Archive for the 'Persecution Incidents in England' Category

24
Sep
20

Channel 4 bats away shooting industry hysteria

On Monday evening Channel 4 News included an explosive piece about grouse shooting in the North York Moors National Park and its association with the illegal killing of birds of prey.

Fronted by veteran war correspondent Alex Thomson, it was a follow-up to an item that was broadcast back in May where Alex had again focused on the illegal killing of birds of prey on grouse moors in the North York Moors National Park as well as in the Nidderdale AONB (see here).

Monday’s piece was car-crash viewing if you were a member or supporter of the grouse shooting industry, in what was an extraordinary display of arrogance, denial and entitlement from a number of individuals involved with a grouse shoot. All those previous media campaigns, carefully-crafted to showcase this industry to the general public in the best possible light, shot down in tatters during a prime time viewing slot before our very eyes. If you missed it, this six minute film is well worth your time.

Predictably, since the programme aired some members of the shooting industry (which, remember, professes a ‘zero tolerance‘ for raptor persecution) have been in an absolute rage on social media, angrily shouting about how unfair it all was, how dare a high profile journalist question anybody involved in this noble ‘sport’ for their views on illegal raptor persecution, spitting blood that there wasn’t an alternative opinion given (conveniently forgetting that the Moorland Association was given the opportunity to comment, but didn’t).

They were also probably furious that several members of the local community were filmed, dispelling quite a few myths and debunking the propaganda often painted of a moorland community in harmony – a rural idyll where local residents are deliriously enthralled by the activities of the local grouse moor managers and thankful for the boost that grouse shooting brings to the local economy, without which the local community would apparently collapse. Nah, these Goathland residents weren’t having any of it. Kudos to them for standing their ground.

Don’t be surprised to see the launch of a campaign /petition calling for Alex Thomson’s dismissal from Channel 4  –  this thuggish industry has a well-deserved reputation for trying to shoot the messenger, usually by generating a nasty little smear campaign to undermine the integrity of those who dare to speak out against the industry’s criminality and environmental destruction.

Meanwhile, several individuals have already been making complaints about the programme directly to Channel 4. Channel 4 is having none of it. Here’s the standard response that has been sent back:

Brilliant! If you’d like to send Channel 4 a message of support for (a) broadcasting the footage during its main evening news schedule and (b) having the balls to stand up to the resulting howling hysteria of the grouse shooting industry, you can use this form (here) to show your support and appreciation.

23
Sep
20

Large police operation investigating raptor persecution near proposed release site for hen harriers

Press release from Wiltshire Police (23 September 2020)

One arrest made after operation into bird of prey persecution in Wiltshire

A teenager has been arrested today following two warrants executed in East Wiltshire.

Led by the Wiltshire Rural Crime Team but supported by local officers, officers from Hampshire Constabulary, South West Forensics, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Natural England and the Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, warrants were executed at locations in the Pewsey and Beckhampton areas.

A 19-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of raptor persecution under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Firearms were seized as part of ongoing enquiries, and the carcasses of a number of birds of prey, including red kites and buzzards, were located at the location in Beckhampton.

PC Marc Jackson, Wiltshire Police Rural Crime Team, said: “Following an extensive search of both locations, we have recovered the remains of a number of birds of prey, including red kites and buzzards.

The recovery of these remains presented a number of complex challenges and we are grateful for the support from other agencies.

Our enquiries continue into how these birds were killed and disposed of. If anybody has any information that they think could support our investigation, please contact us on 101.”

Inspector Liz Coles, Tactical Lead for Rural Crime in Wiltshire, said: “Today’s warrant shows that we take all aspects of rural crime seriously and we will proactively work with partners to protect wildlife and our rural communities.

“Last week saw the introduction of the new dedicated rural crime officers to the team, and this is a prime example of how they will help us moving forward.

“We continue to develop more intelligence-led policing in relation to prevention, detecting criminal activity and proactive operations“.

Wiltshire Police are part of the national initiative called Operation Owl. The initiative sets out to raise awareness of raptor persecution, encouraging the public to be vigilant for signs of this criminal activity, and to report suspicious activity to the police.

ENDS

Well now this doesn’t look good for Natural England’s ridiculous project to ‘reintroduce’ hen harriers to southern England, does it? And after all that work they’ve done trying to convince potential donor countries that raptor persecution is no longer an issue in southern England (e.g. see here and here).

