Two owls shot in Peak District National Park

Police are appealing for information after the discovery of two shot owls in the Peak District National Park.

On the evening of 11 September 2018 a local runner witnessed a short-eared owl flying overhead, followed by what sounded like gunshots. The following morning she returned to the moorland near Wessenden Head in the northern Peak District. She found the bird on the ground, still alive. It was taken to a vet but had to be euthanized due to its injuries, which included a shattered wing.

[Photo of the shot short-eared owl, via RSPB]

The runner who saw the short-eared owl said: “I had just got back to my car when I suddenly saw a short-eared owl fly over my head – it’s always fantastic to see one of these gorgeous birds. This however was followed by the sound of a gunshots, coming from the direction of a dark-coloured pickup. I really hoped this wasn’t aimed at the owl I’d just seen.

The next morning I returned to the same spot and, there on the ground, was a short-eared owl, still alive but clearly wounded. I was so upset but also furious to think that someone had done this on purpose.”

The police are wanting to speak to the driver of the dark-coloured pick up truck, described as having two dog cages on the back with a thick wooden cover over the cages.

This land (Marsden Moor Estate) is owned by the National Trust and is a designated Special Protection Area (SPA) for short-eared owls.

[RPUK map showing the location of the Marsden Moor Estate (orange) in the Peak District National Park]

On 1 October the dead body of a tawny owl was discovered close to where the short-eared owl was found. It had been shot and stuffed inside a dry stone wall on the Kirklees Way footpath near Greenfield Road (not on National Trust property).

[RPUK map showing proximity of Wessenden Head and Kirklees Way footpath to areas managed for driven grouse shooting in the Peak District National Park]

If you have any information relating to these crimes, call West Yorkshire Police on 101 quoting police log number 174211/09/2018.

To share information about raptor persecution in your community in confidence, please call the Raptor Crime Hotline: 0300 999 0101.

43 thoughts on “Two owls shot in Peak District National Park”

  1. I am sickened to read yet more incidents of raptor persecution. When is something going to be done to stop this. Are we really so afraid of the select few who are clearly responsible. It’s time someone from the landed gentry does or says something How can we stand by and continue to let this happen and just tut tutting at these depressing posts

  2. How many dark pick up trucks with 2 dog cages in the back covered in a thick wooden cover can there be?
    I suppose that even If the West Yorkshire police found the owner, and he had a shotgun licence, it still could not result in a conviction without a confession or more evidence.
    Life is never fair.

    1. The offender could confess and have a signed letter from God herself saying he did it and the cops and CPS would contrive to ensure there was no conviction.

  3. Does this mean another NT tenant given the heave ho, one hopes so? Depressingly familiar, are the BTO and John Calladine reading this, I wonder? This is a frequent almost routine happening to SEOs on grouse moors in England, whatever we know they eat! Sickening, frustrating, makes me very angry and yet determined that this should be stopped.

      1. I live in Marsden and my understanding is that no shooting is permitted on the NT Marsden Moor estate. There is grouse shooting in the surrounding areas, however.

  4. Once again an alert person involved in an outdoor recreational activity has noted and reported a wildlife crime. Several such instances have been reported on RPUK this year. Maybe we should capitalise on this by requesting outdoor recreation bodies such as the Ramblers Association, British Mountaineering Council, RSPB etc. to alert their members to such matters and advise them what to do in the event of an incident being witnessed or a possible victim being discovered. Not sure who might best take this on to maximise the impact. Suggestions?

  5. Firstly, thank you to the runner for the action he/she took and for the common compassion felt on discovering another deplorable incident perpetrated by ( I expect) the usual suspects.

    Again, the big delay factor (almost 2 months) in making the incident public has been demonstrated.
    Would it be feasible to mount a publicity campaign to encourage the public to report such events to the police AND to some other bodies that will rapidly go public. Then we can phone/write/email etc. the police asking what is being done and so on.

    I cannot fathom how the police cannot find more resources to improve their performance yet find find £12 million to monitor someone of trivial importance in the Ecuador embassy for nearly 7 years (and that is not the only long term massive pointless expense in which they are engaged ).

  6. This is depressingly close to home, I live only 2 miles from this location and have often watched Short Eared Owls over this section of moor. BUT no surprises as there is land controlled by a local shooting syndicate less than half a mile from this killing and another area of grouse/pheasant shooting barely one mile away. Coincidence? Strangely familiar that a pair of Ravens were nesting close to this site a few years ago and they ‘mysteriously’ disappeared over one weekend.

    1. Hi Stephen, I live in Marsden as well and would appreciate the opportunity to compare notes. If you want to drop me a line, it’s lazerock at hotmail dot com. Cheers.

  7. This is beyond the pale killing owls that are virtually harmless to game shooting interests. I hope the shoot owners in the vicinity have been shamed in the local press.

