Archive for the 'Persecution Incidents in England' Category

21
Jan
19

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘River’ disappears on grouse moor in Nidderdale AONB, North Yorkshire

RSPB press release (21 January 2019):

Hen harrier ‘River’ disappears in suspicious circumstances

The police and the RSPB are investigating the sudden disappearance of yet another satellite tagged hen harrier in North Yorkshire, the county with the worst reputation for bird of prey persecution.

The bird, named River, was one of several hen harrier chicks in England fitted with a satellite tag as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project last summer (2018). These lightweight tags allow the RSPB to monitor the birds after they fledge.

[Photo of hen harrier ‘River’, by RSPB]

Her tag’s last known transmission came from a driven grouse moor between Colsterdale and Nidderdale – an area with a history of bird of prey persecution – on 14 November. She was known to have been hunting and roosting in the area for several weeks. RSPB Investigations staff and North Yorkshire Police searched the area, but there was no sign of the bird or the tag. She has not been heard from since.

[Google map showing location of Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in North Yorkshire]

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. North Yorkshire Police investigated the disappearance, but no information has been forthcoming.

Hen harriers are rare birds which nest in moorland, especially in the uplands of Northern England and Scotland. However just nine nests were recorded in England last year, despite enough prey and habitat to support over 300 pairs. They have not successfully bred in North Yorkshire since 2007.

Over 30 hen harriers were tagged last summer in the UK. Between August and November 2018, nine of these, including a 10th bird tagged in 2017, disappeared at different locations in the UK.

Mark Thomas, Head of RSPB Investigations UK, said: “Again we have news of a disappeared harrier, again in North Yorkshire, and again last known to be on a grouse moor. Hen harriers are barely clinging on as a breeding species in England. They should be a common and joyful sight over the moorlands of North Yorkshire, however the reality is most people only know them as being rare and persecuted.

The idea that this bird may have been deliberately targeted is incredibly worrying, especially in the context of eight others which have vanished in similar circumstances. When a tagged hen harrier dies naturally, we expect the tag to continue transmitting, enabling us to find the body. This was not the case here. Instead, there was no trace of the tag or the bird, which is highly suspicious. When hen harriers disappear like this over an area with a history of raptor persecution, it’s hard not to draw conclusions.”

The RSPB’s latest Birdcrime report showed that North Yorkshire is consistently the worst county in the UK for recorded bird of prey persecution, accumulating significantly more confirmed incidents in the last five years than anywhere else. In 2012, hen harrier ‘Bowland Betty’ was found shot at nearby Colsterdale. A reward was offered but no culprit was identified.

If you have any information relating to this incident, call North Yorkshire Police on 101.

If you know about raptor persecution occurring in your area and wish to speak out in confidence, call the confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

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.

ENDS

So, yet another young sat-tagged hen harrier ‘disappears’ in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire. It’s becoming quite the routine, isn’t it?

Here’s an RPUK map showing the approximate last known locations of at least ten satellite-tagged hen harriers that have all ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances inside the Nidderdale AONB (yellow boundary) or neighbouring Yorkshire Dales National Park in recent years. The red triangle represents River’s approximate last known location and the red star represents Bowland Betty, the hen harrier that was found shot here in 2012:

Interestingly, Bowland Betty’s shot corpse was found on a grouse moor on Swinton Estate and it appears that River’s last known tag transmission was from close by.

RPUK map showing approximate last known location of hen harrier River (red triangle) and the approximate location of Bowland Betty’s shot corpse (red star):

And as anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time will know, Nidderdale AONB is also known as being a hotspot for the illegal killing of red kites. Many of them have been found shot or poisoned on or close to grouse moors throughout Nidderdale (see map below) and those doing the killing are so brazen they don’t even bother to hide the corpses, safe in the knowledge they’ll never be prosecuted.

[RPUK map: Nidderdale AONB = yellow boundary. Illegally killed red kites = red circles; sat-tagged hen harriers that have vanished in suspicious circumstances = orange stars & red triangle; illegally shot hen harrier Bowland Betty = red star]

When you look at these maps, and especially the one that combines hen harriers and red kites, you understand the relentless criminality involved and the impact these crimes can have on local, regional and sometimes national populations of some species.

