Faking it

On Wednesday 24th February 2016 at around 11am, two birdwatchers were out walking on the moors in Derbyshire hoping for a view of a ringtail hen harrier that had been reported in the area the day before.

One of these birdwatchers spotted a grey raptor with black wing tips, perched approx. 1km away and the observer believed he was looking at a male hen harrier. As he was explaining the location to his colleague so he too could see the bird, his colleague said: “An armed man dressed in camouflage has just jumped in to the heather no more than 10-20m from the bird”. Both observers scanned out from the bird and saw the armed man crouching in the heather, and they also noticed a green Land Rover parked on the moor, approx. 500m from the bird.

The two observers sat and watched for a few minutes while deciding what to do, and then managed to film some footage via digiscope. Here’s a still image from that footage:

Fake Hen Harrier (1) - Copy

As soon as the two observers had stopped filming, the armed man immediately ran over to the bird, picked it up and walked hurriedly away in the opposite direction to the observers.

What the two observers had witnessed was, of course, a fake hen harrier. Some might call it a decoy, but that would imply that the fake hen harrier was being used as a lure to draw in a real male hen harrier who would probably want to attack the decoy as part of his territorial defence strategy. While the real hen harrier was busy attacking the decoy, anybody crouched nearby with, say, a shotgun, would be given an easy opportunity to shoot and kill the real bird.

But surely that’s not what was happening on this moor. This isn’t just any moor. We’re not going to name the moor/estate because we need to protect the identities of the two observers and also the identity of the person who sent us the footage. However, Derbyshire Constabulary is aware of the location, as is the National Trust. What we can say is this moor is a driven grouse moor, on National Trust property, within the Peak District National Park. It is also part of the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative.

What’s the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative? It’s a partnership approach to restoring raptor populations in the area, established in 2011 following concerns (here and here) about declining raptor populations in the Dark Peak. The partners include the Moorland Association, Peak District National Park Authority, English Nature, National Trust, the RSPB, and more recently, Derbyshire Constabulary. So far the Initiative has failed spectacularly (see here).

But all is not lost, as according to a statement by Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association:

We are renewing our action plan and redoubling our efforts to ensure that this brings improved results.  The partnership has also agreed that this work needs to be extended to cover other species, notably goshawk and hen harrier, and to include the South West Peak.”

And Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park Authority said:

We will be using the new rigour and energy recently brought to the project to seek to restore breeding success of our iconic bird of prey species in the National Park. We will be seeking a greater level of commitment from partners in the Initiative to reverse the fortunes of birds of prey.”

Nope, nothing there about using a decoy hen harrier to lure in a real hen harrier so it can be killed, illegally, with ease, so there must be another explanation.

Perhaps the grouse-shooting industry will tell us that the decoy hen harrier was being used legitimately to lure in crows. Crows and other so-called ‘pest’ species would be attracted to a decoy raptor as they’d try to mob it in an attempt to harass the ‘predator’ into leaving the area. Luring in crows with a decoy would allow a gamekeeper to lawfully shoot the crows at close range. But hang on, let’s think about this. Gamekeepers already have several methods of luring crows, e.g. crow cage traps, Larsen traps, clam traps etc, all of which are effective techniques and don’t require the gamekeeper to be present for hours on end, thus freeing up his time to undertake other ‘vital conservation’ work such as torching the heather or spreading toxic veterinary medicines across the moor. And why choose a male hen harrier as the decoy species and go to all the trouble of having to make it? Why not use a readily available crow decoy that can be bought online for a couple of quid? Or a plastic eagle owl decoy, also cheap and readily available to buy at most garden centres? Nope, ‘It’s a hen harrier decoy to attract crows’ would be a wholly implausible explanation. There must be another reason why this armed man was observed crouching near a fake hen harrier and why he took off with it as soon as he realised he’d been seen.

Perhaps this armed man’s behaviour was part of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Recovery Plan? Er, nope, can’t see anything in the plan that says sitting with a shotgun close to a fake hen harrier will contribute anything towards this species’ recovery. There must be another explanation. But what can it be?

Why don’t we ask some of the partners in the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative, and some of the organisations signed up to DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Recovery Plan, what, exactly, they think is happening in this video?

Do they think it might show the preparation of an imminent wildlife crime? Even though the footage doesn’t show illegal activity per se, the observed scene has all the hallmarks of potentially turning in to something much more sinister. Don’t know about you, but it makes us wonder about those five male hen harriers that ‘disappeared’ last summer.

All of these partners and organisations have said, repeatedly, that they operate a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to illegal raptor persecution, so now’s their opportunity to demonstrate it. What action, if any, do these organisations intend to take in response to this footage? Their responses (which we’ll publish here) will tell us whether they’re serious about implementing a zero tolerance approach or whether they’re just faking it.

