Archive for the 'Persecution Incidents in England' Category


Responses to hen harrier satellite tag paper: Northern England Raptor Forum

The publication of the hen harrier satellite tag paper on Tuesday (here) that provided compelling evidence to highlight, yet again, the link between grouse moors and the illegal killing of hen harriers, has resulted in a flurry of responses from various individuals and organisations.

We’ll be looking at these responses in turn.

So far we’ve discussed the responses of Supt Nick Lyall (Chair, RPPDG) (here), BASC (here) and Dr Therese Coffey (DEFRA Wildlife Minister) (here).

This time we’re examining the response of the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF).

NERF has published a statement on its blog – see here.

It’s a powerful commentary on what has amounted to 15 years of failed partnership working in attempts to get the grouse shooting industry to oust its hen harrier-killing criminals.

The sense of frustration at its failure is palpable.

The NERF statement is a must-read for all those who keep telling us we need to engage with conflict resolution approaches and if only we could all sit down around the same table and sip tea and eat Custard Creams everything will be fine. Read the statement and you’ll understand why it won’t.

The time for more talking with those who represent and shield the criminals has just about run out (for some it already has) but NERF is prepared for one more throw of the dice and is “investing a temendous amount of goodwill” in the apparently rejuvenated RPPDG under the leadership of Supt Nick Lyall.

Hats off to the NERF membership – these are ordinary men and women who voluntarily dedicate huge amounts of time and expertise to study, monitor and try to safeguard birds of prey across the north of England, despite the appalling criminality within the game shooting industry that is allowed to continue year after year after year with devastating impacts on individual and on populations of some raptors. Many would have thrown in the towel a long time ago to avoid the aggravation – thank god the NERF members didn’t.


Grouse shooting lease on wildlife crime grouse moor will not be renewed

The owner of Denton Moor, a company called NG Bailey, has announced it will not renew the grouse shooting lease to its current tenant following a spate of wildlife crime.

Denton Moor in the Nidderdale AONB in Yorkshire was where the RSPB filmed footage of several armed men, dressed as gamekeepers, shooting at a nesting Marsh harrier and removing eggs from the nest in May 2017 (see here). Despite good efforts from North Yorkshire Police, the armed men have not been identified.

[RPUK map showing the location of Denton Moor]

Last month gamekeeper Austin Hawke was convicted of wildlife crime on the same moor after a badger was found dead in a snare in May 2018 (see here).

Campaigners have been targeting NG Bailey for some time and the recent conviction of one of the shooting tenant’s gamekeepers seems to have been the last straw for the landowner.

David Hurcomb, Chief Exec said:

NG Bailey is aware of the prosecution of Austin Hawke, the gamekeeper who is employed by and works for the tenants. To clarify, Austin Hawke is not employed by Denton Park Estate. As a business, we find this behavior totally unacceptable and do not condone this type of conduct – it is not reflective of the company’s values or ethical practices. We have advised the tenants that under no circumstances will the lease be renewed when it expires”.

Excellent news. Although whether that means it’ll be leased to someone other than the current tenant remains to be seen. We’re not sure when the current lease expires.

The efforts of a wide range of people have led to this result, allowing campaigners to join up the dots and apply pressure. Well done to them all, including the RSPB Investigations team, North Yorkshire police, local raptor workers, the Crown Prosecution Service and local campaigners.

Well done also to David Hurcomb and his colleagues at NG Bailey – this is a very welcome decision.


Responses to hen harrier satellite tag paper: Wildlife Minister Dr Therese Coffey

The publication of the hen harrier satellite tag paper on Tuesday (here) that provided compelling evidence to highlight, yet again, the link between grouse moors and the illegal killing of hen harriers, has resulted in a flurry of responses from various individuals and organisations.

We’ll be looking at these responses in turn.

So far we’ve discussed the responses of Supt Nick Lyall (Chair, RPPDG) (here), and BASC (here).

This time we’re examining the response of the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DEFRA, Dr Therese Coffey.