And yet still, the Westminster Government refuses to acknowledge there’s even a problem, let alone the scale of it.

This year we’re encouraging blog readers to write to/email your local MP every time one of these crimes is reported. If you live in the local area, even better, but even if you live hundreds of miles away, please still take action. These are birds that you will not have the opportunity to see in your area because they’ve been ruthlessly slaughtered, usually on or close to a driven grouse moor. This is a matter of national concern but politicians won’t take notice unless their constituents raise the issue with them.

Do it, it’s easy and will take up little of your time. Just a quick and simple email is enough.

If you don’t know who your MP is, use this website to find them via your postcode HERE

Thanks

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21
Jan
19

National Gamekeepers’ Org’s resignation letter in full

Further to earlier blogs about the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) formally resigning from the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (here, here, here), the official resignation letter has now been published.

This is copied directly from the NGO’s website:

Oh, where to begin.

Let’s start with the intro blurb, and this statement:

The NGO remains committed to stopping raptor persecution and is already in new talks with Government and others to pursue an active agenda for consigning raptor persecution to the history books“.

Any guesses about what that “active agenda” might be? Do you think it might consist of gamekeepers lobbying for the inclusion of raptors on General Licences, to allow gamekeepers to kill them with impunity (to protect pheasants and grouse) and not face any criminal charges for their efforts? It’s a strategy the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has been pushing for years – legalise the killing of raptors so no laws are being broken, just birds’ necks, wings and legs.

Now on to the letter itself. Charles Nodder clearly has grievances about the prior running of the RPPDG, but most of his complaints relate to the period before Nick Lyall took on the role as Chair in autumn last year, so it’s hardly fair to lay those complaints at Nick’s door.

One of the specific complaints from that period relates to “the leaking of minutes“. Doesn’t Charles understand that RPPDG minutes are available to the public via Freedom of Information requests? Sure, they’re a pain in the arse to get hold of because DEFRA is often uncompliant with FoI regulations and so there are long delays but eventually the details emerge. There’s no need for alleged leakages when the minutes can be legitimately accessed anyway. Which is how we eventually learned about the Moorland Association’s interest in obtaining licences to kill Marsh harriers, a discussion which some members of the RPPDG couldn’t recall taking place (here). Imagine that. You still want to talk about “dishonourable behaviour” by some organisations, Charles?

Another specific complaint relates to the publication of the RPPDG’s raptor persecution maps. These were published online in Dec 2017 and were criticised by those of us who could see through the greenwash (here). According to Charles’s letter, all members of the RPPDG had worked on the maps and agreed their content (emphasis is ours) prior to publication and it was “dishonourable” for two member orgs (NERF and RSPB) to later distance themselves from the work.

However, if you actually read the public statements made about the map work by both NERF (here) and the RSPB (here), you can see that both organisations had most definitely not agreed to the content that was formally published by the RPPDG so there was nothing “dishonourable” whatsoever about their later public statements. Both organisations felt their views had been misrepresented by the RPPDG and they were entilted to point that out.

Charles then turns his ire directly on to Nick Lyall and complains about some “unfortunate coverage in The Times in October” which Nick had apparently agreed to correct – we have no clue to what this refers so can’t comment.

Then Charles claims he had a discussion with Nick Lyall in recent days about new organisations being invited to join the RPPDG. Again, we don’t know the details of that alleged discussion and we’re certainly not going to take Charles’s claim as fact. But even if such a discussion did take place, why should Charles think he’s entitled to veto any potential new members and why on earth would he object specifically to representatives from groups as benign as BAWC, the Wildlife Trusts and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, all of whom are committed to wanting an end to the illegal killing of birds of prey? Besides, these organisations all attended the RPPDG workshop organised by Nick in November (see here) where new ideas were gathered from all sides about how to progress the RPPDG’s effectiveness. Why shouldn’t those organisations be invited to the next meeting where those ideas would be discussed in full?

Sorry, Charles, but your petulant letter of resignation reveals more than you probably would have hoped. The true colours of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation are laid out for all to see and it’s mostly a deep, dark, murky, muddy brown.

Good riddance.

21
Jan
19

Back-pedalling BASC?

Earlier today we blogged (here) about the apparent boycott by several pro-shooting organisations of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), the so-called ‘partnership’ tasked with tackling the illegal killing of birds of prey on game shoots in England & Wales.

