Countryside Alliance disputes evidence that Bowland Betty was shot

Bowland BettyThose luminaries of hen harrier conservation, The Countryside Alliance, are claiming that the scientific evidence used to show that Bowland Betty was shot was actually just ‘supposition’.

For those who don’t remember, Bowland Betty was a young satellite-tagged hen harrier who was found dead on a Yorkshire grouse moor in 2012 (see here). There followed a post-mortem carried out by the Zoological Society of London, which showed she had a fractured left leg which led to her death. There was then a pioneering forensic examination by scientists at the University College London Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science, which found a tiny fragment of lead at the site of the fracture, confirming that she had been shot (see here, scroll down to news item 9th January 2013, and later published in the journal Veterinary Record in 2015: hopkins-et-al-2015_bowlandbetty_vetrecord ).

According to a press statement on the Countryside Alliance website (see here), “The Countryside Alliance team has accessed and reviewed autopsy reports and has serious concerns about this claim“.

Hmm, I wonder how many professional forensic scientists are employed on the CA’s team? Probably the same number as the number of professional veterinary pathologists employed by the SGA when they challenged the findings about what had happened to the Deeside eagle (see here).

Of course, it’s not the first time that the Countryside Alliance have been in denial about the extent of hen harrier persecution – see here, here, here and here for starters. Blimey, even Nick Griffin MEP has a greater grasp of the dire straits this species is in (see here) and that’s saying something!

It’s worth remembering that the Countryside Alliance was a participant in the charade that was the ‘Hen Harrier Dialogue’ – until the RSPB, Northern England Raptor Forum and the Hawk & Owl Trust finally had enough after six years of utter game-playing and walked out. Also interesting to note that the Countryside Alliance is still a participant in the PAW England and Wales Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, along with the likes of the Moorland Association (see here for their view on hen harrier conservation) and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (we wrote recently about their contribution to tackling illegal raptor persecution here). Yet another charade, almost identical to the Scottish Raptor Priority Group, portrayed as ‘partnership working’ when it’s anything but.

The illegal killing of Bowland Betty provided tangible evidence of what we all knew was happening to the thousands of ‘missing’ hen harriers on UK grouse moors, just as the Countryside Alliance’s latest denial lays bare what we already knew was their real attitude to hen harrier conservation. Bowland Betty wasn’t the first silent witness and certainly isn’t the last… this space…

21 thoughts on “Countryside Alliance disputes evidence that Bowland Betty was shot”

  1. If they weren’t such dangerous bastards you could just dismiss them as crackpots who haven’t got a clue, unfortunately there are plenty of idiots out there who believe them !!!

    1. Andrew – you won’t get an answer because that would mean engaging with the very serious questions over the autopsy report(s). If someone can come up with an explanation for Niobium, tiny round metallic objects (not splinters or shards) and the need for multiple versions of the autopsy then we are more than happy to accept it was shot. Strangely neither the authors or NE have even tried to answer those questions despite repeated requests. I’ll send you copies of the autopsy reports. Tim

      1. Tim – so when an explanation is provided for the Niobium, will you print an apology and start engaging with the very serious questions over the Countryside Alliance’s attitude to wildlife crime?

        1. So someone has homeloaded a cartridge with miniscule pellets of a completely random element never found in ammunition before and then potted a hen harrier. Of course, why didn’t I think of that. The suggestion in the autopsy is that the round metallic objects are a lead/niobium alloy: an alloy that has never been recorded in any shotgun or rifle ammunition.

          If you try reading the piece we make it quite clear that we are willing to accept any real evidence that this material originated from a gun, but as the evidence currently stands NE’s (and it is NE not RSPB which is responsible) claim that the autopsy ‘proves’ the HH was shot is completely unsustainable. Frankly I don’t give a damn what you think of the Alliance, grouse shooting etc. but if you cannot accept the need for proper evidence to support such a claim then perhaps you ought to look at yourself rather than hurl insults at other people.

          I have made inquiries about publication of the autopsies, but that decision is not within my gift.


