Three Scottish raptor workers scoop national conservation awards!

MASSIVE congratulations to Scottish Raptor Study Group members Logan Steele, Andrea Hudspeth and Brian Etheridge who have all scooped top prize in their respective categories at the annual Nature of Scotland Awards!

L-R: Logan, Andrea, Brian [photo by Terry Williams]

Logan and Andrea won the Political Advocate of the Year Award. This award is ‘to recognise a politician, campaigner or individual who has made a difference or significant impact on public policy for nature and wildlife‘. Logan and Andrea helped prepare the public petition, on behalf of the SRSG, calling for the licensing of gamebird shooting in Scotland. They gave measured, thoughtful and compelling evidence at two parliamentary committees last year, pushing the issue of raptor persecution higher up the political agenda. As a direct result of their efforts, the Scottish Government is undertaking a review of grouse moor management practices and, significantly, is considering the introduction of a licensing scheme. Also as a direct result of their efforts, they have both been subjected to a vile campaign of harrassment and intimidation from some disgraceful individuals within the game-shooting sector. Andrea and Logan have dealt with this appalling abuse with dignity and fortitude.

Brian won the RSPB Species Champion Award. This award is ‘to recognise someone who has achieved something extraordinary to conserve a vulnerable or threatened species‘. Brian is indeed extraordinary, as are his achievements in the field of raptor monitoring and conservation. Through many decades of fieldwork he has accrued a vast knowledge on the ecology and conservation of a number of species, notably red kite and hen harrier but also merlin, common buzzard, honey buzzard, goshawk and golden eagle, but perhaps of greater significance is his ability and willingness to share that knowledge and experience with others. Brian’s expertise is always in high demand and he’s always, always generous with his time, encouragement and support. This has been beneficial not only to the species he studies, but also to an army of young, up-and-coming researchers, both amateur and professional, who’ve been fortunate to spend any time with him.

We’re absolutely delighted to see these three gain the recognition they so richly deserve, and they had to fend off some pretty tough competition to win. Well done, and thank you for fighting for Scottish raptors!

UPDATE: 28 November 2017: Parliamentary recognition for award-winning Scottish Raptor Study Group members (here)

New report reveals widespread raptor persecution in Northern Ireland

The Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAW NI) has today published its latest report on bird of prey persecution 2015-2016.

The report reveals that there were five confirmed illegal persecution incidents reported in 2015 and a further six in 2016, involving the killing of 12 protected birds of prey in Northern Ireland (6 x buzzards, 5 x peregrines, 1 x sparrowhawk). As with every other annual raptor persecution report these figures are probably just the tip of the iceberg.

The report’s lead author, Dr Eimear Rooney (Raptor Officer for the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group) commented: “This latest persecution report helps us all to understand the scale and distribution of the problem. It is particularly shocking to see new areas appear on the hot-spot maps, showing the issue of raptor persecution to be widespread. It is heart-breaking to think of the deaths of these protected birds but it is particularly shocking to see the continued usage of highly toxic Carbofuran. The PAW NI group will continue to take action to tackle raptor persecution and it is encouraging to see all the partners proactively working together on this report.”

Hotspot map of confirmed incidents of raptor persecution, and poisoned baits & wildlife, reported in Northern Ireland from January 2009-December 2016.

Download the PAW NI report here

Read the PAW NI press release here

On the subject of illegal raptor persecution in Northern Ireland, a 13-year old boy named Dara MacAnulty is doing a 45km sponsored trek in January 2018 to help raise funds for a new raptor satellite-tagging project in Northern Ireland.

Dara is a pretty special young man, passionate about the environment, especially raptors, and he has an exceptional talent for expressing his thoughts – have a read of his blog and you’ll be constantly questioning how a thirteen year old can possibly write so well!

Dara’s fundraising project is off to a good start but he needs more support. If you’ve got a few quid to spare, please consider supporting his efforts HERE. Thanks.

Great British Game Week not so great after all

It’s Great British Game Week this week (Nov 20-26) and the game-shooting industry is busy promoting it.

The industry is desperate to get more people to buy game, particularly gamebirds, because there are deep concerns that supply is outstripping demand – here is a very interesting article on the subject by Charles Nodder of the National Gamekeepers Organisation.

It’s hardly surprising there’s a problem, given that an estimated 50 million non-native pheasants and red-legged partridge are released in to the countryside EVERY year and the quality of a shoot seems to be judged by an ever-increasing bag size (i.e. the number of birds shot). If gameshoots can’t sell the millions of birds that have been shot for fun then those carcasses will be carted off to landfill or simply dumped in the open or hidden in bags under hedgerows (as we’ve seen before here, here, here) which causes the industry serious damage in terms of political and public relations.

