Posts Tagged ‘hen harrier

15
Oct
17

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappears’ on Yorkshire Dales National Park grouse moor

North Yorkshire Police have today been searching an unnamed grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park for a ‘missing’ satellite-tagged hen harrier:

Here’s a map of Craven District in North Yorkshire (outlined in red), covering part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and nestled inbetween the Bowland and Nidderdale Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – all raptor persecution hotspots:

It’s good to see North Yorkshire Police out in force to conduct this search. We’ll await an official press release from North Yorkshire Police and Natural England for the details about this particular satellite-tagged hen harrier.

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06
Oct
17

The Natural England Hen Harrier satellite tag cover up: part 2

Last month we blogged about how Natural England is continuing to withhold information about the last known locations of 43 hen harriers that were satellite-tagged between 2007 – 2017 and that are listed by Natural England as ‘Missing, fate unknown’. Natural England’s explanation for what might have happened to these ‘missing’ hen harriers included a suggestion that they could have died on their backs, thus preventing the tag from transmitting further data. Unbelievably, Natural England did NOT suggest that illegal persecution on driven grouse moors might be a contributory factor in these disappearances (see here). This is plainly absurd. We know that Natural England acknowledges illegal persecution on driven grouse moors is the main cause of this species’ catastrophic decline, otherwise why instigate, as part of the Hen Harrier Action Plan, the controversial brood meddling scheme on, er driven grouse moors?

Photo: a dead, satellite-tagged hen harrier. A post-mortem revealed it had been shot.

We argued that Natural England has a duty to release this information as the tags (and their data) have been paid for by us, the tax-payers, as part of a 15-year study on hen harrier dispersal, a project for which the public has seen no meaningful output/results. We also argued that by continuing to withhold these data, Natural England is either being incompetent or being deliberately obstructive, or both. The intention is clearly to shield the criminals within the driven grouse shooting industry.

We suggested that at the very least, Natural England could publish a map showing the locations and habitat type of where these 43 ‘missing, fate unknown’ hen harriers went off the radar, at such a resolution that it wouldn’t compromise sensitive nest/roost site locations. By doing this, we might be able to detect some patterns to see whether these hen harriers disappeared at random locations across the landscape (which you’d expect if the birds had died on their backs of natural causes) or, rather like satellite-tagged golden eagles, they disappeared in suspicious clusters in certain grouse moor areas.

We encouraged blog readers to submit formal FoI requests to Natural England to ask for the release of these data. Many of you did – well done, and thank you. Over the last week or so, Natural England has been sending out a generic response to these requests, as follows:

Needless to say, we don’t accept this explanation.

Fist of all Natural England claims not to hold the maps. Eh? Are they trying to tell us that after 15 years of study, nobody, not even the PhD student that was supposed to be analysing these data (and who, we were told at various conferences over the years, was ‘on the verge’ of submitting his thesis), has ever bothered to map the last known locations of these ‘missing’ hen harriers?!! And even if that is the case (which seems highly implausible), all Natural England has to do to generate such a map is to input the location of the last known sat tag signals in to a simple GIS programme and voila! There’s the map! This would take an undergrad less than five minutes to complete.

Natural England then claims that the release of these data would ‘endanger hen harriers’. Er, these hen harriers are already dead (probably)! NE claims that the data would ‘compromise the locations of sensitive breeding and roosting sites’. Not if the data were released at such a low resolution that the actual sites couldn’t be identified.

Natural England then argues that the data are ‘intended to be used to collaborate with highly respected academics’ (and who might they be?) and that these academics need ‘a safe space to do the research’. Eh? How would releasing partial, low resolution data threaten the academics’ ‘safe space’ (whatever that may be)?

We could go on. However, let’s cut to the chase.

The bottom line is that we disagree with Natural England’s reasons for continuing to withhold the data and we intend to challenge them on it. The next step in this process is to complain to Natural England about this response and ask Natural England to undertake an ‘internal review’. Natural England then has a duty to ask another member of staff to review NE’s original response.

If the internal review results in the same decision (i.e. that NE will continue to withhold the data), then the next step after that will be to submit an official complaint to the Information Commissioner.

