Illegal activity uncovered at goshawk nest in North York Moors National Park

RSPB press release (26/3/18)


North Yorkshire Police and the RSPB are appealing for information after several instances of illegal disturbance were recorded at a goshawk nest in North Yorkshire.

In spring 2017, a covert camera was trained on a nest with poor breeding success near Helmsley to better understand what was causing the nest to fail. In April 2017, the footage showed two men visiting the nest and one of the men then repeatedly hitting the nest tree with a large stick. This appeared to be a clear attempt to flush the incubating bird off the nest.

Then, on two occasions the following month, a man is seen and the sound of gunshots is heard, along with the repeated alarm calls of the parent birds on one of the occasions. The nesting attempt subsequently failed and the four cold eggs were later recovered from the nest after a visit by the police. Analysis showed one of the eggs had a fully formed chick inside.

Goshawks are secretive, forest-dwelling hunters, around the size of a buzzard. There are very few nesting pairs in North Yorkshire, despite plenty of available habitat. Goshawks are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and listed on Schedule 1 of the Act. It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb the birds at the nest site during the breeding season unless operating under the authority of a government licence.

Investigations are ongoing and police are appealing for information.

Watch video footage from the RSPB’s covert camera:

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “We are very concerned that this was an attempt to shoot the goshawks or disturb the adults to make them desert the nest site. Goshawks are magnificent birds and should be widespread throughout North Yorkshire. The idea that people are deliberately trying to destroy nests and prevent them from raising chicks is beyond belief.

Birds of prey in the North York Moors National Park are at a huge risk of persecution, and this county consistently proves the worst in the country for the illegal killing of birds of prey. This latest evidence shows the pressures they continue face. We are grateful for the enquiries being made by North Yorkshire Police in relation to the events recorded. We hope that further information emerges to help identify these individuals.”

Acting Inspector Kevin Kelly, of North Yorkshire Police, added: “The ongoing problem of raptor persecution in our county prompted a public awareness campaign in February between ourselves, the RSPB, RSPCA, North York Moors National Park and Yorkshire Dales National Park. The initiative – know as Operation Owl – was designed to educate local people and send a clear message that raptor crime will not be tolerated.

If you have any information that may help our enquiries regarding these incidents, please speak out. Ahead of the spring breeding season, look out for individuals acting suspiciously and please report any concerns immediately.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call North Yorkshire Police on 101. Or to speak with somebody in complete confidence, call the RSPB’s Raptor Crime Hotline 0300 999101.

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


RSPB Investigations Officer Howard Jones has also written a blog here

45 thoughts on “Illegal activity uncovered at goshawk nest in North York Moors National Park”

  1. How unbearably upsetting is this and how can people so unappreciative of nature, so damned thick and cruel. I despair at both these hideous idiots who cause harm and those supposedly protecting our wildlife….so deeply deeply upsetting !

  2. Shameful behaviour. I am not holding my breath but I hope these people are caught and properly punished..

  3. The Goshawk, the woodland equivalent of the hen harrier – plenty of habitat for thousands and thousands of them, but missing from the vast majority. There’s a local (non sporting) estate where ravens have bred that should be a brilliant place for goshawk – good mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, loads and loads of crow, rook, jackdaw, wood pigeon and grey squirrel to feast upon but apart from a couple of brief sightings over many years they are still absent as breeders. Even in my area which is hardly a shooter’s paradise there’s a bit of pheasant shooting in woods that look as if they’d be good for them too so I don’t have many doubts as to what is holding them back, I happen to know that there’s a lot of strange activity taking place in some of them away from public paths. Isn’t it strange after all the supposed depredations magpies and crows are having on songbirds that the likes of Songbird Survival aren’t doing their best to highlight how beneficial the full return of the goshawk would be? I’ve also noticed that among the very worst trolls on Chris Packham’s FB page there’s more than one falconer, which is gob smacking. Any possibility that this is in return for estates allowing dodgy falconers to take bird of prey chicks from the nest?

    1. I’m not sure how falconers would get the blame for this. I could understand it if somebody had climbed the nest and removed the young but not to do what happened here. We probably only have so many goshawks because falconers released them into the wild after they had been massively persecuted. The only people who would shoot to either kill or chase the adults are gamekeepers or those associated with shooting for fun. Muddying the waters does nothing but give hte shooters an excuse, not that they ever wait for one.

