Two of the five brood meddled hen harrier chicks have ‘disappeared’

Well, well, well.

As predicted by absolutely everybody with half a brain, some of this year’s brood meddled hen harrier chicks have ‘disappeared’ and it’s not even the end of September. Quelle surprise!

However, if you’d just seen the Moorland Association’s headline and first few paragraphs of their press release you’d never know that two of the five have disappeared in suspicious circumstances. This latest media output is perhaps the most disingenuous we’ve ever seen from the Moorland Association, and that’s saying something from an organisation notorious for distorting the facts!

In fact you have to get down as far as paragraph six before you’re told that two have disappeared, although the text doesn’t actually tell you that they’ve disappeared. Here’s the full press release, just for the record:

It’s quite the masterclass in distraction techniques, isn’t it?!

Mark Avery has already pulled apart some of this press release (see here) including comments about the maps not matching the text.

What we’re interested in is this:

  1. When did these two birds disappear? No dates are provided in the press release.
  2. In which county or counties did these two birds disappear? There is no geographic location provided in the press release. [See update at foot of blog]
  3. On what type of habitat did the last known fix come from for each tag? Was it a grouse moor in one or both cases?
  4. Were the last two locations on land owned/managed by Moorland Association members?
  5. What sort of tags were the two birds carrying and what were the details of each tag’s transmission cycle? (i.e. how many data transfer cycles have now passed without data being transmitted)?
  6. Who is monitoring the tag data?
  7. Have the police been informed? If so, who informed them? Was it the Moorland Association or was it somebody else?
  8. Are these two disappearances the subject of a live police investigation? [See update at foot of blog]
  9. Have the police been given access to the tag data?
  10. Have any police searches been carried out? If yes, were these searches undertaken without giving the landowner prior notification?
  11. Why hasn’t Natural England made a statement?
  12. What is Natural England’s policy for declaring the brood meddling trial a failure? i.e. How many satellite tagged brood meddled chicks have to ‘disappear’ before Natural England makes that declaration? One? Two? Three? Four? Five? This question was actually put to Natural England during a recent meeting between Wild Justice & Natural England’s interim CEO and one of its Directors. Natural England said they didn’t know but would find out. So far they haven’t come back with an answer.
  13. When will DEFRA acknowledge that the grouse shooting industry is completely out of control and unable to self-regulate?
  14. And when will DEFRA do something about it?

For those who might have missed it, here’s what the Government-commissioned science says about satellite-tagged hen harriers in northern England – 72% of those tagged so far [by Natural England] have been done in on grouse moors (see here). We await the results of the RSPB’s five-year tagging data with interest.

And for those who might have missed it, here’s the Moorland Association practically begging its members not to kill any hen harriers this year (see here).

UPDATE midnight:

Police Supt Nick Lyall has tweeted the following this evening:

UPDATE 1 October 2019: Moorland Association’s brood meddling press release amounts to abuse of process (here)

UPDATE 3 October 2019: When will Natural England pull the plug on hen harrier brood meddling? (here)

UPDATE 4 October 2019: Brood meddled hen harrier chick vanished from grouse moor on Bowes Estate, County Durham (here)

UPDATE 8 October 2019: 2nd brood meddled hen harrier chick vanished from grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

UPDATE 15 October 2019: 3rd brood meddled hen harrier ‘disappears’ in suspicious circumstances (here)

10,000 consultation responses for proposed bill to ban fox & mountain hare killing in Scotland

Press release from Scottish Greens (22 Sept 2019)

Fox and Hare Bill receives almost 10,000 consultation responses

Alison Johnstone MSP has welcomed the astonishing response to her Fox and Hare member’s bill consultation, which has received almost 10,000 responses from organisations and members of the public. This means the proposal is now the second most responded to member’s bill consultation of all time.

The consultation on the proposed bill, which will officially be known as the Protection and Conservation of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill, received 9850 electronic submissions with around 100 paper submissions.