So, two questions. How do the individuals (below) explain what is happening in this video, and what action do they intend to take? Emails please to:

Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive, Peak District National Park Authority: sarah.fowler@peakdistrict.gov.uk

Jon Stewart, General Manager, National Trust (Peak District): jon.stewart@nationaltrust.org.uk

Amanda Anderson, Director, Moorland Association: amanda@moorlandassociation.org

James Cross, Chief Executive, Natural England: james.cross@naturalengland.org.uk

Martin Harper, Conservation Director, RSPB: martin.harper@rspb.org.uk

Sgt Darren Belfield, Police Wildlife Crime Coordinator (Derbyshire Constabulary): Darren.belfield.266@derbyshire.pnn.police.uk

Philip Merricks, Chairman, Hawk & Owl Trust: enquiries@hawkandowl.org

Andrew Gilruth, Director of Communications, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust: agilruth@gwct.org.uk

Rory Stewart, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, DEFRA: defra.helpline@defra.gsi.gov.uk

For those of you who share our view of what was probably going on in this video, you might want to consider joining 31,000+ people who have had enough of this disgraceful charade by signing HERE

UPDATE 11.20hrs: Mark Avery’s view on what should happen next – here

UPDATE 27th April 2016: National Trust response to video here

UPDATE 27th April 2016: Moorland Association response to video here

UPDATE 28th April 2016: BBC news has an article on this story here

96 thoughts on “Faking it”

  1. The evidence is there. The ingenuity, the complete and utter disregard by these people for the law is staggering. Even when the location is known, we all know that nothing will be done by any of the organisations which you list. I look forward to the non-responses which you will receive.

    1. It is good to see the details were swiftly passed to the police – they should soon get on top of what was going on here. The combined efforts of those working to tackle wildlife crime are having an impact – reported incidents of bird crimes are falling at twice the national crime rate

        1. reference to ‘wildlife crime’ stats indicates that he thinks its a wildlife crime…unless its a massive non-sequitur on his part

  2. Do you have the email addresses for most relevant contacts at the National Gamekeepers Organisation, BASC, Countryside Alliance and for the local newspaper and MP too please? Someone trying to reduce wildlife further on an already barren moor.

    1. Hi Les,

      Here are a few suggestions:

      Andrew Bingham MP (Conservative, High Peak): andrew.bingham.mp@parliament.uk

      Derbyshire Times, Group Editor, Nancy Fielder: comment@derbyshiretimes.co.uk

      Derbyshire Times, Content Editor, Julia Rodgerson: julia.rodgerson@jpress.co.uk

      National Gamekeepers Org, General Enquries: info@nationalgamekeepers.org.uk

      National Gamekeepers Org, Press Enquries, Julian Murray-Evans: jmurrayevans@btinternet.com

      National Gamekeepers Org, Political & PR Advisor, Charles Nodder: cnodder@msn.com

      1. Thanks – I honestly didn’t know who the best people to contact were. I’ve emailed all you suggested didn’t take long. Made an additional comment to Martin Harper that before he goes public with pronouncements that pheasant shooting can be good for conservation a proper ecological footprint exercise needs to be done as to how much land is used to produce the feed to rear them (as soymeal is used that probably means rainforest is destroyed to raise pheasants many of which won’t be eaten by people). I’m sure on the RSPB’s ‘wee ‘Skydancer’ film there’s actually a comment that we need gamekeepers to ensure the hen harriers survival! I’ve pasted this post on to the Songbird Survival fb page with the comment ‘another example of how our wonderful birds are at risk from a cruel, merciless killer!’ Just ideas this has been brilliant evidence of what’s really going on, and thankfully in this case no dead bird of prey, so good to share! I’ll also see who the councillors are in that area. Many, many thanks RPS for your dedication, hard work and beautifully written and extremely clever posts!

        1. Thanks Les, but the credit and kudos for this expose lies with the two birdwatchers for having the presence of mind to film what was going on, and also to the brave individual who chose to send us the footage, at considerable personal and professional risk. Hats off to the three of them.

          If you find any contact info for local councillors or anyone else of local public standing, please post here.

          Just off to chat with a BBC journalist…..

          1. You are right of course, just left a wee note on Mark Avery’s blog about how brave they were. I’ve been hearing stories for years about people being intimidated and worse in these areas if they are not fan of the h,f,s set. The councillors in Andrew Bingham’s constituency are in the High Peak Council. I sent an email to all 43 of them. If a few other people do so they’ll get the message. Not a great advert is it.akso had info re Leeds University’s EMBER report, some LACS stuff about the value of shooting to rural economies being over est intimated. So grouse moors lower water quality, increase treatment costs, heighten flood risk and aren’t friendly to the tree planting etc that alleviates it, plus are actually shite for jobs, which is probably reason Wanlockhead and Leadhills villages want to get away from the local estate. Didn’t take me that long to email the councilors, also had link to the BDGS petition just in case.