According to an article published in The Times, we learned that the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation had resigned from the RPPDG because, hilariously and without the merest hint of irony, it had “lost faith in the integrity” of RPPDG Chair Supt Nick Lyall.

We also learned, according to that article, that the other pro-shooting organisations that had failed to attend last week’s RPPDG meeting (Moorland Assoc, BASC and Countryside Alliance) stayed away because they had complained it (the RPPDG) “now favoured anti-shooting groups”.

Perhaps senior staff at BASC have realised that this is a monumentally idiotic position to cling to as these organisations have become a laughing stock on social media this morning. The following statement has just been posted on BASC’s website:

The statement repeats the quote reported in The Times, that “BASC remains committed to constructive dialogue with all sides” but it has added three important words: “BASC remains committed to constructive dialogue with all sides of the debate….”.

It’s not a debate, BASC. Raptor persecution is a crime. And not just any old crime, it’s a national wildlife crime priority. There’s no “constructive dialogue” to be had within the RPPDG other than “What can we do to help eradicate these criminals from within the shooting industry“?

And that dialogue is hard to have (or believe) when you refuse to turn up to meetings.

Sort yourselves out or shove off and make way for those who genuinely want to tackle this.

Oh, and one more thing. The content of RPPDG meetings is not confidential. We’ve got copies of the minutes of all the RPPDG meetings which we obtained via FoI requests. One of the things Nick Lyall has promised us is that in future, minutes will be be made readily available so we don’t have to spend months chasing DEFRA via FoIs. It’s called transparancy and accountability – you should try it sometime.

21
Jan
19

Seriously? Supt Nick Lyall’s integrity challenged by pro-game shooting groups!

This is quite spectacular.

Further to yesterday’s blog (here) where it was revealed the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation had formally resigned from the DEFRA group established to tackle illegal raptor persecution (the RPPDG – Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group), there’s a piece in today’s edition of The Times explaining the gamekeepers’ decision, and also explaining why some of the other game-shooting organisations had boycotted last Wednesday’s RPPDG meeting. It has to be read to be believed:

Let’s start with the resignation of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation first. It says it resigned from the RPPDG because it has “lost faith in the integrity” of the new Chair, Police Supt Nick Lyall.

Oh god, the irony.

And what had Nick Lyall done to earn such a slur?

Had he ignored the NGO? Nope.

Had he excluded them from RPPDG planning discussions? Nope.

Had he dismissed the NGO’s ideas without a second thought? Nope.

Had he slagged off the NGO in public? Nope.

It turns out Nick’s integrity was apparently compromised (according to the gamekeepers) when he invited representatives from the Wildlife Trusts, the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Birders Against Wildlife Crime to join the RPPDG! Seriously, that’s it!

And what of the Moorland Association, BASC and the Countryside Alliance (and apparently the Country Land and Business Association)? Why did these pro-game shooting groups boycott last week’s RPPDG meeting? According to this article they complained that the RPPDG “favoured anti-shooting groups”. That’s bloody hilarious. The RPPDG has been top heavy with pro-game shooting representatives ever since the group started (hence no progress on tackling wildlife crime after all these years) but now that a few conservation organisations have been invited to the table to join the discussions, the shooting groups feel it’s all a bit unfair and unbalanced? You couldn’t make this up.

Oh, and they’re also a bit upset (“betrayed”?!) because our research revealed that the Moorland Association had been asking about licences to kill Marsh harriers at a previous RPPDG meeting, even though the majority of RPPDG attendees ‘couldn’t remember’ this discussion (see here).

The quotes at the end of the article are indicative of just how easily these organisations can churn out meaningless soundbites. BASC says it is “committed to constructive dialogue with all sides…..” and Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association says she was ‘committed to tackling the issue’.

Er, how does that work if you’ve boycotted a meeting where discussions took place on how to tackle illegal raptor persecution?

Nick Lyall’s quote reveals his integrity is fully intact. “I am a new chair, with new and fresh ideas that require the involvement of all members of the group, new and old, to pull together to deliver”.

We’re looking forward to finding out what happens at the next RPPDG meeting, scheduled for April. As we said yesterday, this will be a real test of Nick’s leadership skills. If those raptor-hating groups are still boycotting the RPPDG on such spurious grounds and are still intent on disrupting the progress of the RPPDG, they need to be booted off with immediate effect, no more messing about.