The Scottish Government have previously stated they would act to end the mass slaughter of Scotland’s iconic wildlife, but given the absence of proposals in the programme for government, and recent revelations that a senior cabinet minister supports hunting (see here), it’s clear that Ms Johnstone’s bill is now the only game in town.

[Alison Johnstone MSP launched her fox and hare bill consultation in June. Photo by Gordon Terris]

Alison Johnstone MSP said:

I’m delighted that the consultation on my proposed bill has received such an astonishing response. I’m grateful for the support I’ve received from constituents, colleagues and stakeholders. Although the responses need to be individually analysed over the coming months, I am confident that the they will show overwhelming support for bring the indiscriminate killing of Scotland’s foxes and hares to an end.

Foxes and hares are iconic species that are widely celebrated in popular culture and valued by rural and urban Scots alike. They deserve our compassion and respect, yet they are routinely slaughtered across the country in huge numbers.

Fox hunting was meant to have been banned in Scotland in 2002, but little has changed. Hunts still go out, pursuing and killing foxes, and foxes are still being killed by hunting dogs. My proposal would remove the loopholes and result in a watertight ban, ending hunting for good. Politicians have repeatedly promised to end hunting, and the Parliament passed the Protection of Wild Mammals Act back in its very first session. For hunting to continue despite this leads to distrust in our institutions and those leading them. My proposals would represent a new contract between land managers and the wider public that could help restore good faith.

Mountain hares are routinely being killed in huge numbers on grouse moors in particular, with an average of 26,000 killed every year. This is a native species whose population has crashed in some parts of the Highlands, and there is simply no justification for the killing.”


Red kite illegally poisoned in North Yorkshire

Toxicology testing (by WIIS – Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme) has confirmed that a dead red kite that was found ‘recently’ near Thixendale, North Yorkshire was illegally poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran, according to local raptor rehabilitator Jean Thorpe.

We haven’t been able to find any further information about this crime.

[The poisoned red kite. Photo from Jean Thorpe]



Wales leads the way with impressive new General Licences

Earlier this year Wild Justice successfully challenged Natural England over the unlawfulness of three General Licences, which, Wild Justice had argued, authorised the casual killing of millions of birds without adequate monitoring or regulation.

Whilst we await the outcome of the subsequent Government consultation and review of new General Licences for England by DEFRA and Natural England, the Welsh statutory conservation agency, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has quietly and efficiently got on with its own review of the Welsh General Licences after seeking legal advice and realising that, just like the English General Licences, the Welsh ones were actually unlawful too.

A couple of weeks ago Wild Justice wrote a blog about the proposed new Welsh General Licences, including rumours about how good they might be and the game-shooting industry’s hysteria about the as yet unpublished new regulations.

Yesterday, NRW confirmed that it would be issuing three brand new General Licences on 7 October 2019 and explained some of the big changes that have been made, including changes to the species covered by the new General Licences where NRW felt the evidence to retain them on the General Licence approach was not strong enough, as follows:

  1. GL001 – Prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit or to prevent the spread of disease to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit. This will not now include rook, jay or collared dove. We have also revised the purpose of this General Licence so as to be for the spread of disease to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit.
  2. GL002 – Preserving public health and preventing the spread of disease. This will not now include carrion crow, magpie, jackdaw, rook, jay, collared dove or wood pigeon.
  3. GL004 – Conservation of wild birds. This will not now include rook, feral pigeon or Canada goose.

These changes are significant, particularly for the Rook which has now been removed from all three licences, and the Jay which has been removed from two licences.

[Rook by Vishnevskiy/Alamy]

It’s probably worth emphasising here (in advance of inaccurate headline hysteria by the Daily Mail, Telegraph, shooting press et al) that this doesn’t mean that Rooks and Jays can’t ever be killed; it just means that in those circumstances where land managers can demonstrate a need and can provide evidence that non-lethal control methods have failed, then NRW will consider issuing individual licences to kill these species under very specific and controlled circumstances. There’ll be no more casual killing as there was before.

