More on the grouse-shooting industry’s desire to kill Marsh harriers

Following on from yesterday’s blog where we reported that grouse moor owners want licences to kill Marsh harriers (see here), this news has obviously stirred up a lot of interest and commentary.

We just want to clarify something here. We were not at the RPPDG meeting where this conversation took place; we simply reported information that had been sent to us, by a number of different sources. Obviously, we did a lot of background research before we published and although we can’t be sure of the actual words that Amanda used (because we weren’t there), we are confident that the conversation about grouse moor owners wanting licences to lethally control Marsh harriers did take place. We are looking forward to seeing the minutes of the meeting (probably not available until they’ve been signed off at the next RPPDG meeting early in the New Year).

Seeing the official minutes (assuming they haven’t been doctored) is one of three ways this news can be verified.

Another way would be for the representatives of the various organisations who were in attendance to actually confirm or refute that the conversation took place. There are a lot of organisations who send representatives to these RPPDG meetings, in addition to the Moorland Association, such as the Countryside Alliance, BASC, Natural England, RSPB, National Gamekeepers Org, Welsh Government, DEFRA, NERF, NWCU, CLA, various police forces, and the meetings are currently chaired by the Police Superintendent of Greater Manchester Police.

It’s quite telling that none of them has issued a statement to deny the conversation took place, nor indeed has the RPPDG as a collective umbrella group.

If we were at a meeting and an outsider claimed that something as controversial as this was discussed, when it actually wasn’t discussed, we’d be making it very clear that as a meeting attendee, the conversation didn’t happen.

The other way the news can be verified would be for Amanda Anderson to clarify what was actually said. So far, her only public response has been on twitter, where she wrote:

Unfortunately, when asked to clarify which part of the news article she deemed to be “complete nonsense”, she has refused to comment further. This is quite unhelpful. Surely, if she didn’t tell the RPPDG meeting that grouse moor owners want to apply for licenses to kill Marsh harriers, she would take every opportunity to be crystal clear about that? We’d be more than happy to retract the information if it can be shown that the conversation didn’t take place and that our sources have provided misinformation. Her refusal to enter into a discussion looks more like a damage limitation exercise than a desire to clear up a supposedly inaccurate report. That’s a shame.

We’ll be coming back to this topic in the New Year once we have the official minutes of the meeting.

UPDATE 19 January 2018: Update on claim that grouse moor owners want licences to kill Marsh harriers (here)

UPDATE 12 November 2018: Licences to kill Marsh harriers on grouse moors – an update (here)

Grouse moor owners want licences to kill Marsh harriers

Yes, you did read the headline correctly.

We’ve received reports from a number of independent sources that at the November 2017 meeting of DEFRA’s Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), the Director of the Moorland Association (the mouthpiece for grouse moor owners in England), Amanda Anderson, said that grouse moor managers would be submitting applications to Natural England for licences to kill Marsh harriers.

[Photo by Markus Varesuvo]

That’ll be the Marsh harriers that are Amber listed on the UK Birds of Conservation Concern.

The Marsh harriers that are recovering from a virtual population wipeout – down to one known breeding pair in 1971 thanks to a combination of illegal persecution, habitat loss and DDT and currently with an estimated breeding population of 400-450 pairs.

The Marsh harriers that are locally common in some areas such as East Anglia but still extremely rare or absent in many other areas.

The Marsh harriers that most commonly breed in lowland wetland habitat, particularly reedbeds but increasingly on farmland too.

The Marsh harriers that very rarely breed on upland grouse moors although when they do, they are illegally targeted by men dressed as gamekeepers.

[Photo by George Reszeter]

It’s hard to comprehend the news that grouse moor owners want licences to kill this species. It’s so utterly ludicrous to think that a handful of Marsh harriers would pose any serious threat to the hundreds of thousands of red grouse that are raised on grouse moors just to be shot, for fun.

And yet these are the grouse moor owners who claim to want breeding Hen harriers back on these moors!

This latest move makes it quite clear that the grouse-shooting industry is beyond redemption. There’s no reasoning with people who think that Marsh harriers need to be killed because they’re perceived to be a threat to the viability of an upland grouse shoot.

If you’ve managed to pick up your jaw off the floor, you might want to consider signing this e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting. It really is time to throw this filthy, regressive, Victorian ‘sport’ on to the bonfire of history.

