Posts Tagged ‘hen harrier

27
Mar
17

‘Official’ 2016 raptor persecution maps are a misleading distraction

Today the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (Scottish PAW Raptor group) has published the so-called ‘official’ annual raptor persecution maps showing details of recorded raptor persecution crimes for 2016.

Once again, Police Scotland has withheld information about several incidents ‘for operational reasons’ and as such these are not included on the ‘official’ map. Some details have been included in the accompanying summary data tables but even information as basic as the species affected has not been published.

Here’s the ‘official’ map purportedly showing ‘ALL’ recorded bird of prey crimes in Scotland from 2013 to 2016:

However, just as last year, some incidents are not shown and so the title of this map is totally misleading. As we’ve said before, there is no point whatsoever publishing these maps if Police Scotland is going to keep some of these crimes a secret. Seriously, what is the point?

The PAW Raptor group is headlining today’s news as a “26% drop in recorded bird of prey offences during 2016“. No doubt this supposed ‘good news’ will be used by the game-shooting industry as evidence that things are improving. On a superficial level this looks like a reasonable conclusion, but as well as the withholding of known poisoning offences, other information has also been excluded.

For example, there is no mention at all about the four satellite-tagged golden eagles that are known to have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2016: three of them ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths and one ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens.

There is also no mention of the three satellite-tagged hen harriers that are also known to have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2016: ‘Chance‘ disappeared on a South Lanarkshire grouse moor in May 2016; ‘Elwood‘ vanished on a Monadhliaths grouse moor in August 2016;  and ‘Brian‘ vanished on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in August 2016.

PAW Scotland will argue that these data have not been included because they do not represent confirmed persecution crimes. Technically, that’s fair comment, but given the frequency with which satellite-tagged raptors are ‘disappearing’ on Scottish grouse moors, they point to a much more sinister picture, as recognised by the Environment Cabinet Secretary when she ordered a review of raptor sat tag data last year. She also mentions that review in her comments about today’s supposed ‘good news’.

As far as we’re concerned, the PAW Scotland raptor persecution maps are a misleading distraction from what is actually going on in the Scottish uplands. All eyes should be on the forthcoming raptor satellite tag review for a more meaningful and revealing picture.

PAW Scotland press release here

PAW Scotland persecution maps and data here

22
Mar
17

Hen Harrier Rowan’s injuries “entirely consistent with being shot”

In the latest edition of the RSPB’s Legal Eagle newsletter (here), there’s an article about how satellite tag technology is shining a bright light on illegal raptor persecution.

We were particularly interested to read the following paragraph:

In October 2016, Cumbria Constabulary announced that, following some excellent fieldwork by Natural England, one of the Natural England / Hawk & Owl Trust sponsored birds, Rowan, had been found dead on the edge of the county. The Zoological Society of London post mortem examination, including a radiograph of its fractured left leg, showed the bird’s injuries were entirely consistent with it having been shot‘.

Well, well, well. ‘Injuries entirely consistent with being shot‘ is a very different message from that put out by Natural England, Cumbria Constabulary and the Hawk & Owl Trust, who claimed Rowan was only ‘likely to have been shot’ (see here and here).

Indeed, when challenged about the lack of transparency, the Hawk & Owl Trust conjured up this statement:

The initial post mortem results were not wholly conclusive and further metallurgical tests were required” (see here).

Last month we asked the Hawk & Owl Trust three questions about their statement:

  1. Who said the initial post mortem results weren’t wholly conclusive?
  2. Who said further metallurgical tests were required?
  3. Have those further metallurgical tests been done? If so, where are the results? If they haven’t been done, four months on, then why not if they were supposedly “required”?

The Hawk & Owl Trust has not responded. Perhaps they’re too busy looking for a big enough shovel to dig themselves out of the crater.

That’s the thing about cover-ups. They are usually uncovered, especially badly botched ones.

22
Mar
17

Case against gamekeeper Stanley Gordon re: shot hen harrier, part 10

Criminal proceedings continued at Elgin Sheriff Court yesterday against Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon.

Mr Gordon, 60, of Cabrach, Moray, is facing a charge in connection with the alleged shooting of a hen harrier in June 2013. He has denied the charge.

