Archive for the '2018 persecution incidents' Category

10
Oct
19

RSPB challenges misinformation about satellite tags

This is an excellent blog written by Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland, countering the misinformation (that’s being kind) about satellite tags that is being touted by some in the game shooting industry.

We’ll be writing more on this shortly.

We’ve reproduced Ian’s blog here:

Challenging misinformation about satellite tags

RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations Ian Thomson outlines our thoughts on claims made accompanying the launch of a petition regarding satellite tags fitted to raptor species.

One of the greatest conservation tools to emerge in recent years has been satellite-tagging technology. Whether following the journeys of migrating cuckoos or shedding light on the dangers facing UK birds of prey, these tiny pieces of technology are becoming increasingly valuable in the conservationist’s mission to save nature.

As you read this, satellite tags are helping scientists monitor a handful of recently released captive-reared white-rumped vultures in Nepal after the species almost went extinct. It allowed the finding of a turtle dove nest in Suffolk this August, crucial for a species which has declined in the UK by 97% since 1970. Another tag’s data led us to the body of a hen harrier, Rannoch, lying in the heather, her leg caught in an illegal spring trap on a Perthshire grouse moor.

[Hen harrier Rannoch was fitted with a satellite tag at a nest in Perthshire in summer 2017]

A couple of weeks ago the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), lodged a petition “calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to introduce independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptor species, to assist the police and courts in potential wildlife crime cases and to provide data transparency.”

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) briefing about the petition gives a rounded picture of the context.

However, the supporting information provided by the SGA to support their petition contains misleading information which appears to be part of an ongoing and concerted attempt to undermine the credibility of these scientifically-approved tags and the integrity of those monitoring them.

In recent years, various statements the SGA have made in the media (eg. as discussed here) are symptomatic of an organisation in complete denial about the extent of raptor persecution and it’s association with grouse moor management. Indeed, every story about a dead or disappeared satellite-tagged bird of prey on a grouse moor is met with denials, obfuscation or conspiracy theories.

[Rannoch was killed by an illegal trap on a grouse moor in November 2018. Had she not been tagged, this crime would have remained undiscovered]

The RSPB has been involved in the fitting of satellite transmitters, using experienced, trained and licenced taggers, to a wide variety of birds of prey and other species, both in the UK and abroad, for the last 15 years. As a key adviser and contributor to a number of high-profile conservation research projects involving the tagging of bird species across the world, we thought it important to share our experience to put the SGA’s claims into context.

In the UK, all tagging projects require approval from the independent British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)’s Special Methods Panel, who rigorously scrutinise all such proposals on behalf of the UK statutory conservation agencies, including SNH in Scotland, to check their scientific validity and that the welfare of the birds tagged is ensured. The BTO’s process also ensures all projects meet Home Office requirements.

All practitioners must demonstrate experience and capability to undertake this work and this is heavily scrutinised by the Special Methods Panel. Most of those involved with this technique are experienced bird ringers and handlers. An annual licence return is supplied to the BTO by all satellite practitioners for their records, and this is a condition of receiving further licences in the future.

The RSPB also has considerable experience in monitoring the data coming from our own transmitters and in working closely with other individuals and organisations involved in similar projects, notably with regard to development of tag technology, sharing good practice and the analysis of satellite tag data.

We lead on police training on the interpretation of tag data, recently attending key events in Perthshire and Yorkshire in 2019 to ensure that the police and officers from the National Wildlife Crime Unit are equipped to carry out independent scrutiny of tag data. We have also helped ensure that, where satellite-tagged birds of prey are suspected of being illegally killed, relevant tag data is provided to investigating officers as required.

We have assisted the police in numerous follow-up investigations where tagged birds have been illegally killed or have been suspected to have been victims of criminality – as with Rannoch, mentioned above.

In 2017, the government-commissioned review of the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles concluded that almost a third of young tagged eagles “disappeared (presumably died) under suspicious circumstances” and that “areas managed as grouse moors were strongly associated with the disappearance of many of the tagged eagles”. This independently peer-reviewed study was underpinned by data from tags that researchers from RSPB and several other organisations and agencies had fitted to Scottish golden eagles, and is key evidence that scientifically highlights the ongoing problem of raptor persecution on Scotland’s grouse moors.