However, before we can complain to the Information Commissioner, we have to exhaust the official route of complaining to NE and asking for an internal review.

So, if you’ve received one of these letters (as above) from Natural England, we’d encourage you to write back to them and say you find NE’s original response unsatisfactory (and explain why), and ask for a formal internal review.

Thank you.

03
Oct
17

Raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park: last night’s programme

The BBC’s Inside Out programme last night featured an excellent piece on driven grouse shooting and its association with illegal raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park.

If you missed it, it’s available to watch on BBC iPlayer here for the next 29 days.

There were some great quotes, that we’ll record here for posterity:

Tim Birch (Derbyshire Wildlife Trust): “People love this place. And it is a national disgrace that we do not have the kind of birds of prey that should belong back in this landscape“.

Mistress of the understatement, Blanaid Denman (RSPB Skydancer Project): “Six years ago in 2011 there were four successful [hen harrier] nests in England. This year there were three. So I think it’s safe to say things are not going very well“.

Mark Avery (talking about driven grouse shooting): “More and more people are becoming aware of the problems and agitated about what’s happening in our National Parks“.

Andy Beer (Midlands Director, National Trust) talking about the NT’s advertisement for a new tenant on the Hope Woodlands & Park Hall Estate following the imminent removal of their current tenant:We won’t settle for a partner who we can’t have 100% confidence in. We haven’t been prescriptive in our tender about whether it should be driven grouse shooting or not, but certainly very intensive forms of land use are difficult to square with our outcomes, including increasing numbers of birds of prey“.

The current shooting tenant at Hope Woodlands & Park Hall Estate (believed to be Mark Osborne) apparently declined to comment about the removal of the shooting lease.

Steve Bloomfield (Director of Operations, BASC), talking about raptor persecution: “We’ve seen people that have broken the law. There’s always a minority in any profession that brings it in to disrepute, and we want to get rid of them from our profession“. Fine words, but what action, exactly, has BASC ever taken to oust the criminals from the grouse shooting industry? Perhaps if BASC spent more time focusing on that instead of campaigning with the Countryside Alliance to get Chris Packham silenced (e.g. here, here, here), or if the BASC Chairman (in his capacity as a lawyer) hadn’t defended the right of a gamekeeper to keep his firearms certificates even though the keeper was known to have placed poisons in an underground stash on a grouse moor (here), Steve Bloomfield’s statement might be more credible.

Surprisingly, the Moorland Association, which represents grouse moor owners, did not make an appearance in this film, but apparently told the BBC it “fully supports efforts to encourage numbers of hen harriers“. Really? Is this the same Moorland Association whose Director said last year,

If we let the hen harrier in, we will soon have nothing else. That is why we need this brood management plan“.

One other interviewee worthy of mention here was a chap called Ian Gregory, listed as ‘grouse shooting spokesman’. We don’t know if this is the same Ian Gregory as the Ian Gregory from You Forgot the Birds but judging by the poor quality of his comments in last night’s film, it may well be.

Commenting on footage of a Moscar Estate gamekeeper trying to release a badger from a snare by shooting at the snare, Ian Gregory said:

In these pictures we’re seeing a badger being released from a trap which was intended for foxes. Foxes are a nightmare for ground-nesting birds and that’s the reason that gamekeepers try to reduce the number of foxes that we have“.

Apart from revealing his woeful ignorance of ecological food webs, Ian Gregory forgot to mention that snares must never be set on runs where there is evidence of regular recent use by non-target species such as badgers, as they may be caught or injured by the snare. And, according to BASC’s Code of Best Practice, ‘Knowledge of the tracks, trails and signs of both target and non-target species [i.e. badgers] is essential. If you are not competent in identifying the tracks, trails and signs of non-target species, you must not set snares‘.

As an aside, it’s worth reading former Police Wildlife Crime Officer Alan Stewart’s blog about the CPS’s decision not to prosecute the Moscar Estate gamekeepers, here.

Ian Gregory had more unsubstantiated tosh to impart to the viewer. Talking about hen harriers, he said:

There is a problem about their populations in the UK. Some of that may be down to illegal activity but it’s also down to the pressure of human beings wanting more places for recreation, more countryside for recreation, more for their homes, so it’s not just a question of persecution, this is a much more complicated issue“.

