Posts Tagged ‘hen harrier

18
Oct
21

57 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ on or close to UK grouse moors since 2018

For anyone who still wants to pretend that the grouse shooting industry isn’t responsible for the systematic extermination of hen harriers on grouse moors across the UK, here’s the latest catalogue of crime that suggests otherwise.

[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]

This is the blog I now publish after every reported killing or suspicious disappearance.

They disappear in the same way political dissidents in authoritarian dictatorships have disappeared” (Stephen Barlow, 22 January 2021).

Today the list has been updated to include the most recently reported victim, a young hen harrier called Reiver who hatched on Langholm Moor earlier this year and whose tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting on 17th September 2021 in a grouse moor area of Northumberland (see here).

The disgraceful national catalogue of illegally killed and ‘missing’ hen harriers will continue to grow – I know of at least one more on-going police investigation which has yet to be publicised.

I’ve been compiling this list only since 2018 because that 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).

2018 was also the year that Natural England issued itself with a licence to begin a hen harrier brood meddling trial on grouse moors in northern England. For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA as part of its ludicrous ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan‘ and carried out by Natural England (NE), in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here.

Brood meddling has been described as a sort of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ by commentator Stephen Welch:

I don’t get it, I thought the idea of that scheme was some kind of trade off – a gentleman’s agreement that the birds would be left in peace if they were moved from grouse moors at a certain density. It seems that one party is not keeping their side of the bargain“.

With at least 57 hen harriers gone since 2018, I think it’s fair to say that the grouse shooting industry is simply taking the piss. Meanwhile, Natural England pretends that ‘partnership working’ is the way to go.

‘Partnership working’ appears to include authorising the removal of hen harrier chicks from a grouse moor already under investigation by the police for suspected raptor persecution (here) and accepting a £10K bung from representatives of the grouse shooting industry that prevents Natural England from criticising them (see here).

[Cartoon by Gill Lewis]

So here’s the latest gruesome list:

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)

24 September 2019: Hen harrier Bronwyn ‘disappeared’ near a grouse moor in North Wales (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)

23 March 2020: Hen harrier Rosie ‘disappeared’ at an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (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)

day/month unknown: Unnamed male hen harrier breeding on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria ‘disappears’ while away hunting (here)

9 July 2020: Unnamed female hen harrier (#201118) ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed site in Northumberland (here).

25 July 2020: Hen harrier Harriet ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

14 August 2020: Hen harrier Solo ‘disappeared’ in confidential nest area in Lancashire (here)

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

16 September 2020: Hen harrier Fortune ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

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

20 September 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2020, #55152) ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here)

24 February 2021: Hen harrier Tarras ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Northumberland (here)

12th April 2021: Hen harrier Yarrow ‘disappeared’ near Stockton, County Durham (here)

18 May 2021: Adult male hen harrier ‘disappears’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

18 May 2021: Another adult male hen harrier ‘disappears’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

17 September 2021: Hen harrier Reiver ‘disappears’ in a grouse moor dominated region of Northumberland (here)

To be continued……..

18
Oct
21

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Reiver’ disappears in suspicious circumstances in grouse moor area of Northumberland

Press release from RSPB

Another hen harrier disappears in suspicious circumstances

Another satellite tagged hen harrier has suddenly and unexpectedly disappeared, strengthening the RSPB’s call for the urgent licensing of grouse moors.

Reiver, a young female, fledged from a nest on Langholm Moor in the south of Scotland this summer. She was fitted with a satellite tag while still in her nest, as part of an RSPB project to help understand the journeys made by these red-listed birds of prey and the survival challenges they face after fledging.

[Hen harrier ‘Reiver’ just prior to fledging. Photo by Andrew Walton]

Reiver’s tag was transmitting regularly and as expected, with no sign of malfunction, until it stopped suddenly on 17 September 2021. Her tag’s last fix came from Ninebanks, an area dominated by driven grouse moors in Northumberland, within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Reiver is the third Scottish satellite-tagged hen harrier to vanish in identical, sudden and suspicious circumstances in England in 2021. In February this year, Tarras disappeared having been last recorded on a grouse moor near Haltwhistle, just outside the North Pennines AONB boundary. Another bird, Yarrow, from the Scottish Borders disappeared in April while heading for the North York Moors. And in 2019, Ada’s last transmission came from an area of grouse moor east of Allendale, Northumberland.