          1. Tim, miniscule pellets as you refer to them are called dust shot or Rat shot in the industry, they are used for small pest removal, cartridges with this size shot in them are not commercially available, they have to be made. Niobium is commonly used in the manufacture of cheap jewellery and to strengthen other metals. Niobium pellets as already stated are freely available over the internet.
            Rats occur frequently around shooting estates and are treated as pests like virtually everything else that seems to exist on some shoots. They are usually bolted with ferrets for terriers to catch or they are shot with cheap home made cartridges. Rats caught by Ferrets and inexperienced Terriers give off a high pitched scream that would attract other predators.
            The Countryside Alliance has rubbished this report but has not given an alternative solution as how this Hen Harrier ended up dead on a Grouse Moor with metal pellets in its body. You are defending the indefensible.

          2. I will provide just one example of the CA’s use of evidence. This CA publicly blamed disturbance by birdwatchers for the failure of a harrier nest at which no birdwatchers were ever present. The male harrier from a monogamous pairing ‘disappeared’ (as they frequently do on English grouse moors), whilst foraging away from the protected nest. The female harrier persisted until the lack of provisioning from the ‘missing’ male caused her to abandon the nest. Any evidence of disturbance by birdwatchers – even a shred? Absolutely none whatsoever.

            Yet on the other hand, a dead harrier located in an area with over-whelming evidence of persecution (including hen harrier persecution) with a lethal injury sustained as a result of an impact with a lead object is described as completely unsustainable?

            As for the use of Niobium – I am not an veterinary / forensic pathologist, but a few seconds of effort and an internet search engine reveal Niobium alloys to be used in the manufacture of gun barrels. I am not stating the is an explanation, but this would at least seem like a very good starting point.

          3. Tim, as it currently stands, there is far more evidence to suggest the bird was shot – small, man-made objects, responsible for fracturing the tibia, were found within the dead bird. You have already failed to address the question, so I will ask again. If the bird was not shot, how did these man-made pellets find their way into the creature, resulting in its death?

            I’m afraid that what you have suggested as “evidence” is woefully inadequate – in fact yours is the evidence that would be thrown out of court, without question. Your belief that because there is no record of this size of pellet, or of the Niobium-Lead alloy being used as an ammunition can eliminate the shooting theory, is nonsensical at best, and completely irrelevant – you do realise that ammunition has changed considerably throughout the centuries and is currently being adapted or altered – and that there was even a time when guns and bullets did not exist!

            The fact is that humans are an inquisitive species, and have a long history of trialling and developing ammunition and weaponry, so despite your vehement protestations, it is far more believable that this could have been the result of a homemade cartridge. As I’ve mentioned before, because it has not been recorded before does not mean that it has not been used, or is not in use by someone. However, and again I am forced to repeat my request, if you can give me the details of every person that has shot in the UK during the past 18 months, with exact details of each and every type of ammunition used by those people, then I will accept that the bird was not shot.

            The blog owners made the request for you to publicise or forward the autopsy report, so please feel free to do so and stop hiding behind the confidentiality argument. For an organisation that “requires proof, not supposition”, you’re not exactly following those ideals very closely – in fact, it could be argued that you’re completely ignoring them.

          4. Harrier Killed in freak meteorite accident…..aye right. But strangely more believable than the Countryside Alliance.

  2. I have nothing but contempt for The Countryside Alliance, like the NGO and SGA, all they are interested in is making a desert of our uplands, don’t believe a word that any of them say.

  3. There are many people that shoot who prefer to make their own cartridges, anything that is small hard and round can be used, it doesn’t have to be commercially available or of an acceptable standard, In the sixties and seventies farmers used to take the lead pellets out and fill the cartridges with rice to shoot at people nicking Potatoes or trespassing.
    The countryside alliance is viewed as a joke organisation even by members of the shooting community. It doesn’t need to stick its oar in were it hasn’t got a clue. Many only join because they get cheap public liability insurance by becoming a member. It uses adverse publicity to attract members, it regularly invents stories to try and convince field sports participants that their sports are under attack, It was started by a group of people intent on protecting Fox Hunting by all means, by scaring other field sports into getting together to protect them, the angling associations told them were to go.
    look at the line in their press release “ We are also very concerned that Natural England shared sensitive information about this case with the RSPB, which was used to fuel a national media campaign against grouse shooting” The RSPB has never had a national campaign against Grouse Shooting. It has criticised Raptor persecution on Grouse moors full stop. The statement about the RSPB released by the CA is completely out of context and it basically undermines the many instances where the RSPB and local Wildfowling and Shooting clubs work together for the greater benefit of our wildlife. There are good lads out there who shoot, but they are constantly embarrassed by those at the top trying to build their own ego’s and who are bloody clueless

  4. Tim, you have stated above that the Niobium found in the autopsy comprised tiny, round metallic objects (not unlike shotgun pellets, then), and a quick internet search reveals that Niobium can be bought in pellet form. As Merlin has already pointed out, there are many that will make their own cartridges, so it could easily be someone trialling lead alternatives, or someone using up an acquired source of Niobium pellets.