Satellite transmitters, all fitted as part of projects licensed by the BTO, have revolutionised the study of bird ecology. They have proved invaluable research tools in understanding the movements of birds, from Asian vultures to English turtle doves, Welsh hen harriers and Scottish golden eagles. They have allowed us to identify important migration staging areas, key nest and roost site locations, allowing us to further protect these birds. They have also allowed recovery of dead birds, enabling post-mortem examinations to take place and identify causes of death which would otherwise remain a mystery. Indeed, they are shining a very bright light on those areas of upland Scotland where raptor persecution continues unabated.

It is unfortunate that the SGA, which has consistently attempted to undermine the veracity of tag data, has also refused to take part in meetings of the partnership for action against wildlife crime (PAW Scotland) since the government’s satellite-tag review was published. Had it done so, perhaps many of the inaccurate statements contained in the briefing document, or in their recent members’ magazine, prepared to accompany the petition would not have appeared.  One can only question their motives.

ENDS

 

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23
Sep
19

Pre-Werritty propaganda from grouse shooting industry

As we all continue to wait for the publication of Professor Werritty’s report on driven grouse shooting, the usual suspects have been busy putting together a damage limitation programme to save their sorry necks.

An ‘informal alliance’ has been created under the banner of RELM (Rural Environment Land Management) ‘to help co-ordinate and streamline responses and communications ahead of the publication of the final report‘ and its first offering is this briefing document for MSPs which was distributed by Scottish Land & Estates a couple of weeks ago:

Here’s the intro blurb:

Grouse moor management has been the subject of much attention during the summer period across a range of issues such as the environment and species conservation, satellite tagging and wildlife crime, mountain hares and the start of the season on August 12.

With the Scottish Government’s review into grouse moor management due to be published shortly, rural organisations wished to provide the following update to parliamentarians. We would be pleased to provide additional detail where required.

Ah, how thoughtful. Amusingly, several MSPs have sent us a copy of this briefing document with comments along the lines of ‘You might want to say a few things about this’.

We’re grateful to those MSPs because yes, we do want to say a few things about the document’s contents and we wouldn’t otherwise have had an opportunity had they not shared the briefing with us.

We’re not posting the full briefing document here, yet. Instead we intend to blog about different aspects of it in turn.

Today we’re looking at the page entitled ‘Wildlife Crime’ and its five paragraphs of propaganda:

Propaganda paragraph 1:

Yes, significant media attention does remain focused on wildlife crime, and particularly illegal raptor persecution because everyone else finds it abhorrent and can’t understand why it still goes on and why the grouse shooting industry continues to shield the criminals involved. It’d be interesting to know what, exactly, these five organisations have done to crack down on raptor persecution as part of their claimed ‘full commitment to improving prevention, detection and prosecution’.

Propaganda paragraph 2:

No surprises here. This is a blatant attempt, yet again, to discredit the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime Report which was published a couple of weeks ago and showed that confirmed raptor persecution crimes in Scotland in 2018 had doubled from those recorded in 2017. These cases included a peregrine poisoned in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh; a buzzard found to have been shot twice, in South Lanarkshire; a buzzard caught in an illegal trap, in Inverness-shire; and a hen harrier caught in a spring trap in Perthshire. All of these incidents occurred on, or close to, land being managed intensively for driven grouse shooting.

With this level of relentless criminality, it’s no wonder the grouse shooting industry apologists want to infer that the RSPB’s data are ‘unofficial’. Fine. We’ll come back to this later this autumn when the Government publishes its annual wildlife crime report, which we know will include all of the confirmed incidents already reported by the RSPB.

Propaganda paragraph 3:

This is perhaps the most cynical of attempts to downplay the disgusting reality of the criminality still being committed on some driven grouse moors. And the first sentence of paragraph 3 is actually a lie. Not being pursued by Police Scotland? Er, ALL the cases of alleged raptor persecution that have been reported from grouse moors over the last few months are still considered to be live criminal investigations by the Police, according to the investigations officer we spoke to yesterday.