For GL004 – Conservation of Wild Birds – the removal of the Rook was exactly what Wild Justice had argued for in England, because there is simply no scientific justification for it on the grounds of protecting wild birds (nor Jays, Jackdaws or Magpies).

NRW hasn’t yet published the new General Licences and probably won’t until they become active on 7th October so it’s a bit difficult to comment in detail at the moment, although NRW has provided a series of Q&As (here). It’s clearly not possible to comment on the legality of these new licences until they have been seen in full.

Naturally, NRW’s announcement about the revised General Licences has been met with a furious reaction by the National Gamekeepers Organisation (see here) and no doubt their mates at BASC, Countryside Alliance, GWCT etc will all be claiming the sky is falling in by this morning. There’ll be warnings of a plague of Rooks bringing pestilence across the nation and how their wings will block out the sun and their beaks will peck out the eyes of babies and toddlers.

The Gamekeepers are apparently considering a potential legal challenge against NRW’s decision-making (in the form of a Judicial Review) which is really quite funny when you consider the slurs chucked at Wild Justice by the game shooting industry for er, undertaking a legal challenge (for example ‘another extremist attack’ and engaging in ‘childish eco-politics’).

It’s not yet clear whether there will be grounds for a Judicial Review (although that’s a decision for a judge to make) but NRW’s statement about undertaking a formal review of all bird control licensing in 2020 may well just scupper the chance of an immediate Judicial Review application being accepted anyway – because why waste a court’s time when a review is already planned? (This is the same legal tactic that’s been used by Natural England and DEFRA to delay Wild Justice’s legal challenges against the General Licences and the release of millions of non-native gamebirds).

Well done to Natural Resources Wales for refusing to be bullied in to submission by those with vested interests in the status quo, and particularly well done for placing importance on scientific evidence and the law above old wives’ tales and rural myths.

We look forward to seeing the details of the new Welsh General Licences and particularly watching how Natural England/DEFRA reacts as well as SNH, also currently consulting and reviewing the Scottish General Licences and apparently ‘considering the merits’ of adding Ravens to at least one of the General Licences for unregulated slaughter. Rest assured, there will be another legal challenge if they try and pull that stunt.

UPDATE 4 February 2020: NRW – your general licences are unlawful (see here)


Pre-Werritty propaganda from grouse shooting industry

As we all continue to wait for the publication of Professor Werritty’s report on driven grouse shooting, the usual suspects have been busy putting together a damage limitation programme to save their sorry necks.

An ‘informal alliance’ has been created under the banner of RELM (Rural Environment Land Management) ‘to help co-ordinate and streamline responses and communications ahead of the publication of the final report‘ and its first offering is this briefing document for MSPs which was distributed by Scottish Land & Estates a couple of weeks ago:

Here’s the intro blurb:

Grouse moor management has been the subject of much attention during the summer period across a range of issues such as the environment and species conservation, satellite tagging and wildlife crime, mountain hares and the start of the season on August 12.

With the Scottish Government’s review into grouse moor management due to be published shortly, rural organisations wished to provide the following update to parliamentarians. We would be pleased to provide additional detail where required.

Ah, how thoughtful. Amusingly, several MSPs have sent us a copy of this briefing document with comments along the lines of ‘You might want to say a few things about this’.

We’re grateful to those MSPs because yes, we do want to say a few things about the document’s contents and we wouldn’t otherwise have had an opportunity had they not shared the briefing with us.

We’re not posting the full briefing document here, yet. Instead we intend to blog about different aspects of it in turn.

Today we’re looking at the page entitled ‘Wildlife Crime’ and its five paragraphs of propaganda:

Propaganda paragraph 1:

Yes, significant media attention does remain focused on wildlife crime, and particularly illegal raptor persecution because everyone else finds it abhorrent and can’t understand why it still goes on and why the grouse shooting industry continues to shield the criminals involved. It’d be interesting to know what, exactly, these five organisations have done to crack down on raptor persecution as part of their claimed ‘full commitment to improving prevention, detection and prosecution’.