UPDATE 30 November 2017: More on the grouse-shooting industry’s desire to kill Marsh harriers (here)

UPDATE 19 January 2018: Update on claim that grouse moor owners want licences to kill Marsh harriers (here)

UPDATE 12 November 2018: Licences to kill Marsh harriers on grouse moors – an update (here)

Natural England’s progress report on the Hen Harrier Action Plan (summer 2017)

In September this year, Natural England told blog reader Mike Whitehouse that “work on the six actions set out in the [2016] Joint Hen Harrier Action Plan is progressing as expected. Ultimately we believe these actions will result in an increase in the numbers of hen harriers breeding in England“.

Earlier this month, in its response to Gavin Gamble’s e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting, DEFRA said this:

The [Hen Harrier] Action Plan was developed with senior representatives from organisations including Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Parks England and formerly the RSPB. These organisations, led by Natural England, will monitor activities and report annually on progress to the Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum and the UK Tasking and Co-ordinating group for Wildlife Crime’.

Naturally, we were curious about this ‘as expected progress’, nearly two years after the Hen Harrier Action Plan was launched, especially given the high number of dead or ‘missing’ satellite tagged hen harriers that have been reported since the Action Plan was launched.

[Photo of Hen Harrier Carroll, found dead in Northumberland in January 2017. A post mortem revealed she had died with a parasitic infection, but it also revealed two shotgun pellets lodged under healed wounds, one in the leg and one in the throat. Photo by Northumberland Police]

We were keen to see the annual report to which DEFRA referred in its response to Gavin Gamble – the one that had been submitted to the DEFRA Uplands Stakeholder Forum.

We’ve managed to get hold of a copy.

Here’s the report’s introductory blurb, highlighting the fact that no hen harriers bred on any English grouse moors in 2016, nor in 2017. Not a great start to a report about ‘progress’.

Now let’s examine the ‘progress’ that has been made on each of the six action points:


So, a number of hen harriers were satellite-tagged in 2016 and 2017. That is good, but this tagging effort started long before the launch of the Hen Harrier Action Plan and would have happened even if the Action Plan hadn’t been launched, so this can hardly be claimed as Action Plan ‘progress’. And most of these tagged birds (except two) have since been found shot dead or have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances.

Progress rating: 2/10 (and that’s being generous).


Progress rating: 0/10


The RPPDG might well have been ‘focusing its efforts on the production of poison maps‘, but as we pointed out the other day, this so-called ‘delivery group’ hasn’t managed to deliver a single thing since the publication of its 2007-2011 poisoning map.

And what’s this about ‘hen harriers do not feed on carrion so the poisons map is not directly applicable to this species‘? Er, aren’t there records of hen harriers being killed by ingesting illegal poison? Yes, there most certainly are – see here. And what’s diversionary feeding if it isn’t the provision of dead food (i.e. carrion)? Of course hen harriers feed on carrion! And here’s a photograph of one doing exactly that, caught on a camera trap by SRSG member Stuart Williams in Orkney in 2015:

Progress rating: 0/10


Again, roost and nest watches started long before the launch of the Hen Harrier Action Plan and would have happened even if the Action Plan hadn’t been launched, so this can hardly be claimed as Action Plan ‘progress’. However, the development of a roost monitoring scheme with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority seems to be a new thing, which is good, although this progress report doesn’t actually tell us whether it’s up and running yet.

Progress rating: 1/10


We’re not going to comment too much about this Action Point because we’ve got a more detailed blog planned for the very near future, based on some more information that has been dragged out of Natural England via FoI requests.

Nevertheless, ‘progress’ on this highly controversial Action Point has certainly been made (here’s what we know so far), even though we totally oppose this action.

Progress rating: 7/10


Again, we’re not going to comment too much on this Action Point because we’ve got a more detailed blog planned for the New Year, when Natural England will have finalised the brood meddling licence and thus will have to release it to the public for scrutiny. At the moment we know very little because NE has refused to tell us anything for a whole year.

Nevertheless, progress on this highly controversial Action Point has certainly been made, even though we totally oppose this action.

Progress rating: 5/10

So there we have it. Almost two years on from the launch of the Hen Harrier Action Plan, ‘progress’ has been made by the organisations already carrying out these so-called Action Points (e.g. RSPB, Natural England, Northern England Raptor Study Group, Forestry Commission), regardless of the Hen Harrier Action Plan. But there is absolutely no sign of ‘progress’ from the grouse-shooting industry on anything other than the two Action Points that are designed either to remove hen harriers from grouse moors (brood meddling) or to detract attention from the illegal killing of hen harriers on grouse moors (southern reintroduction).