So, the satellite-tagged hen harrier that was found dead on a grouse moor in Strathbraan with an illegal spring trap clamped to its leg – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The two satellite-tagged golden eagles (Adam and Charlie) that ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on another grouse moor in Strathbraan, on the same morning as each other – they’re still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police (as are several other alleged offences uncovered during the police search).

The hen harrier that was found caught by its leg in a spring trap that had been set illegally next to its nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The buzzard that was caught inside a legal cage trap on the same South Lanarkshire grouse moor but was then allegedly beaten to death by someone arriving on a quad bike after dark and using a key to open the padlocked door of the cage – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The young golden eagle that was photographed flying around in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegal trap clamped to its leg – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

And as for the claim that estates have issued ‘unprecedented and emphatic rebuttals’ – er, there’s nothing unprecedented about that! Estates have always denied any involvement in any of the wildlife crimes that have been uncovered on their land – it’s what they do!

Propaganda paragraph 4:

Ah yes, convicted gamekeeper Alan Wilson, dubbed by the press as ‘Scotland’s worst wildlife killer‘. Yet again, the link between Wilson’s filthy criminal activity uncovered at Henlaw Wood and driven grouse shooting is kept well hidden. Yes, the Longformacus Estate was managed for low ground pheasant shooting but it was also managed for driven grouse shooting – a fact that Scottish Land & Estates doesn’t like to mention!

And speaking of Scottish Land & Estates and it’s so-called ‘full commitment’ to tackling wildlife crime, it still hasn’t said whether the Longformacus Estate was a member at the time these crimes were committed and if so, whether that membership has now been terminated? We asked SLE this question on 22 August 2019. Still waiting for an answer….

Propaganda paragraph 5:

Of course they continue to call for tougher penalties – how can they not? But they know as well as we do that the severity of the penalty is utterly irrelevant if the perpetrators of these crimes can’t even be identified, let alone prosecuted.

And as long as evidence continues to be destroyed and employers continue to shield their criminal employees by instructing them to give ‘no comment’ interviews to the police, nothing will change.

Fortunately, there are more and more savvy MSPs in the Scottish Parliament who have seen through the greenwash and know exactly what’s going on. If you think your MSP isn’t one of those, it’d be worth dropping them an email with a link to this blog.

29
Aug
19

RSPB’s 2018 Birdcrime report documents relentless raptor persecution on grouse moors

The RSPB has published its latest annual report Birdcrime, documenting known cases of illegal raptor persecution in the UK in 2018. [Follow this link to find the report and additional information]

As ever, it’s grim reading and also as ever, the figures represent an unknown percentage of the actual number of birds that have been illegally killed. We know there are many, many more as these figures don’t include all the satellite-tagged raptors that have been killed and their corpses and tags destroyed to remove any trace evidence.

On the back of the report, the RSPB is calling for three things, quoted as follows:

  • The licensing of driven grouse moors.
    The RSPB believes that the right to shoot should be dependent on legal, sustainable management. Grouse shooting licenses could then be removed if illegal activity is identified, which would act as a deterrent. Law-abiding estates should have nothing to fear from this.
  • A review of grouse shooting.
    An industry that relies on criminal, unsustainable and environmentally damaging practices should not be allowed to continue operating as it currently is. In Scotland, the government has launched a review of grouse moor management and the RSPB would like to see a similar review in the rest of the UK.
  • Transparency, not secrecy: the public have a right to know.
    It is a concern that, particularly in Scotland, some raptor persecution incidents are not made public for many months, or even years, despite the release of such information posing no threat to the integrity of an investigation. The public has a right to know if criminal activity is taking place on their doorstep, especially when, as with poisoning incidents, this poses a risk to public health.

To be perfectly honest, the call for the licensing of driven grouse moors is too little, too late. For many of us the tipping point has now been reached following the recent reports of some truly sadistic and brazen persecution crimes, for example this hen harrier that was caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to his nest on a grouse moor at Leadhills. His leg was almost severed and despite the best efforts of a world-class veterinary specialist, this poor bird didn’t make it.

