Posts Tagged ‘shooting


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

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

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


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

So we come back to the questions we raised earlier:

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

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

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

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

The most interesting sentence is the penultimate one:

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

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

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

Have those further metallurgical tests been done? If so, where are the results? If they haven’t been done, four months on, then why not if they were supposedly “required”?

Emails to: 


Shot hen harrier Rowan – here’s that x-ray

For those of you who have been following the story of the Natural England / Hawk & Owl Trust / Cumbria Police cover-up re: whether hen harrier Rowan had been shot (see here and here), the RSPB has just published the x-ray:


Is that a shattered leg bone with bits of shotgun pellet lodged in the soft tissue?

Clear, irrefutable evidence that Rowan was shot – not ‘likely to have been shot’, but most definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, shot.

We’ll come back to this later – just off to meet some journalists – but Natural England / Hawk & Owl Trust / Cumbria Police have some very serious questions to answer.


Satellite-tagged Hen Harrier ‘Carroll’ is dead

With depressing predictability, another of the 2016 cohort of young hen harriers has been found dead.

‘Carroll’ hatched in a nest on Forestry Commission land in Northumberland – one of only three nests in England last year. Named after the late raptor worker Mick Carroll, this bird was satellite-tagged as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project.

Her satellite tag revealed that she didn’t wander very far during her short life, spending much of her time within the boundary of the Northumberland National Park. This map of her movements has been provided by the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life Project:

On 26 January 2017 a local landowner found Carroll’s body and immediately reported it to the authorities. A post mortem revealed she had died with a parasitic infection, but it also revealed two shotgun pellets lodged under healed wounds, one in the leg and one in the throat. Thankfully, the RSPB is handling this case, not Natural England, so the x-ray showing the shotgun pellets in her body has been published. There’s no attempt at obfuscation, no suggestion Carroll was ‘likely to have been shot’, no attempted cover up – the message is clear –  at some point, Carroll had been shot, perhaps when she was in the supposed ‘safety’ of the Northumberland National Park. The RSPB knows very well that publishing this x-ray will not ‘affect the course of justice’ as Natural England has claimed for shot hen harrier Rowan, whose corpse was found in the ‘safety’ of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The RSPB knows it won’t affect the course of justice because they know justice won’t be served – nobody will be prosecuted for shooting this precious, threatened species.

Carroll’s name can now be added to the growing list of young hen harriers that have died or ‘disappeared’ since fledging in 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What an appalling situation. Does anybody (apart from the Hawk & Owl Trust) still believe that the grouse shooting industry has cleaned up its act?

UPDATE 07.30hrs: There’s a very good RSPB Skydancer blog about Carroll’s demise here


Shot hen harrier Rowan – a Natural England/Hawk and Owl Trust cover up? Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two-part blog. For Part one, please read here.

The following information is a timeline of what happened and has been compiled from a series of FoIs. Natural England has refused to release some of the information we asked for (notably a copy of the post mortem report that was paid for with tax payers’ money, but also some email correspondence) because apparently this may ‘affect the course of justice’.

Satellite-tagged hen harrier Rowan was found dead in Cumbria on 22 October 2016.

His corpse was collected by Stephen Murphy (Natural England) and sent to the Zoological Society of London for a post mortem on 24 October 2016.

The post mortem was conducted on 26 October 2016 and the preliminary findings were passed to Natural England on 27 October 2016. The preliminary findings indicated the bird had been shot. Stephen Murphy passed on the preliminary findings to Cumbria Police on 27 October 2016:

Cumbria Police launched an investigation the same day, based on the findings of the preliminary post mortem report (i.e. that Rowan had been shot):

The following day, on 28 October 2016 (the Friday before the Monday Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting), Natural England and the Hawk & Owl Trust issued the following vague joint press statement:

The body of a juvenile, male hen harrier – named Rowan – was recovered in Cumbria on 22nd October. He was satellite tagged at the Langholm project in the Scottish borders, as part of a joint venture between Natural England and the Hawk and Owl Trust. Following an autopsy, Natural England has passed details to the police for investigation.

We are unable to make further comments or enter into discussion at this time as this may be prejudicial to ongoing investigations.

On Monday 31 October 2016 – the Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting took place.