  3. This doesn’t surprise me. I am aware of the lengths these folk will go to in order to show “how smart” they are to their buddies, “Bragging rights” are involved in this type pf behaviour too. What does surprise me is that anyone who is sincerely motivated to eradicate crimes against our birds of prey work in any way with gamekeepers and shooting interests. It’s high time they stopped co-operating with them in any shape or form until the number of these birds has substantially increased on our grouse moors. We are dealing with organised crime which is systemic within a large part of the grouse shooting industry. As for the shooting lobby …. stop breaking the law. I suggest that all who can afford to do so acquire a large zoom camera and visit as many grouse moors as one can always at ready to photograph any dodgy behaviour they might witness.

    1. Never mind an extra large zoom, buy a camera drone and you can literally get in their faces. Remember to use the same sort of auto-updating app that protestors use to film police in order to avoid loss of footage if the camera is destroyed. Remember, if someone destroys your camera and drone that is criminal damage and prosecutable.

  4. Thats what we need, more people out on the moors recording the evidence.

    In the context of what is happening on the Penine Moors I found the first sentence of the Moorland Association quote……..“We are renewing our action plan and redoubling our efforts to ensure that this brings improved results. “…. to be entirely accurate.

  5. “Even though the footage doesn’t show illegal activity per se…”

    As far as I am aware, preparing to commit a crime is itself a crime, so, yes, the video *does* show illegal activity.

    1. Amounts to ‘going equipped’, although the current wildlife protection legislation doesn’t have that element.

  6. Well done to the birdwatchers who captured this ever so revealing footage of what gamekeepers get up to when they are not setting fires or killing foxes, stoats, weasels, corvids, mountain hares etc.

    Two questions spring to mind, which I will be asking the NT –

    1. Why does it allow shooting in any form on its property when it claims to be a conservation organisation?

    2. In light of this footage has it revoked the shooting agreement for this moor and if not, why not?

    Public land such as Ilkley Moor or land owned by organisations like the NT or UU should not host driven grouse and we should increase the pressure on these people due to the overwhelming evidence of how environmentally damaging the activity is.

    1. Yes, well done to the birdwatchers and person who reported this bizarre incident.

      Thanks as well to all who’ve listed people whom we can contact – our group is writing to them.

      By the way, the Ban Driven Grouse Shooting petition is promoted on our web site.

  7. By doing nothing I believe The National Trust is colluding with the shooting morons. 95% of the membership will be horrified by this. I am struggling to find reasons why a huge national organisation would need to appease a few nature hating shooters who in my opinion should be removed from the countryside they have so little respect for.

    1. The NT have been colluding with the blood sports fraternity for decades, it’s nothing new. They still issue licenses for hunts convicted of illegal hunting on their land under the guise of “trail hunting” which is of course just a cover for real hunting. It’ll be the same with shooting. Money talks and they want the income.

  8. You are doing a great job with these posts, this is utterly unacceptable and has reaffirmed my conviction that the appeasement policy of the RSPB is simply not working, especially when combined with the apparent indifference of “our” National Park Authorities and active indifference of DEFRA.

  9. Is the footage legal in England? in Scotland filming these criminals ‘in the act’ is not allowed as evidence – an utterly reticula’s situation.

    1. The footage would be entirely legal as it was shot by members of the public who are not tied to the same restrictions as law enforcement officials. Quite a joke really.

  10. I have just emailed all those mentioned in the above article.
    I don’t expect a single reply but at least some of those “in charge” might just think about raptor crime a little bit more than they would have had I not messaged them.

    This is what I said;

    Dear Sarah, Jon, Amanda, James, Martin, Darren, Philip, Andrew, Rory,

    Please read this article written by Raptor Persecution Scotland – faking it (link attached to email)

    Driven grouse shooting, and other game bird shooting, has a lot to answer for when it comes to the destruction of our natural heritage.
    We all need to work together in order to eradicate the persistent persecution of the UK’s birds of prey.
    It is time to publicly discuss the deplorable action of grouse moor owners and those who protect their game birds by acting illegally.


    Andy Holden
    North Yorkshire

  11. I’m sorry to say that these “antics” by the game keeping fraternity aren’t new!! Probably thirty years ago now, when I was in charge of the Hen Harrier protection work in Bowkand for the RSPB we undertook a survey of harrier roosts over a couple of winters. On one occasion we found one of the large rubber “Eagle Owl” substitutes placed in the middle of a roosting area. These “owls” could be bought quite freely from gun shops and country sports suppliers, which is a first connection as far as usage is concerned.

    We can ask why such items are even produced? They’re certainly not intended as substitute garden gnomes nor “rubber kellys” that toddlers can knock around in the garden !!. There role is quite specific and intentional as far as I am concerned and borders on the illegal. Let’s not delude ourselves about luring in crows as the location in the above case gave the game away and the current example using a substitute harrier is very similar. The clear intent was to generate some interaction with harriers and doubtless allow the birds involved to be shot at. We later recovered a dead male Hen Harrier at the same site with its head torn off . Veterinary opinion was that this had been effected in some bizarre way by a human as no other damage was in place and we came to the conclusion that attempts had been made to net birds coming in to roost and destroy any specimens caught.