So to get more people interested in trying game the industry is going all out to promote it as healthy, natural, sustainable and nutritious. We’ve been here before, of course, and have explained why red grouse are unhealthy, unnatural and unsustainable (see here for a good overview).

[Photo of toxic red grouse by RPUK]

Unfortunately, those on Twitter who are trying to promote GB Game Week with the hashtag #GBGameweek have ignored the evidence and aren’t even warning consumers that gamebirds are shot with toxic, poisonous lead ammunition, or that all gamebirds are exempt from Government testing for toxic, poisonous lead, even though some gamebirds, when tested by researchers, have been found to contain 100 times the level of lead that would be permissible in other types of meat in the UK!

And perhaps unsurprisingly, the industry’s campaign has also failed to mention that much gamebird shooting is reliant on widespread illegal raptor persecution, including the shooting, trapping, bludgeoning and poisoning of many raptor species including golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, red kites, hen harriers, buzzards, goshawks, peregrines, marsh harriers, short-eared owls, tawny owls etc etc.

[This Marsh harrier was found with shotgun injuries next to a partridge release pen on a gameshooting estate in Yorkshire. Photo by Battle Flatts vets]

Some of us on Twitter have been helping to inform the general public about all these things the game shooting industry would prefer were kept quiet. If you’re on Twitter, join in using the hashtag #GBGameweek – our tweets are drawing widespread interest from people who previously had no idea about the carnage caused by the criminals within the Great British game shooting world.

As someone (@Mckenzie6593) tweeted this morning:

‘This #GBgameweek thing is a curious mix of recipes and people very pissed off about wildlife crime. Long live Twitter. #BanDGS’

Threshfield Moor named as missing hen harrier John’s last known location

Further to blogs about ‘missing’ satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘John’, who disappeared on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in early October (see here and here), North Yorkshire Police has just issued the following appeal for information:

North Yorkshire Police is appealing for information following the loss of a hen harrier on Threshfield Moor.

John, a sub-adult hen harrier, fledged in Northumberland in 2016. He was fitted with a satellite tag in July 2016 by a hen harrier expert from Natural England. This was John’s second outward migration – he wintered in the same approximate area of Yorkshire in 2016/17, returned to Scotland and the Borders in spring/summer 2017, then back to Yorkshire in September 2017. His tag stopped transmitting on 1 October 2017 in the Threshfield Moor area of North Yorkshire. A search of the area has been carried out but no trace of the bird or equipment has been found.

Natural England reported John’s disappearance to North Yorkshire Police and is working closely with wildlife crime officers, local landowners, and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

The loss of another juvenile hen harrier brings the total to six within fourteen months across northern England – and is a serious blow to the small English hen harrier population. Interference with hen harriers is a criminal offence.

[Photo by RPUK]

Sergeant Stuart Grainger, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said : “Those responsible for bird of prey persecution, either directly or indirectly, should be ashamed – these birds belong to everyone and are part of our natural heritage. It is a disgrace that these beautiful birds appear to be relentlessly destroyed. The fate of this particular hen harrier remains unsolved at this time, but we are appealing for any information to assist the investigation.”

Rob Cooke, a Director at Natural England, said: “The sudden disappearance of the hen harrier, John, is a matter of grave concern. We urge anyone with information to get in touch with North Yorkshire Police.”

David Butterworth, Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “It is highly likely that a crime has taken place on Threshfield Moor. The spotlight is once again on the Yorkshire Dales as a black hole for raptors. This does no one any good. With colleagues in the Ranger service, I am doing all I can to support North Yorkshire Police. Any leads which the police might have had in the six weeks since this hen harrier disappeared have come to nothing, but we should not give up – someone must know something. I urge that person to contact the police.”

Anyone with any information which could help police with their enquiries should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101 – or you can ring Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 to discuss this incident or to discuss any other information regarding alleged persecution of birds of prey. Please quote reference number 12170208338 when passing information.


Here’s a map we’ve created showing the location of Threshfield Moor, south west of Grassington within the Yorkshire Dales National Park:

Threshfield grouse moor is believed to be owned by Mark Hancock, who is married to Heather Hancock, former Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and currently Chair of the Food Standards Agency (see Mark Avery’s blog here for some background). Mr Hancock has reportedly been undertaking “a huge amount of work” to improve this moor’s habitat and environment, especially for birds (see here).