    1. Take it from me Jim these people will feel no shame over this. They are more likely to be angry or slightly embarrassed that it has become public knowledge with the culprit probably getting a bollocking for not making sure there were no witnesses. One hopes NT are aware and investigating.

  8. When is this going to stop? I am so sick of this!!
    It’s obvious the government and its statutory powers are doing nothing and intend to do nothing. We need direct action. Does Revive plan to mobilise people? I want to know what I can do? Crowd funding, petition signing and attending awareness events doesn’t seem to be achieving much. We’ll have no owls left at this rate.

  9. How much longer are the National Trust going to continue having shooting tenants. Their properties would be biologically so very much richer without the raptor persecution which always accompanies game management.

    1. Bogtrotter is absolutely right. Intrinsic to game shooting is the ‘management’ of so-called ‘vermin’ ie any creature which competes for food or space or preys upon the shooters quarry. The species destroyed by gamekeepers (note small ‘g’ because I have little or no respect for them) includes a wide variety of terrestrial and avian carnivores who have the audacity to live on planet earth! The obscene methods of destruction and the numbers removed-which must be in the millions- from the environment coupled with the spraying of toxic shot cannot be justified in any way and support an industry which amounts quite simply to killing purely for fun. The creatures shot do not, for the most part, enter the food chain- a very considerable number are buried or end up in incinerators– and certainly do not represent a staple in the UK diet. A one time country pastime of shooting for the pot is now a loathsome big business and sadly most of those those engaged in it as providers or consumers have little or no interest in Short eared Owls or any other bird of prey.

      1. Just emphasising the ecological disaster which shooting really is, this post about SEO’s is obviously important but is just the tip of an iceberg.

  10. Who has got the body of the owl , has it been x rayed are they doing ballistics on the pellets that are in the owl if there are any and why the big delay in reporting this and which vets euthanized this owl

  11. Geoff and Alex are right. With that description of the dark coloured pick-up surely it doesn’t take a ‘Poirot’ to visit all members of the shooting syndicate in order to carry out ballistic checks on their guns and the pellets in the victim? And the callous leaving of the wounded owl suggests the driver of the vehicle suddenly realized he had been observed. And what about the National Park authorities? No comments from them? And why is a shooting syndicate being given permission to shoot in a National Park? It would also be worth checking whether any members of the local police force are members of the shoot – a technique sometimes used by shoots – as once was the case in Bowland for instance, and locally in my own area in the past.

  12. I reckon you could do x-ray analysis on lead shot, especially if the lead were cheap and made in small batches. You would have to get a load of lead samples and stick them in an x-ray spectrometer for comparison and to prove that different samples had a mixture of impurities, therefore gave off a different set of x-rays. Then compare the shot found in the owl to that found in the gamekeeprs car. Depending on the quality of batches of lead produced, as good as any DNA gel.

  13. Gerard, thats not possible, lead is lead, cartridges are made by the thousands, and what gamekeepers car ?
    Theres so many odd bods that have guns, I wouldnt trust a lot of them with anything, why are people so ignorant.

    1. Lead is not lead. At any rate it has significant isotopic variation, depending on where it came from. It follows that any batch of shotgun cartridges could be uniquely labelled by reference to precise isotopic make-up. So a way of tracing purchase of cartridges could be put in place if there was a will.

    1. Before anyone tries to draw conclusions, that Google image is from 9 years ago and from another angle shows two mountain bikers with their gear at the open tailgate – so completely innocent. Clouseau rather than Poirot on this occasion I’m afraid ;-)

      1. How do you find the date of the image? I see c2017 in pale writing on the image. I assumed that was the date.

  14. For anyone not aware of the full extent of the problem. Raptors are not only persecuted because they may prey on game birds/eggs etc. They are not wanted flying in the vicinity of game bird drives.
    I have heard of short eared owls (who will hunt in daylight) being shot because of that and also roe deer being culled to stop them running through drives at pheasant shoots.
    It is all just killing with the aim of increasing the availability of game birds to be killed. Wildlife extermination camps !

    1. Dougie, I won’t disagree with your conclusion, but the reason given by some grouse shooting people, that raptors in flight disturb the grouse during drives, is a myth in my experience. It is a form of received wisdom referred to nowadays as groupthink. In well over twenty years of observing shoots taking place, I have often seen short-eared owls, hen harriers or peregrines hunting over the moor simultaneously with the shoot, but have never witnessed the phenomenon described. If a gang of shooters with a noisy bunch of beaters at work think the raptors are scaring the grouse, they might like to take a closer look at their own impact.

      In my own CCTV studies of prey provision (at five different nests on grouse moors), and hundreds of field observations, I have never witnessed a harrier take a grouse chick to a nest, and only twice in over thirty years did I witness female hen harriers take full-grown grouse, and that was outside the breeding season. However, other studies have recorded intake of grouse chicks to active nests, e.g. at Langholm, which I find somewhat puzzling in comparison and I suggest requires further research. Even if grouse shooting were allowed to continue legally, I see no serious reason why culling of harriers would be necessary. Raptor Study Group colleagues within my study area share my findings.

