Posts Tagged ‘hen harrier


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.


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.



Mystery hen harrier ‘John’ from the class of 2016

Yesterday Mark Avery wrote a blog about DEFRA’s ridiculous hen harrier brood meddling plan, due to start this year.

In his blog, Mark reminded us that in 2016 there were four young hen harriers that were satellite-tagged at two nests on Forestry Commission land in Northumberland, as mentioned in this local newspaper article last summer.

Since the summer of 2016, we’ve been able to follow the movements of two of those birds because their sat tags were fitted by the RSPB, who have posted fortnightly updates on the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project website. One of those birds (Finn) is still alive, and the other one (Carroll) is dead.

So what of the other two birds, tagged in Northumberland by Natural England?

Well, one of them was called Mick, and we were told nothing about this bird until a few days ago when we learned he’d ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park just before Xmas 2016.

The other one, we’ve learned on the grapevine, is/was called ‘John’. Again, we’ve been told nothing of this bird’s movements since he fledged last summer – we don’t even know if he’s still alive.

Nothing like a bit of public engagement, eh Natural England?

We’ll need to update our record on the fate of the class of 2016, now we know about Mick & John. So here it is:

Hen harrier Elwood – ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Brian – ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Donald – missing in northern France, presumed dead (Autumn ’16).

Hen harrier Hermione – found dead on Mull, believed to have died from natural causes (Sep ’16).

Hen harrier Rowan – found dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park. He’d been shot (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Tarras – ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Beater – missing in Scottish Borders, presumed dead (Nov ’16).

Hen harrier Bonny – ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines, presumed dead (Dec ’16)

Hen harrier Mick – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Dec ’16).

Hen harrier Carroll – found dead in Northumberland, PM revealed a parasitic disease & two shotgun pellets (Jan ’17).

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


Case against gamekeeper Stanley Gordon re: shot hen harrier, part 8

scales-of-justiceCriminal proceedings continued at Elgin Sheriff Court today 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’s a summary of what’s happened so far in 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). A new trial date has been set for 21 March 2017.


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

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

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

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



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

mickNatural England has today issued the following press statement:

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

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

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

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

Rob Cooke, a Director at Natural England, said:

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Botham spinning more balls, again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hawk and Owl Trust dig themselves in to a deeper hole re: shot hen harrier Rowan

The Hawk and Owl Trust are digging themselves in to a deeper hole.

Most people looking at the x-ray of hen harrier Rowan’s leg injuries, which was published yesterday, would be able to interpret the image fairly easily. A fractured leg with a number of radio-dense foreign bodies associated with the injury site; radio-dense foreign bodies with a radio density consistent with metal. This is not a difficult image to interpret and it’s pretty clear that Rowan’s injuries weren’t caused when he was shaving his legs and slipped (thanks Lewis Thomson @LT_FoD for the most amusing suggestion seen on Twitter yesterday!).


The Hawk and Owl Trust (and Natural England and Cumbria Police) had the benefit of additional evidence in the form of photographs (presumably a gunshot entry wound was visible on the leg directly adjacent to the fracture site) and a written report from the pathology expert who had conducted the post mortem. The opinion of the pathologist was that Rowan had been shot and Cumbria Police accepted his expert opinion.

So we come back to the questions we raised earlier:

(a) Why did the joint press release issued by Hawk & Owl Trust / Natural England on 28 October (just prior to the Westminster grouse shooting debate) exclude all the post mortem evidence that was available to them on 27 October?

Their press release included the line: “We are unable to make further comments or enter into discussion at this time as this may be prejudicial to ongoing investigations“. Our friend Mark Avery suggested to us an alternative line: “We are unable to make further comments or enter into discussion at this time as this may be prejudicial to the Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting“.

(b) Cumbria Police’s draft press release on 3 November clearly stated that the post mortem had concluded Rowan had been shot. Why then, on 7 November and after consultation with Natural England (and possibly Hawk & Owl Trust) was this police press release altered from Rowan ‘was shot’ to Rowan ‘was likely to have been shot’?

Yesterday evening, the Hawk and Owl Trust issued a statement in an attempt to justify their lack of transparency:

The most interesting sentence is the penultimate one:

“……the initial post mortem results were not wholly conclusive and further metallurgical tests were required“.

Really? Who said the initial post mortem results weren’t wholly conclusive? (Clue: it wasn’t the pathologist).

And who said further metallurgical tests were required? (Clue: it wasn’t the pathologist).

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”?

Emails to: 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blog Stats

  • 2,699,145 hits


Our recent blog visitors