Posts Tagged ‘gamekeeper


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.


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!


At least 72% satellite tagged hen harriers presumed illegally killed on grouse moors

At long last, after years of stalling, hiding, prevaricating and obsfuscating (e.g. see here and here) and 13 years after its publicly-funded study began, Natural England’s hen harrier satellite tag data has finally been analysed and published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The paper is open access and can be downloaded here: Widespread illegal killing of HH on British grouse moors

Here is the abstract:

The results? Entirely predictable (hen harriers are highly likely to be killed on grouse moors – gosh, who knew?), and are more likely to be killed inside protected areas such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) with large areas of grouse moors than any other type of landuse, especially these protected areas in North Yorkshire, Bowland and the Peak District:

Unfortunately the results do not have the same fine resolution as those of the golden eagle sat tag review, but that is simply a consequence of using different types of satellite tag and duty cycles. E.g. the golden eagle tags, especially the newer GSM solar powered tags, are ‘on’ constantly and are collecting data every minute when fully charged, whereas the hen harrier tags are using the Doppler/Argos system so the tags are less spatially accurate and have frequent periods when they are not ‘on’, thus not collecting data. Nevertheless, even being forced to undertake an analysis at a coarse scale, the results are still damning.

The most devastating result, in our opinion, is the extent of the criminality and this is what should be grabbing the attention of Ministers. Sure, we’ve all known for years that hen harriers are killed by gamekeepers on many driven grouse moors; everybody knows and acknowledges that, but the scale of the killing has always been challenged (or more usually, denied).

But this paper puts an end to those denials. 72% of the Natural England sat tagged hen harriers are presumed to have been illegally killed, versus 9% natural deaths. 72% is the MINIMUM value. If you exclude the tagged birds that are still alive/being tracked (7), and thus just look at the tagged birds with a known end fate, then the maximum value of illegally killed satellite tagged hen harriers would be 82% versus 9.8% natural deaths. It’ll be interesting to add the RSPB-tagged birds to this in due course.

82% of young tagged hen harriers are likely to have been illegally killed, on grouse moors. Compare that to the 31% of satellite tagged golden eagles that ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on or near driven grouse moors in Scotland. In a direct response to that 31%, Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham ordered an independent review of grouse moor management, specifically to examine opportunities for licensing.

How do you think her Westminster counterparts, Michael Gove & Dr Therese Coffey will respond to the 82% figure? Let’s see, shall we?

A press release has been issued by the partner organisations involved in the hen harrier sat tag analysis, as follows:


A new study reveals that young hen harriers in England suffer abnormally high mortality compared to populations in Orkney and mainland Scotland and the study provides compelling evidence that the most likely cause is illegal killing in areas associated with grouse moor management.

Published today in Nature Communications, this paper represents the culmination of a 10-year Natural England study involving 58 satellite tagged hen harriers. The analyses have been led by the University of Cape Town and Aberdeen University with the provision of land use data by the RSPB. The study showed the likelihood of hen harriers dying, or disappearing, was ten times higher within areas predominantly covered by grouse moor, compared to areas with no grouse moor. The study revealed that 72% of tagged harriers were either confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed.

The hen harrier, sometimes called the ‘skydancer’ because of its amazing acrobatic display in the breeding season, is one of England’s rarest birds and is legally protected. Illegal killing of hen harriers has long been thought to limit their population size, but identifying the scale of these crimes and their impact on harrier populations has been difficult because they occur in remote areas and evidence is likely to be destroyed, thus successful prosecutions are rare. This long-term study has enabled patterns of disappearances to be assessed across a large number of birds. This provides overwhelming evidence that illegal killing is occurring on some grouse moors, where some gamekeepers view hen harriers as a threat to their grouse stocks.

Stephen Murphy from Natural England led the data collection and commented: Natural England welcomes the publication of this study, which demonstrates the value of tagging as a legitimate conservation tool. These analyses are a significant step in understanding the fate of tagged hen harriers, and confirm what has long been suspected – that illegal persecution is having a major impact on the conservation status of this bird.”

