Archive for the '2019 persecution incidents' Category


Two hen harriers shot on two North Yorkshire grouse moors: shooting industry’s response

At the end of January 2020 several prominent organisations from the game-shooting industry (BASC, Moorland Assoc, National Gamekeepers Org, Countryside Alliance) and the Country Landowners Association made a huge thing about acknowledging 66-year-old wildlife protection legislation when they announced a professed ‘zero tolerance’ for the illegal killing of birds of prey (see here).

Since then police in North Yorkshire, the epicentre of UK raptor persecution, have issued two public statements (on 12th and 17th March) about the witnessed shooting of two male hen harriers, one on a grouse moor in the Bowland AONB (here) and one on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here). The illegal killing of hen harriers has been identified as a National Wildlife Crime Priority. This species is on its knees, thanks to criminals within the grouse shooting industry.

It was also revealed that, unusually, North Yorkshire Police had been able to make two arrests in relation to these reported crimes; this was welcome news and in both press releases the police asked the public to come forward with any further information as their inquiries continued.

[Conservationist Chris Packham holding the corpse of an illegally trapped hen harrier that was found on a grouse moor in Scotland last year. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

You might think, given the recently professed ‘zero tolerance’ of these offences, that police appeals for information about these two disturbing crimes reported on Yorkshire grouse moors would provide the perfect opportunity for the grouse-shooting industry to offer its full support to the investigations and to encourage members of the public to step forward with info, especially if there was concern about dangerous unidentified armed criminals running amok on privately-owned land, right?

Well apparently not. We’ve looked at the websites of the five organisations to search for statements and this is what we found:

BASC: nothing

Moorland Association: nothing

National Gamekeepers Organisation: nothing

Countryside Alliance: nothing

CLA: nothing

Ah, you may say, well they’re all too busy focusing on the coronavirus so haven’t had time to share information about illegal raptor persecution.

Well, that may have been a credible argument had we not found the National Gamekeepers Organisation and Countryside Alliance yesterday making urgent demands of DEFRA’s Secretary of State George Eustice to issue licences that permit gamekeepers to continue killing stoats and sidestep new restrictions (see here and here).

Meanwhile, with the hypocrisy knob turned up to high, BASC has been howling with moral indignation about the timing of Wild Justice’s decision to challenge the casual killing of birds in Wales (see here).

Zero tolerance of illegal raptor persecution? Yeah, right.


General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate: some fascinating details

In November 2019, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire following ‘clear evidence from Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on this estate’ (see here, here, and here).

Those alleged offences included the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was first given powers to impose a General Licence restriction). SNH had also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests had also been disturbed’, although there was no further detail on this. The estate consistently denied responsibility.

[The shot short-eared owl that was found shoved under some heather on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

In December 2019 Leadhills Estate appealed against SNH’s decision to impose the General Licence restriction (see here) but on 31 January 2020 SNH announced that it had rejected the estate’s appeal and the General Licence restriction still stood (see here).

We were really interested in the details of Leadhills Estate’s appeal so a freedom of information request was submitted to SNH to ask for the documents.

The information released by SNH in response is fascinating. Some material hasn’t been released due to what appear to be legitimate police concerns about the flow of intelligence about wildlife crime in the Leadhills area but what has been released provides a real insight to what goes on behind the scenes.

First up is an eight page rebuttal from Leadhills Estate’s lawyers about why it thinks SNH was “manifestly unfair” to impose the General Licence restriction.

Download it here: Leadhills Estate appeal against GL restriction decision

Next comes SNH’s six-page rejection of the estate’s appeal and the reasons for that rejection.

Download it here: SNH rejects Leadhills Estate appeal against GLrestriction

Prepare for some jaw-dropping correspondence from Leadhills Estate’s lawyers, including a discussion about how the raptor workers who found the hen harrier trapped by it’s leg in an illegally-set spring trap next to its nest last year ‘didn’t take steps to assist in the discovery of the suspect, which could have included placing a camera on the nest’.

Are they for real??!! Can you imagine the uproar, had those raptor workers placed a camera pointing at the nest and identified a suspect who was subsequently charged? We’ve all seen how that scenario plays out, with video evidence dismissed as ‘inadmissible’ and the game-shooting lobby leering about the court victory. That Leadhills Estate is now arguing that the failure of the raptor workers to install covert cameras is reason for the estate to avoid a penalty is simply astonishing, although the next time covert video evidence is challenged in a Scottish court it’ll be useful to be able to refer to this estate’s view that such action would be deemed reasonable. Apart from anything else though, those raptor workers were too busy trying to rescue that severely distressed hen harrier from an illegally-set trap:

[The illegally trapped hen harrier. Photo by Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Other gems to be found within this correspondence include the news that a container of an illegal pesticide (Carbosulfan) was found on Leadhills Estate in May 2019 and contributed to SNH’s decision to impose the General Licence restriction (this information has not previously been made public – why not?) and that during a police search of the estate (sometime in 2019 but the actual date has been redacted) the police seized some traps. The details of why those traps were seized has also been redacted but SNH write, ‘Although this in itself does not establish criminality it certainly adds weight to our “loss of confidence” [in the estate]’.