      Let’s not beat about the bush, the only people with anything to gain from this are those associated with killing for fun, nobody else.

      1. In fairness, LW only mentioned falconers as trolls. Then asked if some, may be in league with estates that allow them to harvest eggs. It is not impossible, is it?

        1. If the tree had been climbed then he may have had a point, the tree wasn’t climbed so falconers being involved is not impossible but highly unlikely, probably as unlikely as one of us being involved.

        2. It is not impossible but pretty implausible for the following reasons.
          A legitimate goshawk with licence is worth £350 to £600 these days. What price a dodgy hawk that if you are caught with will mean a fine and a five year ban from keeping birds of prey.
          Estates are furtive and very secretive about their illegal activities. Are they going to go for the almost impossible to prove shooting and poisoning or bring in an outsider who may be acting undercover or just decide to shop the estate if they are caught.

          1. Sorry, but it was only a general point about some falconers I wanted to bring up some point that I added on to the comment about this specific case. Ambiguous use of English obviously, I’ll be more careful in the future!

      2. I slipped in the comment about dodgy falconers as a general remark, not about this specific case – I brought it in because I know a falconer who was asked by a gamekeeper if he’d be interested in four goshawk chicks, ‘the nest was going to get shot out anyway’ – he said nothing then when he got home shopped the estate to the SSPCA – result was he wasn’t welcome to fly his birds on another estate further on in the Borders after it – I think they all blacklisted him. I believe some keepers are maybe making a bit of money on the side this way in much the same way that they used to (and still do?) by selling dead BoPs to taxidermists. It’s always been noticeable that some falconers make pro comments for the other side and there’s more than one REALLY horrendous troll on Chris Packham’s FB page who flies BoPs. I don’t believe for one minute that the majority of falconers would stoop to this, but I’ve been told falconry has never been more popular, there’s bound to be as bit of a black market especially among the lowlifes that troll. I have to say I find it a bit disappointing more falconers and bird of prey centres don’t do more to highlight persecution – I’m not implying dodgy practice there, just that technically falconry is a field sport itself and maybe that explains the reluctance to get more involved, shame they could make one hell of a difference.

    2. Can’t see why a falconer would have any serious issues with Chris Packham. What indicates they are a falconer. There are a few gamekeepers who are falconers but that usually means they are fairly benign towards birds of prey.
      Having said that you get stupid people in all areas who can take umbrage on one small point and then just like the sound of there own posts and their ability to be obnoxious.

      Amazingly I have seen nothing like that on this blog (and I don’t think it is because they are moderated out)

      1. If they weren’t falconers then they’ve been doing fancy dress complete with jesses, gloves and birds of prey. No I can’t see why any falconer would have any issues with Chris P either, but clearly some do and also as I mentioned in a previous reply why aren’t more falconers and bird of prey centres as well not doing a bit more to highlight BoP persecution? Whenever there’s been a petition to ban driven grouse shooting I’ve sent a PM on facebook to various BoP centres to ask if they’ll do what they can to get signatures. I could understand if they said they couldn’t promote it publicly, but would sign it on an individual basis – I can’t recall a single instance when any of them, got back to me with any response what so ever. I know one falconer that takes boards about BoP persecution (the one the keeper tried to sell goshawk chicks to) along on displays, but that’s about it.

        1. Thanks for the detail. Would agree with what you say. I post some links on my FB page but have to limit the negative news as it would be out of balance with my own posts. Sadly the response of my readers is limited to a small core. The rest respond to cuddly and cute.

          1. Only Scottish ones as I recall. I never got as much as a ‘thanks Les, we can’t promote this, but we’ll certainly sign this individually’ – I can’t remember a single reply/acknowledgement from any of them, including ones I had had dealings with before re our local nature events. Bloody strange and a bit frustrating. I am trying to think of any time someone involved in falconry has been prominent in fighting raptor persecution, I think it’s far more likely they’ll be sticking up for the other side or even trolling. I’d be genuinely relieved to know if I’ve just been unlucky in what I’ve seen and that in reality things are very different.

