Posts Tagged ‘goshawk


Police investigate shooting of two goshawks in Scottish Borders

From Peeblesshire News, 26/4/19:


Police are appealing for information after the illegal shooting of rare birds of prey in the Borders.

On February 14, a member of the public discovered a dead goshawk on land near Abbey Saint Bathens, Duns, and reported the matter to the RSPB.

Forensic analysis of the bird was undertaken, and it was established that it had been shot.

Police were then contacted on Thursday, April 25.

The news comes after the shooting of another goshawk in the Peebles area on March 2.

Inquiries into both shootings are ongoing and anyone with information is asked to come forward.

[Goshawk by Mike Lane]

Wildlife Crime Co-Ordinator, Constable Steven Irvine, said: “Inquiry was already underway into the shooting of the goshawk in March and we are now conducting inquiries into the earlier shooting of the bird in February. These birds are a protected species and unlawfully killing them is a very serious offence. Anyone who can assist with these investigations should contact police immediately.”

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said “Goshawks are one of Scotland’s rarest breeding raptors, with only about 150 breeding pairs. Despite the fact that most of their diet consists of crows, woodpigeons and rabbits, species that are perceived as pests by some farmers and gamekeepers, cases of illegal persecution against this species are not uncommon, depriving people of the opportunity to see this charismatic and spectacular bird of prey.

We join with the police in asking that if anyone has information about this crime, or other raptor persecution incidents, they contact Police Scotland.”


Well, well, well. More illegal raptor persecution in the Scottish Borders.

You know the place – it’s where SNH have been “able to reassure ourselves persecution is not an issue” (see here).

UPDATE 17.15hrs: This story is now on the BBC news website and provides further information about the second shot goshawk, saying it was found dead by a dog walker near Eddleston Quarry on 2 March.


Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson accused of 12 wildlife crimes

Further to previous blogs on the prosecution of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson for alleged wildlife crimes in the Scottish Borders (see here, here here and here) further details have emerged about the charges he faces.

From the Peebleshire News (12/4/19) (and with thanks to the blog reader who sent us a copy):


A gamekeeper has been accused of 12 wildlife offences at Jedburgh Sheriff Court. Alan Wilson, 60, is charged with shooting two goshawks, four buzzards, a peregrine falcon, three badgers and an otter at Henlaw Wood, Longformacus, between March 2016 and May 2017.

He also faces charges of using a snare likely to cause partial suspension of animal or drowning, failing to produce snaring records within 21 days when requested to do so by police and no certificate for an air weapon.

Wilson, of xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx pleaded not guilty to all 12 charges and a trial date was set for June 13 with an intermediate hearing on May 27.


Please note: we will not be accepting comments on this news item until legal proceedings have concluded. Thanks.


BASC still in denial about extent of illegal raptor persecution

There was a feature on illegal raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park on the BBC’s Sunday Politics (East Midlands) programme a couple of days ago.

You can watch it on BBC iPlayer here (starts at 21:02; ends at 25:05; available for 27 days).

The film began with an interview with Tim Birch from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, who explained that illegal raptor persecution in the Dark Peak area of the National Park is particularly bad, affecting hen harriers, goshawks and peregrines. The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is calling for stronger enforcement action on the criminals responsible and for the introduction of vicarious liability, to hold the landowners to account.

The presenter then spoke about the recent scientific paper on hen harrier satellite data, published a couple of weeks ago. She said:

When it comes to hen harriers a recent study by Natural England found they were ten times more likely to die if they were near or on land used for shooting. Now this study concluded that illegal persecution is having a major impact on the conservation of these birds. But not everyone agrees with the data. Duncan Thomas represents the shooting community and believes questions need to be raised“.

The camera then cut to Duncan Thomas, ex-police wildlife crime cop in the Forest of Bowland and currently the British Association for Shooting & Conservation’s (BASC) northern director. Here’s how the interview went:

Duncan Thomas:You know, what we have to be really careful of is the data that’s coming from these tagging programmes and who controls that data. I’d like to see much more transparency in the whole tagging process for the benefit of everybody“.

Interviewer:These wildlife charities say that there is a direct connection when it comes to the decline in birds of prey populations here in the Peak District and illegal persecution“.

Duncan Thomas:There is a tiny amount of persecution occurring and what we have to do is to work closely with our conservation partners to eradicate that. BASC and the other shooting organisations have a zero tolerance for wildlife crime. Any body committing any crime will be expelled from the organisations, the police will remove their firearms and shotgun certificates and they won’t be able to work, you know. There is a zero tolerance for it. You know, let’s work together and take this issue forward“.

