The farcical reporting about the shooting of young hen harrier Rowan continues.
As you’ll recall, Rowan was satellite-tagged by the Hawk & Owl Trust / Natural England at Langholm in 2016. His corpse was discovered, in suspicious circumstances, in Cumbria /Yorkshire Dales National Park in October 2016, shortly before the Westminster debate on banning driven grouse shooting.
A press release issued by Cumbria Police (after consultation with Natural England and possibly the Hawk & Owl Trust) stated he was ‘likely to have been shot‘. We questioned that phrasing and a series of FoIs revealed that Cumbria Police had changed their statement from ‘was shot‘ to ‘was likely to have been shot‘. Why did they introduce an element of doubt? Was this a political move?
We asked Cumbria Police and Natural England to publish the post mortem report and the x-ray of Rowan’s corpse – they refused, saying it ‘might affect the course of justice‘. This made us even more suspicious as police forces routinely publish x-rays of shot birds as part of their appeals for information. By not publishing Rowan’s x-ray, it was almost as though they had something to hide.
Then on 3 February 2017, the RSPB published an image of Rowan’s x-ray on their blog. The image was clear: Rowan had suffered gun shot injuries to the leg and metal shot fragments were visible at the fracture site.
Later that day, the Hawk & Owl Trust issued a statement saying ‘the initial post mortem results were not wholly conclusive and further metallurgical tests were required‘.
We asked the Hawk & Owl Trust, several times, who had decided the post mortem results were inconclusive, who had decided that further metallurgical tests were required, had those tests been done, and if so, what were the findings?
The Hawk & Owl Trust did not respond.
So in March 2017, we submitted an FoI to Natural England to ask about these ‘further metallurgical tests’. Here’s their response:
You’ll notice that our questions about whether further metallurgical tests were ‘required’ and if so, who deemed them a ‘requirement’, were carefully dodged. The response to question 1 should really have been the response to question 3.
But that little anomaly aside, it’s clear from Natural England’s response that further metallurgical tests are not being undertaken. Does that mean that it is now accepted that Rowan had been shot? And if so, why all the obfuscation in the earlier press releases? To us, it looks remarkably like a cover-up job, albeit a bodged one.
Meanwhile, in the March edition of the RSPB’s Legal Eagle newsletter, it was stated that ‘the Zoological Society of London post mortem examination, including a radiograph of its fractured left leg, showed the bird’s injuries were entirely consistent with it having been shot‘.
And what of the Hawk & Owl Trust? Well, last week they published a statement on their website, out of the blue, about this case:
Why did they publish this statement last week? Was it because they’d been tipped off by Natural England that an FoI had been submitted seeking clarification on the claim that ‘further metallurgical tests were required‘? It certainly looks that way. So now they’re trying to put responsibility for this claim back on to Natural England! (“All subsequent statements from the Hawk & Owl Trust were based soley on information provided to them by Natural England“).
So, was it Natural England who determined that ‘further metallurgical tests were required‘ and if so, why haven’t these tests been done? Or was it the Hawk & Owl Trust who determined that ‘further metallurgical tests were required‘ in an attempt to introduce an element of doubt about the circumstances of Rowan’s death, to justify their continued involvement in the DEFRA Hen Harrier Inaction Plan, even though they’d previously stated that they’d pull out if criminal activities continued?