Posts Tagged ‘hen harrier

23
Sep
20

Raptor persecution highlighted in House of Lords

Natalie Bennett is a long-time supporter of the campaign for grouse moor reform and particularly against the illegal killing of birds of prey – she’s been a familiar spokesperson at many Hen Harrier Day events over the last few years.

Now Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, she is using her position in the House of Lords to keep up the pressure.

Here’s a question she posed to DEFRA Minister The Rt Honourable Lord Zac Goldsmith on 16th September 2020 (text from Hansard):

Here is Zac’s response:

Zac said, “I would welcome access to the report that the noble Baroness mentions“.

Here you go, Zac, the report, documenting the 44 hen harriers that have either vanished in suspicious circumstances or have been confirmed illegally killed, most of them on or close to driven grouse moors, since 1 January 2018, can be read here

But that report is now out of date. The running total now stands at 45 hen harriers that have either vanished in suspicious circumstances or have been confirmed illegally killed, most of them on or close to driven grouse moors, since 1 January 2018 (see here for details).

For completeness, although as a DEFRA Minister you must surely already be aware of this, the peer-reviewed science, based on Natural England’s own data, that demonstrates that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers in England were ten times more likely to ‘disappear’ or be illegally killed on or close to British grouse moors, can be read here.

The question now is, what do you intend to do about it?

[An illegally killed hen harrier. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

21
Sep
20

Natural England denies cocking up police investigation at Whernside hen harrier site

Earlier this month the RSPB published a blog (here) detailing an incident that was witnessed by a Natural England fieldworker at a hen harrier nest site in Whernside, Cumbria during this year’s breeding season and Natural England’s subsequent refusal to publicise the details.

The alleged incident involved an armed man sitting near a tethered eagle owl that had been placed within the territory of a pair of breeding hen harriers in an area where controversial brood meddling was taking place.

Here’s what the RSPB wrote about the incident:

‘…..a Natural England fieldworker was monitoring a hen harrier nest on moorland near Whernside, Cumbria, when he saw a man wearing camouflage carrying a firearm and a live bird of prey, believed to be an eagle owl about 300m from the hen harrier nesting area. He tethered the bird and sat a short distance away with his gun. In the circumstances there seems little doubt the intention was to draw in raptors, presumably the hen harriers, to shoot them. The use of a tethered live bird as a decoy to kill or take a wild bird is in itself illegal, but a method that seems to be increasingly used for targeting raptors. This was no doubt a highly stressful situation, we understand the fieldworker took some video footage and made himself visible. This eventually had the desired effect, and the suspect, realising he was under observation, left. It was reported to the police but due to evidential issues around establishing the identity of the suspect, it was not possible to take the matter forward to court. The RSPB would like to place on record our thanks to Cumbria Constabulary and the CPS for their determined efforts to progress this investigation. We firmly consider that this incident and the video should now be put in the public domain’.

A few days later we published a blog about an allegation we’d heard from a number of sources, that the police investigation couldn’t progress because a Natural England staff member had contravened the Police & Criminal Evidence Act by phoning up the alleged gunman and asking whether he’d been present at the alleged crime scene (see here).

Two days later, Natural England published a blog (here), written by Dave Slater, Natural England’s Director for Wildlife Licensing and Enforcement Cases, in which he claimed to want to ‘clarify Natural England’s position on raptor persecution and recent media coverage’.

The Natural England blog (here) is well worth a read and when you’ve done that, have a look at Mark Avery’s dissection of it (here) in which Natural England’s contortions are laid bare.

The one part of the NE blog that Mark didn’t address was this bit, which looks like a response to the allegations made on RPUK that Natural England had cocked up the police investigation at that hen harrier site at Whernside:

The statement of interest here is the middle paragraph. Natural England reckons the failed police investigation ‘was not related to anything our field worker had done‘ but NE carefully avoided mentioning the allegation that an NE staff member had phoned up the suspect and had thus compromised the police investigation by breaching the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

Is Natural England denying that a staff member phoned up the suspect? If so, it would be useful for Natural England to put that in writing.

It would also be useful if the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and/or Cumbria Police released the legal advice that was given by the CPS to Cumbria Police on this particular case.

It would also be helpful if Natural England would publish the video evidence of an armed man, sitting with a tethered eagle owl, in the territory of a pair of breeding hen harriers at one of this year’s brood meddling locations. It’s not like there’s anything to hide, is there?

In related news, if you want further evidence of Natural England’s absolute ineptitude when it comes to the conservation of birds, have a read of this (here), published today by Mark Avery. It’s shocking.