[Duncan Thomas, struggling to understand the definition of “tiny”]

Given the extensive catalogue of evidence that demonstrates the appalling level of wildlife crime in the Peak District National Park, Duncan Thomas’ refusal to acknowledge it just makes him, and BASC, look ridiculous.

That evidence dates back at least 20 years and resulted in two damning summary reports published by the RSPB: Peak Malpractice (here) and then Peak Malpractice update (here).

Then came the Peak District National Park Bird of Prey Initiative in 2011, a so-called ‘partnership’ aimed at restoring raptor populations in the Dark Peak part of the Park. This Initiative has failed to deliver on every single target since then (see here and here) and is barely hanging by a thread (here).

Then last year a scientific paper published in the journal British Birds comprehensively linked the illegal killing of raptors with areas of land managed for driven grouse shooting in the National Park (see here). Here is a map from that paper showing the number of raptor persecution incidents against the backdrop of grouse moors (burned heather).

To suggest that the scale of raptor persecution in the Peak District is a “tiny amount“, even though it’s been shown repeatedly, for many years, to be having population-level effects on hen harriers, goshawks and peregrines, is either fatuously ignorant or wilfully blind.

Instead of acknowledging these widespread crimes, Duncan Thomas instead focused on trying to undermine the hen harrier satellite tag data which were collected by a Government agency, analysed by international scientists and published in an exceptionally high quality journal!

And it’s simply not true that the shooting organisations operate a zero tolerance policy for wildlife crime. If only they did, this issue would be resolved very quickly! For example, not one of them published a statement to condemn the shooting of Marsh harriers at a nest on Denton Moor nor issue an appeal for information to identify the armed men dressed as gamekeepers (here).

Instead, what we see repeatedly are shooting organisation representatives sneering and ridiculing the RSPB when covert video evidence has been ruled inadmissible in prosecutions for alleged raptor crime (Duncan Thomas has a track record of this – e.g. here), we see high-end barristers (often of QC status) brought in to defend the accused (who pays the legal fees, because they’ll be beyond the gamekeeper’s pocket?), and instead of expulsions from shooting organisations following a successful conviction we see statements of support (e.g. here).

On top of all that, we understand that BASC is accepting funds from several people who are also involved in the management of a number of estates notorious for both confirmed and alleged wildlife crimes. We’ll be exploring that relationship, also shared with GWCT, in another blog.

Does any of that look like zero tolerance to you?

Oh, and Duncan, about your idea of “working together“. That won’t happen when BASC and its fellow raptor persecution apologists boycott a meeting designed to, er, work together to tackle illegal raptor persecution.

[Photo of a short-eared owl that was found shot in the Peak District National Park last year. A shot tawny owl was found stuffed in a drystone wall not far away. Photo via RSPB]



Shot goshawk found dead in Angus

In yesterday’s blog (here) we discussed how the raptor-killing criminals have changed tactics to avoid detection and are going to greater lengths to remove/hide the evidence of their crimes.

This latest case is a good example of how this may be happening and how this can lead to raptor persecution crimes remaining undetected.

In March 2018 a member of the public found a dead goshawk washed up at the mouth of the River North Esk near St Cyrus in Aberdeenshire. The bird had an identifying leg ring and the finder reported this ring number to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). The BTO quickly notified the ringer, Dr Chris McGuigan, and provided him with the grid reference of where the bird had been found. Chris contacted a colleague in the area (Simon Ritchie) who was able to attend the scene and collect the fresh corpse.

[Photos of the dead goshawk by Simon Ritchie]

Chris was able to identify the bird as one of three females that were ringed as chicks in Angus in 2014:

Having experience of finding dead raptors in Angus which upon closer examination turned out to have been illegally shot, and given the location of where the corpse had been found (not prime goshawk habitat), in addition to the known level of hatred directed towards goshawks by many in the game-shooting industry, Chris took the decision to submit the dead goshawk for testing. It was a very good decision.

The goshawk was sent to the Royal School of Veterinary Studies at Edinburgh University where an x-ray revealed the goshawk’s body was peppered with lead shot, suggesting it had been shot at close range.

So how did the dead goshawk end up washed up on the shoreline at the mouth of the River North Esk? Given the large amount of lead shot in its body it would have died immediately, so it’s possible it was killed on the shoreline and left to rot, although this seems unlikely given the habitat and the stupidity of leaving an illegally-killed raptor in full view of any passing members of the public.