A licensing system isn’t going to stop the disgusting filthy criminals responsible for this – it’ll be impossible to enforce, just as wildlife protection laws are notoriously difficult to enforce right now. An outright ban on driven grouse shooting will remove the incentive for these crimes, and that’s what we’re calling for. 80,000 people agree (they’ve signed since the petition was launched two weeks ago) but we need 100,000 signatures before Parliament is suspended, as looks likely to happen in a couple of weeks. Please help reach the target and sign the petition here.

The RSPB’s call for a review of grouse shooting is also too little, too late. What do we need another review for? We’ve got decades worth of scientific evidence and hundreds of raptor corpses to know just how damaging driven grouse moor management is, for wildlife, for the environment and for people. Calling for a Werritty-style review will just add further delay to actually dealing with the issue, as we’re currently seeing in Scotland. Just ban it and be done with it (sign the petition if you agree!).

Calling for transparency, not secrecy, over the publication of raptor crimes is something we do support and we’ve been calling for it for years, particularly in Scotland. It’s very noticeable that yet again, in the 2018 poisoning data, the only police force to withhold the name of the poison that’s been used to illegally kill raptors is Police Scotland. All the other forces involved with poisoning investigations have named the poison used.

Having said that, this year (2019) Police Scotland has been a bit more forthcoming about publicising illegal poisoning crimes (e.g. see here and here) although there is still a reluctance to name the poison. But to be fair, Police Scotland has been doing a better job than other public authorities about alerting the public to the dangers (e.g. see here).

Speaking of Scotland, the Birdcrime report shows that 12 confirmed cases were recorded, more than double that recorded in 2017 (take note, Scottish Land & Estates, before you start falsely claiming otherwise). These cases included a peregrine poisoned in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh; a buzzard found to have been shot twice, in South Lanarkshire; a buzzard caught in an illegal trap, in Inverness-shire; and a hen harrier caught in a spring trap in Perthshire. All of these incidents occurred on, or close to, land being managed intensively for driven grouse shooting.

And guess what? Not a single one of them has led to a prosecution. Nor has SNH issued a single General Licence restriction order in response to these clear crimes. Even more evidence, as if it were needed, that the Scottish Government, just like the Westminster Government, has no control whatsoever over the rampant raptor-killing savages on many driven grouse moors.

Had enough? SIGN THE PETITION PLEASE.

 

08
Aug
19

Police warning as red kite confirmed poisoned in Nidderdale AONB

Last October (2018) a dead red kite had been found near Wath, in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), a notorious raptor persecution black spot.

An x-ray confirmed the kite had been shot and North Yorkshire Police launched an investigation. We blogged about the case here.

It seems that wasn’t the end of the story. Although the x-ray revealed two pieces of shot, these were not considered to have caused the kite’s death so it was sent off for post-mortem and toxicology examination.

The results are now back (10 months on!!) and nobody will be surprised to learn that, like so many other red kites in Nidderdale, this one had not only been shot on two separate occasions, but it had also been poisoned with a concoction of banned pesticides.

North Yorkshire Police has now issued a warning and an appeal for information as follows:

POLICE PESTICIDE WARNING AFTER DEATH OF RED KITE (8 August 2019)

Police have issued a warning about illegal pesticides, after a post-mortem concluded a red kite died as a result of pesticide abuse.

At the end of October 2018 a red kite was found dead in Nidderdale. The finder in this case was the landowner, who was concerned that criminal activity may have taken place on his land.

North Yorkshire Police arranged for the bird to be x-rayed, and this showed there were two pieces of shot in the bird. However, it was not possible to say whether these had caused fatal injuries. Police released details of the incident, and appealed for information from the public.

Officers have now completed their enquiries. The dead bird was subjected to a post mortem, which concluded that the injury caused by one piece of shot was old and had healed. The damage caused by the second piece was recent but was not a fatal injury.

The bird was then submitted to the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme, which is administered by Natural England. It was subjected to toxicological tests which found several poisons in the bird. The largest quantity of poison was a substance called bendiocarb, a pesticide which is licenced [sic] for use in the UK. Smaller amounts of two other pesticides, isofenphos and carbofuran, which are both illegal in the UK, were also present. The report concluded that the kite had died as a result of the abuse of several pesticides.