    So what conclusions arise ? Certainly those involved in persecution are far more careful nowadays than previously and are far less likely to leave evidence around. There is obviously a collective ,focused effort to continue to decimate harriers which has clearly been successful given the situation in England and the now significant reductions in harrier numbers in parts of Scotland. It’s clear that such efforts are flexible and innovative and will continue to be so. A simple question to ponder…….who creates and supplies dummy male Hen Harriers? It’s hardly a wide based market !!! Are supplier records something which might usefully be investigated ?

    We’ve witnessed what arrogance and determined persecution can achieve as evidenced by our reduced harrier populations. What is needed instead of the fine, oft repeated rhetoric from successive spokespersons of organizations involved in protecting our wildlife heritage is some firm , fully intended commitments that involve actions that bring results not the constant hand-wringing based on yet more analysis of survey results that catalogue disaster. When will all these vaulting statements be translated into action and how many times has that been said over the years too ? What’s the expression……..fight fire with fire?

    1. You are saying that setting fire to gamekeepers is the way forward? It is a little extreme, on the other hand the Welsh did say “come home to a real fire, in the valleys”.

      1. Also to scare smaller birds away, especially to stop pigeons or gulls roosting where they would cause a nuisance.

  12. I predict that the National Gamekeepers Organisation, BASC, Countryside Alliance, Moorland Association and their fellow travellers will attempt to dismiss this footage first by claiming that there’s “no evidence” that the person involved is linked to the grouse shooting industry and second by suggesting it’s a fake, a ‘put up job’ by “the antis”. Fortunately, in doing so they will only reveal that in their obdurate refusal to acknowledge the blindingly obvious they are tacitly supporting those who break the law and that the support they profess in public for protecting raptors is no more than a cynical PR ploy.

  13. This is appalling. I hope the birders managed to get the number plate of the vehicle – not that I have confidence that any meaningful action will be taken. I have just emailed all of the contacts on your list.

  14. We have got to keep up the pressure and the surveillance as gradually the wider public is waking up to what is going on. The more we can all do the better our chance of success. It is at least comforting to see just how many people are willing to take up the fight. It would be good if we could get more retail outlets to get involved as Lush have done. We need to match the imagination of the enemy in what we can do.

  15. Nice one.
    Doesn’t necessarily prove guilt, but certainly looks damming.
    It will be interesting to see what the estate response is.
    Especially if they got the number plate.

    1. The gun person was not there to shoot rubber dummies!!

      I’ve emailed Helen Gosh:
      Dear Helen,

      If you haven’t seen this article by Raptor Persecution Scotland, we suggest that it is of HIGH PRIORITY.

      Two bird watchers observed a person with possibly a gun waiting near a decoy in the shape of a hen harrier. This was on NT land.

      As members of the NT I am disgusted that shooting is still allowed on our land. The game bird shooting industry is an environmental disaster, causing so much harm to the land, native predators and restrictions to public access.

      We left the NT membership many years ago when your organisation opposed the hunting with dogs ban. Now we are having serious doubts about the NT again.

      The shooting industry is nothing to do with conservation or care for our land. They kill anything that may damage their gun fodder, they use banned poisons, they spray huge amounts of poisonous lead over the land, they medicate birds with substances not licensed for such use, they destroy natural habitat (burning heather, draining blanket bogs, remove trees, build unnecessary tracks), breed unsustainable populations of game birds (no figures for grouse, over 30 million pheasants per annum to be shot). This is a sick industry that plays no useful part in our society other than feeding the blood lust of the sick and cruel folk. We do not object to a solitary hunter, stalking and shooting for the pot. But the grouse, pheasant and partridge massacre when most birds are left to rot is abhorrent.

      If you look at prehistoric paintings, you will observe that driven game hunting was a technique the early people used. The people of prehistory had little choice in their methods, hunting like this was a matter of life or death. Why do these so called modern people think that driven game shooting is part of todays life?

      Much of the moorland destruction by the shooting industry is the cause of much of the lowland flooding, caused by careless draining, removal of trees and burning of heather. All this contributes to the rapid runoff of the excessive rain we are now experiencing.

      Please investigate the article above and let us know your findings.

      Also, how much NT land is used for this primitive type of killing and all the problems associated with it?

      What is the NT policy about this mass killing method?

  16. Well done to those who took the video and had the courage to publicise it.

    We need to put pressure on the National Trust to cease all grouse shooting on its holdings. Please e mail the Director-General Helen Ghosh.

  17. Peter Plover hits one nail on the head, estates whose management is contra flood related issues and water quality should not receive public funds of any description and that would include those with negligible populations of birds of prey, just think what else could be funded with it….

    The other has to be vicarious liability? OK this guy was practising his ‘how to be a bad birdwatcher’ techniques (with apologies to Simon Barnes) but when CEOs and Boards of Directors could end up in court then that lends persuasion to better practice being ‘encouraged’ perhaps …. then again?

