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Countryside Alliance – regretful or forgetful?

caThe Countryside Alliance has responded to the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report with the following statement:

The RSPB has recently published its Birdcrime Report for 2015, which provides a summary of the offences against wild bird legislation that were reported to the RSPB. While we are grateful for the work the RSPB do in the detection of bird crime, it is regrettable that the presentation of these statistics once again seems driven by a desire to create a narrative which supports an agenda, including the introduction of an offence of vicarious liability and the licensing of grouse moors, which the evidence simply does not support.

The press release circulated by the RSPB to mark the release of the report states that “196 reports of shooting and destruction of birds of prey and 50 reports of wildlife poisoning and pesticide related offences across the UK in 2015”. These figures refer to the total number of incidents relating to birds of prey reported to the RSPB. Less than half of these reported incidents go on to be confirmed, even fewer lead to a successful conviction. Even so, the total number of such reported incidents is in decline. The figures quoted from the RSPB press release represent a 33% decline since 2010. This is especially pleasing given the enormous increase in many raptor populations and the improvements in raptor crime detection made by the RSPB and others during this time.

There is, however, a regrettable tendency for the RSPB’s press releases around their Birdcrime Reports to be needlessly divisive and to ignore both the progress that has been made and the valuable relationships that have been built with farmers, gamekeepers and others. Nowhere is this divisiveness clearer than in the conclusion to the report. The report concerns 2015, yet the conclusions are headlined by a large pie-chart highlighting a high number of gamekeepers convicted of raptor crimes over the previous 25 years, implying that this remains a serious problem. Yet the RSPB’s reports for 2006 – 2015 show that gamekeepers were convicted of just 5% of the 1,550 individual charges brought during that 10 year period. The RSPB’s focus on the game keeping community is totally disproportionate, and extremely damaging to its relationship with those they should be actively seeking to work in partnership.

Even one illegal killing is too many, and the Countryside Alliance wishes to see wildlife crime stamped out completely, but this will be only be achieved by government, farmers, landowners, gamekeepers and conservation charities working together, a collaborative effort that is threatened by the RSPB’s misleading presentation of the facts and its intemperate and unnecessary calls for new legislation.


As you’d expect from the Countryside Alliance, this statement seeks to cast doubt over the RSPB’s evidence-based conclusions that illegal raptor persecution is unequivocally linked to the game-shooting industry. You might also notice the use of the word ‘regrettable’, in the same way the National Gamekeepers’ organisation did in their response (see here).

The Countryside Alliance suggests the RSPB is making a “misleading presentation of the facts“. They’re quite a forgetful bunch, because they made an identical claim about the RSPB’s 2013 Birdcrime report and they even complained to the Charity Commission about it (we blogged about it here).

The Charity Commission’s response? The RSPB had no case to answer. You can read the Charity Commission’s report here.

The Countryside Alliance hasn’t had much success with making official complaints. Here’s the result of a joint Countryside Alliance / Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust complaint to the BBC about Chris Packham.

As an aside, has anyone noticed the Countryside Alliance’s new logo? There’s been quite a lot of discussion on social media about what it’s supposed to represent. To us, it looks like a misshapen heart with a big hole torn in it. Perhaps their new strap line is ‘Ripping the heart out of the countryside’.


Chris Packham talks about Lush Skydancer bathbombs, live at 2pm

At 2pm today Chris Packham and members of the RSPB’s Investigations & Hen Harrier Life project teams will be making Lush Skydancer bathbombs in a parody of one of those cooking/foodie type programmes. They’ll also be talking about the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life project.

You may remember, in 2015 Lush (the high street cosmetics store) started to produce these special Skydancer bathbombs to raise awareness about hen harrier persecution and raise important funds for hen harrier satellite tags. By March 2016 they’d managed to raise over £100,000.

You can watch live on the LUSH player (click here, then click on ‘summit’ at the top of the link).



Two red kites confirmed poisoned in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire

Red Kite Mali HallsYesterday, North Yorkshire Police put out the following press release:


Police are appealing for information and warning about the dangers of illegal bird of prey poisoning.

Two red kites were found poisoned in the Nidderdale area of North Yorkshire in 2016.

One was found near Pateley Bridge on 12 March 2016. Tests have attributed its death to alphachloralose. Traces of aldicarb and three rodenticides (difenacoum, bromadiolone and brodifacoum) were also identified.

