Archive for the 'Persecution Incidents in England' Category

22
May
18

Three more satellite-tagged hen harriers ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances

RSPB press release, 22 May 2018:

THREE HEN HARRIERS DISAPPEAR IN SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES

Police and the RSPB are appealing for information following the disappearance of three protected, satellite-tagged hen harriers in Scotland and Cumbria.

After monitoring her progress since she fledged last June, a hen harrier named Saorsa suddenly ceased sending transmissions in February 2018 whilst located in the Angus Glens, Scotland. She has not been seen or heard of since.

A male bird, named Blue, then raised concerns in March this year when his tag, which had also been functioning perfectly, suddenly and inexplicably cut out near Longsleddale, Cumbria.

In the same month, a tagged bird named Finn – after young conservationist Findlay Wilde – vanished near Moffat, Scotland. Finn was tagged as a chick in 2016 from a nest in Northumberland, one of only three hen harrier nests to fledge young in the whole of England that year.

[RPUK map]:

RSPB Investigations staff conducted a search for all three birds, but no tags or bodies were found. Where tagged hen harriers have died of natural causes in the past, the tags and bodies have generally been recovered. Cumbria Police and Police Scotland are making local enquiries.

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey with just three successful nests recorded in England in 2017. There is a slightly larger population in Scotland. These slight, agile birds of prey nest on the ground, often on moorland. Like all wild birds, they are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. But, despite full legal protection, studies show that their declining population is largely associated with human persecution.

Several birds have been fitted with a lightweight satellite tag as part of the EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project to help build a better understanding of hen harriers, their movements and the threats they face. Since the project began in 2014, a number of tagged hen harriers have disappeared in similarly inexplicable circumstances.

Cathleen Thomas, Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, said “The UK population of hen harriers is really hanging in the balance and the disappearance of these three birds is extremely troubling. These tags are over 90% reliable and capable of transmitting long after a bird has died. If these birds had died of natural causes we would expect to recover both the tag and the body. But this has not been the case.

Findlay Wilde said “In the short time we followed Finn, we went through every emotion possible; from the excitement of knowing she had safely fledged to the nagging worries that she was settling in high-risk areas; and then of course to the worst news of all. Finn isn’t just another statistic in growing listing of missing hen harriers. Her life mattered, and she mattered to me.”

If you have any information relating to any of these incidents, call police on 101. Or to speak to RSPB investigations in confidence, call the Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

Dr Cathleen Thomas of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project has written a blog which provides more details of each of the missing harriers – here.

Finn Wilde has also written a blog about the loss of ‘his’ hen harrier – here

The news of these three suspicious disappearances will come as absolutely no surprise to anybody. And neither will the responses of the game-shooting industry, as it trots out the usual, well-rehearsed denials and fake concerns. We’ve seen it time and time again, whether it be about vanishing hen harriers or vanishing golden eagles, and we’ll doubtless see it many more times again. That it’s allowed to continue without sanction is a bloody scandal.

The two young hen harriers that disappeared in Scotland are very interesting.

Saorsa hatched on the Balnagown Estate in Sutherland in 2017. She disappeared in the Angus Glens – a well-known blackspot for illegal raptor persecution and, ironically, in the consituency of Mairi Gougeon MSP, the Hen Harrier Species Champion.

[Photo of Saorsa in the nest, by Brian Etheridge]

We believe the Balnagown Estate was one of several participating in the controversial Heads Up for Hen Harriers Project, whereby estates agree to have cameras installed at hen harrier nest sites to identify the cause of nest failure and help understand the species’ on-going population decline. We’ve blogged about this greenwashing scam many times, and we’ll be doing so again in the very near future, but for now, the fate of Hen Harrier Saorsa is a good demonstration of how futile the project is. She was raised on an estate where there are absolutely no concerns about illegal raptor persecution whatsoever (there’s no driven grouse shooting on the Balnagown Estate) but once she dispersed from the relative safety of that estate, she was at risk. Heading for the Angus Glens, where successfully breeding hen harriers have been absent since 2006, was a seemingly fatal mistake.

Hen Harrier Finn, named after young conservationist Findlay Wilde, hatched on protected Forestry Commission land in Northumberland, 2016. Finn’s last tag transmission came from near Moffat, SW Scotland, which is the location of the controversial golden eagle translocation project, due to start this year.