Fewer than 600 pairs of hen harriers breed in the UK. In England there were just 24 successful nests in 2021, despite enough habitat and food to support over 300 pairs. In 2019, the government’s own study found illegal killing to be the main factor limiting the recovery of the UK hen harrier population.

Jenny Barlow, Estate Manager at Langholm said:There is always such anticipation and excitement for our hen harriers to return each year to the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve here in Langholm. A huge community and volunteer effort goes into monitoring and safeguarding our harrier chicks to make sure they get the best possible start on our reserve. It is extremely sad news for us all that one of our chicks Reiver, won’t be making her way back home to us again.”

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said:It is almost certain that Reiver has been illegally killed. This is more than just a pattern, it is a known fact that hen harrier numbers are so low because of persistent persecution. Satellite tags are highly reliable and will continue to transmit even after the bird’s death. For a tag which has been functioning reliably to suddenly cut out like this strongly suggests foul play. This event is categorised as a ‘sudden stop no malfunction’ and is happening time and again on or near driven grouse moors.

Hen harriers disappearing on English grouse moors is having a devastating effect on both the English and Scottish hen harrier populations, and needs to be urgently addressed by UK governments. The need for licensing of grouse moors has been accepted in Scotland and this needs to be recognised in England too. This then must be implemented without delay in both countries.”

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Northumbria Police on 101 quoting incident reference NP-20210920-0837.

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, please call 101 and fill in this online form HERE.

If you have sensitive information about the illegal killing of birds of prey, call the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

How’s that so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan going, DEFRA & Natural England? Are you prepared to admit its a conservation sham, yet?

Still convinced that your ‘partners’ in the driven grouse shooting industry have stopped their filthy criminality?

Still prepared to pretend that hen harriers are welcomed with open arms on driven grouse moors? Welcomed with firearms, more like.

Still wondering why those of us in the conservation sector are so frustrated with your failure to stand up for hen harriers and all the other raptors that are still systematically killed on driven grouse moors while you get in to bed with the criminals and accept large financial bungs to keep your mouths shut?

[Cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

UPDATE 18th October 2021 13.00hrs: 57 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ on or close to UK grouse moors since 2018 (here).

13
Oct
21

Network Rail commended for safe-guarding hen harriers in Scotland

A good news story!

This article has been reproduced from Scottish Construction Now (7th October 2021).

Nesting hen harriers have been protected by Network Rail during its successfully completed tree and vegetation management work between Rogart and Lairg.

Urgent works needed for the safe operation of the railway coincided with breeding season and were in a location that was both a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA).

This had the potential to disturb breeding harriers and Network Rail’s ecology team worked with the Highland Raptor Study Group to conduct surveys for hen harrier within the vicinity of the line.

Once breeding harriers had been identified, Network Rail put in place special working practices to minimise disruption for the birds.

Happily, three hen harrier chicks successfully fledged from nests adjacent to the work site which is a real success story for these protected birds.

Jonathan Callis, senior asset engineer for Network Rail, said:We take our responsibility to the lineside environment and Scotland’s wildlife extremely seriously.

However, to protect the safety of the railway and those who travel on it, we sometimes need to carry out work during bird nesting season, in protected areas or in this case, both. It is then we seek the help of our ecologists and specialists to develop safe ways of working and best practice to minimise disruption and protect any species or habitats adjacent to the line.

We are delighted the care, professionalism and collaboration demonstrated by everyone who contributed to this project has resulted in such a successful outcome for the birds.

Brian Etheridge, from the Highland Raptor Study Group, said:It was a pleasure to work with Network Rail this spring and summer carrying out ornithological surveys in the vicinity of the track between Rogart and Lairg.

The priority was to look for breeding hen harriers, a scarce and threatened bird of prey for which this area has been designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA).

Two nesting pairs were found, with one nest in close proximity of the track. Network Rail were quick to suspend all track-side scrub clearance in a bid to prevent any disturbance to the nesting pair.

This resulted in three young harriers fledging successfully and is much to the credit of Network Rail and the company and staff should be proud of their contribution to safe-guarding this iconic species.”

As part of the mitigation measures put in place for the hen harriers, a ‘high-risk works area’ was established, which incorporated areas adjacent to the railway line that offered suitable nesting and foraging habitat as well as areas where hen harrier activity was noted.

Strict guidelines meant that no work was allowed in the area around the nests until all breeding attempts were concluded.

Measures were also put in place to reduce noise disturbance including the use of battery-operated chainsaws and time limited working in any single area to keep noise to a minimum.