Here is the timeline of court proceedings so far:

Hearing #1 (19 May 2016): Case continued without plea until 16 June 2016.

Hearing #2 (16 June 2016): Case continued without plea until 14 July 2016.

Hearing #3 (14 July 2016): Case continued without plea until 11 August 2016.

Hearing #4 (11 August 2016): Case continued without plea until 1 September 2016.

Hearing #5 (1 September 2016): Mr Gordon enters a not guilty plea. A provisional trial date is set for 19 December 2016, with an intermediate diet set for 18 November 2016.

Hearing #6 (18 November 2016): Case adjourned for another intermediate diet on 2 December 2016.

Hearing #7 (2 December 2016). Provisional trial date of 19 December is dumped. Case adjourned for another intermediate diet on 10 February 2017.

Hearing #8 (10 February 2017). Case adjourned for another intermediate diet on 21 March 2017. New provisional trial date set for 15 May 2017.

Hearing #9 (21 March 2017). Case adjourned due to joint motion from both prosecution and defence to review recent disclosure. Another intermediate diet set for 21 April 2017. The provisional trial date of 15 May 2017 will be dependent on what happens at the hearing on 21 April.

07
Mar
17

Case against gamekeeper Stanley Gordon re: shot hen harrier, part 9

As many of you will be aware, criminal proceedings are underway against Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon.

Mr Gordon, 60, of Cabrach, Moray, is facing a charge in connection with the alleged shooting of a hen harrier in June 2013. He has denied the charge.

We need to amend some information about this case, written in an earlier post on 10 Feb 2017 (here).

We had previously been told that the new trial date was 21 March 2017. This was incorrect. There will be another hearing on 21 March 2017 but it will be an intermediate diet. The new trial date has been set for 15 May 2017.

Here is the revised timeline of this case:

Hearing #1 (19 May 2016): Case continued without plea until 16 June 2016.

Hearing #2 (16 June 2016): Case continued without plea until 14 July 2016.

Hearing #3 (14 July 2016): Case continued without plea until 11 August 2016.

Hearing #4 (11 August 2016): Case continued without plea until 1 September 2016.

Hearing #5 (1 September 2016): Mr Gordon enters a not guilty plea. A provisional trial date is set for 19 December 2016, with an intermediate diet set for 18 November 2016.

Hearing #6 (18 November 2016): Case adjourned for another intermediate diet on 2 December 2016.

Hearing #7 (2 December 2016). Provisional trial date of 19 December is dumped. Case adjourned for another intermediate diet on 10 February 2017.

Hearing #8 (10 February 2017). Case adjourned for another intermediate diet on 21 March 2017. New provisional trial date set for 15 May 2017.

23
Feb
17

Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: donor countries

We’ve blogged quite a bit about the ridiculous proposed ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England, one of the six action points in DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan. Here’s a quick recap:

28 Nov 2016 – Hen Harrier reintroduction to southern England: an update (here)

3 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the feasibility/scoping report (here)

8 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the project group and their timeline (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: who’s funding it? (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: a bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park (here)

12 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Wiltshire (here)

14 Feb 2017: Leaked email reveals Natural England’s views on Hen Harrier Action Plan (here)

This blog is about which countries might donate hen harrier chicks / eggs for this doomed reintroduction, assuming it goes ahead in 2020 as planned.

hhchicks-andrew-sandemanWe know, through a series of FoIs, that the reintroduction project team has been discussing potential donor countries for quite some time. Notes from their second meeting in May 2016 say:

Initial conversations have indicated that Spain may not be as likely source as had initially been thought. SR [Steve Redpath] is still waiting for replies from enquiries sent to both Spanish and French colleagues. JK [Jeff Knott] will follow up with BirdLife International partners and RC [Rob Cooke] will make initial enquiries with SNH“.

Notes from their third meeting in July 2016 say:

We acknowledged that we need to move this subject forward. We need to discuss with SR [Steve Redpath] when he’s back from Iceland but also AJ [Adrian Jowitt] to pick up with [redacted]. We also agreed to make some preliminary investigations about who or how one might approach sourcing birds from Russia“.