[Photo of Finn by Martin Davison]

Now, let’s assume that DEFRA’s outrageous hen harrier brood meddling plan had been in place in 2016, and that the Forestry Commission had agreed to participate, then Finn and her three siblings would have been removed from the nest, reared in captivity and then released back to the wild in mid-August, close to their natal territory. This brood meddling plan is purported to ‘protect’ young hen harriers, and DEFRA / Natural England / the grouse-shooting industry all claim that this technique will help increase the population of hen harriers. It’s another greenwashing scam.

Would brood meddling have saved Finn? No, of course not, because Finn ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (presumed to have been illegally killed) in March, several months after she would have been returned to the wild post-brood meddling. So as many of us have been arguing for years, brood meddling will not help hen harriers because it doesn’t address the fundamental issue of illegal raptor persecution, year-round, that has brought this species to its knees.

Brood meddling is due to begin in England this year, but there are two on-going legal challenges, via judicial review, from Mark Avery and the RSPB. We await further news on these cases.

Meanwhile, across the grouse moors of northern England and Scotland, it’s business as usual for the hen harrier killers.

[Cartoon by Mr Carbo]

UPDATE 24 May 2018: Laughable statement from SGA on missing satellite-tagged hen harriers (here)

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21
May
18

Red kite shot & blinded in North Pennines raptor persecution blackspot

Press release from RSPB, 21 May 2018:

SEVENTH RED KITE PERSECUTED IN NORTH PENNINES ‘PROBLEM AREA’

The RSPB is appealing for information after a protected red kite was found shot in Country Durham.

The bird was found alive on 23 April in Derwent Gorge, in the North Pennines AONB, by a member of the public who alerted the group Friends of Red Kites (FoRK). An x-ray by a local vet showed the bird had three shotgun pellets lodged in its head, neck and wing. The bird was cared for but went blind from its injuries and had to be euthanized.

[Photos by Robson & Prescott Vets, Morpeth]

Durham Police visited the area where the bird was found but so far have no leads as to who shot the kite. The RSPB is now appealing to the public for information.

Like all birds of prey, red kites are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which makes it an offence to deliberately kill or injure a wild bird. Those found to have done so could be given an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in jail.

Since 2010, six kites have been poisoned or shot near Derwent Gorge, including a red kite found poisoned in nearby Muggleswick in 2014.

And in February this year, a rare hen harrier disappeared in suspicious circumstances less than an hours’ drive away from this latest incident. The hen harrier, which was wearing a special satellite tag, suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting after it flew over a grouse moor near Middleton-in-Teesdale. [See here]

Jenny Shelton from the RSPB’s Investigations Unit said: “Spring is a crucial time of year when adult kites will be feeding their young, so the death of this bird could have also affected any family it might have been raising. Red kites were almost completely wiped out of the UK until they were reintroduced in the 1980s. This has been a wonderful success, and most of us enjoy watching these impressive birds. But threats like persecution are preventing them from naturally expanding their range and we clearly have a problem area on our hands here. As mainly scavengers, these birds are no risk to anyone. Blasting this bird from the sky was a thoughtless act.”

Jenny added: “We would like to thank Friends of Red Kites and Robson and Prescott Veterinary Hospital in Morpeth who have been a huge help.”

Allan Withrington of Friends of Red Kites said: That anyone could even think about shooting one of these beautiful, graceful birds is beyond my comprehension. We are saddened by yet another wildlife crime and look forward to hearing the results of any investigation.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Durham Police on 101 quoting reference number: DHM230420180371.

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

ENDS

Well done to the RSPB for putting out this appeal for information. It’s a shame there’s no similar appeal on Durham Constabulary’s website (at least not at the time of writing this blog). Why not?

UPDATE 16.15hrs: We’ve updated the two maps (above) to show the location of Derwent Gorge (as opposed to the nearest town of Shotley Bridge). Derwent Gorge is bang next door to the grouse moor at Muggleswick, and lies within the North Pennines AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

UPDATE 17.00hrs: Well done to the North Pennines AONB for publishing the following statement on their website:

RED KITE KILLED IN NORTH PENNINES

The report of the killing of a protected red kite in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) has come as very distressing news.

Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership, said: “We are appalled that someone has committed this despicable crime. Someone must know who is involved and we would urge anyone with any information to come forward. There are so few raptors across the Northern uplands because of this illegal persecution – no one should pretend otherwise.

We met with the police recently to raise awareness of raptor crime and we plan to follow this up. It needs more people to speak out against raptor crime, more resources put into investigation, a commitment to bring prosecutions and stiffer sentences for those found guilty.”