Immediately before works commenced on site, a further survey was undertaken to check any nesting hen harriers and confirm that the works were safe to proceed.

A camera was also installed to monitor the nesting locations throughout the work and to check that there were no signs of disturbance.

The location of the work, between Rogart and Lairg, runs through the Strath Carnaig and Strath Fleet SSSI and SPA. Both are designated areas for supporting a population of breeding hen harrier which is of European importance.

ENDS

29
Sep
21

Leadhills Estate – General Licence restriction extended after police report more evidence of wildlife crime

Regular blog readers will be well aware that the notorious Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s, is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction based on ‘clear evidence’ of raptor persecution offences, including the illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (see here) and the discovery of banned poisons on the estate in May 2019 (see here).

That original General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate by NatureScot in November 2019 and is valid until November 2022.

[Chris Packham holds a dead hen harrier. This bird was caught by the leg in an illegally-set trap on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor in May 2019. The trap had been set next to the harrier’s nest and was hidden by moss. The harrier’s leg was almost severed. Unfortunately, extensive surgery could not save this bird. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

However, since that original restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in November 2019, further alleged offences have been reported and are the subject of ongoing police investigations (see here) including the alleged shooting of a(nother) short-eared owl by a masked gunman on a quad bike as witnessed by a local resident and his eight year old son in July 2020 (see here) and the discovery of yet another batch of banned poisons, also in July 2020 (here). A satellite-tagged hen harrier (Silver) also vanished in suspicious circumstances on the estate in May 2020 (here), and although NatureScot don’t count missing satellite-tagged raptors as sufficient evidence for a General Licence restriction, the disappearance can be used as supportive evidence if further alleged offences are also being considered.

It’s been over a year since those further alleged offences were reported and we’ve all been waiting to see whether NatureScot would impose a further General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. Instead, the licensing team appears to have been focusing on helping out the estate by issuing it with an out-of-season muirburn licence last year (see here) and considering another application from the estate this year (see here). It really beggars belief.

Anyway, NatureScot has finally got its act together and has indeed imposed a further General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. Here is the statement on the NatureScot website:

29 September 2021

NatureScot has extended the restriction of the use of general licences on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire until 2023. The decision was made on the basis of additional evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, including controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

A restriction of the use of general licences was implemented on Leadhills estate in November 2019, in response to police evidence of crimes against wild birds occurring on the land. This decision extends the period of the existing restriction.

Robbie Kernahan, NatureScot’s s Director of Sustainable Growth, said: “It is hugely disappointing to have to be considering further issues of wildlife crime against wild birds and we are committed to using the tools we have available to us in tackling this. In this case we have concluded that there is enough evidence to suspend the general licences on this property for a further three years. They may still apply for individual licences, but -if granted – these will be closely monitored.

We work closely with Police Scotland and will continue to consider information they provide us on cases which may warrant restriction of general licences. The detection of wildlife crime can be difficult but new and emerging technologies along with a commitment from a range of partners to take a collective approach to these issues will help us stop this from occurring in the future.”

ENDS

NatureScot’s Robbie Kernahan is quoted here as saying the General Licence restriction will apply “for a further three years“, which should take the restriction up to November 2025.

However, when you look at the actual restriction notice on NatureScot’s website, it says the restriction will extend to July 2023.

Eh? That’s not a three-year extension. That’s only an eight-month extension. I sincerely hope this is just a typo and the date should read November 2025.

It’s good to see NatureScot finally get on with this but I have to say that given there’s a need for an extension of the original General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, due to further evidence from Police Scotland about ongoing alleged wildlife crime there, doesn’t that demonstrate just how ineffective the General Licence restriction is as a tool for tackling wildlife crime??

I’ve written many times about the futility of this scheme, and have even presented evidence about it to a Parliamentary committee, not least because even when a General Licence restriction has been imposed, estate employees can simply apply to NatureScot for an individual licence to continue doing exactly what they were doing under the (now restricted) General Licence (e.g. see here)!

And although former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, who was responsible for first introducing General Licence restrictions in 2014, considered that it would work as a ‘reputational driver’ (here), I’ve previously shown with several examples how this is simply not the case (e.g. see here) and that a General Licence restriction remains an ineffective sanction.

Nevertheless, it’s all we’ve got available at the moment and on that basis I would like to see NatureScot now get on with making decisions about restrictions on a number of other estates, such as Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park where a poisoned golden eagle was found dead next to a poisoned bait earlier this year (here).