The second was found near Bouthwaite on 18 May 2016. Shockingly, tests have shown the presence of eight different poisons – alphachloralose, aldicarb, bendiocarb, carbofuran and isofenphos, together with three rodenticides.

Officers are appealing for information about the two incidents, and warning members of the public about the dangers of this illegal practice. Hard-hitting posters urging people to report suspected wildlife poisoning are being distributed across the county.

Inspector Jon Grainge, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: “The use of poisons in the two Nidderdale cases is particularly shocking. The practice of lacing animal carcasses with poison to kill other wildlife is cruel and illegal. It is also a serious risk to members of the public and their children or pets if they come into contact with them.

If you find a mammal or bird that you believe has been poisoned, please do not touch it, as poisons can transfer through skin contact. Also keep youngsters and pets well away. Make a note of the location, including GPS co-ordinates if possible, and anything else that is around or near the animal, and contact the police immediately”.

Anyone with information about the poisoning of the red kites found in Nidderdale should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, quoting reference number 12160043415, or email


Have a look at this map. The poisoned red kite at Bouthwaite was found just to the north of the Gouthwaite Reservoir, and the poisoned red kite near Pateley Bridge was found just to south. Look at the land use on either side of the reservoir: this is driven grouse shooting country.


Presumably these two poisoned red kites were part of the ten suspicious red kite deaths investigated in North Yorkshire in 2016. Most of those were confirmed shot but there were a number of suspected poisonings too.

It seems strange that North Yorkshire Police is only now appealing for information about two poisoned red kites that were found nine and eleven months ago respectively. The delay may be due to issues at the toxicology lab (it wouldn’t be the first time) and therefore beyond North Yorkshire Police’s control. The delay is certainly at odds with the commendable speed with which North Yorks Police announced some of last year’s shot red kites (e.g. see here – shot kite found on Sunday, press release out by Monday). They were also incredibly quick off the mark to go out and investigate the three illegal pole traps found on the Mossdale Estate grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park last year, and although senior officers ballsed up what should have been a straight forward prosecution, at least they were honest and transparent, admitted the mistake and amended their policies as a result.

The long delay aside, it is very good to see North Yorkshire Police provide detailed information about the type of poisons used in these two crimes (take note, Police Scotland). It’s also very good to see them proactively warning the public of the danger of these highly toxic substances (again, take note Police Scotland), especially as we head towards spring, which is typically the time when illegal raptor persecution really hots up.

North Yorkshire Police have certainly got their work cut out fighting wildlife crime, and particularly raptor persecution. North Yorkshire is consistently rated the worst county in the UK for the number of reported crimes against raptors, and a lot of it takes place in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the neighbouring Yorkshire Dales National Park. We were only talking about this region two days ago in relation to the ongoing persecution of hen harriers.


Photo of red kite by Mali Halls


Driven grouse shooting auctioned at Tory fundraising ball

Every year the Tory party hosts a lavish Black & White fundraising ball for wealthy donors, with a range of opulent prizes on offer in an auction.

We’ve blogged about this event before (see here) when in 2015 one of those auction prizes – an opportunity to shoot 500 pheasants and partridge at the Maristow and Bickleigh Estate in Devon – reportedly sold for £110,000.

This year’s ball took place on Monday evening and one of the auction lots was ‘a fantastic grouse shoot for 8’ at the Westerdale and Rosedale Estate in the North York Moors National Park.

Would this be the same grouse moor where an horrifically injured buzzard with a severed leg and gunshot wounds was found last summer?


It’s not known on whose land this buzzard was shot and trapped, nor the identity of the perpetrator(s), just that the critically injured bird was picked up on a Westerdale grouse moor within the North York Moors National Park. It didn’t survive.


Satellite-tagged hen harrier Mick ‘disappears’ in Yorkshire Dales National Park

mickNatural England has today issued the following press statement:

North Yorkshire Police is appealing for information following the loss of a hen harrier in Upper Swaledale.

Mick, a young male, fledged in Northumberland last summer. He was fitted with a satellite tag in July by a hen harrier expert from Natural England. His tag stopped transmitting on 21 December 2016 in the Thwaite area of North Yorkshire. A search of the area has been carried out but no trace of the bird or equipment has been found.

Natural England reported Mick’s disappearance to North Yorkshire Police and is working closely with wildlife crime officers, local landowners, the Moorland Association and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

The loss of another juvenile hen harrier brings the total to five within four months across northern England – and is a serious blow to the small English hen harrier population. Interference with hen harriers is a criminal offence.