[RPUK map showing proximity of Natural England’s ludicrous hen harrier reintroduction site to the area where a large police investigation in to raptor persecution is underway]

23
Sep
20

Raptor persecution highlighted in House of Lords

Natalie Bennett is a long-time supporter of the campaign for grouse moor reform and particularly against the illegal killing of birds of prey – she’s been a familiar spokesperson at many Hen Harrier Day events over the last few years.

Now Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, she is using her position in the House of Lords to keep up the pressure.

Here’s a question she posed to DEFRA Minister The Rt Honourable Lord Zac Goldsmith on 16th September 2020 (text from Hansard):

Here is Zac’s response:

Zac said, “I would welcome access to the report that the noble Baroness mentions“.

Here you go, Zac, the report, documenting the 44 hen harriers that have either vanished in suspicious circumstances or have been confirmed illegally killed, most of them on or close to driven grouse moors, since 1 January 2018, can be read here

But that report is now out of date. The running total now stands at 45 hen harriers that have either vanished in suspicious circumstances or have been confirmed illegally killed, most of them on or close to driven grouse moors, since 1 January 2018 (see here for details).

For completeness, although as a DEFRA Minister you must surely already be aware of this, the peer-reviewed science, based on Natural England’s own data, that demonstrates that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers in England were ten times more likely to ‘disappear’ or be illegally killed on or close to British grouse moors, can be read here.

The question now is, what do you intend to do about it?

[An illegally killed hen harrier. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

21
Sep
20

Channel 4 News re-visits the grouse moors of the North York Moors National Park

The illegal killing of birds of prey on the grouse moors of North Yorkshire was firmly back in the news headlines this evening with another excellent piece fronted by Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News.

You may remember an earlier piece from Alex back in May this year (here) which featured various police investigations in Nidderdale AONB and the discovery of five dead buzzards stuffed into a hole on a Bransdale grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park during lockdown – four were later confirmed to have been shot (here).

This time the TV crew filmed a grouse-shooting party near Goathland in the North York Moors, where earlier this year film footage emerged purporting to show an individual killing a trapped goshawk on the Queen’s grouse moor in May (see here and here).

In this latest film there’s some hilarious footage of various members of the shooting party denying all knowledge of the alleged goshawk incident and providing a display of arrogance that the general public doesn’t often get to see, usually hidden as it is behind carefully-worded propaganda pieces.

Speaking of the alleged goshawk incident, Alex said,

The police told us, a gamekeeper will soon be prosecuted for killing the goshawk“.

The Duchy of Lancaster says if there is a successful prosecution, the sporting tenant, BH Sporting, may lose its lease.

Interesting times.

Here’s the six minute video that appeared on Channel 4 News this evening:

UPDATE 24th September 2020: Channel 4 bats away shooting industry hysteria (here)

21
Sep
20

Police appeal for information following reports of raptor persecution in Dorset

Press release from Dorset Police (21 September 2020)

Appeal for information following reports of raptor persecution in North and East Dorset

Dorset Police has been working alongside Natural England and the RSPB following two raptor persecution incidents in North and East Dorset.

Raptor persecution – which is one of the UK wildlife crime priorities and involves birds of prey – includes poisoning, shooting, trapping, habitat destruction and nest destruction or disturbance.

The laying of poisoned bait is illegal. All birds are protected by law in the UK, with the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 being the primary legislation protecting the wildlife and their environment.

In April 2020 it was reported that several buzzards were found dead within close proximity to each other in the Ashmore Wood area near Blandford. These birds were sent for testing and enquiries remain ongoing.

The birds were found near to public access routes on land owned by more than one landowner.

In August 2020 officers received a report from an animal rescue centre that a number of dead and sick animals from the Verwood area were bought in to them. The animals included buzzards, an owl and a rabbit. These animals were all sent for testing.

Two of the buzzards involved in the Verwood incident survived and have been tended back to health by staff at the rescue centre.

[Photos via Dorset Police]


Police Constable Rob Hammond, of North Dorset police, said: “It is very concerning to see these harrowing incidents occurring in our area and an investigation is underway into each of the reports.

I would like to warn members of the public that this poison could be harmful to anything or anyone that comes into contact with it.

There is a real danger that persecution can affect any kind of bird. More common species such as kites, which have recently returned to our area and are making good progress, and buzzards can come to harm. Tragically it will also have an impact on rarer birds of prey such as ospreys, which have recently been reintroduced to the Poole harbour area and roam for miles, and hen harriers, which are almost extinct in this country.

Always be careful if you see a dead bird of prey or a group of them together – do not touch them, especially if it can be clearly seen that they have white or blue matter in any open wound.”