Top marks to North Yorkshire Police for providing such a detailed appeal for information and full credit to Police Sgt Stuart Grainger and Chief Exec David Butterworth (Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority) for their strongly-worded statements.

Let’s see how many organisations from the grouse-shooting industry also issue strongly-worded statements in response to this Police appeal.

Hen Harrier John was one of the class of 2016. Here’s what’s happened to the rest of his cohort:

Hen harrier Elwood – ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Brian – ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Donald – missing in northern France, presumed dead (Autumn ’16).

Hen harrier Hermione – found dead on Mull, believed to have died from natural causes (Sep ’16).

Hen harrier Rowan – found dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park. He’d been shot (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Tarras – ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Beater – missing in Scottish Borders, presumed dead (Nov ’16).

Hen harrier Bonny – ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines, presumed dead (Dec ’16)

Hen harrier Mick – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Dec ’16).

Hen harrier Carroll – found dead in Northumberland, PM revealed a parasitic disease & two shotgun pellets (Jan ’17).

Hen harrier John – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’17)

Eleven down, six to go (Aalin, DeeCee, Finn, Harriet, Wendy, Sorrel).

Poisoning of reintroduced red kites in England: new paper

A new scientific paper has just been published that suggests anti-coagulant rodenticide poisoning, illegal pesticide poisoning, and lead poisoning ‘may be slowing the recovery of red kites in England’.

The paper, ‘Poisoning of reintroduced red kites (Milvus milvus) in England’ has been authored by scientists from the Institute of Zoology, Natural England, FERA Science Ltd and the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and was published online today in the European Journal of Wildlife Research.

The full paper can be accessed here

Photo of a poisoned red kite by Marc Ruddock

The research was undertaken on 162 red kites collected between 1989-2007, so these are pretty old data and the game-shooting apologists will undoubtedly claim that illegal persecution is no longer a problem, ten years on.

However, regular blog readers will be well aware of the long list of confirmed red kite persecution incidents (illegal poisoning and shooting) in England since 2007 (e.g. see here) which is restricting the kite’s population range in some parts of England, just as it is in some parts of Scotland (see here).

Illegal poisoning, coupled with secondary poisoning from anti-coagulant rodenticides and lead poisoning was a problem for the newly-reintroduced red kites and, along with illegal shooting and trapping, still remains a problem 28 years on.

Same shit, different decade.

Here’s the abstract from the new paper:

DEFRA’s response to Ban Driven Grouse Shooting petition

Late last week DEFRA provided its response to Gavin Gamble’s e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting, after the petition reached 10,000 signatures.

DEFRA’s response was entirely predictable and we have no intention of spending time on a detailed analysis of its complacency and denial; Mark Avery has already covered this well (see here, here, here).

Instead we wanted to pick up on just a couple of things that were mentioned, to set the groundwork for two forthcoming blogs.

First of all the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG). This cumbersomely-named group is basically the English/Welsh version of the PAW Scotland Raptor Group – just another charade of partnership-working, dominated by pro-gameshooting organisations such as the Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, Countryside Alliance, BASC but also involves others such as the RSPB, Natural England, DEFRA. The DEFRA response to Gavin’s e-petition gives a nod to the RPPDG and claims the group is “working on developing tools to help tackle raptor persecution crimes“.

Part of the RPPDG’s remit is to provide publicity about raptor persecution ‘in order to build trust and transparency’. However, as far as we’re aware, at least in recent years, this group hasn’t provided ANY publicity for ANY raptor persecution crime.

Back in 2013 the group did publish a raptor poisoning map covering the period 2007-2011 (see here). Since then, this ‘delivery group’ has delivered bugger all. Although according to DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan, “the RPPDG have been publishing information on raptor poisoning since Feb 2013 and this is updated annually“. That was a lie – the group hasn’t published any information since that 2007-2011 poisoning map.

We’ll be returning to the subject of the RPPDG in another blog very soon, as we’ve got hold of some minutes from various RPPDG meetings that demonstrate how little it has achieved since 2013. We’ll be publishing those minutes for your entertainment.

The second thing we want to pick up on from DEFRA’s response to the e-petition is this paragraph:

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‘.

Wouldn’t it be useful to see a copy of the latest annual report on the progress being made on the 2016 Hen Harrier Action Plan? Remember, Natural England recently told blog reader Mike Whitehouse that “work on the six actions set out in the Joint Hen harrier Action Plan is progressing as expected“. What does “progressing as expected” actually mean?