Rob Cooke, a Director at Natural England, said:

The disappearance of a hen harrier is deeply concerning to all who appreciate these rare and impressive birds. Any information that can shed light on what has happened to Mick will be gratefully received by North Yorkshire Police“.

David Butterworth, Chief Executive at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority said:

It’s incredibly disappointing that the Yorkshire Dales’ reputation as a wonderful place to visit is being damaged by incidents like this. We have pledged to provide whatever support we can to help the Police and Natural England find out what happened in this particular case“.

Anyone with any information which could help police with their enquiries should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. Please quote reference number 12170014975 when passing information.



Thwaite is an interesting area, dominated by driven grouse moors (the dark brown areas with the patchwork of rectangular burnt heather strips on this map):


The Yorkshire Dales National Park and the neighbouring Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are well-known blackspots for hen harriers (and many other raptors). Hen harriers have not bred successfully in the Yorkshire Dales National Park since 2007. According to 2007-2014 hen harrier satellite data, published by Natural England in 2014, at least nine young sat tagged hen harriers (11 if we include Rowan & Mick) have ‘disappeared’ or been killed within the National Park / AONB area:

Female, tagged N England 26/6/07: last tag signal 5/10/07. Status: missing.

Female, tagged N England 16/7/09: last tag signal 27/9/09. Status: missing.

Male, tagged Bowland 29/6/09: last tag signal 17/8/09. Status: missing.

Female, tagged N England 29/6/10: last tag signal 25/11/10. Status: missing.

Female (Bowland Betty), tagged Bowland 22/6/11: found dead 5/7/12. Status: shot dead.

Female (Kristina), tagged N England 25/6/12: last tag signal 9/10/12. Status: missing.

Male (Thomas), tagged N England 4/9/12: last tag signal 4/9/12. Status: missing.

Male (Sid), tagged Langholm 21/9/14: last tag signal 21/9/14. Status: missing.

Female (Imogen), tagged N England 26/6/14: last tag signal 1/9/14. Status: missing.

Male (Rowan), tagged Langholm 2016: found dead 22/10/16. Status: shot dead.

Male (Mick), tagged Northumberland 2016: last tag signal 21/12/16. Status: missing.

Mick was a Natural England-tagged bird, so he doesn’t appear on the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life Project website. He does, though, now appear on our ever-lengthening list of 2016-fledged hen harriers that have died and / or ‘disappeared’:

Hen harrier Elwood – ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging.

Hen harrier Brian – ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging.

Hen harrier Donald – missing in northern France, presumed dead.

Hen harrier Hermione – found dead on Mull, believed to have died from natural causes.

Hen harrier Rowan – found dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park. He’d been shot.

Hen harrier Tarras – ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park.

Hen harrier Beater – missing in Scottish Borders, presumed dead.

Hen harrier Bonny – ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines, presumed dead.

Hen harrier Carroll – found dead in Northumberland, PM revealed a parasitic disease & two shotgun pellets.

Hen harrier Mick – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead.

Ten down, six to go (Aalin, DeeCee, Finn, Harriet, Wendy, Sorrel).

Mick’s last tag signal was received on 21 December 2016. So he ‘disappeared’ before Xmas and yet it’s taken Natural England / North Yorkshire Police almost seven weeks to issue this appeal for information. That’s pretty poor. If you’d prefer not to have to rely upon Government agencies releasing information way too late to help, you might want to consider donating to BAWC’s new raptor satellite-tagging project, where information about tagged birds will be publicised with greater speed and accuracy, and not delayed by wasting time ‘working closely’ with the likes of the Moorland Association. Please visit BAWC’s crowdfunding/donations page HERE


Botham spinning more balls, again

It’s been a while since we’ve heard any more cock and bull stories from Sir Ian Botham. He’s been pretty quiet since he was caught out mis-using the good name of the BTO last August, but on Saturday he was back attacking the RSPB in an article in the Telegraph.

The article (here), written by ‘Online Education Editor’?! Harry Yorke, headlined with ‘RSPB embarrassed after rare bird it suggested had been illegally dispatched is found alive and well‘.

The article refers to satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Highlander’, whose signal had stopped abruptly last summer but who had probably been observed in the field last month with a presumably faulty sat tag (see here).

The Telegraph’s headline is inaccurate on two counts. The RSPB isn’t ’embarrassed’ and nor had it suggested Highlander had been ‘illegally dispatched’. On the contrary, at the time Highlander’s tag stopped working the RSPB blog announcing the news was supremely cautious (see here) and at no point was it suggested that Highlander had been ‘illegally dispatched’.

