Hen harrier found shot dead on Yorkshire grouse moor

A young hen harrier being fitted with a sat tag (photo: Natural England)A young hen harrier has been found shot dead on a Yorkshire grouse moor. Regular blog readers will not be surprised to learn that it has taken over 5 months for an appeal for information to be made by North Yorks police.

The harrier was raised in a nest in Bowland, Lancashire in 2011. She was nick-named ‘Bowland Betty’ and was fitted with a satellite tag as part of Natural England’s so-called ‘Hen Harrier Recovery Project’. During her first year of life she was tracked through the uplands of Northern England and as far north as Caithness in northern Scotland. In June 2012 she was back in the Yorkshire Dales. Predictably, by late June her sat tag data suggested she was stationary and her dead body was found on 5 July on Thorny Grain Moor in Colsterdale in the Yorkshire Dales. Post-mortem results confirmed she had been shot.

This area is dominated by moorland managed for grouse shooting. We understand her body was found on Swinton Estate, although it is not known where she was actually shot as she could have flown for several miles before succumbing to her injuries.

RSPB and government data show the Yorkshire Dales as a hot spot for illegal raptor persecution, with at least 20 birds of prey illegally poisoned, trapped or shot between 2007-2011. This figure includes 10 poisoned red kites, 4 poisoned buzzards, 2 shot red kites, 2 shot buzzards, 1 shot kestrel and 1 trapped sparrowhawk. In addition there were at least 4 incidents of poisoned baits and a number of dogs were also poisoned.

Hen harriers have been tracked from Bowland since 1999. Wing tags were used to monitor hen harrier dispersal and survival between 1999-2002 (data from at least 42 birds). From 2002-2010, 118 hen harriers have been tracked either via radio transmitter or satellite tag. Astonishingly, Natural England have released very little detail about the results of this project, ten years on. They did produce a report in 2008 (see here) although this related to hen harriers over a broad geographic area and didn’t include specific detail about individual birds. What happened to all those birds? Where are their data? Why, when a satellite tag suggests that a harrier’s movements are suspicious (i.e. it’s been stationary on a grouse moor for several hours), do NE researchers have to seek the estate owner’s permission before they can go and search for the (presumably dead) bird? We’ve used an analogy before but it’s worth repeating – would you expect a police officer to call ahead to a suspected drug dealer to ask permission to go and search his house?

We all know only too well what will happen now. The death of this harrier will be added to the never-ending list of illegally-persecuted raptors found dead on UK grouse moors. Nobody will be prosecuted for shooting it. The public will express outrage for a few days but it’ll soon be forgotten, just like all the others that have been illegally killed before and all the others that undoubtedly will be killed in the future. The people who hold the positions of power that could bring this disgraceful practice to an end will continue to show wilful blindness and downplay the extent of the problem. The police will continue to form ‘partnerships’ with organisations who harbour the criminals responsible for this systematic killing. Nothing will change. Tune in next month to read about the latest victim. (Actually, tune in later this month….)

What can we do? The only thing we can do is to keep publicising these incidents. We can all play a part; don’t leave it to someone else. Tweet it, Facebook it, blog it, talk about it, email your MP about it. Do it.

10 thoughts on “Hen harrier found shot dead on Yorkshire grouse moor”

  1. Why does it take so long for the murder of a legally protected bird of prey to be made public, the old chestnut about wanting to collect all available evidence doesn’t wear any more. If it were a hit and run, or a robbery, or whatever it would be blazoned all over the papers and the news asking for information from the public! What’s the difference, it’s still a crime, why don’t the police give it the respect it deserves, these birds are extremely rare and becoming more and more rare as each day passes due to the relentless persecution at the hands of the estates. The indifference and unwillingness to do anything meaningfull to combat this atrocious persecution shown by the police and our so-called wildlife protection agencies beggers belief, if I were a poacher systematically shooting, trapping or snaring Pheasants, Partridge or Grouse the police would be all over me like a rash. I would be caught in no time and the courts would confiscate my car, my gun, my snares and my traps. They would throw the book at me and I would be very lucky to get away with a hefty fine and or imprisonment, not to mention I would have a criminal record and probably lose my job.

    1. Actually it has taken most of this time to get the analysis, used for the first time to show that the bird was shot, otherwise it was a harrier with a broken leg and ruptures femoral artery with no apparent cause. Satellite tracking of Bowland harriers has shown that many move to the Yorkshire Dales where they have disappeared could this be the fate of them all? At another site not far away where several have transmitted their last is a communal roost as was where shot gun cartridges and harrier feathers have been found suggesting criminality.

      The estate where Bet has been found has in my opinion a long sad history of probable persecution of about twelve harrier nesting attempts since 1994 only three have reared young in the others the breeding adults disappeared. THe traditional peregrine crag was reoccupied in 1980 but has never reared young, I think poison was used at the site in the early eighties. The two Goshawk territories on the estate, first found in the early nineties, are now and have been for sometime vacant. Buzzards territories on the estate are often year to year occupied by immatures who never breed, one nest completely disappeared during one season. Red kites have been found poisoned and long dead, or tagged birds seen on the estate have never been seen again, anywhere. Birds are seen on the estate with sudden asymetric moult (suggesting they’ve been shot at )shorties and merlins have become very scarce. It has been alleged that eagle owl and hen harrier have bben [Edited xxxxx xxx] grouse drives.

      Yet just last month the GWCT held a fund raiser on the estate and claim to be the county’s leading wildlife research charity. Many, if not all the surrounding estates are as bad in my opinion, these people don’t really care about the countryside or its legitimate inhabitants just the size of the bag at the end of a days shooting. You are Nirofo as usual off beam on this one and elsewhere, swallowing wholesale garbage written by others about RSPB etc.

      1. My point about the time taken to report Raptor persecution was aimed at all Raptor persecution in general and not just the one found shot on the Yorkshire moors, although as usual it is probably too late to find any evidence now. As for being off beam, far from it, my beam is well balanced thank you, and just to put you straight I don’t have to swallow wholesale garbage written by others about the RSPB, I have experienced it first hand over many many years as a dedicated fully licenced Raptor field worker and recorder, so know only too well the strokes they are prepared to pull to keep themselves in the limelight and the rest of the membership in the dark. As I have said many times, I have no axe to grind with the dedicated field workers and genuine conservationists in the RSPB, many are just as alarmed at the stance being taken by the society’s administration and fund raising heirarchy and their continuing refusal to get into anything serious about the blatant Raptor persecution on the estates.

    1. Without wanting to sound too much like a psychiatrist unfortunately a sizable minority of country “sportsmen” define themselves through opposition to the city values which protected raptors represent – there’s been a fair bit of research on the subject in America. These people need little incentive to shoot raptors in any case weirdly outside concern for them makes them a more attractive target.

  2. I hadn’t really considered the point made above, but on reflection it seems to make a good deal of sense. I had however, to a certain extent and on a different subject come to a similar conclusion. Living out in the sticks I always wondered why certain individuals insisted in deliberately throwing their rubbish out of their vehicles in a quiet scenic area – my conclusion being that as they lived in a sh1thole they were going to make sure everyone else did as well – a sort of parallel to the point above perhaps……………….

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