Oh, and satellite-tagged hen harriers keep ‘disappearing’ or being found shot dead.

Perhaps this is what Natural England meant when they told Mike Whitehouse in September that progress is “as expected“.

Watch this space for further updates on brood meddling and the southern reintroduction, coming soon.

Parliamentary recognition for award-winning Scottish Raptor Study Group members

Following last week’s excellent news that three Scottish Raptor Study Group members had won top prizes in the RSPB’s Nature of Scotland Awards (here), further congratulations are due as an MSP has lodged a motion asking the Scottish Parliament to recognise the efforts of two of these raptor conservationists.

Well done, Logan & Andrea!

Law professor joins Scot Gov’s grouse moor management review group

Further to last Friday’s announcement on the establishment of the Scottish Government’s grouse moor management review group (see here), another member has joined the panel.

Professor Colin Reid (University of Dundee) specialises in Environmental Law and currently serves as Chair of the PAW Scotland Legislation, Regulation and Guidance Group. We’re delighted to see this appointment, especially as part of the review group’s remit is to advise on the establishment of a regulatory licensing scheme for grouse moors.

Colin’s appointment now brings the panel membership to four eminent professors and two moorland managers:

Professor Alan Werrity FRSE (Chair)

Professor Ian Newton OBE, FRS, FRSE

Professor Alison Hester FSB

Professor Colin Reid FRSA

Alexander Jameson BLE MRICS FAAV

Mark Oddy MRICS CEnV MIAagrM

Dr Calum Macdonald (SEPA), Professor Des Thompson (SNH), Dr Adam Smith (GWCT Scotland) and Susan Davies (SWT) will be specialist advisers to the group but are not on the panel.

[Photo: a landscape of driven grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

MSPs asking questions re: Police Scotland silence on masked gunman in public forest

A couple of weeks ago we blogged about how a masked gunman and his masked accomplice had been captured on camera close to a protected raptor nest in a public (Forestry Commission Scotland) forest (here). The incident was recorded in spring 2017 and was reported to Police Scotland.

There have been no public appeals for information from Police Scotland and no warnings to forest users (such as birdwatchers, cyclists, walkers, visiting families) about this serious threat to public safety.

We asked Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and the Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing, about this issue but neither bothered to respond.

A week later we blogged about how Police Scotland’s reluctance to publicise suspected raptor persecution crimes, such as this one, and others including the use of highly dangerous poisonous baits, was threatening public safety and we urged blog readers to contact their local MSPs and ask them to start asking questions.

We know that some of you have done this (well done and thank you) and we wanted to share some correspondence that one particular couple has received, if only to demonstrate how effective this approach can be.

Let’s call this couple Mr & Mrs Bloggs.

On 16 November 2017, Mr & Mrs Bloggs emailed Police Scotland’s General Enquiries Centre:

Police Scotland responded on the same day with this:

Not to be deterred, Mr & Mrs Bloggs wrote back to Police Scotland:

On the same day, Police Scotland responded with this:

The next day, local Police Wildlife Crime Officer Daniel Sutherland wrote to Mr & Mrs Bloggs:

Although Police Scotland should be commended for speedy responses, Mr & Mrs Bloggs were unimpressed with Police Scotland’s refusal to discuss this case so they wrote to their local MSPs to see if they could get anywhere with them.

It turns out to have been an inspired move. Three MSPs have responded, as follows:

This from David Stewart MSP (Labour, Highlands & Islands, & Shadow Minister for Environment):

This from John Finnie MSP (Scottish Greens, Highlands & Islands):

And this from Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP (Scottish Conservatives, Highlands & Islands):

Well done Mr & Mrs Bloggs! Cross-party political interest in under a week.

Let’s see where this goes.

UPDATE 30 December 2017: Masked gunmen at goshawk nest in Moy Forest (here)

GWCT & YFTB: it’s getting harder to differentiate between them

The Mail on Sunday ran a story yesterday suggesting that the RSPB was responsible for the catastrophic decline of the English hen harrier breeding population. It went like this:


You might think this article was the handiwork of the grouse shooting industry’s propaganda machine, You Forgot the Birds (YFTB). It’s got all the hallmarks – anti-RSPB rhetoric, dodgy use of science, published in the Mail etc. But there’s no quote from YFTB favourites, Ian ‘King of Bollocks‘ Botham or the equally scientifically-illiterate Ian Gregory.