20
Sep
20

Nicola Sturgeon socially distancing from grouse shooting ‘exemption’

In recent years barely a week has gone by without grouse shooting being in the news for one reason or another.

More often than not it’ll be negative press, usually associated with the illegal killing or suspicious disappearance of yet another bird of prey. But the unfavourable coverage this industry has attracted this last week has been phenomenal, ever since it was announced that the Westminster and Scottish Governments were providing a special exemption for grouse shooting from the new ‘rule of six’ Covid restrictions.

The bad press was included in the mainstream media as well as on social media, and as Mark Avery pointed out,

It has captured the public imagination and it really hasn’t done the shooting industry any favours. It’s seen as another example of the Conservative government being completely out of touch with normal people, or worse, in the pockets of a small number of landed gentry (and nouveau riche non-gentry)‘.

Here are some examples of that coverage, which has included elements of ridicule and anger:

Cartoon by Ralph Underhill (@CartoonRalph) in The Canary:

Cartoon by Peter Brookes in The Times:

This issue prompted parliamentary questions in both Westminster and Holyrood and the responses from the respective Government leaders was quite telling.

In Westminster, Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson whether grouse shooting was his ‘top priority’ (you can watch the video here). Boris Johnson avoided answering the question.

In Holyrood, Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon whether it was fair that ‘shooting parties are permitted to load up their shotguns and head to the hills’ when others are having to make personal sacrifices to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

The discussion went like this:

It’s interesting that Nicola Sturgeon focused more on semantics than anything else because in essence the exemption is still in place, whether it was considered ‘specific’ or not. But it’s also interesting that she didn’t offer any supportive comments about gamebird shooting either, but instead went on to talk about ongoing reviews about ‘which exemptions are or are not appropriate’.

Will there be a review of whether the grouse shooting exemption from Covid restrictions is appropriate? Don’t hold your breath….we’re still waiting, ten months on and counting, for the Scottish Government’s response to the Werritty Review, despite cross-party political pressure to get on with it (here) and the news that yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier has ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on yet another Scottish grouse moor (here) whilst the Scottish Government looks the other way.

17
Sep
20

45 hen harriers ‘missing’ or confirmed illegally killed since 2018

Two days ago we blogged that at least 44 hen harriers were ‘missing’ in suspicious circumstances or had been confirmed illegally killed since 2018 (see here).

Today the list is updated to 45 hen harriers, ‘missing’ or confirmed illegally killed since 2018.

Here’s the blog we’ll publish every time this list is updated:

It’s getting to that time of year when the grouse shooting industry pumps out its patently misleading propaganda relating to hen harrier conservation in the UK. The aim is to hoodwink the public in to believing that the industry loves hen harriers and is doing all it can to protect and nurture the tiny remnant breeding population (but conveniently forgetting to mention that the breeding population is only in such dire straits because the grouse shooting industry has been ruthless in its maniacal intolerance of this supposedly protected species).

And the industry’s pursuit of the hen harrier is not simply ‘historical’ or indicative of past behaviour, as some would have us believe. It is on-going, it is current, and it is relentless.

[This male hen harrier died in 2019 after his leg was almost severed in an illegally set trap that had been placed next to his nest on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

To illustrate this fact, we intend to keep a running tally of all the hen harriers that we know (because most of these victims had been fitted with a satellite tag) to have either ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances or have been confirmed as being illegally killed since 2018.

Why only since 2018 when we know that hen harriers have been a persecution target for years and years and years? Well, 2018 is the year that the grouse shooting industry ‘leaders’ would have us believe that the criminal persecution of hen harriers had stopped and that these birds were being welcomed back on to the UK’s grouse moors (see here).

This assertion was made shortly before the publication of a devastating new scientific paper that demonstrated that 72% of satellite-tagged Hen Harriers were confirmed or considered likely to have been illegally killed, and this was ten times more likely to occur over areas of land managed for grouse shooting relative to other land uses (see here).

We only started compiling this list of dead / missing hen harriers in June 2020 when we learned that all five of last year’s brood meddled hen harrier chicks were ‘missing’, presumed dead (see here). It has since been updated a few times as we learned about more satellite-tagged hen harriers that had vanished during lockdown in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in the Cairnorms National Park (here), on a notorious grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (see here) and on a grouse moor believed to be involved with the brood meddling in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

It’s now time to update the death list again, as we’ve learned of yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier that ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, this time a bird called Fingal who vanished from a grouse moor in the Lowther Hills in May 2020 (see here).