And Invercauld isn’t the only estate that should be sanctioned, is it, NatureScot?

UPDATE 30th September 2021: Extension of General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate confirmed as pitiful 8 months (here).

UPDATE 6th October 2021: Leadhills Estate’s reaction to extended General Licence restriction (here).

12
Sep
21

Blatant wilful blindness from Environment Minister Rebecca Pow on illegal killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors

How about this for blatant wilful blindness from an Environment Minister.

This response to a Westminster parliamentary question on the continued illegal persecution of birds of prey in the uplands is about as disingenuous as it gets. I doubt very much if Rebecca Pow wrote it herself – this’ll be the work of a DEFRA civil servant – but Rebecca Pow has allowed her name to be put to it without even a hint of shame.

[Westminster Environment Minister Rebecca Pow]

Here’s the written question from Fleur Anderson MP (Labour Shadow Minister):

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he is taking to prevent the killing of (a) hen harriers, (b) golden eagles, (c) peregrines, (d) goshawks and (e) other birds of prey in the uplands and support the recovery of each species’ populations’.

And here is the response from Environment Minister Pow, published in Hansard yesterday (10th September 2021), ironically on the same day that I’d blogged about there being no prosecution for the shooting of five buzzards found shot and buried on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park during the first lockdown in April 2020:

All wild birds including birds of prey are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which provides a powerful framework for the conservation of wild birds, their eggs, nests and habitats. The Government is committed to ensuring the protection afforded to birds of prey is effectively enforced. There are strong penalties for offenders, including imprisonment.

To address concerns about the illegal killing of birds of prey, senior government and enforcement officers have identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. Defra sits on the police-led Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, which takes forward activities to raise awareness and facilitate intelligence and incident reporting, leading to increased prevention and enforcement activity. The group focuses on ‘hotspot’ areas of the country (which will include some upland areas) rather than specific species, although the golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, peregrine and white-tailed eagle have been identified as being of particular concern.

Additionally, the Hen Harrier Action Plan seeks to secure the long-term future of the hen harrier as a breeding bird in England. It includes measures to stop illegal persecution, and an action to reintroduce the hen harrier in the south of England. The long-term plan was published in January 2016 and we believe that it remains the best way to safeguard the hen harrier in England. This year has seen a further increase in the number of breeding hen harriers in England. 84 chicks fledged from nests across the uplands in County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire. These are the highest numbers for hen harrier breeding in England since the 1960s’.

It’s quite obvious that this answer has been designed to pull the wool over the eyes of your average member of the public, assuring the uninformed and the gullible that the Government has this under control and there’s no reason for anyone to be concerned because the Government is ‘committed’ to effective enforcement and the criminals are sent to jail. That would all be fine if there WAS effective enforcement, and that offenders DID get sent to jail for these heinous crimes, but it’s an utter fallacy.

Yes, it’s accurate to say there are strong penalties available for raptor persecution crimes, including imprisonment, but as Minister Pow will know, there’s a huge gulf between there being a provision for this in the legislation and it being applied in real life. For example, when was the last time that a criminal gamekeeper was sent to jail for killing a bird of prey? That’s an easy one to answer – never, in England & Wales. It has never happened. The only time a gamekeeper has received a custodial sentence for killing a bird of prey in the UK was in 2014 when a gamekeeper was filmed clubbing to death a goshawk on the Kildrummy Estate in Scotland two years earlier (see here). It was headline news at the time precisely BECAUSE it was the first ever custodial sentence, and it was the last, too.

It’s also complete deception to claim that the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) is delivering increased prevention or increased enforcement in the hotspot persecution areas. There isn’t ANY evidence to support such claims. The RPPDG is, in my opinion, a partnership sham, designed to look as though efforts are being made to effectively tackle illegal raptor persecution in England and Wales. It’s been in existence since 2011 and the ‘delivery’ results speak for themselves – so far it has achieved absolutely sod all in terms of contributing towards the conservation of raptors in the UK and instead has frustrated the efforts of those organisations who are genuinely trying to stamp out persecution (e.g. see here).

And as for the so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan – readers of this blog don’t need reminding what an absolute joke this is. It does seem, however, that the Minister needs to be reminded that the illegal persecution of hen harriers on grouse moors is systemic, as demonstrated by the Government’s own commissioned research published in 2019 (here) which showed that satellite-tagged hen harriers are ten times more likely to be killed on land managed for driven grouse shooting than any other type of land management.