Instead, there’s yet another idiotic quote from Andrew ‘More Crayons than Credibility‘ Gilruth of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), who suggests that the cause of the collapsing hen harrier population is the RSPB not killing enough predators. This disingenuous gibberish from Gilruth is akin to ivory poachers arguing that the loss of elephants in Kruger National Park is down to the failure of the National Park Authority to protect them – and nothing to do with illegal killing for profit.

So did this Mail on Sunday article originate from YFTB or from GWCT? It’s pretty hard to tell just from reading it, but what you might not know is that YFTB issued an embargoed press statement to journalists in late October 2017 (that wasn’t published) that went like this:

Gosh, spot the similarities?

Is the GWCT’s Andrew Gilruth now moonlighting for YFTB?

Grouse shooting industry response to police appeals re: missing hen harriers

Earlier this week North Yorkshire Police put out a public appeal for information regarding satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘John’, missing in suspicious circumstances and whose last known location was Threshfield Moor, a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

We also saw a public appeal for information from Northumbria Police and the RSPB regarding satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Manu’, also missing in suspicious circumstances and whose last known location was Blenkinsopp Common in the North Pennines.

We’ve just looked at the News sections of several organisations websites, all of whom are partners in the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG: whose remit includes ‘providing publicity about raptor persecution to build trust and transparency’). Here’s what we found:

Moorland Association – NOTHING

National Gamekeepers Organisation – NOTHING

Countryside Alliance – NOTHING

British Association for Shooting & Conservation – NOTHING

No statements, no urging their members to come forward with any information they might have, no appeals to the public, not even a cut & paste job of the police appeals for information. Absolutely nothing.

It’s the same deafening silence we heard in August when North Yorkshire Police appealed for information about the attempted shooting of nesting marsh harriers and the theft of their eggs on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB, and the same deafening silence that followed the news of a poisons cache buried on another North Yorkshire grouse moor (see here).

Their silence tells us all we need to know.

Scottish Government announces Grouse moor management review group

Back in May 2017, Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced an intention to set up an independently-led group to review grouse moor management practices, and to advise on the introduction of an estate shoot licensing scheme. This was mainly in response to the publication of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which found that almost one third of sat-tagged golden eagles had disappeared in highly suspicious circsumstances on intensively managed driven-grouse moors. But make no mistake, this was also in response to increased public pressure from the SRSG’s petition calling for game shoot licensing and also in response to increasing public anger about the continuing illegal persecution of birds of prey on driven grouse moors.

[Photo: Conservationist Roy Dennis with dead golden eagle ‘Alma’ – one of Roy’s first satellite-tagged eagles that was found illegally poisoned on an Angus Glens grouse moor]

Finally, almost six months after that first announcement, the Scottish Government has just released the news about who will serve on this review group.

Here’s the Scottish Government press statement:

New group to focus on sustainability of driven-grouse moors.

Membership of an independent group to ensure grouse moor management practices are sustainable and legally compliant has been confirmed.

The new group will be led by Professor Alan Werrity, who previously chaired a Scottish Natural Heritage review into sustainable moorland management. It includes scientists, moorland managers, regulatory experts and advisers from SNH, Scottish Wildlife Trust, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.

The group has been set up in response to SNH research that found almost a third of golden eagles being tracked by satellite died in suspicious circumstances and that the majority of cases were where land is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

The group will look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls and advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

We have been clear that the continued killing of protected species of birds of prey damages the reputation of law-abiding gamekeepers, landowners and the country as a whole.

This new group will look at what we can do to balance our commitment to tackling wildlife crime with grouse moor management practices, so it continues to contribute to our rural economy, while being sustainable and compliant with the law.

The group membership reflects the complex nature and wide range of issues that need to be considered and I look forward to hearing their advice in due course.”

Professor Werrity said:

This is truly challenging work given the traditions underlying moorland management and the concerns coming to light over some mal-practices.

My earlier work chairing the SNH Moorland review also sought to reconcile nature conservation interests with promoting the rural economy. I will be taking an evidence-based approach, and for this we have the right mixture of experience, expertise and knowledge on the group to get to grips with the subject. I look forward to getting started on this review. ”


Read the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review

The confirmed membership of the group includes Professor Alan Werrity FRSE, Professor Ian Newton OBE, FRS, FRSE, Professor Alison Hester FSB, (Professor Colin Reid FRSA – see update below) and moorland managers Alexander Jameson BLE MRICS FAAV and Mark Oddy MRICS CEnV MIAagrM.

