Archive for the '2020 persecution incidents' Category


Police appeal for information after buzzard found shot in Peak District National Park

Press release from Greater Manchester Police and RSPB (4 June 2020)

Buzzard found shot twice in Peak District National Park

Greater Manchester Police and the RSPB are appealing for information after a buzzard was found shot near Diggle, in the Peak District National Park, on 11 May 2020.

[The shot buzzard had to be euthanized due to the extent of its injuries. Photo by Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group]

A member of the public found the bird dying on the ground and contacted the RSPB. However it had to be euthanized at a vets the next morning due to the extent of its injuries.

The body of the bird was x-rayed, and found to contain six pieces of lead shot. Further post-mortem analysis revealed that the bird had also been shot at an earlier occasion, but survived.

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.

However the northern Peak District is a known hotspot for the shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey. Nearby In 2018, a climber witnessed a red kite being shot out of the sky near Saddleworth, the same year that a tawny owl and a short-eared owl were found shot near Wessenden Head.

The RSPB’s Investigations Team recently reported a surge of potential and confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution since lockdown. It is believed that the absence of visitors and raptor workers from key parts of the countryside may have served as an invitation to some to increase their efforts to kill birds of prey.

Jack Ashton-Booth, RSPB Investigations Officer, drove the dying bird to the vets. He said:

To hold the body of a bird in your hands that’s been riddled with lead shot, knowing that you probably can’t do anything to save it, is devastating. That is the reality of raptor persecution.

We are grateful to the member of the public who reported this incident. If you find a bird of prey dead or injured in suspicious circumstances, please report it to the police. We’re certain that more birds will be killed than we ever find or hear about.”

A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police, said: “Shooting a bird of prey is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and I would appeal to hear from anyone with information.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Greater Manchester Police on 101.

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB Investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form here


This is the buzzard that was featured in the BBC Look Northwest programme on Weds night (see here)


‘400% increase in illegal killing of birds of prey since lockdown’

Last night BBC Look Northwest had an excellent feature on the continued killing of birds of prey in the UK. It included interviews with Howard Jones from the RSPB Investigations Team, and everyone’s favourite persecution denier, Duncan Thomas from BASC.

The clip can be viewed here (starts 18.10 mins) but is only available until 7pm this evening (Thurs 4 June 2020). We’ve reproduced the transcript below:

BBC studio presenter: “The RSPB says it’s been overrun with reports that birds of prey have been illegally killed since lockdown began. It’s thought the quieter countryside has made it easier for criminals to target them. A recent case involved a buzzard which had been shot near Saddleworth. Here’s our environment correspondent Judy Hobson.”

Judy Hobson: “A buzzard, found in the Peak District three weeks ago. This x-ray shows it had been shot. It was found here on Saddleworth Moor. The RSPB say since lockdown began there’s been a 400% increase in the illegal killing of birds of prey”.

[The shot buzzard and its x-ray. Photo by Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group]

Howard Jones, RSPB: “Lochdown has kind of emboldened the criminals out there who want to kill birds of prey so they think with the restrictions that have been imposed there’ll be less people out in the countryside and there’s less chance of being caught”.

Judy Hobson: “Two birds were found dead in Cumbria last month, other birds targeted include hen harriers, peregrine falcons and red kites. It’s an issue that’s plagued the countryside for years and the RSPB has consistently pointed the finger at gamekeepers protecting young grouse”.

Howard Jones: “In two thirds of the prosecutions that have ended up in court for bird of prey persecution since 1990, two thirds of those have been gamekeepers”.

Judy Hobson: “The charity says the number of birds found dead since lockdown began equates to a bird being killed every single day”.

Duncan Thomas, BASC: “I really dispute these figures. I would love to have a proper investigation in to exactly where they’re coming from. The RSPB are using birds of prey as a cash cow. It’s not proportionate, effective investigation, we must let the police get on with their job. We will expel anybody who is convicted of a wildlife crime of this nature”.

Judy Hobson: “The RSPB says it stands by its figures and says the police are investigating every single incident. Campaign groups such as Wild Justice also believe more birds have been targeted since lockdown. But a row over figures perhaps distracts from an inherent problem which shows no sign of going away”.

Howard Jones: “These are majestic birds of prey and creatures that people come out in to the countryside to see and despite 65 years of legal protection they are still being targeted”.



Buzzard found shot in Norfolk during lockdown

Norfolk Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team has posted this on Twitter today:

We haven’t been able to find any further published information – status of the bird, crime ref number etc.

Here’s a map of the location:


4 shot buzzards on a Bransdale grouse moor: shooting industry’s response

Last Friday afternoon, North Yorkshire Police appealed for information in relation to an ongoing investigation involving the discovery of five dead buzzards that had been shoved in a hole under a rock on an unnamed grouse shooting estate in Bransdale in the North York Moors National Park. X-rays have so far revealed that four of those five buzzards had been shot (see here).