    In the article on the Countryside Alliance website, the CA proudly proclaims “we require proof, not simply supposition”. Surely you are doing the exact same thing? Because Niobium is not a known ammunition, or the size and shape is not consistent with any known ammunition, you cannot say that it hasn’t been used as ammunition in the death of this bird, or indeed that it isn’t currently used by some people. However, if the Countryside Alliance can categorically state that they have a record of every person that has shot in the UK in the last year or so, and that they know of each and every type of ammunition used by those persons, then I will accept your claim.

    However, you are quite happy to accept that due to the presence of Niobium pellets, the bird had not been shot. If the bird wasn’t shot, can you please explain how these pellets managed to get into this bird, alongside the fragments of lead that were also found within the bird?

    But I truly have some trouble following the Countryside Alliance’s strange beliefs. If the CA do not believe this bird was shot, simply because Niobium has not been known as an ammunition, then how is that way of thinking applied to the discovery of new species? The olinguito, a Central American carnivore, was recently discovered as a new species to science, but if we are to follow the Countryside Alliance’s ideology where no previous evidence equals non-existence, are you then saying that this species did not actually exist before its discovery?

    You also appear to have some concern about the amount of wasted police time in this case. Well, it’s all very straightforward – if shooting estates stopped their illegal activities, then the police and the RSPB wouldn’t need to get involved.

    And as Merlin has exposed the Countryside Alliance’s lies and propaganda, will they now issue a public apology to the RSPB? I am quite sure that a public apology will not be forthcoming, as the Countryside Alliance are, in my opinion, about as far removed from truth and decency as is possible.

  5. On revisiting this particular post, I did another search on Niobium being used in pellet form, and managed to find a couple of sites detailing patents for shotgun pellets. On these pages, it does indeed mention Niobium, but the best bit about this, one of the patents was filed in 1988! So, it would appear that Niobium, even in very small quantities, may have been in use in shotguns for a couple of decades at least.

    Here are the links, and there archived copies;

    Surely, the Countryside Alliance, and those other shooting organisations, wouldn’t have deliberately lied to the public?

    1. But those links are to patents of non-toxic Tungsten pellets so wouldn’t have any lead in them. The majority of the metallic alloy was lead. There, your ‘lying’ allegation lasted 2 short sentences.

      If someone can find a lead pellet or bullet, or even just a lead alloy, with a minority of niobium would be very interested. In fact Natural England have promised me that ZSL are producing a paper that explains that the niobium reading is an experimental anomaly and dose not mean that there was actually any niobium in the alloy. That was some time ago and we’re still waiting for the paper.


      1. Tim, it doesn’t matter if these pellets are of the non-toxic Tungsten variety. It doesn’t matter if these pellets wouldn’t have any lead in them. You provided a statement, and tried to pass this off as 100% factual. You stated that “Niobium is not a constituent of any known shotgun or rifle ammunition”, and this statement was made on the Countryside Alliance website (here’s an archive link, just in case anyone tries to alter it

        I have provided evidence that Niobium has been considered as shotgun ammunition since 1988, and you (or your organisation) has ignored 25 year old evidence. Your statement was inaccurate to say the least, and if you chose to ignore the evidence, then that could indeed be considered as deliberately lying to the public. As a result of this new evidence, will the Countryside Alliance issue a retraction on their position on the demise of Bowland Betty?

        On the issue that the ZSL are producing a paper explaining that the niobium reading was an anomaly, and the suggestion that there wasn’t any niobium present, would that mean that the shot found in the bird was more or less lead? If so, wouldn’t that destroy your original argument?

  6. It’s a disgrace the way we humans persecute our precious wildlife, both in England and worldwide

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