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.