[Update 28 Nov 2017: Law professor joins grouse moor management review group, here ]

Dr Calum Macdonald (SEPA), Professor Des Thompson (SNH), Dr Adam Smith (GWCT Scotland) and Susan Davies (SWT) will be specialist advisers to the group.


Here is the response from RSPB Scotland to today’s announcement:

RSPB Scotland welcomes announcement of grouse moor enquiry

RSPB Scotland has welcomed today’s announcement by the Scottish Government on the grouse moor enquiry panel. Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland said: “We very much welcome the announcement of this enquiry and of the independent panel. We look forward to giving evidence to the panel in due course.

The remit of the panel includes consideration as to how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law. There are significant public concerns about how grouse moors are currently being managed in Scotland, including clear evidence gathered over decades of the illegal killing of birds of prey.

In recent years these concerns have broadened to encompass wider grouse moor management practices, as commercialisation has taken place, with an emphasis on producing very large and unsustainable grouse numbers for sport shooting. These practices include muirburn on peatland habitats which are important as carbon stores for combating climate change, the culling of mountain hares and the medication of ‘wild’ red grouse, both designed to prevent grouse diseases and artificially boost grouse bags.

We support the introduction of an effective licensing system for driven grouse shooting, with sanctions including the removal of such licences where illegal practices are confirmed. A licensing system could be supported by a statutory Code of Practice setting out clear management standards to protect public interests and prevent bad management practices. These kind of licensing systems are common place in other European countries and equally support legitimate and well run shooting enterprises.”


[Photo: the typical landscape of an intensively-managed driven grouse moor in Scotland. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Here is the response from the Scottish Raptor Study Group to today’s announcement:

Scottish Raptor Study Group warmly welcomes today’s announcement by the Scottish Government on the grouse moor enquiry panel.

Patrick Stirling Aird, Secretary of the Scottish Raptor Study Group said, “We are delighted that the membership of the panel has been announced and look forward to providing evidence when called upon to do so“.

The public have increasing concerns around the way in which grouse moors are being operated with a substantial body of science proving beyond all doubt the widespread and illegal persecution of birds of prey on many such moors.

We support the introduction of licensing for driven grouse shooting with enforceable sanctions where illegal practices are confirmed. Such a licensing scheme could incorporate a statutory code of practice which helps to protect the public interest and to prevent bad management practices. This concept is widespread in Europe and elsewhere and works well with legitimate shooting interests.


Here are our first thoughts.

Hallelujah! The panel has finally been announced and presumably its work will now get underway, although notice there is no mention of timescales in the Scottish Government’s statement. That’s not too much of a concern right now – as Roseanna mentions, this work will be complex and it’s in everyone’s interests that it is done thoroughly, so we probably shouldn’t expect any output until at least 2019.

This panel has some serious intellectual heavy weights (Chair, Professor Werrity, and panel members Professors Newton and Hester). All three are at the top of their respective fields and have been for years; their academic achievements and scientific authority are undisputed. We are delighted to see these three involved, especially given Professor Werrity’s intention for having an “evidence-based approach” to the review. Excellent.

The other two panel members (Mr Jameson and Mr Oddy) are a bit of a surprise, to be honest. We didn’t expect to see anybody with such obvious vested interests be part of what had been described as an independently-led review group. Nevertheless, there is probably good reason for having them on board, not least to get buy-in to the review from the game-shooting sector. We know very little about Mr Jameson and only a little bit about Mr Oddy – he’s the chap who, when working for Buccleuch Estates on the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, suggested that lethal control of buzzards should be a considered option…..but his suggestion was based on no scientific evidence whatsoever, in fact it was the exact opposite of what the science was showing. Hmm.

All in all, just like RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Raptor Study Group, we very much welcome today’s announcement. It is the next step on the road to what many see as the inevitable introduction of an estate licensing scheme in Scotland. We look forward to giving evidence, if invited to do so.

UPDATE 28 November 2017: Law professor joins grouse moor management review group (here)

UPDATE 24 April 2018: Grouse Moor Management Review Group: 1st meeting report (here)

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Manu’ disappears in North Pennines

RSPB press release:


Police and the RSPB are appealing for information following the disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier near Carlisle.

The harrier, named Manu, was one of a nest of two chicks monitored and protected by the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership and tagged as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE+ project in July this year.