Ah, so the demand for new housing on driven grouse moors is responsible for the catastophic decline of breeding hen harriers in England? And the scientific evidence for that claim is…..where, exactly? We had a look in the Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers which set out very clearly that illegal persecution was the biggest single factor affecting the hen harrier population’s chance of survival. Funnily enough, new housing estates being built on grouse moors didn’t feature.

All in all, this was an excellent film by the BBC’s Inside Out film and even more members of the public will now be aware of the disgraceful activities of the grouse shooting industry.

If you haven’t already done so, please consider signing this new e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting. PLEASE SIGN HERE.

02
Oct
17

Raptor persecution in Peak District National Park – BBC 1 this evening

Tonight’s BBC’s Inside Out programme will feature an investigation in to raptor persecution that’s taking place in the Peak District National Park.

This is a regional programme (BBC East Midlands) starting at 7.30pm but will be available on iPlayer shortly afterwards (see here).

To coincide with this programme, the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has today called the low number of raptors in the National Park “a national disgrace” and blamed activities relating to the driven grouse shooting industry (see BBC news article here).

The article also mentions the footage that we published in April 2016 appearing to show an armed man sitting close to a hen harrier decoy on a National Trust-leased grouse moor within the National Park. This resulted in the National Trust terminating the grouse shooting lease four years early and searching for a new tenant. The National Trust has come under increasing public pressure not to lease the moor for grouse shooting and the campaigners are expected to be included in tonight’s Inside Out programme.

Part of the Peak District National Park (mostly the grouse moors of the Dark Peak area) has been recognised as a raptor persecution hotspot for many years (e.g. see RSPB ‘Peak Malpractice‘ reports here and here). As a result of the ongoing concerns, in 2011 the National Park began hosting a Bird of Prey Initiative where ‘partners’ are supposed to have been ‘collaborating’ to increase bird of prey populations. It has failed miserably. In 2015 it was announced that none of the project targets had been met (here) but that the Iniative was going to continue with “renewed commitment” and “new rigour and energy“. Strangely, we haven’t heard any more results from this so-called partnership initiative since then, although Rhodri Thomas, an ecologist with the Peak District National Park Authority gave a very honest presentation at the Sheffield raptor conference in September 2016. His opening words were:

Has the Initiative worked? Well, we’ve not met the targets that we’d set for 2015, we’ve not met them by a fairly substantial amount in some cases, so I think the answer from that point of view is a fairly clear no“.

Meanwhile, cases of confirmed illegal raptor persecution have continued to emerge (e.g. a shot peregrine that was found critically injured next to a Peak District grouse moor in September 2016. It didn’t survive its injuries).

Don’t forget – BBC 1 (East Midlands) Inside Out tonight at 7.30pm.

Sticking with the Peak District National Park and alleged wildlife crime, did anyone see yesterday’s news that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided there will no charges relating to the alleged snaring of badgers that was filmed by the Hunt Investigation Team on the Moscar Estate earlier this year? Interesting.

Also of interest, to us, was the name of the spokesman for Moscar Estate who was cited in the article: Ian Gregory. Surely not the same Ian Gregory of You Forgot the Birds notoriety?

19
Sep
17

The Natural England hen harrier satellite tag cover up

Last week we blogged about how Natural England has been withholding 15 years worth of hen harrier tagging data, most of it paid for with public funds, and we encouraged blog readers to email them and ask for the data to be released without further delay (see here).

Specifically, we wanted to find out how many satellite-tagged hen harriers have ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in England and whether those disappearances occured in non-random clusters on specific grouse moors, much like the suspicious clustering of ‘missing’ satellite-tagged golden eagles in certain grouse moor areas of Scotland.

We know that many of you did email Natural England (thank you) and yesterday (Mon 18 Sept 2017) they caved in and released some more data. Unfortunately, they’ve only released part of the data they hold. And of the information they did release, their interpretation of it is, frankly, scandalous. Natural England are either grossly incompetent or are being deliberately obstructive in an attempt to shield the criminal grouse moor managers from the spotlight. Actually, looking at the evidence, we think they’re being both incompetent and deliberately obstructive. See what you think.