[Dr Coffey on a grouse moor with some devilled harrier kidneys (just kidding), photo by Dave Mitchell]

Before anyone gets excited, no, Dr Coffey wasn’t sufficiently embarrassed nor energised by the research findings to make a proactive, stand-alone statement about such devastating results; come on, this is the resolutely wilfully blind Dr Coffey who’s best known to us for her disinterested, apathetic responses whenever the issue of illegal raptor persecution is raised.

However, the paper was mentioned in a Westminster Hall debate on wildlife crime yesterday, at which Dr Coffey attended and spoke. The debate was broad ranging and quite interesting on a number of fronts – no time to go in to those details here but you can watch proceedings on this archived video here or read the transcript here. Well worth your time to see which MPs are not only clued up, but also which ones care about various aspects of wildlife crime. Useful info to have when the current Government implodes and you’re back in the voting booth.

The bit we’re most interested in, obviously, is Dr Coffey’s response to the issue of illegal raptor persecution. Here is the relevant part of the transcript, cut from the link above:

Raptor persecution is one of the UK’s wildlife crime priorities. All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and there are strong penalties for those committing offences. In the five years up to 2017—the latest year for which data is available—there were 107 prosecutions for crimes against wild birds and 75 convictions. The police are leading efforts to prevent the persecution of birds of prey. I praise the work done by North Yorkshire police, particularly on Operation Owl, and I commend police and crime commissioner Julie Milligan in particular. She has been fundamental not only in that work, but in chairing the rural group of police and crime commissioners, she has also made hare coursing a key priority for work across a number of forces.

In addition to activity to disrupt and deter criminality, officers of the North Yorkshire police have worked to raise awareness about raptor persecution among local landowners and members of the public. Only through working in partnership with those living and working in rural communities can raptor persecution be combated. Despite instances of poisoning and killing of birds of prey, populations of many species, such as the peregrine, red kite and buzzard have increased. I fully recognise, however, that some species continue to cause concern.

The Government take the decline in the hen harrier population in England particularly seriously, and we are committed to securing the future of that iconic species. That is why we took the lead on the hen harrier action plan, which sets out what will be done to increase hen harrier numbers in England, including the trialling of brood management. In the recent judicial review into the lawfulness of Natural England’s decision to grant a licence for trials of hen harrier brood management, the claimants’ claims were dismissed. The proposed brood management scheme will continue. It seeks to manage the conflict between the conservation of hen harriers and the grouse shooting industry. That decision means the important work to protect and conserve the hen harrier can continue.

The hon. Member for Workington referred to an article that was published in a journal yesterday; I take that issue very seriously and will be seeking to meet the chair of the raptor persecution group, Superintendent Lyall, to go through it in detail. Although it is not for the Government to tell the police or the Crown Prosecution Service who they should be investigating and charging, we should take a proactive approach, particularly to stamp out the persecution of birds of prey“.


It’s good to see Dr Coffey recognising and applauding the recent efforts of North Yorkshire Police and their Operation Owl initiative and it’s very good to hear that she plans to meet Supt Nick Lyall, Chair of the RPPDG.

But hang on a minute, haven’t the devastating results of a peer-reviewed scientific study just been published in a high-ranking journal, detailing one of the most pressing wildlife conservation issues in the UK – the persistent illegal killing of hen harriers on driven grouse moors in northern England? And Dr Coffey, our Wildlife Minister, has nothing specific to say about those results?

That’s shameful.

Yes, the Westminster Government absolutely should be taking a “proactive approach” to stamp out the persecution of birds of prey, but it hasn’t and it isn’t. It’s as simple as that.


Lying in wait: gamekeepers trying to lure raptors to within shotgun range in Peak District National Park?

Some of you may remember the footage of an armed man, believed to be a gamekeeper, lying in wait close to a decoy hen harrier on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park, back in 2016 (see here).

The footage was so disturbing, and the public reaction so strong, it prompted the National Trust (the landowner) to pull the shooting lease early and replace the shooting tenant with someone else (see here). Incidentally, that new tenant hosted a successful hen harrier breeding attempt last year (see here), even though some of the offspring didn’t survive for very long after leaving the safety of this moor (e.g. Arthur, see here and Octavia, see here).

