Why did this gunman (+ 2 dogs) visit this hen harrier roost site on this Yorkshire grouse moor?

If you’re new to this blog and you’ve ever wondered what happens to satellite tagged hen harriers that suddenly ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances on driven grouse moors in Yorkshire (and elsewhere!), the latest video from the RSPB’s investigations team might just provide a clue. Just a little teeny tiny one.

The video was filmed by two members of the RSPB Investigations team shortly after they’d watched three young hen harriers settle down at the roost site for the night. Just as dusk fell, an armed man turned up with a labrador and a terrier and walked through the roost. He spent a few minutes crouching down amongst the vegetation whilst his dogs ‘worked’ the area. Fortunately none of the harriers flushed and the gunman later left in a vehicle.

The RSPB has published a blog describing the evening’s events (see here) and the blog includes the video footage, which is obviously of low quality given the fading light but clear enough to see what’s going on.

Here is a still from the video and we’ve added a red circle to highlight the gunman:

Who might this have been and what do you think he was doing there? How many implausible explanations will be churned out from the grouse shooting industry?

Didn’t sat tagged hen harrier ‘River‘, ‘disappear’ in this area in November 2018, the day before this video was recorded?

Look how many sat-tagged hen harriers have ‘disappeared’ in the Nidderdale AONB in Yorkshire in recent years, along with illegally killed red kites:

[RPUK map: Nidderdale AONB = yellow boundary. Illegally killed red kites = red circles; sat-tagged hen harriers that have vanished in suspicious circumstances = orange stars & red triangle; illegally shot hen harrier Bowland Betty = red star]

There hasn’t been a single prosecution for any of these incidents.

Do you think the [unnamed] estate has offered its full cooperation to North Yorkshire Police’s enquiries?

Do you think the Moorland Association will publicise this video?

Is anybody still unclear about what happens to hen harriers on driven grouse moors?

24 thoughts on “Why did this gunman (+ 2 dogs) visit this hen harrier roost site on this Yorkshire grouse moor?”

  1. I suspect that the Moorland Association (and others) will keep their heads down for the moment. It is quite clear how things are moving at present in the bodies who are meant to deter an prevent wildlife crime. I don’t see how things are going to be put into reverse any time soon. RPUK and others are responsible for this remarkable change in what is a relatively short time. I hope that things will get much worse for thee wildlife criminals and also for the apologists before your 10th anniversary arrives.
    There is some cause for optimism, despite the UK government lagging behind and the present impossibility to get clear evidence obtained without irregularity admitted in court in Scotland.

  2. I can remember A few years ago driving up a moorland track one late afternoon to watch over a past harrier roost site. I made no attempt to hide myself. When I got to where I wanted, which is as far as one can get an ordinary car ( with care!) I parked just off the track and set up my scope. Just as the sun went down a landrover appeared coming up the main track he went to a shooting box about 1 km away from me and parked. One man then got out and walked obliquely towards me and then sat down about 500m away overlooking one of the juncus areas harriers have used in the past, he was carrying a shotgun. As it got darker a shortie flew past me but no harriers came. When it was completely dark I saw a small light moving away from where he had been sat. Eventually the lights of the landrover came on and off he went. I waited five minutes then too left. Reporting all subsequently to RSPB investigations.

    They are all criminals with no concern for the law, I wonder if it was the same moor but suspect not, although there are not that many estates north and east of the Nidd.
    These people usually demand some sort of respect when you meet them on the moor, next time this happens to you remember this video!

  3. It is chilling to reflect what goes on after dark on Grouse moors. Nidderdale has now become yet another notorious Grouse shooting area associated with illegal persecution of Raptors and with that notoriety comes much more scrutiny and awareness.Moorland Monitors and other unaligned observers are beginning to know which estates need to be kept an eye on. ( I know, most of them ! )Thanks for all the hard work and tireless investigating of R.P.U.K and to all those on the ground who keep watching.

  4. Is there any wonder that the general public are sick to the back teeth of these individuals, carrying out mass, illegal persecution to the point where they have actually started to join up with saboteurs and walk up to the guns, thus disrupting a days so called ‘sport’ and additionally costing them thousands in the process?

    1. Most of the general public don’t know about this sort of thing although the proportion of them that do know is growing. We need to get this sort of thing into mainstream news media and the papers because whilst this blog and several others that highlight this criminality are very good to wonderful much of it is preaching to the converted. The more who know the less acceptable it will become for the politicians to turn a blind eye and pretend it is not important. The only thing working for the criminals their organisations and apologists is the ignorance of the many, we all need to do our bit to make the public more aware.

  5. They caught him red handed, certainly out to kill a harrier, in their position ,I think he should have been approached, and identified, I think it would be very hard to prove in court, he could have come up with several excuses, but you dont get many chances like that to actually catch someone at it. Its a wonder if he was so close that his dogs didnt clock the officers. Just shows , poor old Harriers they are up against it in this country..

  6. This is not shocking at all, I have felt for a long time that killing these beautiful birds has to be done whilst the birds roost. So the modus operandi is proven, now their needs to be an active program to monitor known roost sites, the sat tags proving they are essential tools in discovering how these criminals operate. I will not hold my breath for any lip service from the usual agencies , they will be more bothered that one of their own home was monitored trying to destroy more Harriers. The arrogance in doing this when there is a high chance that at least one Harrier is sat tagged shows that these people simply do not care about their actions. This estate and it’s employed keepers should be put under intense scrutiny by the police, just as any other criminal activity would warrant.