That brings the gruesome tally to 45 hen harriers. (We’re still waiting to hear whether three hen harriers, satellite-tagged by Natural England this year and have since vanished (here), are being treated as suspicious disappearances by the police and if so, they will be added to this list).

Four Five.

Forty five.

In the space of two years.

Nobody has been prosecuted for any of these cases. We have every expectation that this list will be updated again in the near future.

For now, here are the 45:

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published wholly inaccurate information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

23 October 2018: Hen harrier Tom ‘disappeared’ in South Wales (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

1 November 2018: Hen harrier Barney ‘disappeared’ on Bodmin Moor (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

26 April 2019: Hen harrier Rain ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Nairnshire (here)

11 May 2019: An untagged male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: An untagged hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

5 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 1 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

14 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183704) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

23 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #55149) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

24 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 2 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of an untagged male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

January 2020: Members of the public report the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

1 April 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183703) ‘disappeared’ in unnamed location, tag intermittent (here)

5 April 2020: Hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

8 April 2020: Hen harrier Marlin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

19 May 2020: Hen harrier Fingal ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Lowther Hills, Scotland (here)

21 May 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183701) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Cumbria shortly after returning from wintering in France (here)

27 May 2020: Hen harrier Silver ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate, Scotland (here)

7 September 2020: Hen harrier Dryad ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

To be continued……..

Anybody still wondering why the grouse shooting industry wants conservationists to stop fitting satellite tags?

17
Sep
20

Satellite-tagged hen harrier Fingal ‘disappears’ on Scottish grouse moor

Press release from RSPB Scotland (17 September 2020)

Another hen harrier disappears in suspicious circumstances

RSPB Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to move quickly to introduce the licensing of grouse shooting, following the disappearance of another satellite-tagged hen harrier – the fourth to vanish on a Scottish grouse moor since the beginning of April.

Fingal, a young male hen harrier, hatched from a nest in the Scottish Borders in summer 2019, and was fitted with a lightweight satellite tag as part of the EU Hen Harrier LIFE project which has allowed scientists to track his movements.

[Hen harrier Fingal. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

He remained in this area for the first few months before spreading his wings and making a tour of northern England, stopping at sites in Lancashire, South Yorkshire and Cumbria. After returning to Scotland he settled in Dumfries and Galloway for the rest of the winter.

In mid-March 2020 Fingal moved a short distance into the southern Lowther Hills. The last location transmitted from his tag, which was funded by Lothian and Borders Raptor Study Group, came on 19 May 2020 from an area moorland managed for gamebird shooting to the east of Thornhill, Dumfries and Galloway.

Police Scotland carried out a search of the area but found no trace of Fingal or his tag. It has not transmitted since. When a satellite tagged bird dies of natural causes the tag continues to transmit allowing the body to be recovered. Independent peer-reviewed studies have shown these tags to be highly reliable, so having four fail, in very similar circumstances, all on grouse moors, strongly suggests human interference.

Fingal is the 45th known hen harrier to have disappeared in suspicious circumstances or been confirmed to have been illegally killed in the UK since 2018.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: “This has become a depressingly familiar story. Yet again a satellite-tagged bird of prey has disappeared suddenly and inexplicably on a grouse moor and is presumed killed. These birds will continue to disappear until grouse shooting estates are licensed. Self-regulation by the industry has demonstrably failed, and it’s long overdue that the Scottish Government addressed this by introducing robust regulation where a right to shoot is dependent on legal management of the land.”

ENDS

16
Sep
20

44 hen harriers ‘missing’ or confirmed killed since 2018

Last month we blogged that at least 43 hen harriers were ‘missing’ in suspicious circumstances or had been confirmed killed since 2018 (see here).

Today the list is updated to 44 hen harriers, ‘missing’ or confirmed killed since 2018.

Here’s the blog we’ll publish every time this list is updated:

It’s getting to that time of year when the grouse shooting industry pumps out its patently misleading propaganda relating to hen harrier conservation in the UK. The aim is to hoodwink the public in to believing that the industry loves hen harriers and is doing all it can to protect and nurture the tiny remnant breeding population (but conveniently forgetting to mention that the breeding population is only in such dire straits because the grouse shooting industry has been ruthless in its maniacal intolerance of this supposedly protected species).

And the industry’s pursuit of the hen harrier is not simply ‘historical’ or indicative of past behaviour, as some would have us believe. It is on-going, it is current, and it is relentless.