Another explanation is that the goshawk had been shot and killed further inland and then tossed in the river for the water to carry away the corpse (and thus the evidence of the crime).

[Map showing the River North Esk running down through the Angus Glens grouse moors and out along the plain to the North Sea]

Undoubtedly there will be some who consider this explanation far-fetched, but throwing dead goshawks in to rivers isn’t unheard of in Scotland – we’ll shortly be reporting on another case that includes some amazing supportive evidence……we’re just waiting for a bit more detail on that one.

Meanwhile, back to the investigation in to the illegal shooting of this goshawk in Angus….

When Chris submitted the goshawk carcass to the Edi Vet School he hadn’t notified the police as there was nothing to report at that stage – just the discovery of a dead goshawk. However, when the x-ray revealed the lead shot in the goshawk’s body, he asked the staff member to report the incident to Police Scotland.

We understand that the staff member sent the corpse to Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) for a post-mortem (standard practice) and that the SRUC would then notify the police.

However, when we contacted Police Scotland last week to ask about the status of the investigation and why they hadn’t made a public appeal for information (this goshawk was found in March, remember, that’s seven months ago!), we were told that the police had only been informed about the incident ‘in the last couple of weeks’ and so the investigation was ‘at the very early stages’.

We asked Police Scotland for a crime reference number that we could include in this blog but we were told that a crime number ‘had not yet been issued’.


There are several lessons to learn from this case, not least the importance of submitting carcasses for further examination to help detect criminal activity – if Chris & Simon hadn’t acted, this crime would not be recorded in the official statistics.

But this case also highlights the importance of sending reports of suspected raptor crime to RSPB Scotland at the earliest possible time, so if there is a subsequent breakdown in communication between the authorities, which appears to have happened in this case, the RSPB can follow-up and make sure that at least these crimes are properly recorded and investigated, even though the chances of catching the culprit are precisely zero.

UPDATE 20 Oct 2018: This blog has been picked up by an article in The Express (here)

UPDATE 20 Oct 2018: This blog has also been picked up by an article in The Press & Journal (here)


Moorland Association giving false hope for an end to raptor persecution in Peak District National Park

The Moorland Association’s long-term ability to deny and undermine the proven link between illegal raptor persecution and driven grouse moor management is legendary (see here for just one of many examples).

Never far from the headlines, they’ve been churning out the propaganda again, this time during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, broadcast 2 May 2018, in response to the recently published scientific paper linking illegal raptor persecution in the Dark Peak area of Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park with driven grouse moor management.

The interview is available on iPlayer for the next 21 days here (starts at 53:15 mins).

Here’s the transcript:

John Humpries: There’s new research seems to show a clear link between grouse shooting and the decline in the number of birds of prey, specifically the goshawk and the magnificent peregrine falcon, the fastest bird in the world. Mark Thomas of the RSPB has done the work, Amanda Anderson is the Director of the Moorland Association. They are both on the line.

Mr Thomas, haven’t we heard this before?

Mark Thomas: We have, John, lots of times. The difference here is you’ve got a National Park, a place where the public can go, 10m visitors a year.

John Humphries: The National Park being ?

Mark Thomas: The Peak District National Park. It is highly protected yet half of the park, the northern bit with the grouse moors, are a no go zone for the very birds that you’ve just discussed.

John Humphries: Because?

Mark Thomas: Because we’ve done some research and what we’ve done is we’ve looked at all the crimes against birds of prey. So this is shot peregrines, poisoned buzzards, shot buzzards, pole trapped ospreys, it goes on and on, and all those crimes, we’ve matched them statistically with the area used for driven grouse shooting in the Dark Peak, the northern area.

John Humphries: But I’m not quite sure how you link the crimes, as you put it, to legitimate grouse shooting.

Mark Thomas: Because what we’ve basically done is we’ve matched the places where the crimes occur and then we’ve put a layer on showing where the grouse moors are and statistically that is significant. It overlays each other and we’ve proven a correlation between the two. If you are a bird of prey, you do not want to be in the Dark Peak.

[RSPB map from the new scientific paper showing the number of confirmed raptor persecution incidents in the Peak District National Park 2000-2016 overlaid with areas managed for grouse shooting]:

John Humphries: Amanda Anderson, do you accept that?

Amanda Anderson: Good morning John, good morning Mark. I have to refute that Mark thinks the northern area is a no go zone for birds of prey. The National Park is a massive area, the size of London, and in the north of the park this year we have 8 pairs of peregrines and 7 or 8 pairs of goshawk. Now it’s early in the season, it’s a very cold late spring, I’m sure you’ll agree, so we can’t guarantee that these pairs will turn into nests and eggs turn into chicks.