Manu’s tag had been functioning perfectly until it suddenly stopped on the morning of 18 October 2017. Data from Manu’s tag indicated he had been in the same location near Denton Fell, on the Cumbria/Northumberland border, for around three weeks. The last signal was sent from Blenkinsopp Common at 0958hrs and he has not been seen or heard of since.

A search was conducted by RSPB Investigations staff but no tag or body was found. Northumbria Police were informed and have made enquiries but with no leads forthcoming.

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest raptors with only three successful nests recorded in England in 2017.

Tim Jones, RSPB Assistant Investigations Officer said: “Hen harriers are facing an uncertain future: these spectacular birds should be flourishing in places like Cumbria and Northumberland but we are down to just a handful of pairs. So it’s alarming when yet another bird unaccountably vanishes like this.”

Andrew Miller, Head of Programmes and Conservation at Northumberland National Park, and Chair of the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership, said: “With so few hen harriers breeding in England the loss of even a single bird is devastating. The Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership, along with many other organisations and individuals across the UK, is putting considerable effort into helping this struggling species recover.”

Don Churchill, Wildlife Co-ordinator & Planning Officer, Northumbria Police, said: “We are very concerned at the disappearance of one of these iconic birds of prey. Hen harriers are fully protected by law and raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority. We urge you to come forward if you have any information about the disappearance of this bird.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Northumbria Police on 101 or contact them via their website HERE. All calls are anonymous.

If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form.


Here is a map we’ve created showing the position of Manu’s last known position (as identified from his satellite tag). This location is just outside two protected areas: Northumberland National Park and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

This general area is a well known raptor persecution hotspot, which isn’t a surprise given how much of it is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting. Last December hen harrier Bonny ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor just a few miles south of Blenkinsopp Common (Manu’s last known location), near to the RSPB’s Geltsdale Reserve from where Bonny had fledged.

Over the years, there have been five confirmed hen harrier shootings in this area (the killing of one of these was witnessed by RSPB investigators – see pages 38-40 in Mark Avery’s book Inglorious for a detailed description), there have been at least four attempted shootings of hen harriers, and another hen harrier was found poisoned. In addition, there have been poisoned ravens, poisoned buzzards and some shot peregrines.

Some of these crimes happened on the RSPB Geltsdale Reserve (safe to assume this wasn’t the handiwork of the RSPB wardens) and some of the crimes happened on nearby grouse moors.

We don’t know what’s happened to both Bonny or Manu, and if each case is taken in isolation it might be reasonable to conclude a failed satellite tag. These satellite tags are not perfect and do sometimes fail (e.g. see here), although overall they have a very high 94% reliability rate (see here). So it might just be possible that Bonny and Manu’s tags have suffered a technical malfunction, within that expected 6% failure rate, and that’s the story we’ll be hearing from the grouse-shooting industry over the coming days as they try to suppress any notion of criminal activity. However, what the criminal apologists will fail to mention is that when a tag suffers a ‘natural’ technical malfunction, there is typically a very clear indication several days prior to failure, from the tag’s engineering data, that a technical malfunction is imminent. What we’re seeing from the majority of these ‘missing’ sat tagged hen harriers (and golden eagles) is an abrupt, unexpected failure, often mid-way through a transmission cycle, which points to highly suspicious circumstances.

When you consider the disappearance of Bonny and Manu alongside all the other satellite-tagged hen harriers that have ‘disappeared’ without trace, many of them on or close to driven grouse moors, (at least 45 missing hen harriers since sat tagging began in 2007), and the fact that hen harriers haven’t bred on any English grouse moors for a number of years, then the picture becomes sinisterly clear. Add in the number of missing satellite-tagged golden eagles that have disappeared on or close to driven grouse moors in Scotland (41 of 131 tagged eagles) and the evidence of illegal persecution becomes compelling.

It’s no wonder the grouse-shooting industry objects so strongly to the satellite-tagging of raptors, and wants to control the public release of the data these tags are producing. The shooting industry can see what everybody else can see – they might be better at hiding the corpses these days but there’s absolutely nothing they can do to hide the results of the satellite tag data.

Well done to Northumbria Police and the RSPB for putting out a detailed press release, and especially for including the details of Manu’s last known location. We saw this happen two days ago when North Yorkshire Police revealed the last known location of hen harrier John, another satellite tagged harrier that has gone ‘missing’ on a grouse moor, this time in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

If you haven’t already done so, please consider signing this NEW e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting. The Westminster Government continues to turn a blind eye to this carnage and continued public pressure is required to show them that we’re on to them and we’re not going away until they take appropriate action.