At this time, officers have not received any information to help them identify any suspects. Although the investigation has now concluded, anyone with any information about this incident is asked to contact North Yorkshire Police, quoting reference 12180199938.

A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police said: “The test results suggest that someone not only has access to two illegal poisons, but is also placing them, along with a legal pesticide, into the environment so that a wild bird has been able to consume them. In addition to being poisoned, the bird had also been shot at least twice during its life.”

Red kites have been successfully re-introduced to Yorkshire, having been extinct as a breeding bird in England, and they are now a familiar sight to people in Nidderdale. All birds are protected by law and it is a crime to intentionally kill, injure, or take any wild bird. If anybody has information about persecution of birds of prey, whether by poisoning or shooting, please call North Yorkshire Police on 101.

Anyone misusing pesticides may also 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 handle it. Report the situation immediately to the police giving accurate details of location and why you suspect involvement of a poison.

ENDS

There’s an RSPB blog about this case here.

Interesting to note the suggestion that Bendiocarb is a pesticide that is licensed for use in the UK. Not in Scotland it isn’t – it’s one of eight pesticides that are considered so highly toxic that it’s an offence to even have them in your possession, let alone use them (the others are Aldicarb, Alphachloralose, Aluminium phosphide, Carbofuran, Mevinphos, Sodium cyanide and Strychnine).

When an opportunity arose to have these substances banned in England, the then Wildlife Minister Richard Benyon (owner of grouse moor & pheasant shoot) refused to support such a move (see here).

So, here’s yet another red kite victim to add to all the other red kite victims that have been found either poisoned or shot on or close to grouse moors in the Nidderdale AONB, along with all those missing satellite-tagged hen harriers and two shot hen harriers.

RPUK map showing the boundary of the Nidderdale AONB (yellow line), illegally killed red kites (red dots), missing satellite-tagged hen harriers (orange stars), shot hen harrier Bowland Betty (red star), shot hen harrier River (red triangle).

 

12
Jul
19

How to discuss an illegally shot hen harrier, without mentioning that it’s been illegally shot

Yesterday we blogged that a young satellite-tagged hen harrier called ‘River’ had been found dead on a grouse moor on the Swinton Estate in Yorkshire with two pieces of shot in her body (see here).

Surprisingly, the grouse moor owner’s lobby group the Moorland Association has made a statement (more often than not any raptor persecution crimes are simply ignored by this group). Perhaps, with the newly reformed Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), the Moorland Association is feeling under pressure to respond?

However, reading the Moorland Association’s statement is akin to watching a contortionist and wondering how they hell they got themselves in to such a twisted position.

The first we saw of the Moorland Association’s contortion was this, on Twitter, posted by the Moorland Association’s Director, Amanda Anderson, talking about the ‘recent incident in Yorkshire’:

‘The recent incident in Yorkshire’? Good grief. Do you mean ‘the recent illegal shooting of a hen harrier found dead on a Yorkshire grouse moor’, Amanda?

Then we read the actual statement:

Read this statement closely. You will not find the words ‘illegally shot hen harrier’ anywhere. Even the two pieces of lead shot in the bird’s body (as revealed by an x-ray) have been transformed in to “two metallic objects”!

How on earth do you expect an appeal for information about an illegally shot hen harrier to be seen as credible without actually saying it’s been illegally shot?!

There’s also a fascinating claim, attributed to North Yorkshire Police, that the estate has been informed by the police ‘that they are taking the matter no further due to lack of evidence and stressed that there was no suspicion of any wrongdoing by the Swinton Estate or its staff’.

Eh?

Is that an actual statement from North Yorkshire Police, or is it an interpretation by Swinton Estate and/or the Moorland Association? Of course there’s going to be suspicion – how can there possibly not be when an illegally shot hen harrier has been found on the estate?! That doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone at Swinton Estate was responsible for this crime, of course – there is simply no evidence to identify ANYONE as the culprit, especially when we don’t even know where or when the bird was shot – but to say ‘there was no suspicion of any wrongdoing’ seems to be stretching credulity a little bit too far.