Dr Megan Murgatroyd, from the University of Cape Town, who is the lead author of the study said: “Natural England’s long-term commitment to this tracking study has yielded an important dataset involving over 20,000 individual fixes. This is a remarkable achievement for a species whose population in England has averaged only a handful of pairs for the last few years. Whilst dead harriers can be disposed of, the pattern of hen harrier disappearances revealed by this data could not be hidden. [Ed: She’s clearly been listening to Dr Hugh Webster – that’s his line!] The multiple levels of analyses of the data have all led to the same robust conclusion that hen harriers in Britain suffer elevated levels of mortality on grouse moors, and this is most likely the result of illegal killing.“

Dr David Douglas, RSPB Principal Conservation Scientist and a co-author on the paper, said: “The high rate of illegal persecution on grouse moors revealed by this study goes a long way to explaining why hen harriers are barely hanging on as a breeding bird in England. Satellite tag data is giving us very valuable insights into what is happening to our birds of prey in the UK. It has already provided compelling evidence of the link between suspicious golden eagle deaths and grouse moors in Scotland and now it has done the same for hen harriers in England.”

Rob Cooke from Natural England said: “Natural England will continue its satellite tracking work to further improve our understanding of hen harrier movements and behaviour, and will continue work to improve the conservation status of the species. Natural England welcomes the support of many landowners in this, and will continue to work with all landowners and other interested parties to find ways of enabling hen harrier populations to increase from their current critically endangered levels in England”. 


[Satellite-tagged hen harrier Carroll, who’d been shot]

UPDATE 20 March 2019: Responses to hen harrier satellite tag paper: Supt Nick Lyall, Chair RPPDG (here)

UPDATE 21 March 2019: Responses to hen harrier satellite tag paper: BASC (here)

UPDATE 21 March 2019: Response to hen harrier satellite tag paper: DEFRA Wildlife Minister Dr Therese Coffey (here)

UPDATE 22 March 2019: Response to hen harrier satellite tag paper: Northern England Raptor Forum (here)


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


Gamekeeper convicted of wildlife crime on Yorkshire grouse moor (where Marsh harrier nest attacked in 2017)

Today at Skipton Magistrates gamekeeper Austin Hawke was convicted of a wildlife crime that took place on a Yorkshire grouse moor in May 2018.

The offence related to a dead badger found caught in a snare close to a stink pit on Denton Moor on 28 May 2018. Hawke was found guilty of failing to check the snare contrary to section 11 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act.

[Photos of the dead snared badger and the stink pit, contributed by a blog reader who wishes to remain anonymous]

On conviction, Hawke was given a 12 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay a £20 victim surcharge and £625 costs.

A pathetically feeble penalty, again, but well done to North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force for pursuing this case and to the Crown Prosecution Service for securing the conviction.

What’s particularly interesting about this case is the location. This offence took place on Denton Moor and within one mile of the location of a Marsh harrier nest that was illegally attacked on several occasions in May 2017. The Marsh harrier nest was under video surveillance by the RSPB and the camera captured a number of armed gunmen, dressed as gamekeepers, who appeared to be shooting at the adult harriers and removing the eggs from the nest.

Despite a thorough investigation by North Yorkshire Police, nobody was ever charged for these alleged offences. As we’ve come to expect, the police received little help from the grouse shooting community when trying to identify the armed suspects.

Here is the map we created at the time, and below that is the RSPB’s video footage of the repeated attacks on the nest.

UPDATE 27 Feb 2019

North Yorkshire Police have issued the following press statement today:

A gamekeeper found guilty of committing a wildlife crime received a conditional discharge at Skipton Magistrates Court.

Austin Hawke, 51, of Ilkley, failed to check a snare following an incident at Denton on 29 May 2018 where a badger was found dead.

The offence is listed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Following a trial on Tuesday (26 February 2019), Hawke was found guilty and received the conditional discharge. He was also ordered to pay £645 costs and surcharge.

Sergeant Kev Kelly, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force, said: “This case was reported following a member of the public who was aware of our proactive work under Operation Owl.

From the evidence collected, it was apparent that the badger had suffered before it had eventually died after being caught in the snare. Therefore this case was fully investigated to ensure other animals didn’t undergo the same fate.

If the defendant had been using breakaway snares it is less likely that he would have killed the badger.