  4. I’m reading far too many of these instances of raptor persecution and am now finding it hard to keep doing so without immediately thinking the whole situation is hopeless. I’m ashamed to say that but will try and keep the faith. This one is heart-rending. And then my subsequent reactions are all too common – this was a year ago and the footage is released now (was it also released last year and if not, why the massive delay?) and; CCTV set up by the RSPB for good reason. If the men are identified and the evidence passes the threshold tests and we get to court, what about admissibility (again)? Perhaps the intention today is to put the fear where is deservedly should be – in the hearts and minds of the offenders. If so, I hope it does but I am far from sure.

    1. Don’t give up, give up and they win. I will only give up when raptor persecution has been largely confined to the history books. If that puts thousands of gamekeepers out of work then so be it. If that deprives the rural community of income then so be it, we give them enough anyway.

      It will take time but we’ll win.

  5. If the men could be identified the law might have to arrest them, they would not want to do that, would they? They would have to fill in several pages of paper work.

    1. Chris,

      That’s unfair. North Yorkshire Police have been doing some outstanding work on tackling illegal raptor persecution in recent months – perhaps more than any other police force in the UK. They deserve our support.

  6. well one thing is for sure birdwatchers and walkers dont carry shotguns. i live on the edge of the north yorks moors and only 20 mile from helmsley. harriers and goshawks are never seen and it sickens me. too many shootimg estates in that area. the north yorks police have stepped up this last few month but looks like they are gonna be busy !!!

  7. We really are dealing with the dregs of society. I really can’t see any solution to this bar kicking the grouse/pheasant botherers out of our national parks

  8. I appreciate any SINCERE help in tackling the problems of raptor persecution … even if it comes from areas which I have seen as complicit in their persecution previously. The problem lies in how one is to understand SINCERITY,
    One massive step in regards to sincerity would be for the landowners to allow the RSPB to introduce hidden camera’s on their land without the supervision of those suspected of helping, or simply turning a blind eye to these types of crimes ; this, naturally would include those employed on the target terrain. Why would they need to know anyway? If landowners do not object to hidden camera’s placed for the purpose of identifying crimes against raptors then this might clear the path to convicting those who are engaged in this criminal behaviour.
    If the landowners would not agree to this then let them make a public statement as to why.

    1. Maybe because you aren’t really bothered about wildlife crime, all you really want is to hurt landowners and ban shooting and once you’ve done that what’s next? Land reform? Hand over all their land to snh? They won’t work with you because you hate them. It’s all just a class war with you lot.

  9. I worry that the delay was due to the following:
    The people were identified.
    The police charged the people.
    They sent the evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service.
    They decided that as the RSPB did not have permission from the landowner or those who were allegedly committing a crime that a prosecution could not go to court.
    Ring and bells?
    It would explain the delay. And it makes me sick if it’s true.

  10. Truly sickening. How do you deal with the anger that all these incidents engender, RPUK? I think I would be locked up by now if I had discovered these two bastards. Or I’d be dead. One of the two.

  11. Sorry to say this but those two men are definately not gamekeepers. How many gamekeepers do you see with what looks like a map hanging in their mouth?
    Not saying the gunshots were nothing to do with gamekeepers but it looks to me sadly that it could be some of our own kind that are just too desperate to get the tick on goshawk. It grieves me to say this but I’ve seen it before where people are only too bothered about getting pictures etc the true care for the bird goes out of the window!

  12. Agree with Chris Stead on this, the first guy is carrying a camera, the second guy is carrying a book…these look like nest finders to me…possibly using a book identifying nest sites, which some deluded folk think is being helpful.[or the ones written by egg thieves who are just being hateful]…..The second bit with someone moving in a line [?] could be someone putting out pheasant feed?….but Im sure RSPB and Police will have covered all that. Its who they are thats important – someone out there will know….

    1. I would agree the first two are a couple of twitchers or even just walkers (unlikely) wondering what the nest was.

    2. There are a few things odd with that supposition. Having repeatedly watched the video I cannot be sure that the first man is holding a camera. It could be binoculars. In fact having stopped the video at 0.32 you can clearly see the twin eyepieces of binoculars. The case he has on is also far more like a binocular case than a camera bag. The second man with the grey and black jacket has a camera bag, a Lowepro Slingshot, it looks like a 202AW, but he has no camera out. If he’s trying to flush the adult to get a photo, why hasn’t he got his camera at the ready? Why take a camera kit at 6:35am in the morning, and don’t even bother to get it out? Obviously we can’t be sure it contained a camera, even if it is a bag made for carrying a camera kit.