If you come across a dead raptor, or group of dead raptors, please report this to Dorset Police by taking a photograph and marking the location of the incident using a grid reference or an app, such as What3words. Please also report this to the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) hotline on 0800 321600.

The RSPB can be contacted for advice or information, but the matter must be reported to Dorset Police and the WIIS for an investigation to be carried out.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Dorset Police at http://www.dorset.police.uk, via email 101@dorset.pnn.police.uk or by calling 101, quoting occurrence number 55200052754 for the Ashmore Wood incident and 55200131382 for the Verwood incident. Alternatively, to stay 100 per cent anonymous, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers online at Crimestoppers-uk.org or call Freephone 0800 555 111.

ENDS

21
Sep
20

Natural England denies cocking up police investigation at Whernside hen harrier site

Earlier this month the RSPB published a blog (here) detailing an incident that was witnessed by a Natural England fieldworker at a hen harrier nest site in Whernside, Cumbria during this year’s breeding season and Natural England’s subsequent refusal to publicise the details.

The alleged incident involved an armed man sitting near a tethered eagle owl that had been placed within the territory of a pair of breeding hen harriers in an area where controversial brood meddling was taking place.

Here’s what the RSPB wrote about the incident:

‘…..a Natural England fieldworker was monitoring a hen harrier nest on moorland near Whernside, Cumbria, when he saw a man wearing camouflage carrying a firearm and a live bird of prey, believed to be an eagle owl about 300m from the hen harrier nesting area. He tethered the bird and sat a short distance away with his gun. In the circumstances there seems little doubt the intention was to draw in raptors, presumably the hen harriers, to shoot them. The use of a tethered live bird as a decoy to kill or take a wild bird is in itself illegal, but a method that seems to be increasingly used for targeting raptors. This was no doubt a highly stressful situation, we understand the fieldworker took some video footage and made himself visible. This eventually had the desired effect, and the suspect, realising he was under observation, left. It was reported to the police but due to evidential issues around establishing the identity of the suspect, it was not possible to take the matter forward to court. The RSPB would like to place on record our thanks to Cumbria Constabulary and the CPS for their determined efforts to progress this investigation. We firmly consider that this incident and the video should now be put in the public domain’.

A few days later we published a blog about an allegation we’d heard from a number of sources, that the police investigation couldn’t progress because a Natural England staff member had contravened the Police & Criminal Evidence Act by phoning up the alleged gunman and asking whether he’d been present at the alleged crime scene (see here).

Two days later, Natural England published a blog (here), written by Dave Slater, Natural England’s Director for Wildlife Licensing and Enforcement Cases, in which he claimed to want to ‘clarify Natural England’s position on raptor persecution and recent media coverage’.

The Natural England blog (here) is well worth a read and when you’ve done that, have a look at Mark Avery’s dissection of it (here) in which Natural England’s contortions are laid bare.

The one part of the NE blog that Mark didn’t address was this bit, which looks like a response to the allegations made on RPUK that Natural England had cocked up the police investigation at that hen harrier site at Whernside:

The statement of interest here is the middle paragraph. Natural England reckons the failed police investigation ‘was not related to anything our field worker had done‘ but NE carefully avoided mentioning the allegation that an NE staff member had phoned up the suspect and had thus compromised the police investigation by breaching the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

Is Natural England denying that a staff member phoned up the suspect? If so, it would be useful for Natural England to put that in writing.

It would also be useful if the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and/or Cumbria Police released the legal advice that was given by the CPS to Cumbria Police on this particular case.

It would also be helpful if Natural England would publish the video evidence of an armed man, sitting with a tethered eagle owl, in the territory of a pair of breeding hen harriers at one of this year’s brood meddling locations. It’s not like there’s anything to hide, is there?

In related news, if you want further evidence of Natural England’s absolute ineptitude when it comes to the conservation of birds, have a read of this (here), published today by Mark Avery. It’s shocking.

15
Sep
20

Satellite-tagged hen harrier Dryad ‘disappears’ on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park

RSPB press release (15 Sept 2020)

Another hen harrier disappears, last reported on Yorkshire grouse moor

The RSPB is once again urging the Government to step in and support licensing of grouse shooting to address the illegal persecution of birds of prey following the suspicious disappearance of yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier.

Dryad, a female hen harrier, hatched at a nest in the Forest of Bowland this summer. She was fitted with a lightweight satellite tag so that scientists could trace her movements once she fledged. But Dryad barely had time to spread her wings before her tag, which had been transmitting normally, stopped suddenly and unexpectedly on 7 September 2020.