It would be useful to see the x-ray of the dead hen harrier. We’ve been told it showed up two pieces of lead shot but no further detail than that. Had the lead shot smashed the harrier’s wing bones, rendering it unable to fly, then it might suggest the bird was indeed shot close to where its corpse was found. However, had the lead shot simply nicked, say, a leg bone, without breaking or fracturing it, then it would be supportive evidence to a theory that the harrier may have been shot elsewhere and was able to fly several miles before collapsing on this moor. North Yorkshire Police has not published the x-ray as far as we’re aware.

We’re also interested in the claim that the hen harrier’s body was “too decomposed to perform a post mortem“. Really? And who made that decision? Was it a pathologist? If you look at the photograph of the harrier’s body being collected from the moor by North Yorkshire Police, it looks to be in a condition that would permit a post mortem.

And if a post mortem wasn’t carried out, under what circumstances did North Yorkshire Police ‘later retrieve’ one of the two pieces of shot, as mentioned in yesterday’s blog?

There’s a lot about this crime and the subsequent investigation that just doesn’t add up. The situation isn’t helped by the PR contortions of the Moorland Association, whose appalling track record in tackling illegal raptor persecution on grouse moors renders them an organisation with zero integrity or credibility, in our opinion.

Let’s hope Police Superintendent Nick Lyall can use his position as Chair of the RPPDG to investigate the details of this case and report, as much as he is able, to what is fast becoming a disenchanted and angry public.

11
Jul
19

Shot hen harrier’s corpse found on Swinton Estate, a grouse moor in North Yorkshire

In January this year, the RSPB reported that a satellite-tagged hen harrier called ‘River’ had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in November 2018 on an unnamed grouse moor in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) (see here).

This was an area where the day before River ‘disappeared’, the RSPB had filmed an unidentified gunman with two dogs at a known hen harrier roost (see here).

Nothing more was heard from River’s tag until the end of March 2019. What happened next is recounted in an RSPB blog published this afternoon:

SHOT HEN HARRIER FOUND ON NORTH YORKSHIRE GROUSE MOOR

By Mark Thomas, Head of Investigations, RSPB

Another satellite-tagged hen harrier, found dead on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire, has been confirmed as shot.

You may remember River, the young female hen harrier who suddenly disappeared in November 2018 in suspicious circumstances. We wrote about it here. Now, further information has emerged – and it’s not good news.

River was satellite tagged in Lancashire in 2018 as part of the RSPB EU Hen Harrier LIFE project. In November 2018 she sent out her last transmission from a roost location on a driven grouse moor in North Yorkshire, within the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. My staff and North Yorkshire Police searched the area but found no trace of the bird or the tag.

Then surprisingly at the end of March 2019, River’s tag gave off another signal confirming that she was dead and giving a precise location. These satellite tags are solar powered, and it’s possible that the bird’s body was disturbed, allowing the tag to ‘wake up’ and get back in touch with us. The longer, brighter days might have had their effect too.

This latest ‘ping’ gave us an exact location of River’s body, and again my staff and the police officers set out to recover her. They found her dead on Ilton Moor on the Swinton Estate on 5 April 2019. She was just 3.7km away from where her last transmission in November had come from, both on the same estate.

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

River’s decomposed body was recovered and taken to be X-rayed by the Police. Yesterday I received confirmation from North Yorkshire Police that her body contained two pieces of shot, one of which had later been retrieved and confirmed as such by the Police.

We don’t know precisely when or where River was shot, or who did it, but clearly she has been the subject of illegal persecution.

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail. However, hen harriers like River continue to suffer at the hands of people clearly breaking these laws, and clearly undeterred by the consequences.

River is the latest hen harrier to be shot, adding to the evidence that these birds are being routinely illegally killed, often on land being used for driven grouse shooting.

The RSPB is calling for the licensing of driven grouse moors. With just a handful of breeding hen harrier pairs left in England, this is a species with everything to lose if the status quo continues.

If you have any information which might help identify who shot River, or if you know anything about birds of prey being killed in your area, you can contact my team in confidence on our hotline: 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

This news has a certain amount of inevitability about it. A hen harrier has been shot and her corpse has been found on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire.