On 3 November 2016, WCO Helen Branthwaite of Cumbria Police sent a copy of a draft press statement about Rowan’s death to Natural England. Pay close attention to the wording of this draft police press statement, particularly the sentence, ‘Following a post mortem examination funded by Natural England it has been established that the bird was shot’:

Stephen Murphy (Natural England) replied to WCO Helen Branthwaite with this:

WCO Helen Branthwaite replied to Stephen Murphy to say she couldn’t get hold of the Natural England press officer (Lyndon Marquis) and asked if anyone else at Natural England should take a look over the draft police press statement:

Stephen Murphy replied to Helen and suggested that Graham Tibbetts (Head of Media at Natural England) and Rob Cooke (a Director at Natural England) should take a look:

At this point, the email chain goes cold (so either this conversation ended here or, if it did continue, Natural England has decided to withhold this information from the FoI response).

Four days later, on 7 November, Philip Merricks (Hawk & Owl Trust) wrote to Rob Cooke (Natural England) asking for a telephone conversation between Rob Cooke, Philip Merricks, Adrian Blumfield (Chief Operating Officer, Hawk & Owl Trust) to discuss the imminent Police press release about Rowan “which will be signed off by” Rob Cooke. Rob Cooke replied and said he would ask Graham Tibbetts (NE’s Head of Media) to make contact with Adrian Blumfield:

We don’t know if that telephone conversation took place because if it did, there won’t be a written record of it, but it is clear that the intention to have a conversation was there.

Later that same day, Cumbria Police issued the following press statement:

Cumbria Police have opened an investigation into the death of a hen harrier.

The body of a male Hen Harrier was found in the Ravenstonedale area of the county on 22nd October 2016. A post-mortem examination funded by Natural England and carried out by the Zoological Society of London has established that the bird was likely to have been shot.

The hen harrier, called Rowan, was satellite tagged at the Langholm Project as part of a joint venture between Natural England and the Hawk and Owl Trust. The bird had recently flown in the Cumbria and North Yorkshire Dales area before being found at Ravenstonedale.

Hen Harriers are specially protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and the Government has set raptor persecution as one of their wildlife crime action priorities.

There is huge pressure on the survival of the hen harrier in England particularly and projects such as this are working hard to assist with the bird’s survival. Cumbria Police are working alongside such organisations to progress this investigation.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 101 and ask to speak to PC 2059 Helen Branthwaite.

Pay really close attention to the wording of this Police press statement, and notice which words have been changed from the draft police press statement that WCO Helen Branthwaite sent to Natural England on 3 November. The press statement no longer says that the post mortem established that Rowan had been shot; it now says the post mortem established that Rowan was ‘likely to have been shot‘.

This raises some really interesting questions.

If Cumbria Police were happy to tell the public that Rowan had been shot, based on a post mortem report (see their draft police press statement), why did the final police press statement only say he was ‘likely to have been shot’? Why the ambiguity?

It is apparent from the wording in Philip Merricks’ email that Rob Cooke (Natural England) was going to “sign off” the police press statement so did Natural England and the Hawk & Owl Trust collude to have this detail changed? It would certainly be in both their interests to have it changed because a ‘muddied’ ambiguous statement about a ‘likely shot’ hen harrier is far less damaging to their friends in the grouse shooting industry than a clear, evidence-based confirmatory statement that a hen harrier had been shot, especially at the time when driven grouse shooting and its associated criminality was being debated at Westminster.

If there was any doubt in WCO Helen Branthwaite’s mind that Rowan had been shot, did she contact the pathologist at ZSL for clarification or did she just accept the word of Natural England / Hawk & Owl Trust? If so, why?

These questions could easily be answered if we had sighting of the post mortem report, because then we’d know whether the final Police press statement was an accurate reflection of the post mortem’s findings or whether it was a cover-up job, but Natural England has refused to release it. Quite how the publication of a shot bird’s x-ray ‘might affect the course of justice’ is a mystery, especially when many police forces routinely publish such images as part of their appeals for information.

Unless of course Natural England is worried that its release might affect the uncovering of corruption….

We’ll be asking the Information Commissioner to examine Natural England’s excuse for withholding the post mortem report. Watch this space.


