Archive for the '2017 persecution incidents' Category


Illegal activity uncovered at goshawk nest in North York Moors National Park

RSPB press release (26/3/18)


North Yorkshire Police and the RSPB are appealing for information after several instances of illegal disturbance were recorded at a goshawk nest in North Yorkshire.

In spring 2017, a covert camera was trained on a nest with poor breeding success near Helmsley to better understand what was causing the nest to fail. In April 2017, the footage showed two men visiting the nest and one of the men then repeatedly hitting the nest tree with a large stick. This appeared to be a clear attempt to flush the incubating bird off the nest.

Then, on two occasions the following month, a man is seen and the sound of gunshots is heard, along with the repeated alarm calls of the parent birds on one of the occasions. The nesting attempt subsequently failed and the four cold eggs were later recovered from the nest after a visit by the police. Analysis showed one of the eggs had a fully formed chick inside.

Goshawks are secretive, forest-dwelling hunters, around the size of a buzzard. There are very few nesting pairs in North Yorkshire, despite plenty of available habitat. Goshawks are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and listed on Schedule 1 of the Act. It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb the birds at the nest site during the breeding season unless operating under the authority of a government licence.

Investigations are ongoing and police are appealing for information.

Watch video footage from the RSPB’s covert camera:

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “We are very concerned that this was an attempt to shoot the goshawks or disturb the adults to make them desert the nest site. Goshawks are magnificent birds and should be widespread throughout North Yorkshire. The idea that people are deliberately trying to destroy nests and prevent them from raising chicks is beyond belief.

Birds of prey in the North York Moors National Park are at a huge risk of persecution, and this county consistently proves the worst in the country for the illegal killing of birds of prey. This latest evidence shows the pressures they continue face. We are grateful for the enquiries being made by North Yorkshire Police in relation to the events recorded. We hope that further information emerges to help identify these individuals.”

Acting Inspector Kevin Kelly, of North Yorkshire Police, added: “The ongoing problem of raptor persecution in our county prompted a public awareness campaign in February between ourselves, the RSPB, RSPCA, North York Moors National Park and Yorkshire Dales National Park. The initiative – know as Operation Owl – was designed to educate local people and send a clear message that raptor crime will not be tolerated.

If you have any information that may help our enquiries regarding these incidents, please speak out. Ahead of the spring breeding season, look out for individuals acting suspiciously and please report any concerns immediately.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call North Yorkshire Police on 101. Or to speak with somebody in complete confidence, call the RSPB’s Raptor Crime Hotline 0300 999101.

If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551, email or fill in the online form.


RSPB Investigations Officer Howard Jones has also written a blog here


Peregrine confirmed poisoned in North Wales

From North Wales Police Rural Crime Team:


Yet another golden eagle disappears on a Scottish grouse moor

They can hide the bodies. They can hide the tags. But they can’t hide the pattern” (Dr Hugh Webster)

RSPB Press release:


Conservationists are concerned about the safety of a young pair of eagles after news emerged that another satellite-tagged golden eagle has disappeared in the northern Monadhliath Mountains of Inverness-shire.

Data from the two-year old male’s transmitter showed that he had been living in an upland area, mainly managed for driven grouse shooting, north of Tomatin, since early last year. He had stayed almost exclusively in this area until mid December, when his tag, that had been functioning as expected, inexplicably stopped transmitting.

A follow-up investigation by Police Scotland has not yielded further clues as to the bird’s fate, and no further data has been received from the satellite tag.

The young bird, fitted with a tag sponsored by SSE, before it fledged from a nest in the Cairngorms National Park, was paired to a 2 year-old female, coincidentally also fitted with a transmitter. Data from her tag shows that she left the same area for several days following the male’s sudden disappearance, possibly searching for her missing mate, before returning to the territory. She has subsequently been joined there by another young male, also reinforcing the case that the two year old bird has disappeared.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management said: “A report published by the Scottish Government last May, prompted by the regular disappearance of satellite-tagged eagles in this same area, provided unequivocal evidence that the sudden disappearance of these birds is highly suspicious. This is now the twelfth tagged eagle to go missing in this “black hole” in just seven years and is entirely consistent with the systematic and ongoing illegal persecution of eagles in this area.”