Here’s what they released yesterday:

A spreadsheet showing the number of hen harriers they tagged between 2002 and 2017. This is an updated version of the spreadsheet they published in 2014. It shows a total of 158 harriers were tagged: 99 with radio tags and 59 with satellite tags. Download the spreadsheet here: hen-harrier-tracking-data-2002-onwards

Accompanying this spreadsheet is some inaccurate explanatory text and three maps. We know that both the text and the maps are inaccurate because the explanatory text says that “Fig 2 shows the movement of birds obtained from the satellite tracking data covering 158 birds” when actually only 59 birds have been satellite-tagged. Figure 2 is also supposed to show the movement of satellite-tagged hen harriers but it doesn’t include any tag data from the continent, and we know from the spreadsheet that at least one sat tagged hen harrier was defintely recorded in Spain (McPedro) and two other birds were recorded in France. However, these international locations ARE shown in Fig 3, which is supposed to be a combination of the data from Figs 1 & 2. That’s just sheer incompetence.

We can largely ignore these maps because (a) we know they’re inaccurate but, more importantly, (b) they’ve been produced at such a low scale as to render them virtually useless. They do show that some tagged hen harriers wander widely across political boundaries but that’s not new information.

What we’re more interested in is the updated spreadsheet.

The updated spreadsheet shows how many of these tagged hen harriers are ‘missing, fate unknown’. 86 of the 99 radio tagged harriers are in this category (that’s 86.8%). Radio tags were used during the early years of the study, prior to the availability of satellite tags. Natural England quite rightly points out that, due to the limitation of this technology, not much can be surmised about the birds’ fates. If the bird moves out of range of the hand-held tracking receiver (which has a limited line-of-sight range of a few kms), then there’s no way of knowing whether the radio tagged bird is alive or dead. That’s fair comment, and it’s why many research studies switched over to using geographically unconstrained satellite tags in the late 2000s.

So let’s ignore the radio tagged hen harriers and instead concentrate on the ones that were satellite-tagged between 2007 and 2017. There were 59 satellite-tagged hen harriers during this period, and of these, 43 are listed as ‘missing, fate unknown’. That’s a very high 72.8%. Natural England provides some explanatory notes about what might have happened to these harriers:

Natural England, are you for real? This is the sort of half-arsed spin we’d expect from Dr Charlotte Tan, Professor of Grouse Moor Managementology at the GWCT. Are we seriously expected to believe that the 43 missing sat tagged hen harriers have all died of natural causes, lying on their backs, thus rendering their tags incapable of charging and transmitting further data? Sure, that might have happened in a handful of cases, but in 43 out of 43 cases? Come on!

It’s scandalous that Natural England excludes ANY explanation for these missing harriers that might just involve illegal persecution, especially when they’ve previously admitted that their own tagging research found “Compelling evidence that persecution continues, both during and after the breeding season” and “Persecution continues to limit Hen Harrier recovery in England” (Natural England, 2008, A Future for the Hen Harrier in England?).

Now, had Natural England published a map showing the locations of where these 43 ‘missing, fate unknown’ hen harriers went off the radar, we might be able to detect some patterns to see whether they disappeared at random locations across the landscape (which you’d expect if the birds had died on their backs of natural causes) or, rather like satellite-tagged golden eagles, they disappeared in suspicious clusters in certain grouse moor areas.

That Natural England haven’t provided this level of detail is very telling indeed. They’ve got the information and it would only take a matter of minutes to upload those data on to a map that would have sufficient resolution to identify suspicious geographical clustering but that wouldn’t compromise sensitive site details.

It is quite clear to us that Natural England are involved in a cover-up job, designed to protect those hen harrier-killing grouse moor managers from any hint of suspicion. Sorry, Natural England, but we won’t allow you to continue to mislead like this.