Surely it’s not beyond the understanding of the Minister and her aides that the number of chicks fledged since the brood meddling trial began is irrelevant if the slaughter of those birds continues after the fledging period? We know that at least 56 hen harriers have been illegally killed and/or have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in the last three years alone (see here for the grim catalogue of death) and this number is set to rise when the police get around to publicising more incidents that have happened this year. Oh, and there hasn’t been a successful prosecution for any of them.

Nothing has changed. Raptors continue to be poisoned, trapped and shot on driven grouse moors and the Westminster Environment Minister’s wilful blindness is responsible for enabling that to continue.

08
Sep
21

Here’s what Natural England hasn’t told you about this year’s hen harrier brood meddling scandal

The scandalous hen harrier brood meddling trial lurched onwards again this year, with reports that two nests were ‘meddled’ with (i.e. the chicks were removed under a licence issued by Natural England, they were raised in captivity, and were then released back in to the wild, to be illegally killed on a grouse moor somewhere in England, Wales or Scotland, e.g. see here and here).

Regular blog readers will know all about DEFRA’s hen harrier brood meddling trial but for new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA as part of its ludicrous ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan‘ and carried out by Natural England (NE), in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here.

A blog reader who wishes to remain anonymous sent me this photograph of one of the HH release aviaries on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in July this year. Look at the state of it! It’s no wonder European countries won’t ‘donate’ hen harriers for a proposed southern reintroduction project if this is how we treat our own supposedly protected species!

The young hen harriers that were taken from their parents and shoved inside this structural monstrosity came from the Swinton Estate in North Yorkshire. I won’t publicise the name of the estate they were removed to in case the young birds are still hanging around there but this estate is within the Yorkshire Dales National Park and although it’s not an estate with a bad reputation for raptor persecution, some of it’s near neighbours are absolute shockers with a long, long, long history of poisoned and shot raptors being found on their grouse moors. God help the four young hen harriers released here.

As a side issue, a condition of the previous brood meddling licence (here) was that it was recommended that ‘Brood managed hen harriers should not be released in sight of burnt heather strips where possible‘. I don’t know if that condition still applies in the current licence (I haven’t seen the latest version) but if it does, it appears to have been ignored, judging by the photograph of the release aviary. Ignoring licence conditions seems to be a running theme when it comes to Hen Harrier meddling, doesn’t it?!

But that’s not the main focus of this particular blog. Something else happened this year during the brood meddling trial and seeing as Natural England aren’t being very forthcoming (surprise, surprise, when are they ever?), I’m going to write about it because I believe this information should be in the public domain, especially as this is supposedly a scientifically-rigorous trial (ha!) and at the end of the five-year trial period, there will need to be a public consultation on any decision Natural England / DEFRA makes about whether brood meddling is wheeled out as a standard (mis)management option. The public should have access to ALL the information, not just the bits that Natural England decides to share.

For example, on 13th August this year Natural England wrote the following about this year’s brood meddling trial:

In 2021, trial interventions were approved at two nests: one in North Yorkshire and one in Lancashire. All eight chicks from these nests have been successfully reared to become healthy fledglings and released‘.

That was it. The full extent of what Natural England thought we ought to know about the brood meddling trial this year. It’s pathetic. We’re not five. We don’t need the fairy story approach, (‘and they all lived happily ever after‘) we want details (albeit not any details that would compromise the safety of the released hen harriers).

We do know a little bit more – Dr Mark Avery and his legal team continue to try to hold Natural England to account on hen harrier brood meddling and Natural England released some more detail to them (see here), but I noted without surprise that Natural England had still not revealed the almighty cock-up that happened at one of this year’s two brood meddled nests.

So here’s what happened, according to numerous sources.

Two nests were brood meddled, one in North Yorkshire (Swinton) and one in Lancashire.

At the Lancashire site, the male was polygynous. In other words, he was providing food for two different females at two different nests. The fieldworkers should have known this because the male had been previously satellite-tagged. One nest was further ahead than the other in terms of breeding chronology and this would be considered the ‘primary’ nest, the other one the ‘secondary’ nest.

When it came to making the decision about which nest to brood meddle, ‘someone’ (and I don’t know who, see discussion below) decided to brood meddle the primary nest, where the chicks were at a more advanced age than the chicks in the secondary nest. So the chicks from the primary nest were removed and taken in to captivity, and the chicks in the secondary nest were left alone.