      As at this time of year, this would be just after sunrise they must have gone specifically to see this nest. It’s difficult to be sure what they are or are up to. You’d think if they’d have got up early and time their arrival just after sunrise, to see a Goshawk that they’d have hung around longer. I’m not saying your idea is completely wrong, it’s that they don’t look like a typical pair of twitchers to me, You’d expect them to both have binocular round their neck. Also It seems odd that a pair of walkers would be by coincidence arriving at a nest just after sunrise.

      Most keepers feed Pheasants at the same spot. Therefore if this was feeding Pheasants, you’d expect to see this person doing it regularly in this spot. Of course the RSPB has more complete footage, which might answer some of these questions.

      1. I know I’m a real novice in these matters but if I was wanting to be in the area and attract as little attention as possible I’d try and look as least like a gamekeeper/criminal and as much like a birder as I could. And if I was stopped by the police, I’d have a plausible story plus props to make it look as valid as possible.

        1. Previous evidence shows gamekeepers don’t do sophisticated disguise, they do a balaclava helmet and they have a shotgun to hand and don’t beat trees with over size twigs and they know they are in a remote location where a policeman is not likely to be hiding behind a tree.
          They don’t look like egg collectors as they didn’t have climbing gear.

          Twitchers will travel the length of the country to tick a box so getting up early to disturb a schedule one nest might be what was going on. It doesn’t fit totally but, to me, looks most likely of the scenarios put forward.

          I suspect now the video has gone public they might be identified but will say “sorry officer, I thought it was a squirrel drey.”

          1. The few bits of video of keepers or whatever visiting raptor nests with shotguns and balaclavas are almost certainly those with permission to be there or who work there. Camo balaclavas are typical wear for shooters, and if you look them up on eBay, most come from shooting suppliers. In other words these are people on shooting estates.

            What we don’t know, except for those in the know, are the details of where this nest is situated. In other words, is it on a shooting estate, near one, on land where shooting is banned etc.

            A keeper with a shotgun, wearing a camo balaclava on land where they are employed, would have no problem if stopped by the police etc, unless there is clear evidence of them doing something illegal. A keeper trespassing on somewhere, where shooting is banned, would be in serious trouble. Trespassing with a firearm has been a criminal offence for a long time, and the police can arrest someone on suspicion of it without a complaint being made. What I’m saying is that if a keeper was doing a recce on land they weren’t supposed to be as a keeper, they would have to a) Not look like a keeper, and b) Be very careful if they had a firearm.

            What is interesting is this, and we don’t know the entire context of the footage the RSPB have or the details of the location. If someone came to shoot the adults, or to cause them to abandon the nest, they would need to have done a recce first, or have some knowledge of the nest and whether it was in use, before they made their attempt;

        2. You make some good points, and I had this possibility in mind, but I didn’t want to speculate, as it might be mistaken. There was a bit of inconsistency here. They had gone to all the trouble of obviously finding out about this nest, and travelling there to be at first light. Yet if they were keen twitchers obsessed with trying to get a special tick, and had gone with camera equipment, then why hadn’t he got it out at the ready. If the bird flew off the nest, there would only be seconds to capture it before it flew off in the distance. The way that guy was holding his binoculars, which I am certain that’s what they are, was not like an experienced birder. If you hold your binoculars in one hand like that with the strap flapping around, the strap can get over the eyepieces and stop you seeing something quickly. An experienced birder/twitcher would have the strap around their neck. If they hadn’t got much experience, then where did they get the info on the nest, and know that at this time of year there might be a Goshawk sitting on the nest, that would be put up if you banged the tree trunk. Again I think we should be careful about too much speculation, but there are inconsistencies here, such as why they took such time and effort to get there, and then appear to have left after a preliminary banging the tree failed to put up an adult.

