‘No further comment’ from Natural England on latest missing hen harrier

Last week we blogged about a North Yorkshire Police search for a satellite-tagged hen harrier that had ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here).

We asked Natural England, on Twitter, when they would be making a statement about this. They didn’t respond.

So we emailed them. Here’s the response:

All we can tell you at this stage is that this situation is the subject of a police investigation. We are assisting North Yorkshire Police and cannot comment further“.

Bizarrely, Natural England then sent another response a short time later:

We have notified the police and other key stakeholders about a Hen Harrier that has stopped transmitting as we always do. We do not release proactive press statements unless we have evidence of a persecution [sic] and this is currently still an on-going investigation. Due to the transmission cycle of the tag we cannot be sure that the location of the last fix was where the tag actually stopped working. The tags only transmit for 10 hours in 58“.

Marvellous. So, no information about which hen harrier this is, where and when it was satellite-tagged, whether public funds had been used to pay for the tag, the date of the tag’s last transmission, and the name of the grouse moor where it ‘disappeared’.

It’s not clear why this information is being withheld. Understandably, if there was an impending police search, the information should not be made public so as not to jeopardise that search. But in this case, the police search had already taken place, which incidentally would have been a complete waste of time had the harrier been illegally killed on that grouse moor because, as per the NE protocol, Natural England had already sought the landowner’s permission for a police search to take place!

Photo of a police search on an unnamed grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Posted by North Yorks Police on Twitter, 15 Oct 2017.

Is there any other area of crime where the permission of a potential suspect is sought prior to a police search? “Oh, hi John, it’s the Police here. We have reason to believe your property is being used as a dealer’s crack den, mind if we pop round later this afternoon for a look? Would 2pm be convenient? Give you time to clear up and remove any potentially incriminating evidence before we get there”.

And what’s this about Natural England not releasing press statements “unless there’s evidence of a persecution” [sic]? That’s simply not true. Earlier this year Natural England issued a press statement about hen harrier Mick, another satellite-tagged hen harrier that ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here). There was no direct evidence of persecution in that case either, as Natural England lists Mick as ‘Missing, fate unknown’ in the long list of ‘missing’ sat-tagged hen harriers (44 of 59 now listed as ‘Missing, fate unknown’: that’s a massive 74.5%). It looks like Natural England is just making up its media protocol as it goes along.

Now, compare and contrast Natural England’s current attitude to releasing information about ‘missing’ hen harriers with the RSPB’s approach. Here’s what the RSPB published when one of its satellite-tagged hen harriers, Calluna, ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park on 12th August this year.

Why isn’t Natural England being this transparent? Who is Natural England shielding? How is Natural England’s silence helping hen harrier conservation?


16 November 2017: Hen harrier ‘missing’ on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park is ‘John’ – see here

14 thoughts on “‘No further comment’ from Natural England on latest missing hen harrier”

  1. Maybe its time for NE to be satellite tagged. Hopefully it would go missing over a grouse moor somewhere. Any volunteers to help look for it? Nah me neither.

  2. Has NE forgotten that it is answerable to the British public, or does it think it has become part of MI5? Democracy requires transparency.

  3. You would like to think that some “conservation” minded individuals, in the NE organisation are squirming with embarrassment at the handling of these incidents. There must be people who signed up to work for the pre NE organisations for all the right reasons who would dearly love to come clean on this.

  4. ‘Yes Minister’ springs to mind! It is a scandal. It is to be hoped that if at least one honest PM can be found, or even an Environment Minister (!) a question will be raised in the House. I wont hold my breath though.

  5. NE stinks greater than the most horrific stink pit. Absolute scandal! That organisation should be dissolved. All the conservation NGOs should unify as one and take its place.

  6. It would appear that the only people being informed by North Yorkshire Police about the location and circumstances of a hen harrier are those who might, quite reasonably given the history of the region, be suspected of having a hand in it’s disappearance. National England, you are a disgrace!

  7. I was thinking about a FOI request for all emails relating to the sat tagging project over the last 5 years. So not asking for the data but for emails relating to why the data should not be released. There must be some incriminating emails amongst that lot. What do you think?

    1. Not sure that’ll be an effective approach. It’s very broad, will likely incur a financial penalty due to the size of the info request, and NE can (and have in the past) simply redact information that relates to internal conversations.

      We’re sticking with our approach of (1) asking for release of data (which NE has since refused), (2) requesting an internal review of NE’s decision to withhold data, and (3) subject to the findings of NE’s internal review, making a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

      We are currently at stage (2) of this process.

  8. The Police turned up and took photos of themselves for a reason. Much better message than an ineffective press release some weeks later. We are on the right track and their response is welcome.

    Turning now to NE who maintained to me recently that there is no public interest in this issue. Why not ask NE how many FoI requests they have had in the last 6 months regarding Hen Harriers in general, illegal persecution in particular and issues surrounding the well regarded Hen Harrier Action Plan. If they will not answer, we can then make an FoI request for this information.

    I then wonder how many FoI requests supporters of Hen Harriers, and their raptor cousins, could feasibly make in the next 6 months? 10,000 or 120,000 ?

    Democracy in action?

  9. This is a typical example why the police should not be the single organisation who have the power to investigate wildlife crime.

    I wonder if RSPB or RSPCA were involved?

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