We’ve also blogged before about what was believed to be the use of a tethered live eagle owl as a decoy on a grouse moor in the Lammermuirs (see here), although the suspected gamekeeper took off pretty sharpish once he realised he’d been spotted.

Well, it seems this method of using to decoys to lure in birds of prey to within close range of a shotgun is more prevalent than we’d thought.

Today the RSPB Investigations Team has published a video of several armed men (identified as gamekeepers by the RSPB) over a period of months spending hours and hours and hours of their time sitting in specially-dug holes in close proximity to a plastic peregrine and a plastic hawk, believed to have been used as decoys to attract other birds of prey. The location? A grouse moor in the Peak District National Park.

Hmm, it’s really no surprise that the Peak District National Park was identified in the recent scientific analysis of hen harrier sat tag data as one of the grouse moor areas where hen harriers were most likely ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances (see here).

The RSPB has also written a blog about this footage, and similar evidence of decoy use that has been recorded on other grouse moors in the north of England. Read the eye-opening blog here.

Fantastic investigative work from the RSPB to get such close and clear footage and there’s a strong chance that these gamekeepers won’t be using those particular decoy sites again in the near future!


Responses to hen harrier satellite tag paper: BASC

The publication of the hen harrier satellite tag paper on Tuesday (here) that provided compelling evidence to highlight, yet again, the link between grouse moors and the illegal killing of hen harriers, has resulted in a flurry of responses from various individuals and organisations.

We’ll be looking at these responses in turn.

Yesterday we looked at the response of Supt Nick Lyall, Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (here).

Today we’re examining the response from the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC).

BASC was quick to publish a lengthy statement on its website and at first glance it looks convincing. BASC accepts that raptor persecution is a problem and calls for its members to help stamp it out:

The statement starts off very strongly but the message gets progressively lame as you scroll down the page, with BASC feeling the need to justify the ‘benefits’ of grouse shooting and then make some incredulous claims about the so-called ‘success’ of last year’s hen harrier breeding season, which actually looks like something that’s been cut and pasted from the Moorland Association’s website.

Nevertheless, we could forgive BASC its small piece of propagandist nonsense because hey, the main message (about stamping out illegal raptor persecution) is clear and it looks like it’s based on sincerely held views.

But wait a minute! Some of the phraseology in BASC’s statement looks awfully familiar.

There are criminals among us“, “Terminal damage“, “We must all take personal responsibility“, “Ensuring the criminal minority do not ruin it for the lawful, ethical majority“, “I want my grandchildren to enjoy shooting“.

Haven’t we heard this before? Ah yes, 16 months ago in November 2017 in response to the RSPB’s Birdcrime report, BASC published a strong position statement in The Times (here) (for which BASC earned well-deserved credit) using some of these very same phrases and then a further piece for the BASC website (here) again using some of these very same phrases. For example, here’s what BASC Chairman Peter Glenser wrote for the BASC website at the time:

Sorry, BASC, but it’s just not as convincing when you can’t respond spontaneously to the results of the hen harrier satellite tag paper but instead rely upon regurgitating a previous media statement just because it got you some good press the first time around, and just attribute it to a different member of staff each time.

To be fair to BASC, it is seen by many in the conservation community as the most progressive of the game-shooting organisations although let’s be honest, the bar is set pretty low and some of its individual staff members need to attend a ‘how not to behave in a way that will embarrass your employer and alienate the public on social media and in real life’ course.

But words are just words and they’re easy to churn out (especially if you’re simply cutting and pasting from an earlier piece). What about actions? What action has BASC taken to demonstrate a commitment to rooting out the criminals amongst its membership and wider industry since what it called the “watershed moment” to do exactly that back in November 2017?

Errrrr……boycotting the first meeting of the RPPDG chaired by Nick Lyall in January (see here, here and here)?

Or perhaps appearing to accept a significant donation from a company owned by somebody long-involved with the sporting management of various estates throughout the UK, some of which are notorious for their appalling record of confirmed and alleged raptor persecution crimes?

BASC’s rhetoric might be fooling some, but……


Poisoned raven found on Peak District grouse moor: Natural England & Police fail to investigate

A year ago in March 2018, a dead raven was found on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park.