  18. Using a decoy raptor is a recognized way of attracting corvids in close enough to be shot. That is one possible explanation.

  19. Hi,

    I have (as you hoped!) received a number of emails on the back of this story, so I thought you’d like to hear our perspective.

    The RSPB is, of course, very concerned about this story.

    While plastic decoys of hawks and owls can be used for lawful control of crows, the RSPB has received several reports, and indeed witnessed, the illegal use of these types of decoys to draw in protected species, such as birds of prey and ravens, so they can be shot. There was a report of a female hen harrier in the area the day prior to the incident that you report and consequently we are worried this may have been an illegal attempt to target this or other birds of prey.

    There has been repeated and well documented problems with the illegal persecution of birds of prey in the northern part of the PDNP. If anyone has any information to clarify what was taking place or the identity of the individual involved we would encourage them to contact Derbyshire Constabulary.

    I shall reply to individual emails in due course.

    Best wishes,

    Martin Harper
    Conservation Director

    1. I’ve informed Jon Stewart, General Manager, National Trust (Peak District) that protests on grouse shooting days on National Trust land will begin this season and be maintained indefinitely. Any reader that wishes to attend will be welcome. Details will be announced on Facebook in the very near future.

    2. Martin wrote to me
      ‘I share your frustration/anger over the environmental impact of grouse shooting. That’s why we continue to call for licensing as part of a wider package of reform of a largely unregulated industry. You and others would like us to go further but our tone/style of campaigning on this issue is designed to get the best results for hen harriers, other birds of prey and all wildlife in the hills.
      For now, our focus is to work towards a successful breeding season for hen harriers.’

      Martin i think you have misunderstood my anger.
      I’m not angry at the man with a gun and his decoy Hen Harrier, we all know this goes on all the time.
      SNH knows it http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/oct/18/hen-harriers-grouse-moors
      RSPB knows it http://www.jstor.org/stable/2405296?
      So come on Martin why are you surprised.
      My anger in the letter wasn’t towards the criminals, i am constantly angry about that. My anger is directed at the RSPB, who are a wonderful organization but on this issue are, it is becoming increasingly obvious with recent press release from yourself, living in cloud cuckoo land. You sound more like Nick Clegg each day.
      You only have to see the press releases of the grouse lobby that they don’t give a shit about these crimes but just play the game.
      Look at Andrew Gilruth’s comment above. Does that sound to you like someone who wants to stamp out raptor persecution? And these are your partners who you want us to believe are going to get us out of this mess. His reply was repeated to me by letter and he claims raptor crime is falling when it rose last year. The RSPB wildlife crime report points out that the fall a few years ago could just as likely be due to increased secrecy by the criminals, especially after vicarious liability came into being in Scotland.
      But your partners spin these yarns everyday.

    3. Martin I have some questions if you have time,

      do you believe that the people you talk to face to face in meetings of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Recovery Plan have any control or influence over what happens on individual estates, my opinion is they dont and if you went around most of these estates half of them would not know anything about defras plans

      You wrote “There has been repeated and well documented problems with the illegal persecution of birds of prey in the northern part of the PDNP. If anyone has any information to clarify what was taking place or the identity of the individual involved we would encourage them to contact Derbyshire Constabulary”

      There have been repeated and documented cases of Raptor persecution over much of Northern England in the last few months, Peregrine shot in Bowland, Red Kite shot dead in Gateshead another shot in Malden, North Yorkshire but thankfully rehabbed. A Buzzard shot in Driffield East Yorkshire, another Buzzard euthenised after being caught in a spring trap near wykeham, in his latest statement Andrew Gilruth claims reported bird crime is now falling at twice the national crime rate, at what point will you tell Andrew he is full of shit! What will it take for the RSPB to stand up to this continued abuse of figures.

      at what point will you advise RSPB members to sign Mark Avery’s petition or at least word this in a way that does not affect the royal charter and then we can finally at least bring these issues to everyone’s attention

      The RSPB has a slogan “Give Nature a home” I live near ancient Woodland but there are no Goshawks home, I live near Moorland but there are no Harriers home, i now dont expect to see these birds home in my lifetime, I witnessed the return of the peregrine but that was not due to the RSPB it was due to the peregrines themselves moving away from the Moors and moving into towns and cities, can my Grandkids expect to see Goshawks and Harriers home or are you continually going to give in to these selfish bastards who kill all our wildlife to ensure their egoistical bosses have even more wildlife to kill

    4. Martin,

      I an writing is support of Anand. I think it is time for the RSPB to wake up and realise that it doesn’t have the full support of many of its members on this one particular, but important, issue. That is why Raptor Persecution Scotland, BAWC, LAGS and Mark Avery have recently filled in the void that the RSPB has abdicated.