Well, fortunately, we’ve managed to get hold of a copy of the most recent progress report (summer 2017), as submitted to the DEFRA Uplands Stakeholder Group, and it demonstrates very little progress indeed. Perhaps that’s what Natural England “expected“.

We’ll be publishing that report shortly.

Police Scotland’s reluctance to discuss raptor crimes puts public safety at risk

Last week we blogged about an incident caught on a Forestry Commission Scotland camera in spring 2017 showing two masked individuals, one carrying a firearm, within 30m of a raptor nest site in a public forest (see here).

Forest Enterprise Scotland refused to tell us at which species’ nest and in which public forest this incident took place because “the disclosure of this information would adversely affect the protection of the environment to which the information relates“.

We were shocked to learn that, even though this incident was reported to the police, Police Scotland has remained silent. There have been no appeals for information to help identify the masked gunman and his accomplice, and so far, no warnings to the public about this serious threat to public safety.

This isn’t the first time Police Scotland has withheld information on suspected raptor persecution crimes that had the potential to adversely affect public safety. A similar incident was recorded in another FCS woodland (Glen Nochty, Strathdon) in 2014. In that case, a gang of masked, armed men was filmed on at least four occasions shooting at a goshawk nest in broad daylight in a public forest. It took Police Scotland nine months to release the footage and appeal for information (see here).

And it’s not just cases of masked, armed gunmen at raptor nest sites that Police Scotland is keeping under wraps. This is the only police force in the UK that is withholding the details of cases involving highly toxic poisons that have been used to target and /or kill birds of prey. Not only are the locations of these cases being kept hidden from the public, but the names of the poisons are also being kept secret – many of which are so dangerous that it is an offence to even possess these substances, let alone lay them out where the public might stumble across them (e.g. see here).

Police Scotland has previously argued that it withholds information “in only a very few cases” as part of its investigative strategy. The evidence suggests otherwise (see here) and see this table from the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report:

Following last week’s blog about the masked gunman and his accomplice in a public forest in spring 2017, we tweeted the Scottish Government’s Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, and his colleague Annabelle Ewing (Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs)  and requested they ask questions about this case in the interests of public safety. Both of them ignored our requests and have not responded at all. Neither has Police Scotland.

That’s pretty shocking, isn’t it? Here we have Forestry Enterprise Scotland, Police Scotland, a Cabinet Secretary and a junior Minister all willing to put public safety at risk in the interests of protecting dangerous, raptor-killing criminals. What is this, the wild west?

We’d encourage blog readers in Scotland to write to local MSPs and request that questions are put to the Justice Secretary about this serious threat to public safety. Blog readers not resident in Scotland but who might visit on holiday and are concerned about the risk of meeting masked, armed gunmen in a public forest are encouraged to email Justice Secretary Michael Matheson directly: [mark it for the attention of Mr Matheson].

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

Scottish Government dragging its feet on grouse moor management review

Following last week’s blog about how an announcement was imminent on the formation and composition of the independently-led grouse moor management review group, another deadline has been and gone.

As you’ll recall, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced this review on 31 May 2017, following the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for game-shoot licensing as well as the publication of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which demonstrated that almost a third of all satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland (41 of 131 eagles) had ‘disappeared’, many in suspicious circumstances on grouse moor estates with a track record of confirmed raptor persecution incidents.

In mid-September 2017 Roseanna told the Scottish Parliament,

Good progress is being made” and “I will announce further details shortly“.

In October 2017 the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee wrote to the Cab Sec asking for a progress report on the establishment of this group. Roseanna replied on 1 November 2017 and said,

I can inform you that I expect to announce the chair and members of the group within the next couple of weeks”.

It’s now 20th November and we’re still waiting for an announcement.

Where’s the sense of urgency? Nearly six months have passed. Just how difficult is it to put together a review group?

Come on, Scottish Government, stop dragging your feet and don’t undo the goodwill generated by the Cab Sec’s announcement back in May.

Hen harrier ‘missing’ on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park is ‘John’

Last month we blogged about yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier that had suspiciously ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here). We only knew about it because North Yorkshire Police mentioned it on Twitter and posted a few photographs from the search scene:

We made a general enquiry to Natural England and asked for further details (which hen harrier it was, where and when it was satellite-tagged, on which grouse moor it had ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park). Natural England refused to provide any detail, other than that ‘key stakeholders’ (i.e. the landowner!) had been notified. The landowner had probably been more than ‘notified’ – if Natural England was following the ridiculous ‘satellite tag protocol’, the landowner’s ‘permission’ would have been sought to conduct the police search! Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, back to the hen harrier. We weren’t happy that Natural England was withholding information on what was probably a publicly-funded satellite tag so we submitted a formal FoI to request this information. We managed to find out some details:

Why Natural England didn’t release this information when we first asked for it is anybody’s guess – just following its normal practice of putting obstacles in the way, hoping that we’d shuffle off and forget about it, probably.