If you have any further information on this incident, please call Durham Police on 101 quoting reference number DHM230420180371 or the confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101. All calls are anonymous.

ENDS

 

19
May
18

Police appeal after red kite found shot on Harewood Estate, Yorkshire

WEST YORKSHIRE POLICE APPEAL FOR INFORMATION, 18th May 2018

POLICE APPEAL FOR INFORMATION AFTER YORKSHIRE RED KITE SHOT IN LEEDS

Police are appealing for information after a Yorkshire Red Kite was shot in Leeds.

The incident happened on Thursday 10 May when an injured Red Kite was found by two walkers on a footpath just inside the northern boundary of the Harewood Estate.

They took the bird to the estate office, who arranged for it to be cared for by staff at the Harewood Bird Garden. It had suffered serious injuries and was taken by staff to a nearby veterinary practice for treatment.

X-rays revealed that the bird had been shot and a pellet was lodged in its right wing. The bird was put down by staff at the practice, as its injuries were too severe for it to survive and wouldn’t have been able to fly any distance.

It is believed the shooting occurred close to the entry point of the public footpath into the Harewood Estate from the A659, near to the junction with the A61 at the bottom of Harewood Bank.

West Yorkshire Police are appealing for witnesses who were in the area and may have seen anything suspicious; to come forward and contact the police to assist with their investigation.

[Red kite, photographer unknown]

In 2016, at around the same time of the year, six Red Kites were known to have been shot in Yorkshire – two in West Yorkshire and four in North Yorkshire.

In all but one of these cases, the injuries proved fatal. Other instances of kites being targeted by firearms, include one fatally shot at Pateley Bridge in 2017 and several which had been victims of illegal poisoning but which had been found to be carrying lead shot from non-fatal shooting incidents.

Ben Lascelles, Development Manager at Harewood Estate, said: “The Harewood Estate works hard to champion conservation of Red Kites and other native wildlife, and many thousands of people visit us each year to enjoy them. To discover one of these majestic birds has been shot is particularly disappointing and upsetting.”

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “Illegal persecution is a real and persistent threat to birds of prey like red kites. They’re a wonderful sight, and the conservation effort to return these birds to our skies has been huge – it is disgraceful that some are spoiling this through their thoughtless and criminal actions.

The RSPB’s new raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101 allows whistle-blowers to come forward confidentially in relation to this type of crime and, given the number of illegally kites in Yorkshire, we hope someone will speak up and reveal who is responsible.”

Doug Simpson, Yorkshire Red Kites Co-ordinator, said: “This latest attack on the reintroduced Red Kite population is particularly sickening. A lot of hard work has gone into this programme and for someone to strike right at the heart of it, at the actual release site, is both unbelievable and devastating. It once again raises the question of the suitability of some people to own guns.

No fewer than 43 Red Kites have been confirmed as victims of illegal persecution since releases began in Yorkshire in 1999. That 23 of them have been found by people out in the countryside shows the importance of everyone keeping their eyes open for anything untoward and reporting it.”

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call West Yorkshire Police on 101 quoting crime reference number 13180232956. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous can call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

17
May
18

Police appeal after buzzard found shot in North York Moors National Park

APPEAL FOR INFORMATION FROM CLEVELAND POLICE, 17th May 2018:

SHOT RAPTOR APPEAL

At some point on Friday 4th May between 1pm – 6pm a buzzard was shot near to Lockwood Beck Reservoir in East Cleveland.

The buzzard had received serious wounds to its legs and unfortunately had to be put to sleep by a local vet.

We are appealing for anyone who may have been in the area at the time and seen person / persons / vehicles acting suspiciously.

Please contact Police on 101 quoting event no: SE18078559 and for the attention of PC Ward 542

ENDS

Lockwood Beck Reservoir is in the North York Moors National Park:

14
May
18

Case against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin: part 3

Criminal proceedings continued on Friday (11 May 2018) against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin, who is accused of a series of alleged wildlife crimes, including the shooting of two short-eared owls in April 2017 at Whernside, Cumbria in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is further alleged he was in possession of items (a shotgun and an electronic calling device) capable of being used to kill wild birds.

Following a farcical hearing at Preston Magistrates Court in March 2018 (see here), the case was due to be heard last Friday but it was adjourned, again, at the request of the defence.

The next hearing is scheduled for July 2018.

For legal reasons, we won’t be accepting any comments on this post.