[This male hen harrier died in 2019 after his leg was almost severed in an illegally set trap that had been placed next to his nest on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

To illustrate this fact, we intend to keep a running tally of all the hen harriers that we know (because most of these victims had been fitted with a satellite tag) to have either ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances or have been confirmed as being illegally killed since 2018.

Why only since 2018 when we know that hen harriers have been a persecution target for years and years and years? Well, 2018 is the year that the grouse shooting industry ‘leaders’ would have us believe that the criminal persecution of hen harriers had stopped and that these birds were being welcomed back on to the UK’s grouse moors (see here).

This assertion was made shortly before the publication of a devastating new scientific paper that demonstrated that 72% of satellite-tagged Hen Harriers were confirmed or considered likely to have been illegally killed, and this was ten times more likely to occur over areas of land managed for grouse shooting relative to other land uses (see here).

We only started compiling this list of dead / missing hen harriers in June 2020 when we learned that all five of last year’s brood meddled hen harrier chicks were ‘missing’, presumed dead (see here). It has since been updated a few times as we learned about more satellite-tagged hen harriers that had vanished during lockdown in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in the Cairnorms National Park (here) and on a notorious grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (see here).

It’s now time to update the death list again, as we’ve learned of yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier that ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, this time a bird called ‘Dryad’ who vanished from a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in September 2020 (see here).

That brings the gruesome tally to 44 hen harriers. (We’re still waiting to hear whether three hen harriers, satellite-tagged by Natural England this year and have since vanished (here), are being treated as suspicious disappearances by the police and if so, they will be added to this list).

Four Four.

Forty four.

In the space of two years.

Nobody has been prosecuted for any of these cases. We have every expectation that this list will be updated again in the near future.

For now, here are the 44:

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published wholly inaccurate information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

23 October 2018: Hen harrier Tom ‘disappeared’ in South Wales (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

1 November 2018: Hen harrier Barney ‘disappeared’ on Bodmin Moor (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

26 April 2019: Hen harrier Rain ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Nairnshire (here)

11 May 2019: An untagged male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: An untagged hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

5 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 1 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

14 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183704) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

23 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #55149) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

24 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 2 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of an untagged male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

January 2020: Members of the public report the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

1 April 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183703) ‘disappeared’ in unnamed location, tag intermittent (here)

5 April 2020: Hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

8 April 2020: Hen harrier Marlin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

21 May 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183701) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Cumbria shortly after returning from wintering in France (here)

27 May 2020: Hen harrier Silver ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate, Scotland (here)

7 September 2020: Hen harrier Dryad ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

To be continued……..

Anybody still wondering why the grouse shooting industry wants conservationists to stop fitting satellite tags?

15
Sep
20

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

RSPB press release (15 Sept 2020)

Another hen harrier disappears, last reported on Yorkshire grouse moor

The RSPB is once again urging the Government to step in and support licensing of grouse shooting to address the illegal persecution of birds of prey following the suspicious disappearance of yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier.

Dryad, a female hen harrier, hatched at a nest in the Forest of Bowland this summer. She was fitted with a lightweight satellite tag so that scientists could trace her movements once she fledged. But Dryad barely had time to spread her wings before her tag, which had been transmitting normally, stopped suddenly and unexpectedly on 7 September 2020.

The tag’s last transmission showed the bird had been roosting on a grouse moor between Kirkby Stephen and Ravenseat in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. RSPB staff searched the area but found no trace of Dryad or her tag. Dryad has not been heard from since.

[RPUK map showing approximate location of Dryad’s last known transmission]

Hen harriers, a red-listed species, are legally protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Yet they remain one of the most persecuted birds of prey in the UK and continue to be illegally killed, or disappear in suspicious circumstances, particularly on or near land managed for shooting. Scientific research published in 2019, based on the UK Government’s own data, showed that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers in their study were killed or likely killed on British grouse moors, and that hen harriers were 10 times more likely to die or disappear over grouse moor.

The most significant threat to the English hen harrier population – which is now perilously low – is persecution by humans. 24 hen harrier nests were recorded this summer, of which 19 successfully produced chicks, yet there is enough habitat and prey to support 12 times that number.

Dryad is the 44th hen harrier known to have been illegally killed or gone missing in suspicious circumstances since 2018.

This wider area, which is dominated by driven grouse moors, has become a ‘hotspot’ for suspicious hen harrier disappearances, as revealed by satellite tagging.