UPDATE 21 January 2019: Back-pedalling BASC? (here)

UPDATE 21 January 2019: National Gamekeepers’ Organisation resignation letter in full (here)

20
Jan
19

Gamekeepers resign from DEFRA group established to tackle illegal raptor persecution

The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) has formally resigned from the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) because it ‘doesn’t like the direction of travel’ of the group.

Regular blog readers will be familiar with the RPPDG but for the benefit of new readers, here’s a quick recap. The RPPDG was established in 2011, a so-called ‘partnership’ between the police, representatives from the game-shooting industry (e.g. National Gamekeepers Organisation, Moorland Association, BASC, Countryside Alliance etc), and representatives from the raptor conservation community (RSPB, Northern England Raptor Forum), along with some government agency reps from Natural England, DEFRA, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and the Welsh Government. It was tasked with the ‘delivery’ of action against the raptor killers in England & Wales (in Scotland the ‘delivery’ group is the PAW Raptor Group).

It would be fair to say we’ve been highly critical of the RPPDG over the years, and justifiably so. Until recently, this has been a partnership in name only, which has been useful for certain organisations and DEFRA Ministers to hide behind on the pretence of tackling illegal raptor persecution but the stark reality is that the RPPDG has contributed absolutely nothing of value towards the conservation of UK raptors in all the years it’s been operating, largely because the group’s membership has been dominated by representatives of the game-shooting industry (i.e. the industry most responsible for the continued illegal killing of birds of prey).

The RPPDG has been secretive, unaccountable and has suffered from a chronic lack of leadership, as evidenced recently when we blogged about how the group had deliberately produced apparently inaccurate and contested minutes relating to the Moorland Association’s interest in obtaining licences to kill Marsh harriers to stop these birds allegedly ‘disrupting’ shoot days on driven grouse moors.

In September 2018 Police Superintendent Nick Lyall took over the role of the RPPDG Chair and this led to cautious optimism amongst conservationists. Open, inclusive, hard-working, transparent and willing to be held to account, Nick Lyall brings everything to the RPPDG table that has previously been missing. Last month he blogged in more detail about his plans (here) and the first RPPDG meeting with Nick as Chair took place last Wednesday (16 Jan 2019).

This was an important agenda-setting meeting, as for the first time, at Nick’s invitation, it included representatives from the wider conservation community. However, interestingly, four long-standing RPPDG members didn’t turn up for that meeting – the Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, Countryside Alliance and BASC – as reported by Mark Avery (here), and there was much speculation on social media about why those four members chose to boycott the meeting.

Well now we know why at least one of them made that decision. The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation has since formally resigned from the RPPDG, and, interestingly, a copy of its resignation letter has been leaked to The Times and we believe this is due to be published tomorrow, quite possibly in an attempt to undermine Nick Lyall’s integrity and credibility.

It’s our understanding that the gamekeepers are ‘unhappy with the direction of travel’ of the RPPDG under Nick Lyall’s leadership. That would be an interesting position, given that all Nick Lyall has done is focus his efforts on getting the RPPDG in to a position where it can actually tackle illegal raptor persecution, which is, after all, er, the purpose of the RPPDG. If you’re representing an organisation that is purportedly dedicated to tackling the illegal killing of birds of prey, what’s to dislike about that?!

As for the other three groups who chose not to attend Wednesday’s meeting, we’re waiting to hear what they’ll do in the longer term. We understand they are ‘considering their positions’. Will they behave like the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and boycott future meetings but still maintain their membership of the PAW Raptor Group, picking and choosing their own terms of engagement? Hopefully Nick Lyall won’t permit that to happen. Group members should either be committed to participating in full or they should be booted off;  they must not be allowed to disrupt progress from a distance. Strong leadership will be required and it’ll be Nick Lyall’s first real test if that’s the scenario presented to him.

But surely the Moorland Association, with its recent statements about “working together constructively” and its support of “widespread collaboration” (see here) won’t walk away from an opportunity to tackle the rampant criminality within the grouse shooting industry, right?

UPDATE 21 January 2019: Seriously? Supt Nick Lyall’s integrity challenged by pro-game shooting groups! (here).