      Throughout all my studies, I have also seen many instances of short-eared owls capturing and carrying prey to their nests, but not once have I ever seen an owl take any age of grouse. In fact all the prey that I was close enough to identify were field voles, far smaller numbers of two larger mammals, either young rabbits or hares, and a few small birds, likely to have been either skylark or meadow pipit. Meadow pipits were by far the favoured prey of hen harriers, followed by field voles throughout the year, except when the vole population crashed over winter. My conclusion is that there is no need for gamekeepers to cull hen harriers, and the culling of short-eared owls seems even more pointless. So why do they bother? The reason for shooting kestrel, merlin, buzzard or any other predator is equally mysterious, and surely can only be an ongoing result of ancient folklore and mythology? These people just don’t appreciate nature in perspective.

      1. I too have never found a grouse chick in close to one hundred
        shorty nests monitored and the prey found is almost entirely short tailed field vole, the shorty is indeed a specialist feeder and if a keeper took time to watch them he would see that they strike time after time without catching and return time after time to the same areas where they have already missed, if they were after grouse chicks they would catch every time they pounced, no they kill owls because they are ignorant arse holes who just love killing. I once watched a keeper walking over a grouse moor pretending to shoot things that didn’t exist, that’s the mentality of these so called people.

    1. I joined the Facebook group Holmfirthwalker mentioned and have expended probably too much mental energy on it ever since, so I’m dropping a note about the experience here, out of exasperation….

      There’s a hardcore group of around half-a-dozen hardcore Countryside Alliance types on there, doing their best to deny and deflect by any means necessary. Whether that’s by peddling a conspiracy theory about a ‘false flag’ attack carried out by somebody who wanted to discredit local gamekeepers, or talking about how gamekeepers love wildlife and would never do something like this, or by just flat out refusing to accept the basic facts of the story.

      One guy actually said “It was just an owl” and then started angrily demanding of people why they weren’t angry about KFC, if they didn’t like animal cruelty (he wasn’t just a yahoo – he went on to post a lengthy defence of grouse shooting). Another notable diva became a touch hysterical and started ranting on about ‘vigilante justice’ and ‘kangaroo courts’, despite not actually having been accused of anything… Perhaps a case of protesting too much?

      I should say that one local gamekeeper went on there and spoke sensibly, acknowledging that there was an issue and that killings like this shouldn’t happen. I’ve learned that raptors have actually bred on land he manages this year and so I tip my hat to him.

      It is exhausting and certainly unhealthy to become embroiled in social media warfare, which is why I do my best not to engage with shooting lobbyists on Twitter anymore. It’s normally a case of biting your lip and channelling your frustration in a more productive way. However, this particular case is much too close to home for me to look the other way – especially when people are trying to spread lies about it.

      Hopefully, no matter how these people try to spin it, the silent majority have just seen the reports in the local Examiner newspaper and absorbed the facts.

      1. Thanks for your efforts! What was positive is the strength of local feeling against what happened at Wessenden Head and I do think a good few more local people are now aware of just what goes on regarding raptors and grouse shooting here. The Meltham Wildlife Rescue page had a similar reaction and there were no huntin shootin fishin’ types there to dismiss people as townies etc.

      2. There are people in the area who care, but keep their heads down. Those that own land and guns, who would likely welcome a return to a more feudal society, are rightly feared. The exchanges in that Facebook group highlight the main weakness in the shooting lobby’s attitude in general. They pump so much time and effort into preaching to the converted, but when something like this happens, their defence amounts to ad hominem attacks, tu quoque and projection of their own bitterness.

  15. Hi everyone,

    I live in Marsden and walk down the Wessenden Valley fairly often, so am taking an extremely close interest in this case. I’m in email contact with one of the investigating officers for West Yorkshire Police and am told that they have been working hard behind the scenes – certainly, their response has been much more encouraging than the (in my opinion) half-a***ed efforts of Greater Manchester Police to investigate the eye-witnessed shooting of a Red Kite on Saddleworth Moor this summer. I’ve had an explanation of why the public weren’t informed for three months and accept it. Now I’m just focused on getting the message out about the vehicle they’re looking for as widely as possible (including via the local Community Association).

    To be clear, there is no shooting on the National Trust’s Marsden Moor estate itself, but unfortunately, there is plenty on the surrounding moors.

    Having shared news of this incident on Marsden social media pages, I can tell you that it was met with unanimous condemnation – if there are any ‘keepers or shooting fanatics living here, they haven’t put their heads above the parapet.

    I’ve also contacted local councillors and had responses from two, plus the local MP (who has previously corresponded with me on raptor persecution and has the right attitude towards it).

    I will stay in touch with the local officers on this, so if anybody has any information, helpful suggestions or sensible questions, please let me know and I will gladly forward them on. – I’m at lazerock at hotmail dot com.

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