The Estate claims that the alleged impartiality of the witnesses should have some bearing on proceedings but SNH bats this away with ease, saying that the evidence on which the restriction decision was made was provided by Police Scotland and that the partiality of witnesses has not been identified as a significant factor of concern for the police, and thus not for SNH either.

It’s also amusing to see the estate claim ‘full cooperation’ by the estate with police enquiries. SNH points out that this so-called ‘full cooperation’ was actually largely limited to “no comment” interviews!

We don’t get to say this very often but hats off to SNH for treating the estate’s appeal with the disdain which, in our opinion, it thoroughly deserves.

Meanwhile, following SNH’s decision in January to uphold the General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate due to ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime, we’re still waiting for Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) to respond to our enquiries about whether Leadhills Estate is still a member and whether Lord Hopetoun of Leadhills Estate is still Chairman of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group.



Hen harrier shot on grouse moor: North Yorkshire Police make an arrest

North Yorkshire Police have arrested a man in connection with the reported shooting of a hen harrier on a grouse moor near the village of Keasden.

He has been released under investigation whilst police await the results of forensic analysis.

This incident relates to the reported shooting of a male hen harrier near White Syke Hill in the Bowland AONB last October. A previous blog on this case can be read here.

[Hen harrier photo by Richard Verroen]

This is significant progress from North Yorkshire Police, not just in this particular investigation but also more generally in the investigation of crimes against birds of prey. Regular blog readers will be well aware of the infrequency of arrests in many of these cases, sometimes due to incompetence, inexperience and/or missed opportunities, sometimes due to lack of support from senior officers, but more often than not due to a lack of witnesses and insufficient evidence to instigate a prosecution against a named individual.

This is an issue that especially affects the persecution of hen harriers. Rigorous scientific research has demonstrated the eye-watering extent of hen harrier persecution on many driven grouse moors in northern England (e.g. here); it happens so often it’s brought the English hen harrier breeding population to its knees, but when was the last time you saw a named individual in court facing prosecution for allegedly killing one?

We have long argued that the scale of illegal raptor persecution, particularly on some driven grouse moors, amounts to serious organised crime and that the people involved are skilled at removing and destroying evidence to avoid prosecution. It takes tenacity, sometimes a bit of luck, and above all, determination, to get these people anywhere near a court room, let alone to secure a conviction.

This investigation is still in the very early stages and it may not progress to a charge if the evidence doesn’t reach the required standard but for now let’s congratulate North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Crime Team for getting it this far.

If you have any information that could help this investigation please contact North Yorkshire Police on Tel 101 quoting reference number: 12190193431.


Red kite found shot in Herefordshire

The RSPB and West Mercia Police are appealing for information after a dead red kite was discovered in Herefordshire on New Years Eve.

[The shot red kite. Photo from RSPB]

[Wigmore, Herefordshire]

From an RSPB press release, issued 6 March 2020:

A red kite was found dead in a field in Wigmore, Herefordshire on New Years Eve 2019 by a member of the public. The RSPB and West Mercia Police were notified. When the police collected the bird, they noticed a large hole in the bird’s body.

The RSPB arranged for a post-mortem of the bird, and the results concluded that it had been shot, and that ‘shooting with a single projectile is by far the most likely cause’ of death. Witnesses also confirmed they had heard shooting in the area the day before.


If anyone has any further information please contact West Mercia Police on 101 or fill in the RSPB’s confidential online reporting form here

[The shot red kite, photo from RSPB]


Hen harrier shot in North Yorkshire – police appeal for info 5 months later

[Male hen harrier, photo by Richard Verroen]

Press statement from North Yorkshire Police (4 March 2020)


Police looking for witnesses or anyone who may have seen something suspicious

North Yorkshire Police is appealing for information after a hen harrier is believed to have been shot near White Syke Hill approximately 3km south east of  the North Yorkshire village of Keasden.

A member of the public has witnessed an incident which they believed was the shooting of a male hen harrier.

The incident occurred on moorland near White Syke Hill at approximately 5.30pm on Friday 18 October 2019.

Officers have been conducting active enquiries and a man has been interviewed in connection with this investigation.

North Yorkshire Police is appealing for anyone with information about this incident or who may have seen anything in the area shortly before 5.30pm to please call 101 quoting reference number: 12190193431.