However, this brood meddling (removal of the chicks) at the primary nest caused such disruption to the male that he immediately took off and flew from the area, abandoning not just the brood meddled nest, but also the secondary nest where his second female was still present with chicks, all of whom were reliant upon that male to provision them with food. He didn’t return – apparently his satellite tag data confirmed he had abandoned all breeding attempts at these sites and had moved on.

A gamekeeper was instructed to provide additional supplementary food for the secondary nest and I understand that all the chicks managed to fledge successfully with this extra support. It would have taken an enormous effort and I suggest that Natural England and DEFRA officials owe that gamekeeper a massive drink because his/her efforts have saved their blushes, as well as those harriers. I can’t imagine the gamekeeper was thrilled about having to spend so much time provisioning these chicks (it’s a beautiful irony) and even if s/he had wanted to do them in, they wouldn’t have had the chance given the panic that a potential nest failure would have caused to everyone involved with the trial and the subsequent attention they’d have paid to that secondary nest. Nevertheless, full credit to the keeper for his/her efforts supporting the chicks to the fledging stage. That was a job well done.

So who decided to brood meddle the primary nest and not the secondary nest? According to the original brood meddling project plan, the decision on which nest to plunder is made collectively by the Project Board:

I’m pretty sure the make-up of the Board no longer looks like this. I understand that Rob Cooke and Adrian Jowitt have both been moved from hen harrier work and are doing something else. Steve Redpath took early retirement so presumably isn’t still involved as a representative from Aberdeen University. Jemima Parry Jones is still involved – she’s the licence holder so is central to all decisions made about brood meddling. Is Adam Smith still at GWCT? He may be, but if he is he’s flying low under the radar these days. Philip Merricks is no longer at Hawk & Owl Trust. Amanda Anderson is still a key player at the Moorland Association but Robert Benson is no longer Chair – that role is currently taken by Lord Masham of, wait for it, the Swinton Estate!

Here’s the flow chart of decision-making that the Project Board must follow, also from the project plan:

I doubt Natural England will offer any voluntary insight in to this year’s calamitous actions but it’ll have to include the details in the annual report the brood meddling team is required to provide, and also report the details to the scientific advisory panel.

It’ll be interesting to see what they make of this on-going fiasco.

07
Sep
21

Is Natural England bending the rules for Swinton Estate on breach of hen harrier diversionary feeding licence?

Back in April and May this year, I blogged about this spring’s hen harrier diversionary feeding fiasco at Swinton Estate in North Yorkshire after footage was sent to me of two individuals apparently putting out food at an active nest site during a period when it was expressly forbidden to take place (see here and here).

[Grouse moors on the Swinton Estate, North Yorkshire. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

After a lot of digging, and a lot of obfuscation by Natural England (e.g. see here), it was revealed that the estate was not even in possession of a diversionary feeding licence at that time and so the matter has since been passed to North Yorkshire Police who are currently investigating whether an offence has been committed (see here).

I am still waiting to hear about North Yorkshire Police’s conclusions and will report back in due course.

Meanwhile, after further digging and a series of FoIs to Natural England, it became apparent that Swinton Estate had also allegedly breached it’s hen harrier diversionary feeding licence in 2019 (see here).

I learned through an FoI response from Natural England that in 2019 the Swinton Estate had again been providing diversionary feeding for breeding hen harriers at a period in the breeding cycle (the incubation period) when it was expressly forbidden by the terms of the licence. The estate seemed oblivious to this breach because it openly admitted it on its licence return to Natural England.

So in June I submitted a further FoI to Natural England to ask about this breach of the 2019 licence and whether it had taken any enforcement action against the estate. Bear in mind that Natural England warns all potential licence users that:

Anyone acting under the authority of this licence must follow the advice on diversionary feeding of hen harriers on grouse moors in northern England. If you do not follow this advice you may be in breach of this licence and are at risk of enforcement action‘.

In July, Natural England replied and told me that due to the ‘complexity’ of my request, it required a further 20 working days to respond. This wasn’t the first time NE has struggled with a very straightforward information request on this subject (e.g. see here) and I doubt it’ll be the last.

In August, after taking 40 working days to respond, here is how Natural England answered my questions about the apparent breach of the 2019 licence:

Me: Please can you look at the attached [2019] licence return from Swinton Estate relating to the diversionary feeding of hen harriers. According to the details written on this return, it would appear that Swinton Estate attempted diversionary feeding during the incubation period, which as you’ll be aware was contrary to the terms of the licence at the time.

Please can you advise (a) did anyone at NE notice this when the licence return was submitted?