Notes from their fourth meeting in October 2016 say:

Contact has been made with Harrier workers in France and Spain but as yet detailed conversations have not happened – this is ongoing. We acknowledged the need to discuss whether we are looking to source chicks or eggs, although accepted that to a degree the source of the birds may influence this choice. PM [Philip Merricks] fed back that Russian counterparts had suggested that sourcing birds there was relatively straight forward provided that proper channels were followed. We agreed to pursue sources closer to home for now“.

We were particularly interested in the idea of sourcing birds from Scotland, a population in long-term decline, so we asked SNH whether there had been any correspondence on this, as suggested from the May 2016 meeting notes. SNH replied on 6 Feb 2017 with this:

We can advise there has been no approach from Natural England or others involved with this project, but that if SNH received such a request we would assess it by our own normal licensing processes and the Scottish Translocation Code, as it would relate to a reintroduction project seeking Scottish involvement / donor stock“.

SNH did, however, provide a copy of some 2011 meeting notes from the Environment Council’s six year-long failed Hen Harrier Dialogue, where there had been a discussion about sourcing hen harriers from Scotland. It makes for an interesting read: environment-council-hh-dialogue_reintroduction_june2011

So, sourcing donor birds from Scotland doesn’t appear to be on the cards. We also know that the reintroduction project team has approached the Netherlands (answer: no), Spain (answer: no) and Poland (no). Here are copies of the correspondence:

re_-hen-harriers-1_redacted_netherlands

re_-sourcing-harrier-chicks-or-eggs_redacted_spain

re_-hen-harriers-2_redacted_poland

We know that sourcing birds from Russia may be a possibility (see project team meeting notes from Oct 2016) but the most likely source, as of November 2016, appears to be France. Here is an email from Adrian Jowitt (Natural England) to the reintroduction project team, dated 3 November 2016: fw_-france-as-possible-donor-population-_redacted

We don’t have any further information on this at the moment. We submitted a further FoI in January 2017 asking Natural England for copies of correspondence relating to this project since our last request in November 2016. They replied on 19 January with this:

There has been no correspondence between 29 November 2016 and 19 January 2017“.

This apparent radio silence seems quite remarkable, given the project team is planning to submit a funding bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund in March 2017. Hmm.

More FoIs have been submitted and we’ll report in due course.

Photo of hen harrier nestlings by Andrew Sandeman

22
Feb
17

Overnight nest protection for hen harrier nests – RSPB recruiting

hh LAURIE CAMPBELLIn preparation for this year’s breeding season, the RSPB is looking to hire six people to work as part of an overnight nest protection scheme for any hen harrier breeding attempts in northern England.

It’s a pretty sad indictment that in 2017, even with the Government’s so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan in place, hen harrier nests still need 24-hour protection to stand any chance of being successful. And even with this round-the-clock nest security, the birds are still vulnerable to being killed while away from the nest on a foraging trip – five breeding males ‘disappeared’ in 2015 while away from their nests, resulting in failed breeding attempts.

The six roles are expected to be located in Northumberland, Cumbria or Lancashire, with the tiniest of tiny chances of also being in Yorkshire and Derbyshire (don’t hold your breath). But let’s be honest, given the grouse shooting industry’s abject hatred and intolerance of this species, and the wide range of options available to them to ‘get rid’ (shooting, pole traps, decoys, poisoning, gas guns, banger ropes, baited spring traps, inflatable screeching scarecrows, nest burning, ice cubes placed on eggs, putting terriers in to nests, chick trampling), with little prospect of being caught, we’ll be lucky to see any breeding attempts this year away from Forestry Commission (Northumberland) and RSPB (Cumbria) land.

And if we do see any breeding attempts away from these safe areas, the chances are those nests will be subjected to brood meddling (due to begin this year) so any eggs/chicks will be removed, reared in captivity and then released back in to the uplands just in time for the opening of the grouse shooting season. Their chance of survival? Virtually nil. Hopefully they’ll all be fitted with satellite transmitters and hopefully the public will be allowed to see these birds’ movements, although the reality is that this information, if being handled by Natural England, will be kept secret and away from public scrutiny.