[Police body camera footage captures the moment five dead buzzards are pulled from a hole where they’d been concealed on a grouse shooting estate in Bransdale, North York Moors National Park]

North Yorkshire Police has since released x-rays of three of those shot buzzards:

In relation to this incident and other ongoing investigations into raptor persecution, Inspector Matt Hagen from North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Crime Team told Channel 4 News, “All the shooting investigations that we’ve got going on at the moment are involving gamekeepers on grouse moors” (see here).

Given the game-shooting industry’s claims of a ‘zero tolerance’ stance to illegal raptor persecution (see here), you’d think this would be the perfect opportunity for the grouse shooting industry to offer its full support to the police investigation and encourage its members to step forward with information, especially if there was concern about dangerous unidentified armed criminals, killing protected species and running amok in a National Park, right?

Well apparently not. Having looked at the websites of the industry’s ‘leading’ organisations this morning, here’s what they’ve had to say about this latest crime:

Moorland Association: nothing

BASC: nothing

Countryside Alliance: nothing

National Gamekeepers Organisation: nothing

GWCT: nothing

Impressive, eh?

There is one group from the industry, however, who seems to have plenty to say, and it’s quite extraordinary.

The North Yorkshire Moors Moorland Organisation (NYMMO) is an apparently grassroots umbrella organisation that represents grouse moor gamekeepers in the North York Moors. It’s one of a number of regional moorland groups in the UK, established a few years ago as part of what looks like a propaganda exercise to promote grouse moor management in a favourable light. The NYMMO website doesn’t have a list of grouse-shooting estates on which its members work but we do know it has members that work in Bransdale (more on this in a future blog).

Here’s what the NYMMO posted on its social media channels on Sunday, in response to the news that five dead buzzards, four of which are confirmed as being shot, were discovered concealed in a hole on an unnamed Bransdale grouse shooting estate:

Does this strike anyone as evidence of an industry exhibiting ‘zero tolerance’ of raptor persecution? You can bet that some of those ‘leading’ organisations will be raging at the NYMMO for posting such an incredibly stupid and revealing statement in response to what is an horrific wildlife crime, especially as a number of those ‘leading’ organisations have a close and supportive relationship with the NYMMO. Although at least one BASC staff member (Gary Dockerty, BASC Upland Officer) has ‘liked’ this post on Facebook.

More on the NYMMO shortly….


BBC Countryfile highlights raptor persecution on grouse moors

Last night’s edition of Countryfile on the BBC included a ten minute slot on raptor persecution.

It’s available to watch on BBCiPlayer (here) for the next 11 months (starts 10.40 min).

To be honest, after watching the compelling piece on raptor persecution that featured on Channel 4 News on Friday (see here), Countryfile’s effort was a bit limp and underwhelming.

Having said that, we should bear in mind that to the average Countryfile viewer, the fact that gamekeepers are still killing birds of prey in 21st Century Britain will have been quite a shock so ten mins of exposure on such a prime time programme is to be welcomed. There was also some cracking footage of hen harriers.

But for those of us all too familiar with this subject, this programme grated in some areas.

Presenter Tom Heap pitched the subject as a ‘political war between gamekeepers and the RSPB’ – sorry, Tom, but you’re about ten years out of date. Look around, there’s an ever-increasing community of organisations and individuals who are fighting hard against the grouse shooting industry and not just on the raptor persecution issue.

Tom also repeated the wildly inaccurate but often cited claim that the game-shooting industry is worth £2 billion to the rural economy. It’s worth nothing of the sort – keep an eye on Mark Avery’s blog as we anticipate a forensic dissection of this particular topic. [Update: read Mark’s blog here]

Then we had Steve Bloomfield from BASC who was complaining about ‘sweeping statements’ being made about raptor persecution that, according to him, infer everyone in gameshooting is killing raptors. He might just as well have stamped his feet and said, ‘It’s so unfair!’ The so-called ‘sweeping statements’ that I’ve seen are nothing of the sort – they’re statements of fact. For example, that the RSPB has received an increase in reported raptor persecution incidents during lockdown and the majority of those have been on land managed for game shooting.

Another example, from a senior police officer (Insp Matt Hagen, North Yorkshire Police), who told Channel 4 News and Countryfile that reported incidents had certainly increased since lockdown and that ALL his investigations were currently centred on gamekeepers on grouse moors.

To be honest, I can’t be bothered to write anymore of a review. It’s just going over the same old ground, time and time again. Watch the video if you like but if you watched the Channel 4 News video on Friday you’ll not learn much new from this one.

Meanwhile, let’s get back to the Bransdale case and those industry connections…..


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Thomson: All of them?

Matt Hagen: All of them.

Alex Thomson: Every single one?

Matt Hagen: That’s right.

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

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

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


Channel 4 News highlights raptor persecution on North Yorkshire grouse moors

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

The six minute film can be viewed here.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the transcript:

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

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

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

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

Alex Thomson: All of them?

Matt Hagen: All of them.

Alex Thomson: Every single one?

Matt Hagen: That’s right.

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

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

We’ll be exploring this further….

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

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