According to Mark’s blog, River’s corpse was retrieved from the Swinton Estate. Mark quite rightly states that it’s not possible to identify when, exactly, she was shot, or where or by whom. However, River’s demise mirrors that of so many other young satellite-tracked hen harriers – in fact 72% of them according to this recent scientific research.

The Swinton Estate may be a familiar name to some blog readers – it’s where the shot corpse of hen harrier Bowland Betty was discovered in 2012 (see here). Again, it was not possible to identify who had shot her, or where (she may have been shot elsewhere and managed to fly some distance before collapsing and dying on Swinton) and so nobody was charged or prosecuted for killing her.

The Swinton Estate may be a familiar name to other blog readers because we’ve previously reported on an estate gamekeeper who was convicted in 2014 for illegally setting a pole trap, twice, in 2013 (see here). He told the court the pole trap was nothing to do with targeting protected raptor species, but had been set with the intention of catching squirrels. No matter, he was still convicted because, quite rightly, barbaric pole traps have been illegal for decades.

The Swinton Estate name has cropped up in recent weeks as it’s rumoured to be hosting at least two hen harrier breeding attempts, and we believe one of those nests has since been ‘brood meddled’ by Natural England with either the hen harrier eggs or chicks removed and taken in to captivity (see here).

Please note: the location of this brood meddled nest is as yet unconfirmed because Natural England is refusing to publish further details, laughably ‘in the interest of the welfare of the harriers’.

We expect to learn these details later in the year so we’ll certainly be returning to this story. If the brood meddling has taken place on Swinton, we’ll be wanting to know whether Natural England knew about the discovery of River’s shot corpse before the decision to brood meddle was taken.

There’s something else that stood out in Mark’s blog. This statement:

River’s decomposed body was recovered and taken to be X-rayed by the Police. Yesterday I received confirmation from North Yorkshire Police that her body contained two pieces of shot, one of which had later been retrieved and confirmed as such by the Police‘.

Question 1:

Why did it take North Yorkshire Police over three months to notify the RSPB of the x-ray results?

Question 2:

Under what circumstances did North Yorkshire Police ‘later retrieve’ one of the two pieces of shot found in River’s body? WTF?!

There’s something very, very odd going on here.

UPDATE 12 July 2019: How to discuss an illegally shot hen harrier, without mentioning that it’s been illegally shot (here)

27
Jun
19

Young hen harrier suffers horrific death in illegal trap on Strathbraan grouse moor

RSPB press release (27 June 2019)

YOUNG HEN HARRIER KILLED BY ILLEGAL TRAP ON PERTHSHIRE GROUSE MOOR

A satellite tagged hen harrier has been illegally killed on a Perthshire grouse moor. The remains of the young female, named Rannoch, were found by RSPB Scotland in May caught in a spring trap which had been set in the open, not permitted by law.

The post mortem report from SRUC veterinary laboratory said: “The bird was trapped by the left leg in a spring trap at time of death. Death will have been due to a combination of shock and blood loss if it died quickly or to exposure and dehydration/starvation if it died slowly. Either way the bird will have experienced significant unnecessary suffering.”

[Hen harrier Rannoch’s remains in an illegal trap on a Strathbraan grouse moor. Photos by RSPB Scotland]

Rannoch was satellite tagged by RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project in July 2017. Her tag data movements were followed closely by RSPB Scotland until 10th November 2018 when she stopped moving in an area of moorland between Aberfeldy and Crieff. The solar powered tag battery drained before accurate location data could be gathered allowing her to be found, but after coming online again in May 2019 enough information was provided to locate her remains. A recent study showed that 72% of tagged British hen harriers are confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, Project Manager for the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project, said: “We are absolutely devastated that Rannoch has been a victim of crime; the life of this beautiful bird was cut short in the most horrific way due to human actions. Satellite tagging has revealed the amazing journeys made by hen harriers but also uncovers how their journeys end.

Often the birds disappear with their tags suddenly ceasing to function as perpetrators go to great lengths to hide the evidence of their crimes; Rannoch’s death in a spring trap is evidence of one way in which these birds are being killed. In terms of their population size, hen harriers are the most persecuted bird of prey in the UK, and their population is now perilously low, so every loss we suffer impacts the continued survival of the species.”

