[UPDATE 27th August 2018: The three maps below have now been updated to account for the inaccurate grid reference of one ‘missing, fate unknown’ hen harrier – now accurately shown to have ‘disappeared’ in North York Moors National Park, and not in Bowland AONB]
Well, well, well.
The Westminster Government’s statutory nature conservation agency, Natural England (NE), has chosen to publish its long-awaited hen harrier satellite tag data late on a Saturday evening of a Bank Holiday weekend. No announcement, no fanfare, just quietly uploaded to the DEFRA website, probably hoping that nobody would notice.
After having a preliminary look at these data, it’s no wonder NE doesn’t want to shout about them because they validate our long-held view that NE has been shielding the hen harrier-killing criminals within the driven grouse shooting industry for years, instead of dragging them before the courts and closing down their filthy ‘sport’.
Photo of a satellite-tagged hen harrier. A post-mortem revealed it had been shot.
NE has been satellite-tagging hen harriers since 2007 and a lot of them have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (e.g. here). As many regular blog readers will know, we, and others (notably Mark Avery) have been asking NE to publish these hen harrier satellite tag data for a long time. We came quite close to getting the information from this publicly-funded research about a year ago, when NE published part of its ten-year data set but crucially, it excluded all meaningful grid references and any information about the land use in the areas where these hen harriers had ‘disappeared’.
We accused NE of a cover up (see here and here) and pursued the data via many FoI requests but all to no avail. NE told us that as the 11-year NE-funded PhD study had finally been ditched (here), external experts would instead be analysing the data and we could expect the results to be submitted for peer-review publication in 2018.
The findings of that study by external experts were presented at an international ornithological conference in Vancouver yesterday morning, and NE, realising it could no longer justify withholding the data without facing another legal challenge, published the updated satellite tag data late last night.
The new hen harrier satellite tag data have been published on the DEFRA website here
The update is the same spreadsheet that NE published last September but now, importantly, also includes six figure grid references for the ‘last known fix’ from the satellite tags of most of the 59 hen harriers tagged by NE between 2007-2017.
We haven’t had time to look at these data very closely but for now we’ve produced some quick and dirty maps to show the distribution of ‘missing’ hen harriers and those that have been found dead, confirmed to have been killed illegally. Remember, these are the hen harriers that have been satellite-tagged by NE – the map does not include the data from RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project, so these maps will show an even bleaker picture once the RSPB has analysed the data from its tagged birds.
Here’s the overview map:
[Red star: HH found dead & confirmed illegally killed; Orange star: HH missing, fate unknown; Yellow star: Hen Harrier ‘John’, missing, fate unknown; Black star: hen harrier missing fate unknown but grid reference withheld]
The reason hen harrier John (yellow star) has been highlighted separately is because on NE’s updated spreadsheet, the data are only presented up to September 2017, and so John is shown as still being alive. However, we know that John ‘disappeared’ on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in early October 2017 and so now joins the many others classified as ‘missing, fate unknown’.
The three black stars represent hen harriers that are listed in NE’s data set as ‘missing fate unknown’ but the grid references for these three harriers have been withheld, and the birds’ last known fix locations are given as ‘Bowland’, ‘Bowland’, and ‘Sheffield’. Presumably there is good reason to withhold these grid refs (perhaps they identify commonly-used roost sites?) so we’re not going to quibble about that. Consequently, the black stars are not placed accurately, just in the general area of ‘Bowland’ and ‘Sheffield’ (and presumably ‘Sheffield’ refers to a location close by, perhaps in the Peak District National Park).
You can see from this first overview map that there appears to be quite a bit of ‘clustering’ of last known fix locations in Yorkshire and Bowland, so let’s have a closer look at a regional scale:
Gosh, there does seem to be a lot of ‘missing’ hen harriers clusted in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – all highly designated protected landscapes.
Shall we look a bit closer?
And there you have it. A suspicious spatial clustering of ‘missing’ or confirmed persecuted hen harriers in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale AONB and Bowland AONB – all areas where the landscape is dominated by intensively managed driven grouse moors.
Haven’t we seen this suspicious spatial clustering somewhere else? Ah yes, the map that shows the ‘missing’ satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland, where the spatial clustering appears in some areas that are intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.
What’s that quote? “You can hide the bodies, you can hide the tags, but you can’t hide the pattern” (Dr Hugh Webster).
Looking at NE’s data spreadsheet, 47 of the 59 hen harriers satellite-tagged by NE between 2007-2017 are ‘missing, fate unknown’. That’s a whopping 79.6%!
Now obviously, these last known fix location data are of great interest to us and we await the publication of the full scientific analyses of all the tag data with great interest. But perhaps what is more interesting is what these data reveal about NE’s complicity in shielding the criminals within the grouse shooting industry.
Knowing full well what its own satellite tag research was showing, why has NE suppressed these results for so many years whilst working in so-called ‘partnership’ with the grouse shooting industry and sat back in silence whilst those same grouse shooting industry representatives have consistently denied, even in Parliament, the extent of their industry’s role in the systematic killing of hen harriers?
More blogs on this to come.