The missing bird and its mate were occupying a traditional golden eagle territory, but one where the nest has not been successful for decades despite good habitat and prey. In 2016, the area was occupied by a lone adult male, but he too disappeared.

Duncan Orr-Ewing continued: “Despite very recent and high level public warnings from Scottish Government, it appears that criminals intent on killing golden eagles continue to target these magnificent birds, especially in areas managed for driven grouse shooting. Patience with self-regulation is at an end and meaningful deterrents are now urgently required. We support the introduction of new measures to license driven grouse shooting, including powers for the public authorities to remove such licences, where there is good evidence of criminal behaviour”.

In parts of the Monadhliaths, such as the area from where this bird fledged, golden eagles are doing well, but the efforts by some landowners, farmers and gamekeepers to protect these magnificent birds are constantly being undermined by persecution when eagles move out of these safe areas. There can be little doubt that current legislation and enforcement have proven to be insufficient deterrents to those criminals, invariably linked to the management of driven grouse shooting, who are intent on killing protected birds of prey.”

Anyone who can provide information about the disappearance of this bird, or other raptor persecution incidents, is asked to contact Police Scotland on 101, or to phone the confidential RSPB Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.


The location information provided by the press release is a bit vague: ‘an upland area, mainly managed for driven grouse shooting, north of Tomatin‘. Hmm. According to Andy Wightman’s brilliant Who Owns Scotland website, this might be Moy Estate. Moy is an upland area, it is mainly managed for driven grouse shooting, and it is north of Tomatin. It’s also an estate where in 2010 a police search uncovered the leg rings of four young golden eagles being kept in a jar at a gamekeeper’s home. The gamekeeper apparently couldn’t provide an explanation for how he came to have them in his possession. Yes, this eagle might have disappeared from Moy Estate but it’s impossible to be certain without more detailed information.

[Estate boundary derived from Who Owns Scotland]

What is certain, is that this is yet another highly suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged golden eagle on or close to a Scottish grouse moor. What number is this one, 42? No, that was Fred. Number 43, perhaps? It’s hard to keep up.

And this latest eagle, according to Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland) is the 12th tagged eagle to vanish in this area in just seven years. That is scandalous.

The area in question is part of Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s constituency. There’s one hell of a record of illegal raptor persecution on his patch. You’d think, being a senior member of the governing SNP (Cab Sec for the Rural Economy & Connectivity) and with all this crime going on on his own doorstep in the Monadhliaths, he’d be jumping up and down, beetroot-faced with rage, determined to bring this to a halt. But so far, in all the years we’ve been writing about these crimes, we’ve heard nothing from him but praise and adulation for the grouse-shooting industry.

What we can also be certain of is the reaction from the grouse-shooting industry. There’ll be denials, there’ll be claims this disappearance isn’t suspicious, there’ll be attacks on the RSPB for daring to publicise it, there’ll be accusations of a set-up, there’ll be a refusal to believe these tags have a 98% reliability record, there’ll be imaginary windfarms, there’ll be real windfarms, there’ll be irrelevant data from satellite-tagged Olive Ridley Turtles in Bangladesh, there’ll be claims he was blown out to sea on a gust of wind, there’ll be claims he flew in to a fence, broke his legs and rolled himself off a hill to fly through the night before crashing in a forest, there’ll be calls for Chris Packham to be sacked from the BBC, there’ll be claims the eagle fell in to a burn and was washed away downstream. There’ll be every possible explanation under the sun, except, of course, for the glaringly obvious.

Why is it, satellite-tagged golden eagles on or close to grouse moors in Scotland are 25 times more likely to ‘disappear’ than anywhere else in the word where this species has been tagged?

We keep coming back to a recent quote from Dr Hugh Webster, because it says everything:

They can hide the bodies. They can hide the tags. But they can’t hide the pattern“.

The grouse shooting industry is making fools of the Scottish Government. Again and again and again. But for how much longer?