The tag’s last transmission showed the bird had been roosting on a grouse moor between Kirkby Stephen and Ravenseat in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. RSPB staff searched the area but found no trace of Dryad or her tag. Dryad has not been heard from since.

[RPUK map showing approximate location of Dryad’s last known transmission]

Hen harriers, a red-listed species, are legally protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Yet they remain one of the most persecuted birds of prey in the UK and continue to be illegally killed, or disappear in suspicious circumstances, particularly on or near land managed for shooting. Scientific research published in 2019, based on the UK Government’s own data, showed that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers in their study were killed or likely killed on British grouse moors, and that hen harriers were 10 times more likely to die or disappear over grouse moor.

The most significant threat to the English hen harrier population – which is now perilously low – is persecution by humans. 24 hen harrier nests were recorded this summer, of which 19 successfully produced chicks, yet there is enough habitat and prey to support 12 times that number.

Dryad is the 44th hen harrier known to have been illegally killed or gone missing in suspicious circumstances since 2018.

This wider area, which is dominated by driven grouse moors, has become a ‘hotspot’ for suspicious hen harrier disappearances, as revealed by satellite tagging.

In July this year a hen harrier named Harriet, tagged by Natural England, sent her last transmission near Outhgill, just over the border in Cumbria. A further two disappeared, last transmitting near Bowes, County Durham and Askrigg, North Yorkshire respectively in September 2019. And in 2016, the hen harrier Rowan was found shot in Ravenstonedale, Cumbria.

Elsewhere in North Yorkshire, in 2019 the body of another satellite tagged hen harrier known as River was found shot on the Swinton Estate, North Yorkshire.

Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said:

Illegal killing is the number one factor stalling hen harrier conservation in the UK. Despite all the positive news around 60 juveniles fledging in England this clearly shows the fate of many of these birds once they disperse. Sadly we expect further suspicious disappearances in the next few months following the well-established pattern of previous years. If Dryad had died naturally, we would expect her tag to continue transmitting, allowing us to find and recover both body and tag. The sudden stop of satellite tags, particularly considering the history of persecution in this area, strongly points to human interference.

Mark continues: “It is blatantly clear that current legislation is failing to protect our birds of prey and that criminality continues unchecked on grouse moors. The Government must act urgently and commit to licensing of grouse shooting with sanctions to withdraw licenses to shoot where criminal behaviours are proven to the satisfaction of the public authorities. Law-abiding estates would have nothing to fear from this approach.”

During August, over 120,000 emails were sent to local MPs by concerned members of the public urging them to take action to end bird of prey persecution, prompted by an e-action by Wild Justice, the RSPB and Hen Harrier Action.

ENDS

15
Sep
20

More on that gunman filmed with a decoy owl near hen harrier nest site on Whernside

Late on Friday afternoon the RSPB published a blog detailing an incident that was witnessed by a Natural England fieldworker at a hen harrier nest site in Cumbria during this year’s breeding season.

According to that blog (here), ‘…..a Natural England fieldworker was monitoring a hen harrier nest on moorland near Whernside, Cumbria, when he saw a man wearing camouflage carrying a firearm and a live bird of prey, believed to be an eagle owl about 300m from the hen harrier nesting area. He tethered the bird and sat a short distance away with his gun. In the circumstances there seems little doubt the intention was to draw in raptors, presumably the hen harriers, to shoot them. The use of a tethered live bird as a decoy to kill or take a wild bird is in itself illegal, but a method that seems to be increasingly used for targeting raptors. This was no doubt a highly stressful situation, we understand the fieldworker took some video footage and made himself visible. This eventually had the desired effect, and the suspect, realising he was under observation, left. It was reported to the police but due to evidential issues around establishing the identity of the suspect, it was not possible to take the matter forward to court. The RSPB would like to place on record our thanks to Cumbria Constabulary and the CPS for their determined efforts to progress this investigation. We firmly consider that this incident and the video should now be put in the public domain’.

One of the main points being made in the wider RSPB blog was that Natural England had declined to publicise this incident, even though it is understood to have taken place in an area where hen harriers were being brood meddled as part of a Government-sanctioned conservation sham, optimistically called the Hen Harrier Action Plan by those involved.

[A much more realistic portrayal of the so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan. Cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

Natural England’s refusal to voluntarily disclose detailed information about its sham hen harrier conservation project or this latest allegation of attempted persecution at a hen harrier nest site shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone who’s been following this blog for any length of time. Natural England has developed something of a reputation for its lack of transparency and accountability, especially when it comes to meddling with hen harriers, and much of this goes back further than Tony Juniper’s reign (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here etc etc).