Propaganda paragraph 2:

No surprises here. This is a blatant attempt, yet again, to discredit the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime Report which was published a couple of weeks ago and showed that confirmed raptor persecution crimes in Scotland in 2018 had doubled from those recorded in 2017. These cases included a peregrine poisoned in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh; a buzzard found to have been shot twice, in South Lanarkshire; a buzzard caught in an illegal trap, in Inverness-shire; and a hen harrier caught in a spring trap in Perthshire. All of these incidents occurred on, or close to, land being managed intensively for driven grouse shooting.

With this level of relentless criminality, it’s no wonder the grouse shooting industry apologists want to infer that the RSPB’s data are ‘unofficial’. Fine. We’ll come back to this later this autumn when the Government publishes its annual wildlife crime report, which we know will include all of the confirmed incidents already reported by the RSPB.

Propaganda paragraph 3:

This is perhaps the most cynical of attempts to downplay the disgusting reality of the criminality still being committed on some driven grouse moors. And the first sentence of paragraph 3 is actually a lie. Not being pursued by Police Scotland? Er, ALL the cases of alleged raptor persecution that have been reported from grouse moors over the last few months are still considered to be live criminal investigations by the Police, according to the investigations officer we spoke to yesterday.

So, the satellite-tagged hen harrier that was found dead on a grouse moor in Strathbraan with an illegal spring trap clamped to its leg – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The two satellite-tagged golden eagles (Adam and Charlie) that ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on another grouse moor in Strathbraan, on the same morning as each other – they’re still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police (as are several other alleged offences uncovered during the police search).

The hen harrier that was found caught by its leg in a spring trap that had been set illegally next to its nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The buzzard that was caught inside a legal cage trap on the same South Lanarkshire grouse moor but was then allegedly beaten to death by someone arriving on a quad bike after dark and using a key to open the padlocked door of the cage – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The young golden eagle that was photographed flying around in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegal trap clamped to its leg – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

And as for the claim that estates have issued ‘unprecedented and emphatic rebuttals’ – er, there’s nothing unprecedented about that! Estates have always denied any involvement in any of the wildlife crimes that have been uncovered on their land – it’s what they do!

Propaganda paragraph 4:

Ah yes, convicted gamekeeper Alan Wilson, dubbed by the press as ‘Scotland’s worst wildlife killer‘. Yet again, the link between Wilson’s filthy criminal activity uncovered at Henlaw Wood and driven grouse shooting is kept well hidden. Yes, the Longformacus Estate was managed for low ground pheasant shooting but it was also managed for driven grouse shooting – a fact that Scottish Land & Estates doesn’t like to mention!

And speaking of Scottish Land & Estates and it’s so-called ‘full commitment’ to tackling wildlife crime, it still hasn’t said whether the Longformacus Estate was a member at the time these crimes were committed and if so, whether that membership has now been terminated? We asked SLE this question on 22 August 2019. Still waiting for an answer….

Propaganda paragraph 5:

Of course they continue to call for tougher penalties – how can they not? But they know as well as we do that the severity of the penalty is utterly irrelevant if the perpetrators of these crimes can’t even be identified, let alone prosecuted.

And as long as evidence continues to be destroyed and employers continue to shield their criminal employees by instructing them to give ‘no comment’ interviews to the police, nothing will change.

Fortunately, there are more and more savvy MSPs in the Scottish Parliament who have seen through the greenwash and know exactly what’s going on. If you think your MSP isn’t one of those, it’d be worth dropping them an email with a link to this blog.

Damning report highlights illegal killing of birds of prey on Nidderdale AONB grouse moors

The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is an absolute hell hole for many birds of prey.

[Photo: Ruth Tingay]

This is no secret. The illegal killing of raptors on the grouse moors of this AONB has been documented and reported on for years, by the RSPB and by this blog. The area is notorious amongst raptor conservationists for the number of hen harriers that ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances (that’s a euphemism for ‘they have been killed’) and the number of red kite corpses that have been found either shot or poisoned, or sometimes both.