Response from Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association here (we’ll be blogging about this later – see below)

Response from Scottish Land & Estates here (we’ll be blogging about this later – see below)

Article in Scotsman here

Article in the Herald here

Article on BBC website here

Article in Press & Journal here

Article on STV here, including a quote from Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, as follows:

This golden eagle has disappeared in an area which has long been associated with the illegal persecution of birds of prey.

We may never discover exactly what has happened in the case of this latest disappearance.

But we do know the illegal killing of Scotland’s magnificent birds of prey continues – primarily in areas which are intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

No-one should be in any doubt about my determination to act decisively to uphold the law and protect Scotland’s magnificent birds of prey.

I look forward to receiving the Werritty Report into how we can ensure grouse shooting is sustainable and complies with the law, which is due to be published early next year“.

Article in Scottish Daily Mail here

New blog post: Responses to missing satellite-tagged golden eagle nr Tomatin (here)


Scottish gamekeeper pleads guilty to animal cruelty offence

A Scottish gamekeeper has been banned from keeping birds of prey for 10 years after keeping an eagle owl in a cramped pigsty.

The large owl was discovered by SSPCA investigators last summer.

This week gamekeeper Alan Wilson admitted failing to protect the bird from suffering when he appeared at Jedburgh Sheriff Court.

The court heard how the 59-year-old kept the owl in a filthy boarded-up pigsty at his home at Henlaw Cottages, near Longformacus.

Photos by SSPCA

Jedburgh Sheriff Court was told that investigators received a tip-off and found the owl in “utterly unacceptable living conditions” on June 5 2017.

Gamekeeper Wilson pleaded guilty to the offence under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2006.

Wilson was ordered to sign over custody of the owl to the Scottish SPCA and in addition to the 10 year disqualification, he was fined £400.

An undercover Scottish SPCA spokesman said: “This case involved an eagle owl who had its welfare compromised by being kept in utterly unacceptable living conditions.

The Scottish SPCA worked in partnership with Police Scotland to seize and rescue the bird as well as providing expertise.

Both wild and captive raptors can suffer if their welfare falls below that of adequate standards.

Eagle owls are large, strong predators and like all captive predators require specialist care and expertise.

The eagle owl is currently being cared for by the Scottish SPCA and is doing well.”

Excellent partnership-working between Police Scotland and the SSPCA. Well done to all involved.

We believe this case is connected to the multi-agency raid on a game shooting estate last June (see here). It is not known if any further charges are being brought in relation to that raid.

It’s not the first time a gamekeeper with an Eagle Owl has come to the attention of the authorities in this region. In April last year we blogged about an unidentified gamekeeper who had been photographed with a tethered Eagle Owl on a grouse moor in the nearby Lammermuirs (see here).


Marsh harrier nest attacked on Yorkshire grouse moor: an update

In August 2017 we blogged about how a marsh harrier nest on Denton Moor in Nidderdale, Yorkshire had been repeatedly attacked by armed men dressed as gamekeepers (see here).

The adult harriers had been shot at and the eggs had been removed from the nest during a series of visits in May 2017, all caught on camera by the RSPB.

North Yorkshire Police launched an investigation, including a public appeal for information, and the RSPB released its video footage in the hope that somebody might be able to identify any of the armed men.

Unsurprisingly, there was a deafening silence from the leading representatives of the grouse-shooting industry (Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, Countryside Alliance, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust), which can’t have helped the efforts being made by the police.

As is so often the case we didn’t hear any more about this investigation and we assumed that in the absence of any witnesses or new evidence, and the wall of silence from the shooting industry, the case had been quietly parked along with all the others that never make it to court. However, it seems we’d underestimated North Yorkshire Police’s new Rural Taskforce.

Earlier this week, the RSPB Investigations Team provided an update on this criminal investigation and it’s quite clear that North Yorkshire Police has deployed a certain level of creative determination in its efforts to bring these criminals to justice.