Natural England response: No, this was not identified at the time the return was submitted.

Me: (b) was there any enforcement action as a result of this apparent breach?

Natural England response: No

Me: (c) If so, what was it, please?

Natural England response: N/A

Me: (d) If no enforcement action, please explain why not.

Natural England response: The breach was not identified. In any event, a breach of a licence condition is not of itself an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) (WCA) and no evidence or intelligence has been received as to the disturbance of Schedule 1 birds that might have given rise to an offence under section 1 of the WCA.

Me: (e) If there wasn’t any prior enforcement action will there now be any and if so, what will it be?

Natural England response: As above, the breach of a licence condition is not of itself an offence under the WCA and there remains no evidence or intelligence as to the disturbance of birds that might give rise to an offence under section 1 of WCA. Furthermore, young within the nest in question successfully fledged. The condition in question no longer applies to the Class Licence based on best available evidence demonstrating how diversionary feeding interventions can be used to benefit hen harriers. Natural England will however be writing to the Estate to remind them of the importance of adhering to the terms and conditions of any licence on which they propose to rely.

I don’t know why it took Natural England 40 working days to provide these basic answers. Perhaps it thought I’d lose the will the live whilst waiting?

Needless to say, I’m fascinated by NE’s claim that disturbing breeding hen harriers by feeding them during the incubation period, which was expressly forbidden by the terms of the licence, does not amount to an offence under section 1 of the WCA. Specifically, Section 1(5)(a) of the WCA states:

If any person intentionally or recklessly disturbs any wild bird in Schedule 1 while it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young, he shall be guilty of an offence.

I’ve written back to Natural England to ask it to explain why this particular licence breach does not constitute an offence.

I’ve also written to Natural England to ask what enforcement measures it CAN implement if somebody breaches the terms and conditions of the licence. It threatens licence users with ‘enforcement action’ for breaches, but it’s apparent from the FoI response that NE doesn’t even check for previous licence breaches when issuing replacement licences!

Natural England says that it would ‘be writing to the Estate to remind them of the importance of adhering to the terms and conditions of any licence on which they propose to rely‘, but what’s the point of issuing threats if (a) you’re not going to even check for licence breaches and (b) even when a breach is pointed out to you, you don’t bother taking any ‘enforcement action’ anyway?!

Natural England argues in its response that ‘The [licence] condition in question no longer applies to the Class Licence based on best available evidence demonstrating how diversionary feeding interventions can be used to benefit hen harriers‘. That’s totally irrelevant. The licence condition [no diversionary feeding during incubation period] WAS a condition in 2019 and the estate evidently breached it. Just because Natural England has since slyly changed the licence conditions (in response to awkward questions being asked about repeated breaches, apparently it is now acceptable to provide diversionary food during the incubation period!), it doesn’t mean that a breach didn’t take place under the 2019 licence terms and conditions!

To be clear, I’m not so much interested in the Swinton Estate’s actions here. Yes, it’s of concern that it apparently can’t read/comprehend the simple terms of a licence (what other terms & conditions might it be breaching?), and that this has happened in multiple years, not just as a one-off mistake, but the estate’s actions were probably not malicious towards the breeding harriers (although it could be argued that repeated disturbance of a breeding attempt could cause a breeding failure). In my view, Swinton Estate is keen for the hen harrier brood meddling trial to work (which is why it’s involved with diversionary feeding) because the grouse-shooting industry wants brood meddling to be rolled out in future years as a ‘legal’ method of removing harriers from their grouse moors, so the estate appears to be tolerating the harriers, for now at least, as part of the brood meddling trial.

So rather than focus on the estate, I’m much more interested in Natural England’s behaviour and its apparent tolerance of licence breaches and its penchant for rule-bending in pursuit of its shameful hen harrier brood meddling trial (oh, and its acceptance of a £10K bung from BASC with an attached gagging order preventing Natural England from saying anything derogatory about either BASC or the hen harrier project!!!).

This hen harrier brood meddling trial is supposedly underpinned by rigorous scientific parameters, although these have been challenged in the courts by Dr Mark Avery and the RSPB (appeal hearing was in January 2021 but eight months on and the court decision is still awaited!). If Natural England can’t be trusted to take action on apparent licence breaches, what faith can we have in its adherence to the scientific rules of the trial? Can we trust Natural England not to bend the rules?

I’ll report back when Natural England responds to my latest FoI request. On previous form, that will probably be in November!