 

02
May
18

Red kite found poisoned in North Yorkshire (yes, another one)

Press release from North Yorkshire Police (2 May 2018):

WILDLIFE POISONING WARNING AFTER RED KITE FOUND DEAD NEAR KNARESBOROUGH

Police are appealing for information after receiving confirmation that a red kite, found dead near Knaresborough in December 2017, had been poisoned with a pesticide.

The discovery has prompted a warning from North Yorkshire Police – as part of the force’s Operation Owl campaign – about the cruel, illegal and dangerous practice of lacing animal carcasses with poison to kill other wildlife.

The dead kite was found by a member of the public just outside the village of Ferrensby between Knaresborough and Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire. The bird was in good physical condition and there was no evidence to indicate the cause of death. The finder was concerned that the bird may have been killed illegally, and reported it to the police.

Specialist wildlife crime officers at North Yorkshire Police had the bird x-rayed and this ruled out any cause of death due to physical injury. The police then arranged with Natural England for the bird to be sent away for a post mortem and toxicology tests.

The results showed the bird had significant amounts of chloralose, a pesticide, in its kidney – and it was concluded that this was the cause of death. The post mortem could not identify the nature of the kite’s last meal. The bird would have succumbed within a few minutes of consuming the poison. The location where the kite picked up the poison is not known.

[Photo by N. Perver]

Officers need to hear from anyone who has any information about the illegal use of pesticides to poison birds of prey in North Yorkshire. The practice of lacing animal carcasses with poison to kill other wildlife is both cruel and illegal. It is also poses a serious risk to members of the public and their children or pets if they come into contact with them.

Operation Owl is an ongoing initiative by North Yorkshire Police, the RSPB and the RSPCA, together with the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, the Nidderdale Moorland Group, and others, to reduce the number of illegal attacks on birds of prey. As part of the operation, police carry out surveillance checks on known raptor persecution hot-spots at random times to disrupt offender activity. Officers are also calling on the public to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the police when out in the countryside.

Sergeant Kevin Kelly, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said:North Yorkshire’s wonderful countryside is host to many specially-protected birds of prey, including red kites. It is completely unacceptable that people think they can ignore the law and subject these birds to poisonings and other forms of persecution without consequence.

Like other forms of rural crime, raptor persecution is not a problem that the police can tackle alone. If everyone keeps their eyes open for illegal traps and poisoned bait, it will be a massive boost to our surveillance operation. Operation Owl is a real opportunity to reduce the number of wild birds that suffer and die unnecessarily, and send a clear message to offenders that we will not tolerate this crime in our countryside.”

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said:We are deeply saddened to hear of another illegally poisoned red kite in North Yorkshire. Although the re-introduction of this species into the region has been a conservation success, there continues to be an unacceptable level of persecution towards these majestic birds. Kites are struggling to expand their range into upland areas such as the Yorkshire Dales and, in this case, it is clear that they are not safe in other areas of the county either. We will continue to work closely with North Yorkshire Police and Yorkshire Red Kites to tackle the issue of illegal killing.”

Doug Simpson, Yorkshire Red Kites Co-ordinator, said:I am particularly concerned about this case, it being the first recorded kite death from illegal poisoning in this particular area. It is yet another instance of a red kite persecution victim having been found by someone out walking in the countryside, 22 of our 42 confirmed illegally killed or injured kites having been found in this way.”

Anyone with any information about this incident is asked to call North Yorkshire Police on 101, choose option 1 and be ready to quote reference 12170217776.

Alternatively email bill.hickson@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk If you wish to remain anonymous, call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline for free on 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

16
Apr
18

Grouse-shooting industry’s reaction to the failed Bleasdale Estate prosecution

The prosecution of a gamekeeper, employed by the Bleasdale Estate in Bowland to manage a grouse moor, collapsed recently on a series of legal technicalities (see here, here and here).

We’ve been wondering how the grouse-shooting industry would react to this failed case. Would they condemn the alleged illegal killing of two breeding peregrines at a nest site on a driven grouse moor? And, seeing as all charges against the defendant were dropped, would the industry put out a public appeal for information to help find the alleged perpetrator?