It’s a gaping black hole on the breeding distribution maps of many raptor species and despite this being a so-called protected area, in the words of Mark Avery it’s actually a massive wildlife crime scene.

Here’s a map we produced a while ago showing the boundary of the Nidderdale AONB (yellow line), illegally killed red kites (red dots), missing satellite-tagged hen harriers (orange stars), shot hen harrier Bowland Betty (red star), shot hen harrier River (red triangle, which we now know should be closer to the red star on the Swinton Estate).

Nidderdale AONB lies directly east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, another raptor persecution hell hole. Last year, the Park Authority responded to public concerns about the killing of raptors on grouse moors by producing an evidence report on the scale of the problem. As we wrote at the time, ‘This report, which is very well written and referenced, is a significant move. There’s no attempt to deny or hide or obfuscate the facts, as we’ve seen so often before. It is a clear description of what’s been happening in this National Park and places grouse moor management at the centre of it all. It’s well worth a read‘.

Fast forward a year and now the Nidderdale AONB has done exactly the same:

You can download the report here: BoP-in-NiddAONB-Evidence-Report-FINAL-Sept-2019

It’s another well-written, fully-referenced report and there’s no hint of denial or obfuscation. It is particularly pleasing to see the use of RSPB persecution data, not just the inaccurate, out of date, watered-down RPPDG data that some pro-shooting organisations rely upon to minimise the perceived scale of the problem. Once again, the report’s conclusion is that grouse moor management is in the frame.

Well done to the author(s) of this report and well done to the Nidderdale AONB for having the balls to publish it.

Marsh harrier shot, rescued, rehabbed & released in Yorkshire

There was some brilliant video footage posted on Twitter yesterday showing a rehabilitated Marsh harrier being released back in to the wild by the indefatigable Jean Thorpe (@jeanthorpeRR).

[Photo by Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve]

From the information provided, it was reported that the Marsh harrier had suffered a broken wing caused by a shotgun pellet and was found injured next to a game-shooting estate near Scarborough.

The x-ray details suggest this was on 18th August 2019.

Expert veterinary care and rehabilitation by Mark Naguib of Battle Flatts Veterinary Clinic and Jean and this harrier was able to be released.

We haven’t seen any previous reports about the illegal shooting of this Marsh harrier, nor any police appeals for information.

[Jean releasing the harrier, photos by Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve]

UPDATE 9 October 2019: North Yorkshire Police appeal for info after Marsh Harrier found shot near Scarborough (here)

Golden eagle with trap dangling from its leg: statement from Environment Cabinet Secretary

In August Police Scotland published a photograph of a young golden eagle that had been seen flying in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegally-set trap clamped to one of its legs.

This photograph, along with the Police’s appeal for information, went viral and was reported on news channels around the world (e.g. here), highlighting Scotland’s shameful record of illegal raptor persecution.

There’s been no further update on the fate of this eagle. Undoubtedly it’ll be dead and if it had been found by anyone associated with the criminal element of the game-shooting industry the corpse and trap will be long gone….nothing to see, deny, deny, deny, it was all a set up, fake news, it never happened, etc etc.

Meanwhile, those who aren’t fooled by the propaganda and know exactly what goes on on game shooting estates have been asking pertinent questions.

Step up Colin Beattie MSP (SNP: Midlothian North & Musselburgh) who lodged the following written question on 2 September 2019:

Question S5W-25069 – 

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of reports of a golden eagle found with an illegal trap on its legs, what action it is taking to protect wild birds as a matter of urgency ahead of the publication of the findings of the Grouse Moor Management Group (the Werritty report).

A brilliant question. Forget ‘waiting for Werritty‘ which has been the Scottish Government’s default response to every single raptor persecution crime since May 2017, Colin wants to know what action is being taken NOW.

The Government’s response came from Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham on 12 Sept, as follows:

The Scottish Government is strongly committed to safeguarding the welfare of all animals, including wild birds such as raptors.