According to the RSPB blog, North Yorkshire Police had tried to use forensic voice analysis to compare the voices caught on the camera footage with the voices of several suspects who had been brought in for interview. Unfortunately, the sound captured on the video footage was of insufficient quality to allow a comparison. That’s a shame, but full marks to the police for trying.

Think how much easier it would be, not to mention the savings to the public purse, if those within the grouse shooting industry stepped forward to help the police identify these criminal gunmen dressed as gamekeepers on this Yorkshire grouse moor.


Last chance saloon for Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative

Following last week’s news that the RSPB has terminated its involvement with the failed Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative (here), one of the local raptor study groups has now issued a statement on where it stands.

The Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, which has played a central role in raptor monitoring and providing breeding data for the Initiative, has decided to give the Initiative one last chance to succeed, despite strong reservations about the intent of the local grouse shooting industry, particularly the gamekeepers and the Moorland Association.

The full statement can be read on the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group’s website, here.

The Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative is in the last chance saloon. We learned last week that the Peak District National Park Authority will be “looking for an increase in birds in the breeding season before committing to working with the other organisations in the Initiative beyond 2018” (see here).

All eyes on the Dark Peak this spring.


Gamekeepers’ attempts to suppress Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative report

Earlier this week we blogged about how the Moorland Assocation had blocked the publication of an official press statement on the failed Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative (here) and then shortly afterwards how the RSPB had terminated its involvement with this project (here).

We said at the time that it wasn’t just the Moorland Association that was disrupting this ‘partnership’, but that the local gamekeepers had also played their part. Here’s the evidence, sourced via an FoI to the Peak District National Park Authority:

On 8th November 2017, Rhodri Thomas (Peak District National Park Authority) sent around a copy of the draft Bird of Prey Initiative (BoPI) Report 2016-2017 to all members of the BoPI, asking for comments before the report was published. Here is that draft report: Draft BoPI 2016 2017 report

On 10th November 2017, Amanda Anderson (Director, Moorland Association) had a telephone conversation with Rhodri Thomas about the draft report. We don’t know the full details of that conversation but judging from Rhodri’s email to Amanda shortly afterwards, it’s clear that Amanda was questioning the accuracy of the report:

On 25th November 2017, Amanda wrote to Rhodri and sent him a copy of the draft BoPI report with comments from the local gamekeepers, compiled by ‘Richard’ (a gamekeeper). The main thrust is that the gamekeepers don’t accept the report as accurate, apparently do not understand the BoPI’s terms of reference six years on, and don’t want the 2016/2017 report to be published. Here is a copy of those comments:

Gamekeeper comments in response to draft 2016 2017 BoPI report

And here is Amanda’s email to Rhodri, basically supporting the gamekeepers’ comments:

On 26 November, Rhodri emailed Amanda with his intitial thoughts on the gamekeepers’ comments:

On 27 November 2017, Rhodri wrote a more detailed reponse to Amanda about the gamekeepers’ comments:

Rhodri also sent Amanda his annotated comments to the gamekeepers’ complaints, rejecting the vast majority as being either irrelevant or inaccurate. Here it is (and it’s worth a read): Rhodri response to gamekeeper comments on draft 2016 2017 BoPI report

On 29 November, Rhodri sent the final version of the 2016/2017 BoPI report to the whole group, but before he did, he also sent this explanatory email to Amanda and Robert Benson (Chair, Moorland Assoc) to clarify why he had rejected the majority of the gamekeepers’ comments:

Later the same day, the Moorland Association refused to sign the joint press statement announcing how the BoPI had once again failed to meet any of its targets, and so the 2016/2017 report was quietly posted on the Peak District National Park Authority website without any formal announcement. We blogged about that decision here.

The emails and documents we’ve posted here provide just a flavour of the efforts Rhodri and his team have made to keep the partnership on track and to maintain the focus on tackling rampant illegal raptor persecution within the Dark Peak. In our view the Moorland Association and the gamekeepers have been working to an entirely different agenda (and the BoPI results support this view) whilst enjoying the PR gains of being seen as partners working towards improved raptor protection in the National Park.

The Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative is the epitome of a sham partnership and we applaud the RSPB for calling it out, and getting out.

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