction. However, that would have been most unfair – pole traps had only been banned in the UK for 110 years at that point, it’s not as though the poor fellow had had sufficient time to adjust to the new rules. So what better way for the Moorland Association to show its support than to elect the estate owner to become Chair? Bravo!

Swinton Estate was back in the news last year as it reportedly hosted successfully breeding hen harriers for the first time in many, many years. Swinton was so enamoured with them that it donated the chicks to Natural England’s brood meddling scheme which, according to this article in last weekend’s Yorkshire Post Country Week (see pressing below), is a ‘hen harrier conservation’ project which ‘alleviates the overpopulation of hen harriers in one area by redistributing them into unpopulated areas‘!!!!!!!!! Wow! Let’s just take a moment to admire the breathtaking distortion on display there.

Meanwhile, according to Lord Masham, ‘the project was working well‘….er, really? What a forgetful silly billy Lord Masham is – he ‘forgot’ to mention the difficulty in finding another land owner willing to host the brood meddled hen harrier chicks on release (see here), he ‘forgot’ to mention the suspicious disappearance of several of those brood meddled chicks after release (see here), he ‘forgot’ to mention the decision to use a new type of untested satellite tag on some of those brood meddled chicks (see here), he ‘forgot’ to mention the 31 (at least) hen harriers believed to have been illegally killed since 2018, the year when grouse shooting industry reps would have us believe that hen harriers were welcomed back on the grouse moors, he ‘forgot’ to mention last year’s scientific paper that demonstrated 72% of satellite tagged hen harriers were believed to have been illegally killed on or near grouse moors (see here), he ‘forgot’ to mention that far from being ‘overpopulated’, thanks to illegal persecution on grouse moors England has single-figure hen harrier nests where there should be 330+ (see here), he ‘forgot’ to mention the ongoing police investigations in to the alleged witnessed shooting of two hen harriers on grouse moors this year (see here) and he ‘forgot’ to mention the ongoing legal challenge against brood meddling by actual conservationists (see here) who can see it for exactly what it is – a Government-sponsored sham (see here).

Most of the article’s content is a re-hash of the Moorland Association’s press statement on Lord Masham’s appointment (see here – well worth a read for a good laugh) but there’s one statement in particular that appears in the article but not in the MA’s press release:

According to the Yorkshire Post article, Lord Masham said ‘there was still the historical perception that raptors were persecuted by gamekeepers….’

And there it is. That one single sentence tells us everything we need to know. An ‘historical perception‘? Yep, it’s clear to see why Lord Masham was elected; he’s going to fit right in. Moorland Association Director Amanda Anderson may well have some competition for the title of Top Contortionist in the coming weeks as we await details of the recent police investigations of alleged raptor persecution on a number of grouse moors….


Scottish Government denies ‘negotiating’ with gamekeepers on new offences for trap damage

In early May we blogged about a claim made by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) that it was ‘negotiating with Government for a new offence to be created for damage to legal predator control tools‘, i.e. traps and snares (see here).

[A spring (Fenn) trap set on a log, designed to catch and kill any animal that stands on the trigger plate. Gamekeepers argue that traps like these, and others, are routinely damaged by members of the public. Photo from the Untold Suffering report published by the Revive Coalition last year. NB: It is no longer legal to use Fenn traps for killing stoats in the UK as they have been ruled inhumane – new trap designs have recently been approved (see here)]

This claim led to Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell posing two Parliamentary questions earlier this week, asking the Government for details of these alleged ‘negotiations’ (see here).

Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has now responded and her answers are hilarious:

Mark Ruskell MSPTo ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association regarding creating offences and sanctions in relation to animal trap damage, broken down by (a) date and (b) location of discussion. (S5W-28828).

Roseanna CunninghamThe Scottish Government has not had any recent discussions with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association about creating offences and sanctions in relation to animal trap damage.

Mark Ruskell MSPTo ask the Scottish Government how it plans to change the law in relation to the wilful damage of animal traps. (S5W-28829).

Roseanna CunninghamUnder existing legislation and common law a person interfering with a legally set snare or trap may be committing one of a number of possible offences.

The Independent Review of Grouse Moor Management report which was published in December recommended changes to legislation on the use of animal traps. The Scottish Government is currently considering all of the recommendations in the report and will publish a response in due course.

So, in essence then, no, the Scottish Government is not involved in ‘negotiations’ with the SGA as the SGA has claimed, and no, the Scottish Government does not appear to be considering new legislation for the provision of a new offence for alleged trap damage.