Of course, many of us assumed she had been bumped off, and that was an entirely reasonable conclusion to draw given the growing list of hen harriers known to have been illegally shot in recent years (Rowan, Carroll, Lad, Annie, Betty, Heather, Muirkirk female, Fettercairn male, Geallaig Hill male) but the RSPB did not say that Highlander had been illegally dispatched, just that she had disappeared.

And that’s why the RSPB isn’t ’embarrassed’ by Highlander’s apparent reappearance. What has the RSPB got to be embarrassed about? Absolutely nothing – the RSPB has been open and honest about this failed tag, in sharp contrast to how other organisations have handled the recent news that another sat-tagged hen harrier, Rowan, had been shot.

The Telegraph article includes some quotes from Botham where he slags off the RSPB – it’s not clear if he was speaking as the mouthpiece of the grouse-shooting industry’s propaganda campaign You Forgot the Birds but his diatribe has all the familiar hallmarks of the Nasty Brigade.

As ever though, it’s what the article didn’t include that is the most telling. This piece was published the day after the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report was published, detailing the continued illegal persecution of raptors across the UK, largely at the hands of gamekeepers. You could argue that this attack on the RSPB was the Telegraph’s / grouse-shooting industry’s direct response to that report.

Thanks to one of our blog readers (‘Mr Carbo’) for sending in this interpretation of what’s happening to satellite-tagged hen harriers.


Police Scotland continue to withhold raptor persecution data

Earlier today we blogged about the publication of the RSPB’s 2015 UK Birdcrime report (here).

Have a look at the report’s data appendices: rspb-birdcrime2015_appendices

You’ll notice a statement in relation to Appendix 3 (which is a table of confirmed and probable bird of prey and owl persecution during 2015). That statement says: ‘The details of some confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents cannot be shown, as requested by Police Scotland‘.

You’ll see the same statement in relation to Appendix 4 (which is a table of confirmed poison abuse incidents during 2015).

You’ll see the same statement in relation to the UK map of bird crime incidents 2015.

You’ll notice that no other police force in the UK has applied such restrictions to the publication of incident data, just Police Scotland.

Take a closer look at Appendix 4 (list of confirmed poison abuse incidents) and you’ll notice that not only has Police Scotland withheld the month, species, poison and county of four confirmed poisoning crimes, but they’ve also withheld the name of the poison used in every single Scottish poisoning crime (except one) in 2015. No other police force has done this. Every other police force listed in this table has provided the full details of each confirmed poisoning crime. But not Police Scotland. Why is that?


You might recall that in 2015 the Scottish Government organised a poisons disposal scheme that ran from Feb – May 2015 (see here). This resulted in the handing in of a massive amount of banned poisons (see here). However, it’s clear from the above table that despite this disposal scheme, some banned poisons are still being held and used illegally in Scotland. But without knowledge of the poison used, and in some cases where it was used, when it was used and which species was the victim, it is virtually impossible for us to cross-reference and track these cases.

This withholding of data by Police Scotland also renders the national statistics on raptor persecution utterly pointless. How can we have any faith in the national picture if we know that Police Scotland are refusing to release information, two years on from when the crimes were committed?

The withholding of raptor persecution data appears to be becoming a Police Scotland speciality – they’ve done it before with the ‘official’ PAW Scotland 2015 raptor persecution data (see here) and also with the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here, here and here).

Police Scotland’s refusal to publicise some of these crimes is deeply concerning, and especially when that suppression extends to details of crimes in ‘official’ Government reports that are supposed to demonstrate openness and transparency.

Ask yourselves, in whose interest is it to keep these crimes under wraps? You’d be hard pressed to argue that it is in the interests of the general public.

UPDATE 6 Feb 2017: It’s worth re-visiting RSPB Scotland’s written evidence to the ECCLR Committee (10 January 2017) about the withholding of raptor persecution data in the Scottish Government’s annual 2015 wildlife crime report. Here’s a quote:

We note that a number of cases of confirmed raptor persecution have not been included in the Wildlife Crime Report. RSPB Scotland is concerned that increasingly, such data are being withheld from public scrutiny on the basis that cases remain under investigation and/or there is an anticipation that an individual will come forward, as a result of an appeal, with some specialist information that will identify a potential suspect. As far as we are aware, this has never happened, almost certainly due to the culture of silence outlined above‘.

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