At least we know that if any hen harriers breed successfully again this year on Forestry Commission and /or RSPB land, that the nests won’t be subjected to brood meddling and that the offspring will be fitted with satellite transmitters by the RSPB (paid for with funds raised via LUSH Skydancer bathbombs) and the public will be kept updated via this website on what happens to those young birds.

The closing date for applications for the role of Overnight Nest Protection staff is 27 Feb (next Monday).

Hen harrier breeding attempts in England, 2005-2016 (data source: RSPB)

hh-nests

14
Feb
17

Leaked email reveals Natural England’s views on Hen Harrier Action Plan

The following internal email was written by Rob Cooke (Natural England Director) on 6 February 2017:

Hen Harriers

Hen harriers (HHs) are having a rough time in England. Although juvenile birds have a high natural mortality there is plenty to suggest that illegal persecution is ongoing, either through shooting or disturbance. The level of persecution is such that it is undoubtedly having an impact on the conservation status of the species in England.  Amongst a diet usually dominated by meadow pipits and voles can be red grouse, which is where the problem arises.  As a semi-colonial nester HHs can predate high numbers of grouse which can bring them into conflict with grouse shooting.

In early 2016 Defra published the Joint Action Plan to increase the English hen harrier population. The two new elements proposed a southern reintroduction and trialling a brood management scheme; Natural England chairs sub-groups on both.  Brood management is the most controversial element. Notwithstanding that, establishing a separate southern population has attracted criticism, even from some of those who purport to want to see more HHs, presumably as they fear that it will divert attention from persecution in the uplands. The notion that anyone wanting to see more HHs can argue against a reintroduction is I’m afraid beyond me (and as I type this I can see a red kite gliding by overhead).

Put simply brood management (BM) is removing eggs/chicks from vulnerable nests, rearing them in captivity and releasing them back into the uplands.  Of course if there was no persecution threat the nests wouldn’t be vulnerable (to human persecution at any rate) and therein lies the rub.  Those opposed to BM say it effectively condones persecution, and actually more effort should be put into stopping that.  I agree with that, but in practice despite the collective efforts of us, the police, RSPB and others it has not proved possible to stop persecution.  Radio tagged birds disappear, and even when recovered proving who fired the shot is very difficult in large remote upland areas.  There is an argument being made that driven grouse shooting should be banned (rejected recently by parliament), and the RSPB’s approach is that there should be greater regulation of shooting.  Effective regulation requires effective enforcement, and in Scotland where there is a stronger regulatory framework (incl vicarious liability and SNH’s power to remove General Licences) they still have a significant ongoing HH and raptor persecution issues.

The rationale behind BM is that if upland managers have a way of managing the density HHs (so that any impact on grouse is sustainable) then there will not be a ‘need’ to persecute the birds.  Whether this is the case or not time will tell (it is a trial after all), but we need to give it a go, since there is no Plan B on the table. Undertaking BM does not mean that anyone will put any less effort into enforcement, and there will continue to be tagging and rigorous protection of nest sites, where Stephen Murphy and his network of dedicated volunteers do wonders.  Since all the birds will be returned to the uplands there should be no impact on the population (and possibly even, more chicks will survive to adulthood than would otherwise have been the case as nests do suffer natural predation). It goes without saying that the trial will be subject to full veterinary, statutory assessment and licensing processes. BM would not require the removal of all birds from grouse moors, but would kick in when a published density threshold was reached.

rowan-x-rayRecent events have resulted in a large number of FoI requests and fair bit of resultant commentary on raptor blogs.  Much of this is commentators adding up 2 and 2 and coming to 5.  In particular the huge amount of space devoted to whether NE ‘watered down’ a media release concerning Rowan’s post-mortem to say ‘likely to have been shot’, as opposed to ‘shot’.  The simple truth is that the post-mortem did not say definitively that the bird was shot so nor did we (or the RSPB either – ‘injuries consistent with being shot’).  That prosaic point aside what is really disappointing is that this focus detracts from the spotlight which needs to be shone on the continuing plight of HHs and work underway to change that.  The lurid accusation that NE is in some way colluding with those responsible for hen harrier persecution is simply absurd.