Roseanna Cunningham mentions the Government’s ongoing consideration of the recommendations made in the Werritty Review but that review did not include a recommendation for the provision of a new offence for alleged trap damage. What it did recommend, however, was new legislation for trap operators to have to undertake mandatory training before being allowed to set traps!

This begs the question then, why did the SGA claim to be ‘negotiating with Government’ when apparently it is doing no such thing?!

If the SGA could put aside its delusional posturing for a second it’d do well to be spending some time reminding its members of the current legislation on trap use. According to the RSPB this week, ‘the police are following up several raptor persecution cases and multiple reports of illegal trap use on grouse moors‘ (see here). Let’s hope that none of those traps alleged to be being used illegally, belong to an SGA member.


Police warn public as suspected poisoned bait found in Co Tyrone

From the Ulster Herald two days ago:

Suspected poison left on bait near Rousky (County Tyrone)

THE Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) in Omagh are appealing for information following a report of suspected poison being left on bait in the Crockanboy Road area of Rousky.

It is understood that they were notified of the discovery of suspected poisoned bait on Monday morning, May 11.

Following liaison with the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group and our own Wildlife Officers, we believe there may be various species of protected wildlife in the area,” said Constable Collum.

It’s our responsibility to investigate cases of suspected wildlife crime and my appeal is two-fold.

We are keen to identify those responsible and are appealing to anyone with information, or who noticed any suspicious activity in the area, to contact us on 101 quoting reference 466 of 11/05/20.

Also, I would take this opportunity to stress, to those responsible, the broad ranging consequences of such actions.  Not only are you committing a crime and potentially killing precious species of wildlife. You are also presenting a risk to domestic pets and indeed children or anyone coming into contact with the poison or poisoned animal.”

Information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, which is anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.


The illegal poisoning of birds of prey is still very much an issue in Northern Ireland, as described in a recent ten year review published by the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland last winter (see here). Carbofuran, a highly toxic banned pesticide, remains the poison of choice.


North Yorkshire Police leads awareness-raising day as raptor persecution crimes soar during lockdown

Further to today’s news that reported raptor persecution crimes have surged during lockdown (see here), North Yorkshire Police has issued the following press release:

North Yorkshire Police leads online day of action to raise awareness of raptor persecution

Worrying signs that incidents of birds of prey being killed or injured could be on the rise

North Yorkshire Police is joining with other police forces across the country today (15 May) in a virtual ‘Operation Owl’ day of action to highlight bird of prey persecution as numbers of reported incidents show no signs of slowing down.

[A shot buzzard, photo via North Yorkshire Police]

Launched in February 2018, Operation Owl is a joint initiative by North Yorkshire Police, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA), together with the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks and the Nidderdale AONB. The initiative set out to raise awareness of raptor persecution, encouraging the public to be vigilant for signs of this criminal activity, and to report suspicious activity to the police.

In June last year, Operation Owl was rolled out nationally and the first awareness weekend was held in September 2019 with 26 police forces taking part across the whole of the UK. A second national weekend of action was planned for April 2020 with 36 police forces asking to be involved. But that sadly had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Superintendent Nick Lyall, Chair of the England and Wales Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) said:

We’ve heard from various police forces across the country that they have seen no let-up in incidents of raptor persecution being reported and some areas have seen a significant rise in the past few weeks which is very worrying.

Whilst it is not possible to hold a weekend of action at this time, we wanted to use social media and online channels to raise awareness of bird of prey persecution and to take a stand against this unacceptable crime.

The three vital pieces of information we want to make everyone aware of are ‘Recognise, Record and Report’ – how to recognise bird of prey persecution, how to record it and how to report it. If you notice anything suspicious, like a dead or injured bird of prey, or a suspicious trap, call the police on 101. Take pictures on your phone, and remember please do not interfere with what could be a crime scene or a lawfully placed trap.

Please share our messages with your networks online and please be vigilant for signs of raptor persecution when you are out and about taking your daily exercise. Everyone has a part to play in helping put an end to this relentless persecution.”



Police search grouse moors as raptor persecution crimes surge during lockdown

RSPB press release (15 May 2020)

Bird of prey persecution crimewave during lockdown

  • The RSPB has received a surge in reports of birds of prey being illegally killed since lockdown began 
  • The majority of incidents have been on or close to sporting estates managed for game bird shooting 
  • The public are being asked to stay vigilant and report crimes against birds of prey 

The RSPB’s Investigations Unit has been ‘overrun’ with reports of birds of prey being illegally killed in recent weeks.

Police have been called out to investigate multiple cases involving the shooting, trapping and suspected poisoning of birds of prey following reports by the public.