If you wish to remain anonymous, you can pass information to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

ENDS (but see blog update at bottom of screen)

White Syke Hill is situated in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), just over the border from the Yorkshire Dales National Park. And surprise surprise, there’s a driven grouse moor nearby.

It’s our understanding that there was a very quick initial police response to this reported shooting, with the police working closely with partner agencies, culminating with an interview of a potential suspect. It’s not clear why it’s taken five months for a public appeal for information to be made.

As a reminder that DEFRA’s seriously flawed Hen Harrier Action Plan is failing miserably, let’s add the shooting of this hen harrier to the ever-expanding list of hen harriers (at least 30 now) 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:

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published inaccurate information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 May 2019: A male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: A hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire (this post)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

There are two more satellite-tagged hen harriers (Tony & Rain) that are reported either confirmed or suspected to have been illegally killed in the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Report but no further details are available.

And then there were last year’s brood meddled hen harrier chicks that have been reported ‘missing’ but as they’re carrying a new type of tag known to be unreliable it’s not known if they’ve been illegally killed or if they’re still ok. For the purposes of this mini-analysis we will discount these birds.

So that makes a total of at least 30 hen harriers that are known to have either ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances or have been found illegally killed in the last two years. The DEFRA Hen Harrier Action Plan is certainly providing cover for the criminals – yep, carry on with the killing lads (and maybe lasses), we’ve got your backs.

UPDATE 12 March 2020: Hen harrier shot on grouse moor – North Yorkshire Police make an arrest (here)


Another pigeon fancier convicted for killing a sparrowhawk

Last week we blogged about pigeon fancier Duncan Cowan who was convicted for shooting a sparrowhawk in Stirlingshire and was fined a pathetic £450 (see here). Incidentally, there’s more to that story, coming soon.

Today, another pigeon fancier at the other end of the country has also been convicted of killing a sparrowhawk, this time with a catapult in his neighbour’s garden. Yovanis Cruz pleaded guilty at Portsmouth Magistrates Court and was fined £653 plus £85 costs plus £63 victim surcharge (£801 in total).

[The sparrowhawk victim. Photo via RSPB]

We await further details on this case. [See blog update below]

Unlike Scotland, where increased penalties for wildlife crime are about to be enacted via the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Bill which is currently at Stage 1 of parliamentary scrutiny, there are no plans by the Westminster Government to consider an increase in penalties for wildlife crime.

After gamekeepers, pigeon fanciers accounted for a significant proportion of all those convicted for raptor persecution crimes between 1990 – 2018, according to RSPB data (BirdCrime Report 2018).

UPDATE 19.15hrs: The RSPB has now published a press statement about this case (here)



Derbyshire police respond to criticism over poisoned buzzard investigation

In early February we blogged about an illegally poisoned buzzard that had been found dead in the Peak District National Park, next to an illegal poisoned bait (see here). The focus of the blog was the long delay from discovery (April 2019) to publicity (Jan 2020) and even then the publicity had come from the RSPB, not from the police.

[The illegally poisoned buzzard. Photo by Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group]

We then wrote a follow-up blog last week (here) after Derbyshire Constabulary had claimed, with straight faces, that the discovery of the poisoned buzzard next to the poisoned bait was ‘inconclusive’, even though the official toxicology examination had concluded that,

The evidence therefore suggests that the Buzzard died as the result of the deliberate and illegal use of a high concentration of chloralose on a partridge bait, rather than through secondary poisoning from a different legally applied source…..”.

Derbyshire Constabulary came in for some well-earned criticism and have now responded with the following post on Facebook:

First the good points. This post is more conciliatory and far less antagonistic than recent posts on Derbyshire’s Rural Crime Team’s Facebook page. That’s a smart move. It’s also helpful to explain to the public the high workload demands, the large geographic area and the small size of the team. Like most police forces, they’re up against budget cuts and lack of resources. It’s good for the public to be reminded of these things to help manage expectations.

It’s also good to hear that the new civilian coordinator has been invited to join the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) and that he’s working with partner agencies, including the RSPB’s Investigations Team, to develop a standard operating procedure investigation guide. Although it’s hard to believe that such an SOP doesn’t already exist, especially in a county that has such a long running history of bird of prey persecution in association with driven grouse shooting.

However, this ‘update’ from the Rural Crime Team doesn’t address the initial issue at all – that is, what appears to be a fundamental cock-up in to the investigation of a dead poisoned buzzard that was found next to a poisoned bait. There’s no acknowledgement that there has been a cock-up, certainly no apology, and no indication that anything further will be done.

Police Supt Nick Lyall, who Chairs the national Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group has been made aware of this case and he’s looking in to it:



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