  7. It would be fascinating to hear the explanation for what he was up to. In the shooting season he could pretend to be after quarry species such as snipe, but at this time of year there is nothing else that he could have been doing other than targeting harriers.

    1. I agree Ian but he would probably improbably claim to be foxing. Of course it would be very difficult to prove that he intended to commit a crime. We all know what he was up to and so would an alert wildlife policemen but knowing and proving are difficult things and can be miles apart.
      This is an area I know although not precise details it is impossible from the video. The Nidderdale AONB has for sometime been known to be a key area for wintering and sometime breeding of harriers. I feel sure myself that a considerable degree of the killing necessary to have reduced and held the English population in its precarious state of near extinction has taken place there. Local knowledge and experience shows there are no ” safe” moors and it is a huge near contiguous area of heather to attract and hold harriers stretching from Denton and Blubberhouses Moors in the south all the way to Coverdale. It has in the past been shown to attract harriers outside the breeding season from all other English upland areas and yet with keepers like the one in the video around (and he’s hardly unique) it is in large part a death trap.
      This is also a lesson to all those folk who think we can “turn the criminal element” amongst keepers, we cannot and we are a long way from making the risk of being caught high enough to deter.
      To those who find or suspect a roost site make sure RSPB investigations know of it, a few like minded colleagues but it needs to be kept from the keepers they will not know them all. We may only KNOW about the tip of the iceberg of criminality to raptors but that veil is being lifted and yes it is all the more horrifying for the simple mundane routine of it all. Remember Hen Harrier is just one of a number of species they kill illegally.
      If they know you are a birder/raptor worker in this area and you use the “green roads” on the moors you are often followed, go from one estate to the next and there will be a vehicle to meet you. Some of then are rude, aggressive and threatening colleagues and I have been boxed in verbally quizzed and abused even where the keeper knew we had permission to be. Those who think working with these people will solve the problem are living in the clouds.

  8. This has probably been said before but I can’t help thinking that this is the tip of the ice berg. What is either videoed, found or tracked is in reality the minority of the raptors in the UK. How many others are actually being illegal killed, that are unrecorded?

  9. So many aspects to this.
    It is good that we have proof (we know what this guy was doing and his profession) of something that people have claimed. Politicians in England won’t give a shit so until a change in government the only hope is cheaper and cheaper satellite tags. The ongoing increase in readership of RPUK is also hopeful but really we need more and more mapping and physical protection of roost sites which would need the manpower of the army. I don’t think that is impossible. It would be great training. But no, that isn’t going to happen as long as people like Coffey deny the problem even exists.
    That RPUK map is truly shocking. That cluster along the Bolton Abbey-Blubberhouses road is beside a main road! In the valley below, that Marsh Harrier nest was repeatedly attacked in 2017 in broad daylight. I conduct a loosely-timed survey twice every winter driving from Lancaster to York looking for Red Kites. As the kites increase dramatically (my 1 in 2001/2002 to 27 in 2018/2019) they are spreading more and more onto grouse-shooting territory. My first kite in this area was in 2001/2002 in the Blubberhouses valley but last year I saw a pair on moorland in that hotspot on the map and this year there were 5 in the same spot along the road within 500m of moorland. I dread to think how many are being killed when even the valley isn’t safe. In those 8 years and many previously i have never seen any other bird of prey on this stretch of road although this year there was a Kestrel in the valley up from Blubberhouses. Incidentally my furthest west kite record was at Draughton near Skipton last winter. If they weren’t being hammered on the surrounding moors i have no doubt they would have spread in numbers to Lancashire by now.
    Because of the ongoing crimes around the Black Isle (and i am not referring to the mass poisoning) i am convinced that the killing of kites on the Nidderdale moors are being hidden by the success of the pairs in the lowlands and strongly suspect that the same must be happening in Eastern Scotland and anywhere else near grouse moors.

    1. Just looked at the Nidderdale AONB website
      “Our Statement on Raptor Persecution
      …working with gamekeepers and shooting estates to address the issue on the ground, we continue to work …’
      That will fix it.

    2. It’s equally happening to the Gateshead/Derwent Valley reintroduction of red kite, which do well in their core area, but have failed to spread further, and achieve a sustainable population, because of grouse moors to the west. Another was reported shot at the edge of these moors this week.

    1. Dear David the next time you feel the need to comment I would suggest that before you do, you extract your head from your fundament and have a good look at the reality around you! On the other hand try thinking, although that may be an alien concept.

  10. Well said Paul – I despair with the likes of people such as Mr Guy-Johnson who make such inane comments

    1. I disagree; I’m actually quite impressed that Mr Guy-Johnson is unable to string together a cogent 5-word sentence. Anyone can make the case for their idiocy over several sentences or a paragraph but to do so in merely five words is really quite impressive. Chapeau sir and keep taking the Pb!

  11. Obvious what his intentions were…high time the police took a harder line with these cretins who seem to believe that the law somehow doesn’t apply to them.

  12. Pingback: River - Mark Avery

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