In July this year a hen harrier named Harriet, tagged by Natural England, sent her last transmission near Outhgill, just over the border in Cumbria. A further two disappeared, last transmitting near Bowes, County Durham and Askrigg, North Yorkshire respectively in September 2019. And in 2016, the hen harrier Rowan was found shot in Ravenstonedale, Cumbria.

Elsewhere in North Yorkshire, in 2019 the body of another satellite tagged hen harrier known as River was found shot on the Swinton Estate, North Yorkshire.

Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said:

Illegal killing is the number one factor stalling hen harrier conservation in the UK. Despite all the positive news around 60 juveniles fledging in England this clearly shows the fate of many of these birds once they disperse. Sadly we expect further suspicious disappearances in the next few months following the well-established pattern of previous years. If Dryad had died naturally, we would expect her tag to continue transmitting, allowing us to find and recover both body and tag. The sudden stop of satellite tags, particularly considering the history of persecution in this area, strongly points to human interference.

Mark continues: “It is blatantly clear that current legislation is failing to protect our birds of prey and that criminality continues unchecked on grouse moors. The Government must act urgently and commit to licensing of grouse shooting with sanctions to withdraw licenses to shoot where criminal behaviours are proven to the satisfaction of the public authorities. Law-abiding estates would have nothing to fear from this approach.”

During August, over 120,000 emails were sent to local MPs by concerned members of the public urging them to take action to end bird of prey persecution, prompted by an e-action by Wild Justice, the RSPB and Hen Harrier Action.

ENDS

15
Sep
20

More on that gunman filmed with a decoy owl near hen harrier nest site on Whernside

Late on Friday afternoon the RSPB published a blog detailing an incident that was witnessed by a Natural England fieldworker at a hen harrier nest site in Cumbria during this year’s breeding season.

According to that blog (here), ‘…..a Natural England fieldworker was monitoring a hen harrier nest on moorland near Whernside, Cumbria, when he saw a man wearing camouflage carrying a firearm and a live bird of prey, believed to be an eagle owl about 300m from the hen harrier nesting area. He tethered the bird and sat a short distance away with his gun. In the circumstances there seems little doubt the intention was to draw in raptors, presumably the hen harriers, to shoot them. The use of a tethered live bird as a decoy to kill or take a wild bird is in itself illegal, but a method that seems to be increasingly used for targeting raptors. This was no doubt a highly stressful situation, we understand the fieldworker took some video footage and made himself visible. This eventually had the desired effect, and the suspect, realising he was under observation, left. It was reported to the police but due to evidential issues around establishing the identity of the suspect, it was not possible to take the matter forward to court. The RSPB would like to place on record our thanks to Cumbria Constabulary and the CPS for their determined efforts to progress this investigation. We firmly consider that this incident and the video should now be put in the public domain’.

One of the main points being made in the wider RSPB blog was that Natural England had declined to publicise this incident, even though it is understood to have taken place in an area where hen harriers were being brood meddled as part of a Government-sanctioned conservation sham, optimistically called the Hen Harrier Action Plan by those involved.

[A much more realistic portrayal of the so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan. Cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

Natural England’s refusal to voluntarily disclose detailed information about its sham hen harrier conservation project or this latest allegation of attempted persecution at a hen harrier nest site shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone who’s been following this blog for any length of time. Natural England has developed something of a reputation for its lack of transparency and accountability, especially when it comes to meddling with hen harriers, and much of this goes back further than Tony Juniper’s reign (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here etc etc).

Since the RSPB’s blog was published on Friday afternoon, not one of the shooting organisations involved in the hen harrier brood meddling sham have published a statement on their respective websites. Remember, these are the organisations who claim to hold a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to illegal raptor persecution. You’d think they might have something to say about it, wouldn’t you? Especially given the history of raptor-killing in this area (see here).

We’ve heard, from a number of sources, an allegation that, if true, might explain Natural England’s reluctance to discuss this particular incident.

Have another look at this statement from the RSPB blog:

‘It was reported to the police but due to evidential issues around establishing the identity of the suspect, it was not possible to take the matter forward to court’

We’ve been told that the day after the Natural England fieldworker filmed the gunman with his tethered live eagle owl near the hen harrier nest, a Natural England staff member phoned the gunman and asked whether it was him who had been seen at the hen harrier site the day before.

Because Natural England is a statutory authority, its staff have to abide by the requirements of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). This Act is primarily concerned with the behaviour of the police (or other relevant authority), the suspect’s rights and the admissibility of evidence. According to our sources, phoning a suspect and asking whether he had been present at a potential crime scene would be a breach of PACE and, even though it’s ‘just’ a technicality, this would be sufficient for a defence agent to have any potential prosecution thrown out at an early stage.