I am disappointed as we have been doing some really good partnership working with local Nidderdale keepers who want to show the public good practice and accountability.

Hawke’s conviction will no doubt have an impact on how his profession is viewed. I think he has done his wider colleagues a disservice.”

Geoff Edmond, RSPCA National Wildlife Coordinator, said: “The RSPCA continues to work closely with the North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force and this result highlights the strength of partnership working under Operation Owl.

“This badger will have suffered a horrific and prolonged death having been snared in this way.

“The RSPCA is against the use of snares because they are indiscriminate in what they catch and they cause tremendous suffering. But while they remain legal we hope we can work together with the Police and National Gamekeepers’ Organisation to raise awareness of the good practice guide so as to improve accountability.”



More half-baked half-truths from Shooting Times

Here’s the third distorted news item from the current edition of Shooting Times (we blogged about the first one here and the second one here).

This article is about the coordinated boycotting of last month’s Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) meeting by the Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, BASC and Countryside Alliance. Mark Avery blogged about it (here) and so did we (here, here, here and here) when the gamekeepers formally resigned from the group with the jaw-dropping suggestion that Supt Nick Lyall (the new RPPDG Chair) lacked integrity. The supreme irony of that claim kept us amused for days.

Anyway, back to the Shooting Times and its selective portrayal of events:

Gosh, where to start.

It’s fair enough to include the quote from the Countryside Alliance, although the shooting lobby’s claims about the workings of the RPPDG have previously been found to be misleading, at best:

The RPPDG meetings are not confidential; meeting minutes are subject to disclosure via FoI requests (we have copies of every meeting report except one, so far) and those member organisations supposedly “condemning outcomes to which they agreed in meetings” presumably refers to comments made by RSPB and NERF about the discredited RPPDG raptor persecution maps that were published in 2017. However, NERF has argued that it consistently objected during meetings to how the map data were being presented but that those concerns were consistently ignored by other RPPDG ‘partners’ (e.g. see here) while the RSPB has stated that changes to the pre-agreed press releases were made without the RSPB’s knowledge or consent (see here).

The Shooting Times then goes on to discuss the ‘dispute’ about whether the Moorland Association asked, during an RPPDG meeting, about licenses to kill Marsh harriers (which, incidentally, wasn’t “leaked” at all but became known when RPPDG members were reporting to their members, quite legitimately, on the RPPDG meeting). The Shooting Times article includes Amanda Anderson’s (Moorland Assoc) response of “complete nonsense” but then completely fails to mention that further scrutiny of wider RPPDG correspondence, via a series of FoIs, has revealed that yes, this topic was indeed raised during that RPPDG meeting but every member except two (RSPB & NERF) had apparently ‘forgotten’ about it and subsequent meeting minutes, inaccurate and contested, were still approved by the RPPDG (see here)!!

Half-truths won’t do, Shooting Times, and they certainly don’t fit with the editor’s recent emphasis on “communicating the truth and demanding high standards”.

Still on the subject of alleged ‘leaks’, Shooting Times then suggests that news of the recent boycotted meeting had ‘appeared to have been leaked to a prominent anti-shooting blogger [that’ll be Mark Avery] before being picked up by The Times’. This allegation of leaking is again clearly aimed at the non-shooting RPPDG members, but had the Shooting Times done its homework it would have known that actually, a journalist from The Times knew about this boycott story and was on the phone to lots of people about it BEFORE Mark Avery blogged! Also, it’s worth noting that a copy of the National Gamekeepers Organisation’s formal resignation letter made its way in to the hands of The Times journalist. Now, who do you think sent (‘leaked’) that?!!

This Shooting Times article is looking more and more like an attempted hatchet job but the claims, when scrutinised, simply don’t stack up.

The final part of the Shooting Times article is perhaps the funniest, and is associated with the editor’s bizarre decision to use a photo of Charlie Moores to illustate this piece. Obviously being used as a poster child to represent ‘animal rights activists’ (and all the associated negative imagery of that terminology) and thus to somehow justify the game shooting lobby’s decision to boycott the meeting (or in the NGO’s case, resign), the Shooting Times couldn’t have picked a more inappropriate subject or photo.