      I am very impressed with the direct work carried out by Raptor Persecution Scotland and they are clearly in tune with what is needed to highlight the need for change. I would like to suggest that they take on a wider role and a new name – I would recommend “The British Society for the Protection of Raptors”. ( BSPR ). There is no need for royal patronage as I think this aspect may just over complicate things.

  20. Decoy crows can be easily bought, I wonder if the hunter had painted one of these to look like a male Harrier, as ive never seen a harrier decoy for sale, or it may have been a stuffed one, the hunter could do with a good stuffing. No doubt what he was hoping to attract, guilty as hell. National trust can do without allowing such trash to shoot on their land. Im 54 and ive seen 2 harriers in my life.

  21. Why was information put out, or how did it get out, about a Hen Harrier in an area of high historical persecution especially not far off the mating season?

    1. Birders want to see birds, and most people see most birds because somebody else tipped them off. That’s why the Rare Bird Network twitter feed exists, and it’s why twitchers all used to carry pagers.

  22. Well, if the man in the footage was attempting to attract a lone female hen harrier with a decoy of a male hen harrier, he was a few sandwiches short of the full picnic:

    ‘Females rarely attacked any of the decoys, which is normal as it is the males that defend the territory.’


    For trapping of hen harriers, generally fox decoys are used. By the same token, decoying corvids usually involves a raptor decoy that stands out.

    Regarding male hen harriers deserting nests:

    ‘Trapping attempts at nests after two weeks post-hatching focussed on females, as we were
    advised that males at older nests may be more inclined to desert their nests.’

    That could result from any number of factors, too much human activity, disturbance, monitoring from too close a distance, or very poor weather

    1. Ah, the infamous Tim Bidie, aka ‘Monro’, well-known apologist for the criminals within the grouse shooting industry.

      Thanks for your comment, nice try at attempting to explain away what this armed man was doing on a grouse moor with a decoy hen harrier. But you’ll have to do better than that.

      Your link to the New Scientist article rather debunks your claim and supports ours – a male hen harrier was the target and yes, this is probably what happened to the five males that ‘disappeared’ from active nests last summer. Unprecedented on this scale as a natural behaviour, by the way, if you bother to read the literature.

      1. I most certainly do not condone lawbreaking.

        The idea that anyone would set out to decoy a bird as sensitive to human disturbance as a hen harrier, a bird with optics far better than those used to spot this stuffed dummy of indeterminate type by the birdwatchers, with another stuffed dummy sitting 20 metres away in plain view, is plainly ridiculous. The individual in question is just as likely to be sitting on a potential corvid flight line. If he had wanted to decoy raptors, he would have used a fox, as raptor netting/tagging parties do.

        The main threats to hen harriers in England, in no particular order, are foxes, mustelidae, corvids, poor weather, tag harness lesions, human disturbance/nest visits, egg collectors and other raptors, but particularly foxes and research shows their highly effective modus operandi, caught on camera, so no doubts about it:

        Click to access Skye-harrier-nest-predation-report.pdf

        There has been no evidence that would stand a moment’s scrutiny in court of the illegal killing of any hen harriers in England this century that I am aware of.

        The male hen harriers that disappeared last year did so during a period of appalling weather leading to a lack of available prey. Disturbance by nest monitors may very well also have played a part in that disappearance, as it has so often in the past:

        Click to access Licensing%20issues%20Bowland%202010%20REDACTED.pdf

        ‘I cannot understand why anyone genuinely involved in bird of prey conservation would try to rubbish or cover up a cause of harrier mortality?’


        1. ‘There has been no evidence that would stand a moment’s scrutiny in court of the illegal killing of any hen harriers in England this century that I am aware of.’
          Quite right. The that is why we have to ban driven grouse moors. The evidence that would stand up in court is not there because the crimes are almost impossible to prosecute but as you well know there is scientific evidence which would stand up to any statistical analysis. Unless of course you think getting heads 99 out of a 100 coin tosses is insignificant.
          I am sure you have a perfectly good scientific explanation that stand up to statistical analysis to explain these statistics below other than by direct persecution:
          1% of threatened bird of prey species breeding successfully on grouse moors
          55-74 female Hen Harriers being killed EACH YEAR in Scotland (that is only the adult females).
          No breeding Hen Harriers on the Angus Glens grouse moors since 2006
          Catastrophic decline of breeding Hen Harriers on grouse moors in NE Scotland
          and that is just Hen Harriers.
          I await your scientific paper to prove your case.

          1. The joint raptor study clearly demonstrated what happens to hen harrier populations on grouse moors when grouse shooting stops:


            it’s not just hen harriers:



            I refer you to my comments above:

            The main threats to hen harriers in England, in no particular order, are foxes, mustelidae, corvids, poor weather, tag harness lesions, human disturbance/nest visits, egg collectors and other raptors, but particularly foxes and research shows their highly effective modus operandi, caught on camera, so no doubts about it.

        2. Ah, you *are* still peddling that irrelevant report!

          “There has been no evidence that would stand a moment’s scrutiny in court of the illegal killing of any hen harriers in England this century that I am aware of.”