John Humphries: But it’s this correlation between the crime and the areas where grouse shooting happen.

Amanda Anderson: One incident of a bird of prey being persecuted is too many but we must look at the instances of this, the amount of crimes reported. I don’t know the definition of a confirmed crime but it is over a 16-year period so there are 3-4 incidents per year and there have been 2 prosecutions in the area that Mark refers to and bird of prey numbers are now increasing.

John Humphries: That presents a slightly different picture, Mark.

Mark Thomas: That’s not exactly right. When you look nationally, 69% of all people convicted for killing birds of prey, gamekeepers, let’s get to it, they are the people killing birds of prey in this park. And, as I’ve said, we have a whole catalogue of incidents. The confirmed ones is when we’ve got a body, we’ve physically got a body where nobody can refute that that bird has not been poisoned, hasn’t been trapped. In terms of the birds that are there at the moment, we’ve had this situation year on year. At the beginning of the season it looks good. Ask Amanda. Last year not one single peregrine falcon was successful in the northern Dark Peak where the grouse moors are.

Amanda Anderson: That’s absolutely true. Last year peregrine were very disappointing. As I say, this year it’s looking very exciting with about 8 pairs on the go at the moment.

John Humphries: So there we are, that’s it, it does fluctuate, doesn’t it Mark?

Mark Thomas: It does but what our data is looking at is over a long period of time. Amanda’s reflecting on one year. We must acknowledge Amanda has tried very hard with her moorland managers to self regulate but that is not working.

John Humphries: So what would you do? Would you ban grouse shooting?

Mark Thomas: No, the RSPB is not saying that and we are not going as far as that. We are saying we want licencing. If a shoot has committed a crime then the licence to shoot on that moor is removed for a period of time. That would focus and we think that would solve this problem.

John Humphries: And would you accept that, Amanda?

Amanda Anderson: If a shoot has committed a crime then somebody should be in court and prosecuted and that is a fair system and is working. The conclusion the RSPB draw to legislate to help birds of prey is flawed when the population is increasing.


Wow. Amanda’s final comment deserves a whole blog to itself but that’s for another time.

For now, we want to concentrate on Amanda’s claim that this year is “looking very exciting with about 8 pairs [of peregrines] on the go at the moment” and “7 or 8 pairs of goshawk“.

That sounds promising, doesn’t it? But just how accurate are these figures?

Not very, according to local raptor group fieldworker Mike Price from the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group.

We asked Mike to comment and here’s his response:

“Thank you for your email. Whilst we are not able to publicly share the figures of breeding, highly threatened raptor species at this point in the season, we can tell you that the activity of Peregrine Falcons has followed the pattern of previous years, with several sites occupied earlier in the season. Approximately 50% of these sites are no longer occupied. 

We know that there has been an incident near to one site that led to an injured bird being photographed by a member of the public. It was described as immobile, on the ground and covered in blood. Unfortunately, despite extensive searching the bird has not been recovered and we do not know what caused the bird’s injuries.

[Photos of the injured peregrine, found 14 April 2018, published on Twitter by @RSPBBirders]

Occupied Goshawk sites appear to be lower than in 2017, although known breeding pairs remain in line with 2016 and 2017. Several sightings of pairs exhibiting breeding behaviour at historic breeding sites appear to have fizzled out and at a number of sites this appears to be happening annually and without any reasonable explanation.

With all of that in mind the figures quoted by Amanda Anderson for the north of the Peak District National Park, are in our opinion, inaccurate. We would welcome a recovery for both Peregrine and Goshawk in the area mentioned but after seven years of failed collaborative working we are understandably cautious”.

Hmm, this report paints quite a different picture to the one Amanda was suggesting, doesn’t it?

To be fair though, Amanda did say it was still early in the season and it’d been a cold, late spring so there was a chance that not all the peregrine and goshawk breeding attempts would be successful. That’s true, and the weather may well have played a role in some of these early failures (we’ll find out when the 2018 report is published). But take a look again at that bloodied, injured peregrine laying in the heather. Was that a victim of the cold, late spring?

It’s a critical time for breeding birds, and especially for breeding raptors in the Peak District National Park. According to a statement made by the Peak District National Park Authority in January this year, it is “looking for an increase in birds in the breeding season before committing to working with the other organisations in the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative beyond 2018″.

It’s no wonder the Moorland Association is keen to pretend things are on the up.