Mild-mannered, softly-spoken, considerately thoughtful, naturally reserved and always a gentleman, Charlie Moores is about as far away as possible from being the stereotypical ‘animal rights activist’ many in the shooting lobby like to portray (i.e. ‘masked, violent thugs willing to break the law’)! NB, for the record, this isn’t our definition of an animal rights activist!

Not only that, but the photograph they’ve used was taken at BAWC’s Hen Harrier Day in 2015, shortly after Amanda Anderson (Moorland Assoc) and Andrew Gilruth (GWCT) were warmly welcomed to the event by Chris Packham who encouraged the audience to give them both a round of applause, which we did. Not quite the image of BAWC that would help justify the NGO’s decision to resign from the RPPDG, eh?!

But best and funniest of all, Charlie hasn’t been involved with BAWC since spring 2016 and so had absolutely nothing to do with the RPPDG meeting that was boycotted last month!

The Shooting Times was accurate to state that Charlie had helped set up BAWC way back in the day, but BAWC was NEVER an animal rights campaigning group – it’s mission was then, and still is now, to campaign against wildlife crime. The clue’s in the name, really.

Piss-taking of the Shooting Times’ crap journalism aside, you do have to wonder then, why the game shooting lobby really objects so strongly to BAWC’s involvement with the RPPDG (whose objective is also to, er, tackle illegal raptor persecution) as well as the other newly-added RPPDG members (Wildlife Trusts and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).


Trial continues for (now ex) head gamekeeper of Edradynate Estate

The trial of Edradynate Estate’s former head gamekeeper, David Campbell, continued at Perth Sheriff Court in late January.

David Campbell, 69, denies that between 14 and 16 April 2017 at Edradynate Estate he maliciously damaged game crops by spraying them with an unknown substance which caused them to rot and perish.

At the time of the alleged offences, Campbell was no longer an employee of the estate, having worked there since 1983 but after falling out with the landowner, millionaire city financier Michael Campbell (no relation), his employment was terminated in February 2017. Michael Campbell told the court in November 2018 that he believed his former employee had caused the damage ‘in revenge’ (see here).

[Photo by RPUK]

A write-up of the latest court hearing appeared in the Courier & Advertiser as follows:

A disgruntled gamekeeper made sinister threats about what would happen on a millionaire’s shooting estate after he was replaced, a court has been told.

A witness described how David Campbell made the remarks to him at a drinks party some time before game crops were sabotaged on the estate.

Donnie Calder, 44, said: “The new gamekeeper had been appointed. He had stated that he was going to be putting in a lot of new game crops in various places. To the best I can remember, David said ‘as long as he had breath in his body, game crops would not be grown at Edradynaye Estate’. I didn’t really think much of it. David was bitter. He didn’t want to leave his employment as he enjoyed his job. I just assumed he decided there wasn’t going to be game crops. I don’t know why. He was quite calm. It was a matter of fact thing“.

Mr Calder told the trial at Perth Sheriff Court that he was called to the estate some time later to look at damage which had been done to a section of game crop. He said: “The game crops looked like they had been sprayed with a weed killer of some description. I was asked to look at them with the new keeper. The crops were dead. They didn’t die of natural causes – something had been used to kill them“.

Covert CCTV footage taken at the scene of the damaged crops showed a mystery person making a series of 2am raids to spray them. Estate owner Michael Campbell, 76, said he was sure the man in the video was David Campbell, owing to his “mutton chop” sideburns.

Farmer Andrew Kennedy, 62, said he was aware that the accused was “upset” about having to leave his job. “He had worked there for a long, long time and he was aware it was coming to an end, probably a career end“, he said.

The estate’s new head gamekeeper, Ian Smith, told the trial that the area was one of the best on the estate. He said that the damage would have cost “thousands”.

He told the court that the covert CCTV footage showed a “small” person in a white boiler suit spraying the crops with a backpack sprayer. He said the person, who was filmed during the early hours on two days, appeared to be wearing a head torch and a hood or mask.


The trial will continue in March.

It might seem odd that we’re reporting on this case, and although we can’t explain that decision while this trial is on-going, all will become clear in due course.

PLEASE NOTE: We’re not accepting comments on this case until the trial concludes. Thanks.

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