07
Aug
21

It’s Hen Harrier Day! Live broadcast starts at 10am

It’s Hen Harrier Day, the 8th year this event has been part of the UK’s conservation scene.

Covid restrictions have meant that once again the event has had to move online, but the upside is that this provides more opportunity to reach a wider audience.

This year Wild Justice has put together the programme and Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin will be hosting the live broadcast from 10am to 11.30am (click here to watch). They’ll be joined by a wide variety of guests and contributors discussing the problems with current upland management and how these issues could be addressed.

There’ll be plenty of opportunities for you to get involved, whether that’s bidding for some fantastic original artwork (including a piece by Jim Moir [Vic Reeves] no less!), buying a t-shirt, or signing the Call for Action to your local parliamentary representative. All proceeds will go to Wild Justice and its conservation campaign work, including work to protect the hen harrier.

Stand by for an eventful show!

CLICK HERE TO WATCH

[Female hen harrier, photographed by Laurie Campbell]

02
Aug
21

Opportunity for Prince Harry to blow the cover of the hen harrier killers

The ‘wall of silence’ maintained by many in the grouse-shooting industry to protect the identities of the raptor killers within their ranks is a well-known phenomenon. It’s been likened to the Mafia’s omertà, the code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to provide evidence to the police.

With news that Prince Harry has agreed a publishing deal with Random House to write his memoirs, including ‘the mistakes made, the lessons learned’, wildlife campaigners have been wondering whether he will use it to reveal what exactly went on at Dersingham Bog near Sandringham back in 2007 when he and his mate William van Cutsem were out shooting with a Sandringham Estate gamekeeper when a witness alleged two hen harriers had been shot. Harry and van Cutsem were interviewed by the police and denied all knowledge and no hen harrier corpses were found.

An article in the Guardian this last weekend examined the possibility of Harry using his memoirs to perhaps have more to say about not only this incident, but also to distance himself from the wider criminal link between driven grouse shooting and hen harrier persecution.

You can read the Guardian article in full here

iNews also carried a shortened version of the article here

It would have been quite good had the journalist not got his figures mixed up in this one paragraph:

Hen harriers have been illegally targeted particularly on upland moors because they prey on red grouse, for which there is a lucrative driven shooting industry on the moors. They virtually ceased breeding in England in the early 2000s because of persecution. They have since recovered to an estimated 330 pairs, but remain one of the rarest and most persecuted raptors in the UK‘.

If only hen harriers HAD recovered to an estimated 330 pairs in England! Sadly we are still a very long way from coming anywhere close to that number (unless DEFRA’s hen harrier brood meddling conservation sham has turned out to be extraordinarily good!).

What the journalist should have said was:

England has sufficient habitat to host at least 330 pairs of hen harriers but due to persistent illegal persecution by the grouse shooting industry (e.g. at least 56 hen harriers killed/suspiciously vanished in the last three years alone) we haven’t even got 10% of that number breeding. You can find out more about this scandal at this weekend’s Hen Harrier Day‘.

Hen Harrier Day 2021 takes place this Saturday (7th August 2021). You can sign up for notifications of Wild Justice’s online event here.

19
Jul
21

Hen Harrier Day 2021 (Saturday, 7th August)

Hen Harrier Day, established in 2014 as a way to raise public awareness about the widespread killing of hen harriers on the UK’s driven grouse moors, is now entering its 8th year!

In previous years supporters have organised events at various venues across the country where people have gathered at rallies to listen to speeches by campaigners, conservationists, politicians, police officers, educators, film makers and many others. Last year, the pandemic forced us all online instead and we’ll be doing the same again this year.

In the run up to this year’s Hen Harrier Day, there will be an additional online event on Sunday 1st August, organised by the charity Hen Harrier Action. You can find out about that event here.

Hen Harrier Day itself takes place on Saturday 7th August, scheduled as always to take place the weekend before the start of the grouse-shooting season on the Inglorious 12th August.

Wild Justice is organising a live, online event bringing together a wide range of contributors from across academia, conservation and the world of campaigning, to deliver what it hopes will be an interesting, informative and entertaining programme. Hosted by the brilliant pairing of Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin, in addition to live interviews there will also be films pre-recorded recently by Wild Justice & colleagues in northern England and Scotland.

Hen Harrier Day 2021 is a free event, as ever, and it’s recommended you sign up for notifications as the big day approaches, to find out more about the programme of events and who’s on, and at what time.

For more information about the event and to sign up, please click here.




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