New paper links raptor persecution to driven grouse moors in Peak District National Park

A new scientific, peer-reviewed paper, published in the journal British Birds, links the illegal killing of birds of prey with driven grouse moor management in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park.

Full citation: Melling, T., Thomas, M., Price, M. and Roos, S. (2018). Raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park. British Birds 111 (May): 275-290.

Unfortunately we’re not permitted to publish the full paper (you’ll have to subscribe to British Birds to access it) but here is the abstract and a number of the figures:

The RSPB has published a blog about this research which is well worth a read – here.

At the end of the RSPB blog, RSPB Investigator Mark Thomas writes: “It’s going to be interesting to see the response to our paper“.

The response will be the same one we’ve seen to every other scientific paper linking illegal raptor persecution to driven grouse moor management (and there have been many):

  1. Conservationists will be appalled (but not surprised);
  2. The grouse shooting industry will either (a) ignore it or (b) try to undermine the credibility of the authors and the science;
  3. The statutory authorities will either (a) ignore it or (b) they’ll acknowledge it and say raptor persecution ‘won’t be tolerated’ and then do nothing.

We still need to work on increasing public awareness about the illegal persecution of raptors on driven grouse moors and encourage more voters to apply pressure to their political representatives. Good progress has been made in the last few years but there is much, much more to do.

Scientific papers such as this latest one all help build the evidence, although if they sit behind a journal paywall they have limited value. Please help spread the word about this paper, especially on social media, and if you’re a resident of the Peak District National Park or if you live nearby and your MP’s constituency extends in to the Park, please send a copy of the paper’s abstract to them and ask that they contact Wildlife Minister Therese Coffey at DEFRA to demand she takes action.

In fact, even if you’re not a Peak District resident, this is a National Park that is there for all of us to enjoy, so please send a copy of this paper’s abstract to your local MP, wherever you live, and ask him/her to demand action from Minister Therese Coffey on your behalf.

The illegal killing of raptors on grouse moors in this National Park (and many others) has been going on for decades. It’s all documented. It will continue to go on unless we demand change. Please act.


Illegal activity uncovered at goshawk nest in North York Moors National Park

RSPB press release (26/3/18)


North Yorkshire Police and the RSPB are appealing for information after several instances of illegal disturbance were recorded at a goshawk nest in North Yorkshire.

In spring 2017, a covert camera was trained on a nest with poor breeding success near Helmsley to better understand what was causing the nest to fail. In April 2017, the footage showed two men visiting the nest and one of the men then repeatedly hitting the nest tree with a large stick. This appeared to be a clear attempt to flush the incubating bird off the nest.

Then, on two occasions the following month, a man is seen and the sound of gunshots is heard, along with the repeated alarm calls of the parent birds on one of the occasions. The nesting attempt subsequently failed and the four cold eggs were later recovered from the nest after a visit by the police. Analysis showed one of the eggs had a fully formed chick inside.

Goshawks are secretive, forest-dwelling hunters, around the size of a buzzard. There are very few nesting pairs in North Yorkshire, despite plenty of available habitat. Goshawks are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and listed on Schedule 1 of the Act. It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb the birds at the nest site during the breeding season unless operating under the authority of a government licence.

Investigations are ongoing and police are appealing for information.

Watch video footage from the RSPB’s covert camera:

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “We are very concerned that this was an attempt to shoot the goshawks or disturb the adults to make them desert the nest site. Goshawks are magnificent birds and should be widespread throughout North Yorkshire. The idea that people are deliberately trying to destroy nests and prevent them from raising chicks is beyond belief.

Birds of prey in the North York Moors National Park are at a huge risk of persecution, and this county consistently proves the worst in the country for the illegal killing of birds of prey. This latest evidence shows the pressures they continue face. We are grateful for the enquiries being made by North Yorkshire Police in relation to the events recorded. We hope that further information emerges to help identify these individuals.”

Acting Inspector Kevin Kelly, of North Yorkshire Police, added: “The ongoing problem of raptor persecution in our county prompted a public awareness campaign in February between ourselves, the RSPB, RSPCA, North York Moors National Park and Yorkshire Dales National Park. The initiative – know as Operation Owl – was designed to educate local people and send a clear message that raptor crime will not be tolerated.

If you have any information that may help our enquiries regarding these incidents, please speak out. Ahead of the spring breeding season, look out for individuals acting suspiciously and please report any concerns immediately.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call North Yorkshire Police on 101. Or to speak with somebody in complete confidence, call the RSPB’s Raptor Crime Hotline 0300 999101.

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


RSPB Investigations Officer Howard Jones has also written a blog here

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