Natural England leads much of this work and criticism is par for the course; constructive criticism is good and keeps us on our toes, but it is disappointing that much destructive criticism comes from the ‘wildlife sector’; rather darkly I wonder whether those who are responsible for persecution are sitting back smugly watching this internecine bickering.  The bottom line is that there are a number of people working extremely hard to improve the status of HHs in England.  We are all working to our strengths and membership organisations need to be able to take their members with them, to persuade them and win their support; hard line approaches can lead to alienation.  I believe in the sincerity of those involved in the plan, even if we might have differing motivations, but no one is blind to the challenges; persecution still happens and it needs to stop. If this plan does not deliver then we will need to look at other approaches.

But ‘How’ is the question? Simple enforcement is not enough so we need to adopt other approaches as well. After all, our experience over the last 15 years or so is that even reducing persecution is much easier said than done. There has been progress of sorts to date; the issue is very much in the public eye, we have the Moorland Association and other representative bodies openly condemning raptor persecution, we have tackling wildlife crime as a Govt priority and we have a Govt published plan. The proof of course will be in the eating; it won’t be easy but we do need to give it a try.

We need to be robust in our objective of restoring HHs to favourable conservation status in England, and not be distracted by those who, from whatever perspective, would derail us.

ENDS

There’s so much that could be discussed /debated /argued about the content of this email that we’d be here all day, so for brevity we just wanted to focus on two aspects.

First, the statement: “I believe in the sincerity of those involved in the plan“.

pole trapOn what basis does he believe in this supposed sincerity? The plan was launched over a year ago in January 2016, with the ‘partners’ supposedly all signed up. Since then we’ve seen an armed man sitting next to a decoy hen harrier on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park; a gamekeeper caught on film setting three illegal pole traps on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park; an endless number of raptor shootings, trappings and poisonings across England, many on or next to a grouse moor; an increase in the number of reported gas guns and banger ropes being deployed on grouse moors to deter breeding hen harriers; only three hen harrier nests in England (where there could be 330) and not one of them was on a grouse moor; and eight satellite tagged hen harrier fledglings from the 2016 season have already either ‘disappeared’ in the uplands or have been confirmed shot.

We haven’t seen any evidence whatsoever that the grouse shooting industry is sincere about stopping raptor persecution.

Secondly, we wanted to highlight Rob’s penultimate paragraph, because it really beggars belief. According to Rob, ‘there has been progress of sorts to date’ and he defines this ‘progress’ as follows:

  1. The issue is very much in the public eye. Well yes, it is, but that is no thanks to Natural England or their friends in the grouse shooting industry. Public awareness of hen harrier persecution has been increased thanks to (a) the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life Project and (b) a hell of a lot of effort by grassroots campaigners, notably Mark Avery with his book Inglorious and his three petitions to ban driven grouse shooting, Chris Packham, LUSH, hundreds of people getting involved in BAWC’s Hen Harrier Day events across the UK for the last three years, and thousands of ordinary people using social media to great effect, day in, day out.
  2. We have the Moorland Association and other representative bodies openly condemning raptor persecution. What we actually have is the Moorland Association and other representative bodies consistently denying that raptor persecution is a big problem; consistent attacks on the RSPB, particularly from the You Forgot the Birds propaganda machine, which is funded by the grouse shooting industry; consistent personal attacks on high profile campaigners; consistent attempts to discredit RSPB persecution data, and a consistent refusal to condemn confirmed raptor persecution crimes unless pushed hard by campaigners, and even then a response is rarely forthcoming (see yesterday’s blog about the poisons cache on East Arkengarthdale Estate as a classic example).
  3. We have tackling wildlife crime as a Govt priority. Do we? Is there any evidence of this?
  4. We have a Govt published plan. We do indeed, and it has been repeatedly and deservedly criticised by conservationists. As Mark Avery often says, it is not an action plan for hen harriers, it is an action plan for grouse moor owners.

Sorry Rob, but if you think the grouse shooting industry is going to stop killing hen harriers (or any other raptors) any time soon, based on the ‘evidence’ you’ve provided, then you’re delusional.

 




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