UPDATE 21 January 2019: Back-pedalling, BASC? (here).

UPDATE 21 January 2019: National Gamekeepers’ Organisation resignation letter in full (here)

08
Jan
19

Marsh harrier found illegally shot

The RSPB Investigations Team is reporting the discovery of a shot Marsh harrier.

This bird was discovered critically injured on the river bank near Barton-upon-Humber in North Lincolnshire on 9th  September 2018. A dog walker reported it to the RSPCA and it was also reported to the police. An RSPCA officer took the harrier to the East Winch Wildlife Centre near Boston where an x-ray revealed it had been shot. The bird later died from its injuries.

[Photo by RSPCA]

Humberside Police investigated but were unable to identify the criminal responsible.

If anyone has any information relating to this incident, call Humberside Police on 101 quoting crime reference number 16/115793/18.

Further details on the RSPB Investigations blog here

Marsh harriers are increasingly in the firing line, whether it’s on lowland game shooting estates (e.g. here), on land adjacent to an RSPB Reserve (e.g. here) or on upland grouse moors (e.g. here).

And let’s not forget (as several people did) the grouse shooting industry’s interest in obtaining licences to kill Marsh harriers to prevent the so-called ‘disruption’ of driven grouse shoots.

30
Dec
18

Police Supt Nick Lyall to create ‘hostile environment’ for raptor killers in England & Wales

Hats off to Police Superintendent Nick Lyall, the current Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) in England and Wales.

This guy took up post in September and promised accountability, transparency, and most importantly, delivery of the group’s objectives, which centre on a partnership approach to tackling illegal raptor persecution. No easy task given that the RPPDG, which was formed in 2011, has so far delivered absolutely nothing of any use because its membership has been top heavy with those only interested in protecting the image of the grouse shooting industry and because the so-called ‘partnership’ has suffered from a chronic lack of leadership by its former Chairs.

Now, thanks to Nick’s leadership, things look set to change. We blogged last month about some of his preparatory work (here) and today he’s published a blog about some of his plans for 2019, which he’s calling ‘The Year of the Raptor’.

[Supt Nick Lyall visiting RPPDG partners in the Yorkshire Dales in November: L-R David Butterworth (CEO Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority), Nick Lyall, Ian Court (Wildlife Officer at YDNPA) and Sgt Stuart Grainger of North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force]

This is Nick’s 4th blog since September – full marks to him in the transparency stakes; we’ve never seen this level of communication from previous Chairs and it is a very welcome change.

In his latest blog (here), Nick outlines some of his immediate plans for the RPPDG and the one which caught our eye was this:

The creation of an Enforcement Group that will focus on partnership working and the `Achilles Heel` approach to tackling head-on those people that are known or strongly suspected to be involved in persecution offences. Creation of a hostile environment for those committing persecution offences‘.

The specifics of this proposed Enforcement Group and its operational capabilities aren’t detailed as yet, which is understandable, but we hope that it will be restricted to law enforcement bodies only and will specifically exclude all those shooting industry organisations whose main aim seems to be to protect the raptor killers from any enforcement measure. Presumably the group will have access to highly sensitive police intelligence logs including the names of shooting estates and associated individuals who are suspected of committing wildlife crime and presumably the group will also have the authority to act on those intelligence logs and go after the suspects. Let’s face it, these estates (and many of the individuals) are already well known because raptor crime is reported there time and time and time again but enforcement action, with a few notable exceptions, has been appalling.

Directly linked to this lack of enforcement in some cases has been a lack of available resources as police budgets are slashed, and a lack of trained police officers and control room operators in some regions but by no means across the board. Nick discusses his plans to tackle both these issues, in addition to launching a national publicity campaign based on North Yorkshire Police’s exemplary Operation Owl campaign.

Of course, there’s also the obligatory ‘let’s talk with the shooting industry’ approach, which has proven utterly futile in the past with organisations actively opposing cooperation with police-led initiatives to tackle illegal raptor persecution (e.g. see here and here) but Nick will just have to learn the hard way. At least they won’t be able to accuse him of not trying.

All in all though, Nick’s proposals look thoughtful and well-considered and there’s every reason to be (cautiously) optimistic about the future role of the RPPDG.




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