          That is a flat lie, Munro – when you were singing this tune on the Guardian website, I myself gave you several links to the evidence showing that “Bowland Betty” had been shot, which you dealt with by simply claiming that the vets who did the post-mortem were wrong.

          “The male hen harriers that disappeared last year did so during a period of appalling weather leading to a lack of available prey.”

          More lies – they disappeared over an extended period of time, and they all disappeared over areas controlled by commercial driven grouse-shooting concerns, as you well know.

          Your assessment of the gunman’s competence, as untrustworthy as your comments are known to be, have absolutely no bearing on his intent – there is no reason for a camouflaged gunman to be monitoring a hen-harrier decoy than that they intend to illegally kill a protected species.

          1. The Bowland Bety 6th Dec. autopsy report does not state that the bird was shot, because the evidence does not support such a categoric assertion. There is nothing more to be said on the matter, unless further evidence is forthcoming.

            1. Lying about the facts does not stop them being true, Munro.


              “The post mortem by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) showed the bird had a fractured left leg and would have died as a result of these injuries. An X-ray showed the presence of three tiny metallic fragments at the fracture site, and it was suspected the bird had been shot, but this could not be confirmed. However, using a scientific technique never before deployed in a UK wildlife crime case, scientists from UCL, Stanmore, were able to photograph a cross-section of the leg bone and analyse one of the fragments. This analysis confirmed the particle had entered the leg bone and that it was composed primarily of lead.”

              The official cause of death was starvation resulting from a gunshot wound to the leg rendering the bird unable to hunt.

              [Ed: We’ve changed the link you used, Kiteman. Still the same piece, but from a more reputable source. We’re unwilling to promote the source that you used].

        3. Mr Bidie

          “The male hen harriers that disappeared last year did so during a period of appalling weather leading to a lack of available prey.”

          How exactly would appalling weather lead to a lack of prey? It would have to be a prolonged spell of savage weather the likes of which had never been experienced before in the UK. If you’re one of those people who believe that harriers prey upon grouse and little else, are you implying that is the prey which declined? Hen Harriers cope perfectly adequately without grouse to aid survival, as their principal prey item is actually the Meadow Pipit, normally the most abundant bird species on a grouse moor. It’s the combined abundance of Field Voles and Meadow Pipits that causes harriers to be attracted to that particular habitat, not the grouse. Most of the strongholds of harrier in Scotland are on the west coast where grouse are very scarce or non-existent. Admittedly that is partly due to less persecution.

          The harriers are also perfectly adapted in their hunting techniques to windy weather, as is particularly evident on Arran and other islands on the Atlantic coast of Scotland. There is no evidence that experienced adult Hen Harriers will succumb to starvation during bad weather, although there is a correlation between bad weather and reduced productivity by Meadow Pipits, which can sometimes cause the harriers to fail to raise a complete brood. It is no coincidence that the harrier’s eggs are timed to hatch more or less on the same day that young pipits fledge, and become available in abundance for the harriers to feed to their chicks.

          The fox is a native natural predator of most ground nesting birds, including harriers, and killing them to protect harriers would be ethically unjustifiable (and often pointless). We shouldn’t try to create a sanitised environment free of “unwanted” predators; that’s the mentality adopted by game managers, although it has unfortunately spilled over into the minds of some “conservationists.” Research has shown that if harriers and foxes are left untouched by man, foxes cause approximately 30% of breeding attempts to fail, which does not have a negative impact on the necessary level of productivity to sustain a healthy harrier population. There is no evidence that mustelids or crows have any significant impact on harrier breeding outcomes, despite the incredible anecdotes coming from the gamekeeper community. Of course it helps protect their jobs if they can convince their employers that their services are essential to prevent absolute carnage on the moors. Ending persecution and nothing else could quickly lead to the harrier’s recovery, particularly in England, and the moors of southern and eastern Scotland, i.e. wherever grouse shooting currently still takes place.

          It is plainly either naive or disingenuous to suggest that a natural factor such as bad weather caused the near simultaneous disappearance of these experienced adult male harriers. It is most peculiar that your list of “main threats” to Hen Harriers in England didn’t even include deliberate persecution.

          Finally, I have many years of intensive experience studying Hen Harriers on grouse moors, and I can assure you that the method adopted by the man in the video would be more effective than you suggest. I suspect he knows that from experience. Unfortunately it is not particularly difficult to shoot a harrier on or near its nesting territory, as any half experienced gamekeeper could confirm. Bird ringers will also know what I mean!

          1. ‘The 2013 breeding season commenced with a number of pairs present, but again low numbers, and birds were slow to settle probably as a result of the cold spring and the slow arrival of passerines such as Meadow Pipits which form the main prey base.