The RSPB is currently aware of many confirmed incidents involving the targeting of birds of prey involving hen harriers, peregrines, buzzards, red kites, goshawks and a barn owl in the last six weeks. Amongst the cases being dealt with by the police are a number of significant ongoing investigations on land managed for grouse shooting.

[A bleak, ecologically devastated landscape of intensively managed driven grouse moors, photo by Ruth Tingay]

On 29 March a buzzard was found shot at Shipton, near York. Its wing was fractured in two places and an x-ray revealed several pieces of shot within the bird’s body. Thanks to the care of a local wildlife expert the buzzard recovered and was released.

Over the Easter Weekend, a red kite was found shot dead near Leeds. It had 12 shotgun pellets lodged in its body.

The following weekend, wildlife presenter Iolo Williams recovered a dead red kite in Powys, which had been shot. Reports also came in of a further two shot red kites in the area, which is managed for pheasant shooting.

And in Scotland, the police are following up several raptor persecution cases and multiple reports of illegal trap use on grouse moors.

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.

Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said:  “Since lockdown began, the RSPB has been overrun with reports of birds of prey being targeted. It is clear that criminals on some sporting estates both in the uplands and lowlands, have used the wider closure of the countryside as an opportunity to ramp up their efforts to kill birds of prey. 

Spring is the time when birds of prey are most visible and therefore vulnerable, as they put on courtship displays, build nests and find food ready to breed. It is clear the criminal actions are targeted and malicious in nature, taking out birds before they have the opportunity to breed, often in areas where they have previously faced persecution. 

We welcome the fact that the public is remaining vigilant and encourage any suspicious incidents to be reported. But please observe government guidelines at all times.”

[An illegally poisoned buzzard. Photo by RSPB]

Superintendent Nick Lyall, head of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, said:  “Over recent weeks, I have been sickened by the number of raptor persecution cases that have come to my attention as chair of the Raptor Persecution Delivery Group. I know that there are officers currently investigating a number of crimes against wild birds of prey which have occurred since lockdown began. 

It is clear that lockdown has been seen as a green light by those involved in raptor persecution offences to continue committing crimes, presumably in the belief that there are fewer people around to catch them doing so.  

I remain grateful to everyone involved in investigating these crimes, and thankfully in the vast majority of the cases I am aware of, it looks like some really good lines of enquiry are taking place which should lead to arrests and interviews.

If you have any information about birds of prey being killed in your area, call the police on 101 or the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline: 0300 999 0101.


The game-shooting industry’s supposed stance of ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution is going well, then.

There’ll be more news about the lockdown raptor persecution surge later today.


BBC News website is running a piece with a quote from Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association) who essentially ignores the surge in reported crime and bleats the mantra that grouse moors are great for raptors (see here)

The Guardian has an article that includes more detail on the reported crimes, including 15 confirmed shot birds and 24 others submitted for further postmortem analysis after suspected illegal killing (see here)

The RSPB’s Investigations Team has published the press release (here) along with this illuminating table:

UPDATE 20 May 2020: Game-shooting industry displays zero credibility in fight against raptor persecution (here)

UPDATE 29 May 2020: RSPB provides update on raptor persecution surge during Coronavirus lockdown (here)


New Raptor Forensics Fund boosted by Tayside & Fife Raptor Study Group contribution

Last month Wild Justice launched a new fund to help support the police investigate suspected cases of wildlife crime in the UK (see here).

More specifically, the fund is being made available to support forensic analyses in cases relating to the illegal persecution of birds of prey, and especially to cover the costs of early evidence-gathering such as post mortems, x-rays etc.

Wild Justice committed £5K as a start-up and asked other organisations to contribute. This was swiftly followed by a £1K donation from the Northern England Raptor Forum (here) and another donation from a private individual who wishes to remain anonymous.

The Raptor Forensic Fund has now received another boost as the Tayside & Fife Raptor Study Group has contributed £750. Kelvin Thomson, Chair of the Tayside & Fife branch of the Scottish Raptor Study Group is quoted as follows:

We are delighted to help fund the fight against the illegal persecution of birds of prey no matter where it occurs.  Over many years, we have ourselves experienced several incidents of persecution involving birds of prey across the Tayside & Fife area. It’s a great frustration to us all that this insidious crime still persists across the UK and in making this donation we are helping law enforcement agencies to more swiftly collect and forensically analyse evidence to help bring those responsible to account”.

Wild Justice anticipates that guidelines for police officers on how to apply for funding support from the Raptor Forensics Fund will be published shortly.

If anyone else would like to contribute to this new fund, please get in touch: and enter ‘Raptor Forensic Fund’ as the subject header.

In other Wild Justice news, the group’s third crowdfunder is now fully funded – see here for details.

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