Yesterday we were hit with the news of two missing hen harriers – ‘Thor’, a young bird tagged by the RSPB who disappeared in a wildlife crime hotspot in the Bowland AONB (here) and then later in the day, ‘Mabel’, a young bird tagged by Natural England who disappeared in a wildlife crime hotspot on the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the North Pennines AONB (here).
So far there have been a couple of responses to Thor’s disappearance but nothing (yet) about Mabel.
[Hen harrier Thor, by Steve Downing]
NERF (Northern England Raptor Forum) has published a typically robust response on its website (here), pointing out the depressing predictablity of it all and highlighting the miserable performance of the Bowland AONB as an area designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for hen harriers.
Also quick to respond was Supt Nick Lyall, the new Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) which was established in 2011 as a ‘partnership’ to tackle raptor crime but so far has achieved absolutely nothing of any use.
Nick has only been in post for what seems like a couple of minutes but we’ve been impressed with his openness and his willingness to share his thoughts via his newly established blog. Yesterday evening he posted his response to the news of Thor’s disappearance – read it here.
He talks about his plans to run the first national raptor persecution workshop in November and he also discusses his previously-stated intention to break the silence of many RPPDG ‘partners’ on each raptor persecution case as it emerges, starting with Thor’s disappearance. We’ll come back to that. First we wanted to look at what he had to say about Thor.
It’s a cautiously written piece:
“While it hasn’t been confirmed that this is a result of persecution, the circumstances will naturally lead people to believe this to be the case. I say this because the disappearance has occurred in a location where other hen harriers, namely Hope and Sky also disappeared without trace a few years ago under almost identical circumstances“.
He’s right not to look at Thor’s disappearance as an isolated case and to put it in to context with the disappearance of two other hen harriers (Sky & Hope) who both vanished in the same small area in 2014. However, that’s not the only reason we believe Thor’s ‘disappearance’ is as a result of persecution. Our perspective is wider and we place Thor’s disappearance in the context of all the other young hen harriers that have disappeared in suspicious circumstances on or close to driven grouse moors, time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time again.
There is abolutely no doubt whatsoever about what’s going on here – it is serious and organised crime on a massive scale across the uplands of England, Wales and Scotland. The map below shows just a fraction of the scale in one small region of the UK. No sooner do these young birds fledge and leave their natal area, they are killed. It’s no wonder the English breeding population struggles to reach double figures when the next generation of potential breeders are so relentlessly destroyed. It’s also clear evidence why DEFRA’s ridiculous brood meddling scheme won’t work.
[RPUK map showing the last known locations of ‘missing’ Natural England satellite-tagged hen harriers in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale AONB and Bowland AONB. Red star = HH found dead & confirmed illegally killed; orange star = last known location of missing hen harriers; Black star: missing hen harrier but grid reference withheld by Natural England; orange stars 1, 2 & 3 = last known locations of RSPB-tagged hen harriers Hope, Sky and Thor; Purple star last known location of hen harrier Mabel].
Nick did manage to get statements from two of the RPPDG ‘partners’ – NERF and the Moorland Association. He says he will update his blog as other responses come in.
The statement from the Moorland Association’s Director, Amanda Anderson, deserves special attention:
“We join this appeal without hesitation and it is vital the police receive any possible information. This year we have been hugely encouraged by the best hen harrier breeding season in a decade and the fact that 60% of this year’s successfully fledged chicks had help from gamekeepers. At this stage it is not known if anything has happened to Thor beyond that the tag has stopped transmitting. It is widely recognised that that there is a high natural mortality rate for young hen harriers with only two out of every ten expected to survive their first year. We all know that collaboration is the key to successful conservation. As such, enhanced transparency and greater sharing of satellite tag data from the outset of birds’ lives would be a huge step in the right direction“.
It’s a masterclass in deflection and brass neck. She paints a picture that Thor is probably ok and it’s just that his tag has stopped working and besides natural mortality is expected, but that if anything had happened to him it wouldn’t be anything to do with gamekeepers because they’ve played such a big role this year in the successful fledging of some hen harriers.
She ignores the possibility that Thor’s disappearance might be linked to illegal persecution. She ignores the long history of hen harriers vanishing in suspicious circumstances on or near driven grouse moors. She ignores the decades of scientific studies that show illegal persecution is the main factor threatening this species with breeding extinction in England and shrinking the Scottish population’s distribution. She ignores the fact that the majority of those convicted of killing raptors are gamekeepers. She ignores the fact that we’ve all seen the video evidence of what gamekeepers do to raptors when they think nobody is watching.
She then suggests that sharing satellite tag data would be a great idea. A bit like suggesting G4S should publish its timetables and routes for bank cash deliveries.
We note that Amanda’s statement hasn’t yet made it on to the Moorland Association’s website. The current news headline on that site reads: ‘Real progress being made in the fight against wildlife crime‘.
We’ll keep an eye on Nick’s blog during the day and see if any of the other RPPDG ‘partners’ can be bothered to comment.