The member of the public who found it, Bob Berzins, was savvy enough to call the RSPB Investigations Team, who collected the corpse.

[Dead raven, photo by Bob Berzins]

Given the location, and the area’s long history of the illegal persecution of birds of prey (e.g. see here), the RSPB asked Natural England to run toxicology tests on the corpse, as is routine when animals have been found dead in suspicious circumstances or risky locations. According to the RSPB, Natural England refused to test the bird.

Instead, the RSPB paid to have the corpse privately tested, first in a post-mortem at the SRUC lab in Scotland and then for toxicology tests at the Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) labs, who have an excellent track record for conducting these forensic examinations.

SASA confirmed that this raven had been poisoned by Aldicarb, a toxin so dangerous that in Scotland if you’re caught even being in possession of it, let alone using it, you’ve committed an offence.

The RSPB reported these lab results to South Yorkshire Police and, according to the RSPB, nothing else has happened since, not even a police search of the grouse moor to look for further poisoned baits or victims.

You can read the details of this pathetic response to a criminal act on the RSPB’s blog here.

The RSPB Investigations Team has also produced a video about this case, here:

What the hell is going on? Why did Natural England refuse to test this raven for banned pesticides when it had been found in an area notorious as a raptor persecution hotspot?

And why did South Yorkshire police fail to investigate further? They should have been all over this, not least with a publicity campaign alerting members of the public, who visit this National Park in their millions, to the dangers of touching any dead animal or suspected poisoned bait. A year has passed and South Yorkshire police appear to have done absolutely nothing.


Well done Bob Berzins and well done to the RSPB, not just for paying to have this bird privately tested but also for submitting a formal complaint to South Yorkshire police and for alerting the public to the very serious threat of toxic poisonous baits being laid out on the ground inside this so-called National Park.


Gamekeepers’ rep suggests disappearance of hen harrier Vulcan was “set up” by RSPB

At the end of February 2019, the RSPB announced the suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Vulcan who had vanished in January 2019 in an area heavily managed for gamebird shooting in Wiltshire (see here).

[Hen harrier Vulcan, photo by RSPB]

The suspicious disappearance of any satellite-tagged hen harrier in the UK is significant because the loss of any of these young birds is a reminder of just how precarious the hen harrier population is, and as many of them seem to disappear on grouse moors it’s also usually a repeated reminder of how the authorities have failed to address the rampant criminality associated with this type of land management.

Whilst Vulcan’s disappearance was not on a grouse moor, it was in an area managed for pheasant and partridge shooting and his disappearance was still significant because this area from which he ‘disappeared’ was close to the proposed release site of Natural England’s highly controversial hen harrier reintroduction project, a supposedly raptor persecution free zone.

The inevitability of yet another lost hen harrier (the 12th to vanish in suspicious circumstances since last summer) and the significance of Vulcan’s last known location has led Tim Weston, Devlopment Officer for the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, to accuse the RSPB of a “set up” (or, in more formal legal terms, of perverting the course of justice [by fabricating evidence]).

We’ve come to expect this sort of nonsense from a small number of pro-shooting, anti-RSPB trolls on social media but to see it from a representative of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) was more than a little surprising.

Here are a series of tweets from National Gamekeepers’ Org employee, Tim:

Zero wildlife crime in this area until [RSPB] tracked HH flies overhead“? Tim must have missed the tweet from the RSPB Investigations Team on Sunday night where they outlined some of the confirmed raptor persecution crimes in this area:

Does the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation endorse Tim Weston’s accusations? Not that it matters anymore, since the NGO walked out of the partnership group trying to tackle the illegal killing of birds of prey in England and Wales (the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, RPPDG). With the gamekeepers gone, hopefully the RPPDG can now focus on the issue at hand instead of being side-tracked and disrupted by distractions like this.

Meanwhile, an organisation which retains its membership of the RPPDG and has played a central role in tackling the illegal persecution of birds of prey in northern England is the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF). NERF has today issued a statement about the suspicious disappearance of hen harrier Vulcan, because even though Vulcan vanished in southern England, he hatched from a nest in northern England where NERF members helped to protect the site. Read NERF’s statement here

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