Anyway, we now know that this missing hen harrier is ‘John’, who was tagged on 8 July 2016 in Northumberland. We blogged about John in February 2017 (see here) – he was the mystery hen harrier about which little was known. We still don’t know very much about him because Natural England has chosen to remain silent on his movements over the last 14 months [but see UPDATE below], although from the updated spreadsheet that Natural England published in September, we know that his tag was transmitting in September 2017 in Northumberland. See: hen-harrier-tracking-data-2002-onwards

We also know that Natural England realised John’s tag was no longer transmitting on 5 October 2017 and that North Yorkshire Police conducted a search for him ten days later (15 Oct 2017) on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. What we still don’t know is the name of this grouse moor and whether North Yorks Police found any evidence such as a tag or a corpse.

We’ll be submitting an FoI to North Yorkshire Police to ask about this – it’ll be very interesting to see the response. North Yorkshire Police appear to have upped their game recently in terms of investigating suspected raptor persecution crimes – a very welcome and much-needed change of pace in England’s leading raptor-killing county. Let’s see how open they’ll be about this latest investigation.

Meanwhile, it’s time to update the list of what hapened to the satellite-tagged hen harrier class of 2016, which includes harriers tagged by Natural England and the RSPB:

Hen harrier Elwood – ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Brian – ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Donald – missing in northern France, presumed dead (Autumn ’16).

Hen harrier Hermione – found dead on Mull, believed to have died from natural causes (Sep ’16).

Hen harrier Rowan – found dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park. He’d been shot (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Tarras – ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Beater – missing in Scottish Borders, presumed dead (Nov ’16).

Hen harrier Bonny – ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines, presumed dead (Dec ’16)

Hen harrier Mick – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Dec ’16).

Hen harrier Carroll – found dead in Northumberland, PM revealed a parasitic disease & two shotgun pellets (Jan ’17).

Hen harrier John – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’17)

Eleven down, six to go (Aalin, DeeCee, Finn, Harriet, Wendy, Sorrel).

UPDATE 20 November 2017: Thanks to the blog reader who pointed out that John had been recorded at Langholm in the summer of 2017, as mentioned in the hen harrier update on the Langholm Demonstration Project website on 28 June 2017 – here.

UPDATE 22 November 2017: Threshfield Moor named as missing hen harrier John’s last known location (here)

Police Scotland silent after armed masked men filmed at raptor nest in public forest

Forestry Commission Scotland staff routinely install cameras at the nests of several raptor species (e.g. goshawk, osprey, golden eagle, hen harrier, buzzard) to undertake dietary studies and to help identify individually-marked birds by their colour rings. If the cameras happen to film anything suspicious at these nests (e.g. unlicensed visits by armed criminals) the footage would be admissible in any subsequent prosecution because the cameras are placed with landowner permission and there are warning signs alerting visitors that cameras are in use in these public forests.

We submitted an FoI to Forest Enterprise Scotland to find out how many incidents of suspected disturbance had been filmed at raptor nests in Forestry Commission Scotland woodland this year.

According to the FoI response, one incident was captured this year involving “two masked people within 30m of a [raptor] nest site, one carrying a firearm”.

FES refused to name the forest and also withheld details about the raptor species involved, because “the disclosure of this information would adversely affect the protection of the environment to which the information relates“. The incident was reported to Police Scotland.

So, in spring this year, an armed, masked gunman and a masked accomplice were filmed in a public forest near a raptor nest site, and it’s now November and we’ve heard absolutely nothing about it from Police Scotland.

Suspected disturbance of a raptor nest site is one thing, but being armed and masked in a public forest takes this to a whole other level.

Have Police Scotland identified the masked, armed gunman and his masked accomplice? If not, why hasn’t there been a public appeal for information?

Why hasn’t the camera footage been released?

Doesn’t Police Scotland think that the general public should be warned that an armed, masked gunman and a masked accomplice have been filmed wandering around in a public forest? What about warning dog walkers, cyclists, runners, birdwatchers, families on recreational visits, that they are at risk of bumping in to someone wearing a balaclava and brandishing a firearm? Isn’t this a serious threat to public safety?

It just beggars belief.

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

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