The illegal persecution of our birds of prey is an extremely serious issue and, as we announced in our Programme for Government for 2019-2020, we will bring forward a Bill increasing the maximum penalties for certain wildlife offences, including those associated with illegal killing or injuring of wild birds. This will deliver a commitment to implement the recommendation to increase wildlife crime penalties in the review undertaken by Professor Poustie.

We also committed in the Programme for Government that we will respond to the independent review on grouse moor management. The review is examining how we can ensure that grouse moor management is sustainable and complies with the law and it would not be appropriate to make decisions in advance of its report. We will carefully consider the recommendations in the report and other relevant evidence when deciding our response.

The measures on wildlife crime penalties build upon a range of other work we have undertaken to tackle this issue, including: supporting the use of satellite tags to monitor birds of prey; introducing new offences for harassing birds of prey or damaging their nesting places; setting up a poisons disposal scheme to remove poisons used to kill wild birds; strengthening Police Scotland wildlife crime resources, including in the Cairngorms; and introducing vicarious liability so that landowners can be held responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees.

Roseanna’s response carefully avoids answering Colin’s question directly. Colin asked what Scot Gov was doing ‘as a matter of urgency ahead of the publication of the Werritty report’. Roseanna’s response confirms, in effect, that Scot Gov is doing absolutely nothing at all in advance of the Werritty report.


And guess what? We’re still waiting for Werritty, despite being told by Scot Gov at the end of July that the report was due ‘in the next few weeks’. What an embarrassing fiasco it has become.

Whoever wrote Roseanna’s response was surely having a laugh, judging by the last paragraph. Yes, Scot Gov has introduced new offences for harassing birds of prey or damaging their nesting places but as far as we’re aware, there have been no prosecutions for these offences even though there have been a number of reports of raptor nests being deliberately burned out on grouse moors.

And yes, Scot Gov set up a poisons disposal scheme (two, in fact) to remove poisons used to kill wild birds and yet still we’re seeing raptors being illegally poisoned and still gamekeepers are being found guilty of possessing these illegal poisons.

And yes, Scot Gov did support a pilot scheme for a number of police special constables (essentially volunteers working in their own time) in the Cairngorms National Park but there has been no (public) assessment of the scheme’s impact and raptor persecution crimes were still reported in the National Park during the scheme’s duration.

And yes, Scot Gov did introduce vicarious liability so that landowners could be held responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees but so far this has only resulted in two successful convictions in 7.5 years and only last month yet another landowner avoided any charges of alleged vicarious liability and the Crown Office chose not to explain this decision to the public.


Buzzard shot & injured: Humberside Police appeal for info

Humberside Police press release (12 September 2019)


East Riding of Yorkshire

We are appealing for information in relation to the shooting of a female buzzard.

On the 16 August the bird was found injured on the B1246 between Kilnwick Percy Hill top and Warter village near Pocklington in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

The bird was still alive and when x-rayed was found to have two shotgun pellets within its body. The injuries were fresh indicating that the bird had been recently shot.

Fortunately the injuries were such that the bird has been nursed back to good health and has now been released. The exact location of where the shooting of this bird took place is not confirmed. What is known is that the bird had been shot on or close to the date it was found (16 August).

Buzzards and other birds of prey are protected from persecution by Section One of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 which makes it an offence to intentionally kill, injure such a bird. The penalty for these offences are a term of six months imprisonment and or an unlimited fine.

Chief Inspector Paul Butler the wildlife & rural crime lead for Humberside Police said, “This type of criminal behaviour towards our birds of prey sadly continues. This is now the sixth confirmed persecution incident involving seven birds of prey in the last two years across our force area.

The persecution of birds of prey is a national wildlife crime priority and Humberside Police takes this issue very seriously.

We have now adopted Operation Owl which is a national initiative to raise awareness of the problem and to tackle and prevent this type of criminality.

A large number of our wildlife crime officers have also received specific training in identifying and dealing with these offences.

I would encourage anyone with information about anyone involved in this type of offence in our area to come forward with this information which will be treated in confidence

If you have any information which could assist the investigation of the above incident please contact PC 1708 Ward on 101 quoting investigation number 16/100243/19.