  13. two seperate things going on here i think. the walkers / birders who have disturbed the nest probably have nothing to do with the other instances where the shots were fired and the goshawk was making the alarm calls. how many people walk about with a shotgun outside of the shootimg season ……. hmmm let me think.

  14. I’ve had a bit of an argument with myself re falconry. I have always liked the idea, and did a course as a kid in the seventies. fantastic, but never followed it up. I thought of doing so again now retired, but more to be ‘usefull’ as a volunteer at a falconry centre, trust etc, than to own one, but am dead against hunting for fun. Is it hypocritical…to be honest i would want to just fly the birds and if they caught something, so be it, but not actively set them against quarry for my benefit.
    I cannot think why Chris P would get grief from falconers except if they regard themselves as being targeted as hunters.
    (Sorry, of the brief a bit, but what does the panel think?…)

    Any destruction of birds of prey, or intentional disturbance of nests to limit breeding should be met with tough penalties. Its about time.

  15. I want to make a few general points about the illegal persecution of raptors. The circumstantial evidence is that within the last 15 years or so this persecution has got very organized and planned. Prior to this the pattern was what you’d expect with the ad hoc killing of birds of prey by those involved with shoot management i.e. killing raptors or destroying their nests when they came across them – but not being entirely successful, because such efficiency requires a lot of time and effort, specifically on this task.

    What I mean is that previously some Hen Harriers successfully bred, and breeding numbers of Peregrines had built up to good numbers in the area or on grouse moors – in spite of almost certain ongoing persecution. All of a sudden within the last 10-15 years, breeding Hen Harriers have been completely eliminated from grouse moors, and even over the whole of England. Take the Forest of Bowland. It went from having many pairs of successfully breeding Peregrines, to none at all. What is more, when young Hen Harriers have been satellite tagged, they’ve “disappeared”, almost certainly shot at well known Hen Harrier roosts, within a couple of weeks of being tagged.

    Anyone with experience of looking for and finding these raptors and especially their nests and roosts will know that finding and locating them, especially all of them is no easy task. Someone must be putting a lot of effort into this. This is not a keeper wandering round on their day to day chores and just spotting what’s around. Keepers do not have supernatural powers, it takes a lot of fieldwork and effort to locate and destroy all raptor nests with this level of efficiency. What is more they are not just eliminating all raptors and nests directly on shooting estates, but in the surrounding countryside to these estates. And they are doing it with amazing consistency. Look what the recent BTO report on Peregrines showed. They are thriving outside areas where there are managed grouse moors, but have almost completely disappeared from the areas where there are managed grouse moors.

    The thing about this, is that employees, whoever they are, cannot possibly be devoting so much time to this activity, without their employers and over managers being aware of what they’re doing. I’m sure they’re not charitable, and spending most of their working time doing legitimate chores, and spending all their free time devoted to their illegal activity – just to please their employers and line managers without their knowledge. Estate managers and employers monitor their workers, they want to know what they are up to and whether they’re doing what they are paid to do. This is why if they were spending so much time devoted to a task other than their legitimate activities, their employers and over managers could not fail to be aware of this.

    I’m fairly certain that this must be organized i.e. some sort of network, where those involved in this activity can exchange information, both as regards methods and intelligence. You can’t know what raptors are there without putting a lot of time in the field specifically looking for them. If you are mending fences, doing legal control of species seen to be vermin, all the work involved in feeding gamebirds, and other work, you are not watching the skies and moors for raptors in the distance. It would take a pretty good birder spending a lot of time in the field to be as diligent and effective as those perpetrating this extremely efficient raptor persecution are doing.

    In the bad old days keepers managed to completely eliminate raptors, simply because there were lots of keepers and the employers could afford to employ lots because they were low paid jobs. There’s a lot less keepers than there used to be, and their time is spread thin doing all sorts of other tasks. The shooting lobby would have you believe that it is only “one or two bad apples”. It’s quite incredible that this handful of rogues have completely eliminated virtually all breeding raptors from managed grouse moors all over the country with ruthless efficiency.

    I’m not bothered if I’m accused of being a conspiracy theorist, because the circumstantial evidence of the increasing lack of successfully breeding raptors on grouse moors and other managed shoots, indicates someone is putting a lot of time, effort, and organization in achieving this aim.

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