Since the RSPB’s blog was published on Friday afternoon, not one of the shooting organisations involved in the hen harrier brood meddling sham have published a statement on their respective websites. Remember, these are the organisations who claim to hold a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to illegal raptor persecution. You’d think they might have something to say about it, wouldn’t you? Especially given the history of raptor-killing in this area (see here).

We’ve heard, from a number of sources, an allegation that, if true, might explain Natural England’s reluctance to discuss this particular incident.

Have another look at this statement from the RSPB blog:

‘It was reported to the police but due to evidential issues around establishing the identity of the suspect, it was not possible to take the matter forward to court’

We’ve been told that the day after the Natural England fieldworker filmed the gunman with his tethered live eagle owl near the hen harrier nest, a Natural England staff member phoned the gunman and asked whether it was him who had been seen at the hen harrier site the day before.

Because Natural England is a statutory authority, its staff have to abide by the requirements of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). This Act is primarily concerned with the behaviour of the police (or other relevant authority), the suspect’s rights and the admissibility of evidence. According to our sources, phoning a suspect and asking whether he had been present at a potential crime scene would be a breach of PACE and, even though it’s ‘just’ a technicality, this would be sufficient for a defence agent to have any potential prosecution thrown out at an early stage.

Is this what happened in this case? Did Natural England cock up a potential prosecution, albeit unintentionally? We’re unlikely to ever get a full account out of Natural England but it does raise an important issue – does Natural England have a protocol/procedure in place for how its staff should behave in these situations? And if not, it needs to get one sorted pronto because as we’re all too aware, the illegal killing of hen harriers on grouse moors is an ongoing crime wave.

UPDATE 21 September 2020: Natural England denies cocking up police investigation at Whernside hen harrier site (here)

11
Sep
20

Gunman filmed at hen harrier nest site with decoy eagle owl

The RSPB Investigations Team has published a blog this afternoon detailing an incident that was witnessed by a Natural England fieldworker at a hen harrier nest site in Cumbria during the breeding season.

[Hen harrier, photo by Frank Burns]

The full blog can be read here but the pertinent part is reproduced as follows:

‘We understand that a Natural England fieldworker was monitoring a hen harrier nest on moorland near Whernside, Cumbria, when he saw a man wearing camouflage carrying a firearm and a live bird of prey, believed to be an eagle owl about 300m from the hen harrier nesting area. He tethered the bird and sat a short distance away with his gun. In the circumstances there seems little doubt the intention was to draw in raptors, presumably the hen harriers, to shoot them. The use of a tethered live bird as a decoy to kill or take a wild bird is in itself illegal, but a method that seems to be increasingly used for targeting raptors. This was no doubt a highly stressful situation, we understand the fieldworker took some video footage and made himself visible. This eventually had the desired effect, and the suspect, realising he was under observation, left. It was reported to the police but due to evidential issues around establishing the identity of the suspect, it was not possible to take the matter forward to court. The RSPB would like to place on record our thanks to Cumbria Constabulary and the CPS for their determined efforts to progress this investigation. We firmly consider that this incident and the video should now be put in the public domain’.

Now, putting this news out late on a Friday afternoon isn’t helpful to anyone (apart from Natural England and the criminals within the grouse shooting industry who may hope that it’ll all blow over by Monday).

It won’t.

There is a lot to say about this incident as well as about Natural England’s continuing pisspoor conduct on all things hen harrier.

We’ll be coming back to it on Monday morning.

[Cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

UPDATE 15 September 2020: More on that gunman filmed with a decoy owl near hen harrier nest site on Whernside (here)

11
Sep
20

Shot buzzard in Essex: an update

Last week we learned that Essex Police were investigating the shooting of a buzzard found on 4th September 2020 at Davy Down Riverside Park, South Ockendon (see here).

We’ve now been sent photos of the dead bird and an incident number has been issued: 42/141700/20

[Shot buzzard, photos via Essex Police]

There still isn’t any information about the type of weapon used to shoot this buzzard but we do know, judging by the maggots in the second photo, that it was shot well before the discovery of the corpse on the 4th September.

Anyone with information please contact PC Jed Raven from Essex Police Wildlife Crime Unit on 101 and quote reference: 42/141700/20

This is the third bird of prey shooting in Essex in recent months, following a shot buzzard found near Weeley on 2nd June (here) and a shot hobby found at North Fambridge in August (here).




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