Shot hen harrier Rowan – a Natural England/Hawk and Owl Trust cover up? Part 1

rowanhhThis is Part 1 of 2 blogs.

Hen harrier ‘Rowan’ was one of two harriers satellite-tagged by the Hawk & Owl Trust at Langholm in the summer of 2016.

On 28 October 2016, a joint press release issued by Natural England and the Hawk & Owl Trust revealed he had been found dead in Cumbria / Yorkshire Dales National Park on 22 October 2016. We weren’t told the circumstances of his death but the press release did say: ‘Following an autopsy, Natural England has passed details to the police for investigation‘, so it was pretty obvious that criminal activity was suspected.

Take note of the date because this is important (we’ll come back to this in Part 2). This vague press release appeared on the Friday before the Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting on the Monday (31 October).

The next press release was issued by Cumbria police on 7 November 2016. It was slightly more informative than the first press release, but still quite vague. This press release included the sentence:  

A post-mortem examination funded by Natural England and carried out by the Zoological Society of London has established that the bird was likely to have been shot‘.

At the time we questioned the wording of the police statement and suggested it was odd to say the bird ‘was likely to have been shot’ because it’s not a phrase often used in a post mortem report. Typically, a report will say something like ‘the injuries are consistent’ with the bird being shot. Unfortunately, Cumbria police chose not to publish an x-ray of the dead bird, which would have clarified the situation; again, this was unusual and raised our suspicions.

We’ve since done some digging through a series of FoIs and it seems we were right to be suspicious. Little did we know what a trail of collusion, cock-up and cover-up we’d discover.

Part 2 of this blog will appear shortly……

UPDATE: Part 2 can be read here


Buzzard shot in Devon

A member of the public found a weak and thin buzzard by the side of the road in Tedburn St Mary, near Exeter, Devon on 20 January 2017.

It was taken to the RSPCA’s West Hatch wildlife centre in Taunton where, due to the extent of its injuries, the bird was euthanised.

It appears the buzzard had been hit by a car and suffered extensive soft tissue damage and internal bleeding. However, during a post mortem the vet also discovered the bird had been shot in the foot with an air rifle, causing a swollen foot with restricted movement.

This is the fourth shot buzzard that the RSPCA’s West Hatch centre in Somerset has received this month, following the two shot buzzards from south Wales and the one shot in Somerset (see here).


Kestrel found shot dead in Worcestershire

A kestrel has been found shot dead in the village of Broadwas in Worcestershire. It was discovered on 10 January 2017.

This information was sent to us by a blog reader (thank you). The kestrel had been ringed in Warwickshire in June 2016 and whoever found the body in Worcestershire reported the ring number to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), who then sent a ‘ringing return’ note to the bird ringer, to inform him / her of the bird’s death.

According to this ringing return, the bird had been categorised as being ‘dead for more than a week, not fresh, found shot’.

What’s interesting about this, apart from the utter stupidity of the person who shot this bird (it’s a kestrel for god’s sake, what possible reason would there be for shooting it?), is what happens to the data after being reported to the BTO.

It’s our understanding that the BTO does not, as a matter of routine, forward data about suspected persecution incidents to the Police or the RSPB.

If our understanding is correct, this situation is quite astonishing. Surely there’s an ethical responsibility for the BTO to report suspected persecution incidents, to allow the Police or RSPB to undertake follow up investigations? Even if nothing comes of any investigation, these cases would still provide useful background intelligence and, importantly, would contribute to a better understanding of the extent of illegal raptor persecution in a given area. Reporting suspected crimes to the Police / RSPB would not affect the usefulness of the data to the BTO – the BTO could still use the data for trend analyses etc, it’s not as though the data point would be ‘lost’ if it was reported to the authorities.

How many of these suspected persecution incidents go unreported by the BTO every year? Is it the BTO’s responsibility to report suspect crimes, or is it the responsibility of the ringer (once notified of the circumstances of a bird’s death via the ringing return from the BTO), or is it nobody’s responsibility?

It’s all very strange.

Photo of a kestrel by Graham Catley

UPDATE 3.30pm: The BTO has responded to this post on Twitter as follows: ‘The finder has responsibility to report any suspicious deaths but we will review to see if there is more we can do’. Good for them.

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

Blog Stats

  • 2,702,325 hits


Our recent blog visitors