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations Scotland, said: “This latest killing of a hen harrier is truly appalling. The actions of the individual who set this trap were both reckless and indiscriminate, and showed a complete disregard for both the law and the welfare of local wildlife. Sadly, the catalogue of criminal killing of tagged hen harriers and other birds of prey continues unabated; we know many others are illegally killed and going undetected, so her death is part of the tip of the iceberg of the true level of criminality.

At a time when our hen harrier population is in sharp decline, we repeat our call on the Scottish Government to take urgent action to regulate driven grouse shooting through a licensing scheme, with sanctions to remove licences to shoot on land where the public authorities are satisfied that illegal activities are occurring”.

Rannoch was one of two chicks who fledged from a Perthshire nest in an area owned and managed by Forestry and Land Scotland in July 2017. Her tag was fitted in partnership with local members of the Tayside Raptor Study Group and Forestry and Land Scotland, who monitored the nest together.

[Hen harrier ‘Rannoch’ being fitted with her satellite tag in 2017. Photo by Brian Etheridge]

The tag data showed Rannoch spent most of her time in Perthshire before she stopped moving on 10th November 2018. As the tag had continued to function after she stopped moving, rather than coming to an abrupt halt, it was assumed that she had died of natural causes. The tag briefly transmitted more data in January this year, and again in May for longer, as the battery recharged in the spring sunlight. The second time more accurate location data was transmitted, allowing RSPB Scotland to finally recover Rannoch’s remains. When RSPB Scotland found Rannoch her leg was caught in a spring trap. Her body was recovered and delivered to the SRUC veterinary laboratory for a post mortem, and Police Scotland were notified.

Logan Steele, a member of the Tayside Raptor Study Group, which monitors hen harriers in the area said: “Rannoch and her sibling were the first birds to fledge from this site in ten years so I was very angry to hear she had died caught in an illegal trap. With so few hen harriers left in this part of Perthshire it is particularly worrying that this bird will not return to breed.”

Anyone with information about this crime or other bird of prey illegal persecution is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101, or the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

The RSPB press release does not name the grouse moor where Rannoch’s remains were found but just says it was ‘in an area of moorland between Aberfeldy and Crieff’.

This is clearly within the boundary of the Strathbraan raven cull area, where in 2018 SNH issued a licence to local gamekeepers permitting them to kill 69 ravens ‘just to see what happened’. A legal challenge to that licensing decision was successfully made by the Scottish Raptor Study Group and one of their concerns had been that the Strathbraan raven cull area was a known raptor persecution hotspot with a long history of poisonings, illegally-trapped birds and the suspicious disappearances of at least six satellite-tagged eagles.

[RPUK map showing boundary of Strathbraan raven cull area (yellow line) and significant areas of moorland managed for driven grouse shooting (outlined in white). Hen Harrier Rannoch’s corpse was found on one of these moorlands]

Hen Harrier Rannoch’s name will now be added to the ever-increasing list of persecuted satellite tagged hen harriers on British grouse moors, although unusually this time we’re not dealing with a missing corpse and a missing tag that has suddenly and inexplicably stopped working.

No, this time there is no escaping the brutal, barbaric reality of her miserable death. The criminality is writ large, for all to see.

How will the authorities respond this time? Complete silence, as we’ve come to expect every time a raptor persecution crime is reported in the press? We won’t let the Scottish Government off the hook so easily this time.

Wilful blindness will no longer be tolerated.

This weekend, the Scottish Parliament will be celebrating its 20 year anniversary. Twenty years ago, the then Secretary of State Donald Dewar famously described illegal raptor persecution as “a national disgrace” and committed the Scottish Parliament to take “all possible steps to eliminate [raptor] persecution“.

It’s time for the Scottish Government to honour that commitment.

Please send an email of protest to Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham: cabsececclr@gov.scot Your email needs to be firm but polite. There can be no more prevarication on dealing with these crimes and the Scottish Government needs to understand the strength of feeling about its continued failure to bring the criminals to justice and end these vile actions.

Thank you.




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