Is this what happened in this case? Did Natural England cock up a potential prosecution, albeit unintentionally? We’re unlikely to ever get a full account out of Natural England but it does raise an important issue – does Natural England have a protocol/procedure in place for how its staff should behave in these situations? And if not, it needs to get one sorted pronto because as we’re all too aware, the illegal killing of hen harriers on grouse moors is an ongoing crime wave.

UPDATE 21 September 2020: Natural England denies cocking up police investigation at Whernside hen harrier site (here)

12
Sep
20

Northern England Raptor Forum statement on Hen Harrier 2020 breeding season

A couple of weeks ago Natural England published a press release (along with an interesting choice of ‘partners’ – the GWCT and Moorland Association) in which the 2020 hen harrier breeding season was pronounced ‘a wonderful result’ (see here).

It wasn’t ‘a wonderful result’ at all but Natural England and co put on a display worthy of a circus contortionist to make it appear so.

The RSPB wasn’t included in that press release – apparently they’d been asked to provide a quote but chose not to – instead the RSPB published its own statement, which reflected a much more honest evaluation of the state of the 2020 breeding season (see here).

Yesterday the Northern England Raptor Foum (NERF) published its own statement on the 2020 hen harrier breeding season and it doesn’t pull any punches. ‘The brass band can stand down‘.

You can read the full NERF statement (here) and here is an excerpt:

NERF is a member of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG], and as such is a consultee under Action 4 of NE’s Hen Harrier Recovery Plan. Yet when Natural England went in search of supporting comments for their press release they only published comments from the shooting industry. Perhaps Natural England would like to explain why that was the case. They may also want to explain why NERF wasn’t included in the list of organisations working in partnership for the benefit of Hen Harriers.

NERF is at the forefront of Hen Harrier nest finding and monitoring during the breeding season, ringing, satellite tagging and winter roost monitoring in partnership with the RSPB. Despite this, we weren’t approached for a comment when Natural England published their press release. If we had been asked for and provided a comment we doubt that it would have been published. Natural England should be in no doubt that without the dedication of NERF members who commit hundreds of voluntary hours to monitoring and self-fund thousands of miles to monitor Hen Harriers the species would be in a much worse state than it is currently.

Natural England has ballsed this up big time, and continues to stumble from one shambolic incident to the next, some with more serious consequences than others (e.g. see this blog (here) from Mark Avery this morning discussing how it appears Natural England has misled a Minister, either through intention or ineptitude).

More to come.

11
Sep
20

Gunman filmed at hen harrier nest site with decoy eagle owl

The RSPB Investigations Team has published a blog this afternoon detailing an incident that was witnessed by a Natural England fieldworker at a hen harrier nest site in Cumbria during the breeding season.

[Hen harrier, photo by Frank Burns]

The full blog can be read here but the pertinent part is reproduced as follows:

‘We understand that a Natural England fieldworker was monitoring a hen harrier nest on moorland near Whernside, Cumbria, when he saw a man wearing camouflage carrying a firearm and a live bird of prey, believed to be an eagle owl about 300m from the hen harrier nesting area. He tethered the bird and sat a short distance away with his gun. In the circumstances there seems little doubt the intention was to draw in raptors, presumably the hen harriers, to shoot them. The use of a tethered live bird as a decoy to kill or take a wild bird is in itself illegal, but a method that seems to be increasingly used for targeting raptors. This was no doubt a highly stressful situation, we understand the fieldworker took some video footage and made himself visible. This eventually had the desired effect, and the suspect, realising he was under observation, left. It was reported to the police but due to evidential issues around establishing the identity of the suspect, it was not possible to take the matter forward to court. The RSPB would like to place on record our thanks to Cumbria Constabulary and the CPS for their determined efforts to progress this investigation. We firmly consider that this incident and the video should now be put in the public domain’.

Now, putting this news out late on a Friday afternoon isn’t helpful to anyone (apart from Natural England and the criminals within the grouse shooting industry who may hope that it’ll all blow over by Monday).

It won’t.

There is a lot to say about this incident as well as about Natural England’s continuing pisspoor conduct on all things hen harrier.

We’ll be coming back to it on Monday morning.

[Cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

UPDATE 15 September 2020: More on that gunman filmed with a decoy owl near hen harrier nest site on Whernside (here)




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