So far we haven’t seen any public commentary from the owner of the Bleasdale Estate, Mr Jeremy Duckworth. This is a bit surprising. At the time of the alleged offences (April 2016), Mr Duckworth was a Director and a regional representative of the Moorland Association (a group representing the interests of grouse moor owners in England):

According to documents lodged at Companies House, Mr Duckworth resigned his Directorship of the Moorland Association in September 2016. The timing of his resignation coincided with the early stages of the police investigation in to the alleged offences on his grouse moor – obviously nothing to do with damage limitation and purely and simply coincidental, of course:

As well as silence from Mr Duckworth, nor have we seen any commentary from the Moorland Association (MA) itself. As a member of PAW (Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime), it’s not unreasonable for us to expect the Moorland Association to have provided comment. Surely the MA must be concerned that an unidentified individual appears to have repeatedly visited the grouse moor nest site of a specially protected species and allegedly killed two peregrines, no?

What we have seen though, is a press release issued by You Forgot The Birds (YFTB), an astroturfing lobby group funded by the grouse shooting industry.

Perhaps this press release from YFTB was issued on behalf of the Moorland Association, or with the MA’s blessing, or funded by members of the MA? No, that can’t be right, because the YFTB press release wasn’t concerned at all about the alleged killing of two peregrines on a grouse moor, but instead, just like all its other press releases (funded by the grouse-shooting industry) this press release was focused entirely on attacking the RSPB and attempting to undermine its credentials.

The press release was sent out to media journalists last Friday, embargoed until one minute past midnight on Saturday morning, obviously designed to hit the weekend papers. We’re grateful to the journalist who sent us a copy. It read as follows:

Judge accuses RSPB of ‘deliberate circumvention’ of law

A judge in Lancashire has accused the RSPB of “deliberate circumvention” of the law regarding covert surveillance. In a case concerning alleged wildlife crime the judge said the RSPB had “effectively taken on the role of a police officer” and that wildlife crime police officers were “turning a blind eye” to how the RSPB was seeking to avoid complying with the law.

Sitting in Preston last month District Judge Jane Goodwin examined the use of covert videoing by the RSPB of a peregrine falcon nest in the Forest of Bowland. James Hartley, a gamekeeper, had been accused of persecuting the birds.

The judge ruled that the RSPB investigators – who were both former police officers – should have informed the police about their proposed videoing but did not because that would have triggered the safeguards of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

In her decision Judge Goodwin said that “the deliberate circumvention of the RIPA legislation… leaves an air of disquiet.” The RSPB had also “trespassed… without justification [and] breached the PACE Codes of Practice…The RSPB have acted improperly and out with their remit”.

The judge noted two previous occasions when RSPB evidence had been deemed inadmissible by prosecutors because of irregularities.

Last month an FOI response revealed that national police officers had been highly critical of the RSPB’s attempts to dominate the investigation of bird crime. The Defra official in charge of wildlife crimes had written that the charity’s approach could “prejudice the integrity of investigations.”

Commenting on the latest case Ian Gregory of the pro-grouse moor group You Forgot The Birds said: “The RSPB is facing a crisis of trust. It should reflect on why so many find it difficult to work with it. Only through good relations with the justice system and gamekeepers can it help to reduce bird crime.”

ENDS

Interestingly, two contacts were provided for editors who wanted more information. One was Ian Gregory (the usual YFTB contact) but the second contact was none other than the Bleasdale defendant’s solicitor, Tim Ryan! Imagine that!

Blog readers who have been following this case and have read the farcical court proceedings (see here, here & here) will see how YFTB has cherry-picked all of District Judge Goodwin’s criticisms of the RSPB and then tried to present them as a coherent representation of what happened in court, completely ignoring the ridiculous legal technicalities which caused the collapse of this case. YFTB’s intentions are clear: ignore the details of the horrific alleged peregrine persecution and instead besmirch the integrity and reputation of the RSPB’s Investigations Team.

Unfortunately for YFTB, this attempted smear against the RSPB didn’t really go to plan. We saw two articles in the weekend press that were clearly informed by YFTB’s press release (one in The Times on Saturday [behind a paywall] & one in the Mail on Sunday [not behind a paywall]) but neither of those articles presented the case as YFTB had intended. Instead, those two papers took a rather more balanced view and as well as mentioning the judge’s criticism of the RSPB, they also both focused on the alleged crimes, particularly the Crown’s case that one of the peregrines had been caught in a trap for over ten hours, and that peregrine DNA had been found on a knife and a hammer recovered from the defendant’s home/outbuildings. They both also included a response from the RSPB which said similar evidence [to the Bleasdale Estate case] had been accepted in other court cases.

Blimey, is this an indication that mainstream journalists have finally got the measure of YFTB and understand that YFTB press releases require detailed scrutiny to get beyond the spin?

It certainly looks that way.




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