We’d urge blog readers to write again to Natural England and ask for the release of this information. This time we recommend sending the email as a formal FoI request as opposed to a more informal general enquiry (which Natural England can easily swerve, as above). Emails please to: foi@naturalengland.org.uk

In the words of Chris Packham:

Update 6 October 2017: The Natural England Hen Harrier satellite tag cover up: part 2 (see here).

13
Sep
17

Natural England must release hen harrier satellite tag data

Natural England has been fitting tags to English hen harriers since 2002. First it was radio tags and then, since 2007, it’s been satellite tags.

So far, Natural England has refused to release detailed information about the fate of these tagged hen harriers because the data were being collected as part of a PhD study. Last month we learned that the PhD has been abandoned (see here).

NE did release some initial information in 2014 (see here), that showed 47 hen harrier sat tags had been fitted between 2007-2014 and of those, an astonishing 37 harriers (78.7%) had gone ‘missing’. However, NE did not provide details about the circumstances of these disappearances, and notably excluded the locations of the last transmitted signals; even a description of the associated land-use of those final locations was kept secret.

Since 2014, we know that NE has fitted more hen harrier satellite tags (5 x tags in 2015, all of which were ‘missing’ by July 2016, according to an FoI response; and at least 2 x tags in 2016 and perhaps 1 x tag in 2017 – the details are sketchy because NE has remained tight-lipped about how it has spent our money).

In sharp contrast, detailed information on the fate of satellite-tagged raptors in Scotland has been made available to the public, even though some of the tagging effort has been privately funded. The recent report on the fate of satellite-tagged golden eagles (see here), and the RSPB’s consistent public updates on the fate of satellite-tagged hen harriers (see here), has helped to progress the issue of illegal raptor persecution high up the Scottish political agenda and we are now on the cusp of seeing genuine attempts at progressive reform.

We want to see the same progress being made in England but we need access to scientific information to help frame the case. That scientific information is available (15 years worth of hen harrier tag data) and what’s more, it’s been paid for with public funding. Our money!

Last month we encouraged blog readers to contact Natural England and ask for the release of some of that publicly-funded information. So far, NE hasn’t responded but we are quite certain that NE doesn’t have a leg to stand on if it insists on withholding the information and if it tries to do so, we’ll be submitting a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner.

At the very least, the very, very least, NE should be producing a map to show where all those ‘missing’ sat-tagged hen harriers have vanished. This can be done at a scale that doesn’t compromise sensitive locational data and doesn’t compromise the value of the data for peer-reviewed scientific publication (see the golden eagle satellite tag review to see how it can be done).

We would encourage as many of you as possible to email Natural England and ask for the release of this information, even if you did this last month and are still waiting for a response. Email: enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk 

Thank you.

11
Sep
17

Imagine that! Satellite tags continue to function after non-suspicious deaths of two hen harriers

This morning the RSPB announced that two of this year’s satellite-tagged hen harriers, Mannin & Grayse, had died in non-suspicious circumstances.

Both had been tagged at a nest on the Isle of Man in July 2017. Grayse was discovered dead on the island on 9th August. Her brother Mannin left the island on 14th August and made a failed attempt to cross the sea to the Galloway coast in SW Scotland. After ten days at sea, his body was found washed up on the Scottish shoreline on 24th August 2017.

Photo of Mannin & Grayse before they fledged (photo by James Leonard).

The bodies of both birds were submitted for post mortems, neither of which indicated their deaths were suspicious.

Although the deaths of these two harriers is disappointing, natural mortality is, well, natural and not unexpected.

What’s unusual about these two harriers is that their satellite tags continued to transmit data after the birds had died. That shouldn’t be a surprise, because that’s how these tags are designed to work and in most countries, that is how they work. Researchers are routinely able to use the data from the still-transmitting tags to locate the dead body and work out what happened to cause the animal’s death.

It seems it’s only in the UK, and particularly on grouse moors, where satellite tags on dead raptors routinely and abruptly stop transmitting, and vanish off the radar, along with the raptor’s corpse.

Funny, that.

The recent Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review found that this happened much more often in Scotland than in any other countries where the same tags are deployed (England was not included in the analysis because Natural England is still sitting on the tag data – probably because NE knows just how devastatingly embarrassing a data analysis of tagged hen harriers will be).




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