            The first eggs were not laid until mid May, at least two weeks later than normal. Although up to 5 pairs may have been present, only three nests were found, all in the core breeding area and two of these nests were from females involved in a polygamous relationship with a single male. One of these nests subsequently failed on eggs. Another pair present appeared to consist of sub-adult birds and it is not thought that they made a breeding attempt.

            Of the two nests remaining, both were successful fledging a total of 5 young. Statistically it was therefore a successful season, and unlike previous years there was no evidence of predation by foxes. However, the continued decline in numbers is extremely worrying and a similar position has been recorded elsewhere, particularly in southern Scotland.

            RSPB issued a press release on 9th August reporting that the species was on the brink of extinction in England and putting the blame firmly at the door of persecution on sporting estates. Whilst there is little doubt that this is a primary cause of decline in some areas, in Skye, where there are no sporting estates, it would be difficult to blame persecution. The cause of decline is in my view much more complex.’

            1. “In the last ten years there have been only 11 recorded hen harrier breeding attempts in North Yorkshire. All of these have been within just a few miles of where [Bowland Betty] was found and only three of these nesting attempts were successful. Of the eight attempts that failed, seven were in circumstances suggesting human persecution was the most likely cause of failure.”


            2. I don’t quite get the point of this reply, Tim Bidie. Why is it in quotation marks? Who are you quoting? The cause of the general decline is more complex, but it is still primarily driven by persecution generating sink sites on driven grouse moors. I’m not going into more detail because I genuinely don’t see what point you’re attempting to communicate.

              [Ed: Don’t expect a reply, Jack, this troll has been banned]

    2. Ah, Munro, I haven’t seen you posting since you got in such a snit on the Guardian website*!

      As usual, you’re posting irrelevant “evidence”, and throwing in unattributed quotes that have even less to do with the issue at hand. I see you are still trying to use that article on hen harriers on Skye to “prove” that humans don’t persecute harriers on the English mainland ? Are you still claiming that X-rays of wounds with metal-fragments in them are not evidence that a bird has been shot?

      Anyway, who said the gunman in the video was after a female hen harrier? If you know that as a fact, you have an obligation to pass the information to the police. Otherwise, stop making things up.

      (Is the reason you failed to give a source for your quote** the fact that it recommends conservation practices for hen harriers that are contrary to typical grouse moor management policies? And that it says nothing to back up *any* of your claims?)


      *Where you also claimed to be living in the rural north, walking regularly on grouse moors, when it turns out you live on a different continent! http://markavery.info/2015/01/14/guest-blog-good-intentions-paving-company-tim-bidie-aka-monro-bellow/

      Click to access HEHHARRIERFinalProjectReportJune2012.pdf

      1. Many thanks for posting the reference which I should have placed below my quote. My apologies. Nevertheless it does evidence that trapping methods for hen harriers use fox decoys, not white stuffed dummies of indeterminate size and appearance.

        ‘Birds were trapped using a dho-gaza net (Clark, 1981) with a stuffed fox deployed in front of it.’

        Click to access HEHHARRIERFinalProjectReportJune2012.pdf

        The article concerning hen harriers on Skye evidences, with CCTV footage, that foxes frequently ‘disappear’ hen harriers, leaving no trace whatsoever.

        That is why so many hen harriers (and many other ground nesting birds) ‘disappear’ all over England.

        Nothing whatsoever to do with illegal killing.

        I say again, if anyone has any evidence of the illegal killing of hen harriers in England this century (as elsewhere stated, the 06 December autopsy of Bowland Betty does not state that the bird was shot, because the evidence does not support such a categoric conclusion), let them bring it forward.

        If this illegal killing of hen harriers in England is so widespread, it beggars belief that there is no such evidence commonly available.

        This hyped up campaign is all hyperbole, hot air, stuff and nonsense on stilts, evidenced by the absurd conclusions drawn from this piece of film; a strange person with no attempt at concealment sitting in the middle of nowhere with a strange white dummy!

        Oh for heaven’s sake!

    3. Mr Bidie,
      You do know the difference between a Marsh Harrier and a Hen Harrier right?

      Martin Harper Conservation Officer for RSPB writes (above)
      ‘the RSPB has received several reports, and indeed witnessed, the illegal use of these types of decoys to draw in protected species, such as birds of prey and ravens, so they can be shot.’
      So he is lying is he?

      1. But not hen harriers in England, which is what we are talking about; right?

        It is not even clear from the pictures exactly what type of decoy it is. The fact of the matter is that those netting harriers generally use fox decoys, not white stuffed dummies of indeterminate shape.

        1. “But not hen harriers in England, which is what we are talking about; right?”

          Really? So why is your main source of “evidence” based on a Scottish Island population?

          1. Errrrr…..because that is where the study took place.

            Similar studies in Wales and Ireland have the same findings:

            [Ed: Tim. You’re welcome to comment on this blog but if you resort to repeating the same thing over and over we’re going to view you as a troll and your comments won’t be published. Fair warning. If you don’t like it, start your own blog where you’ll be free to publish whatever you like as often as you like]

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