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 It is particularly pleasing to see the use of RSPB persecution data, not just the inaccurate, out of date, watered-down RPPDG data that some pro-shooting organisations rely upon to minimise the perceived scale of the problem.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.

17 thoughts on “Damning report highlights illegal killing of birds of prey on Nidderdale AONB grouse moors”

  1. I saw this this morning having been slightly involved in its preparation, its been a long time coming but it is well worth it. We should see this not only as a “current state of play” document but as a rallying call by the AONB that things must and will change. For me of course for most of my birding life this was home when it came to raptors and yes it needs to improve markedly, things have changed since a teenage me was told by a keeper on the East Nidderdale moors ” we make the law up here.” Another keeper ( a friend now long gone) nearly 30 years ago said the reason there was only one pair of Eagles in the Lakes was because their young chose to winter mainly in Nidderdale and few survived the experience. Sadly there are still plenty of persecutors in the AONB, this is the clarion call to root them out!

  2. It’s a great shame that Nidderdale wasn’t included in the recent extension of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It needs to be. I appreciate that National Park status doesn’t necessarily immediately change the behaviour of gamekeepers, but with National Park status would come more visitors and therefore more potential witnesses to discourage unacceptable behaviour. I love Nidderdale and it deserves to be better known.

    1. Historically the reason it was not included within the original YDNP is that the two major landowners objected to being within the NP. They were what is now Yorkshire Water plc and Swinton Estate. Nothing will change the behaviour of the keepers except a different set of instructions from employers and a much increased chance of being caught. Detection rates in the YDNP are no better than Nidderdale AONB and I would suggest that until proved otherwise no estate is trustworthy.

      1. Well said – unfortunately “being caught” doesn’t appear to mean much nowadays as evidenced by very few prosecutions and pathetic sentencing even for the very worst offenders. The recent punishment of a few hours community service to the very worst serial offender is evidence of this. However, “being caught” would be a good first step.

  3. A few things Gilruth will NOT be adding to his wee book of cherries.
    1. The Peregrines on territories 1, 2 & 3 (chapter 8).
    2. The graph showing the dramatic INCREASE in recorded crime from 1989 onwards (figure 6)
    3. The shift from poisoning to shooting since 2015 (figure 10).

    1. Nor the fact that one keeper known to the writer of this blog has a very very short fuse and is known locally as the “verminator” or that if known birders drive the green moor roads of East Nidderdale you are followed by vehicles full of keepers from one estate to another and occasionally boxed in. That one of those roads at one point had a piece taken out of it to stop you driving it. That one keeper has a glare that could freze your blood.

      1. Wow! That is pure intimidation. Why can’t undercover police set up a “baiting point” for the henchmen and catch the verminators in their act of intimidation? I feel that your description of the gamekeepers is the main reason for the lack of prosecutions; basically, people are scared of reporting such nasties for fear of reprisals. I’d like to thank the people who produce evidence reports on raptors – “Thank you for helping to bring a soon-to-end Victorian past-time.

        1. On the one occasion we took a policeman with us the keepers sadly didn’t follow us!! However it has happened since. I once had a stand up row with a keeper on a public track where one side was moor and the other fields, we had permission to be in those fields to ring wader chicks but he didn’t believe us. They use intimidation to get rid of you for good I think it annoyed that particular oaf that with me and others from our ringing group it didn’t work. I think just seeing us there always wound him up. The Verminator is an ex paratrooper and has been apparently visited by the boys in blue several times sadly without result.

          1. Interesting stuff Paul. A few weeks ago at the Revive Coalition for Grouse Moor Reform conference in Perth the most striking thing that came out of it (and that’s saying a lot) were the people who live locally to grouse moors and the stories of surveillance and intimidation if you’re not part of the estates clique. One of the stories was as you describe of someone having their vehicle boxed in by game keepers, people carrying guns. Perhaps as many as half of the delegates were from grouse moor areas, there seems to be an awful lot of resentment against them (I wonder why!) that’s perhaps now starting to bubble to the surface. If the real story rather than the saccharine pish in the ‘The Untold Story of…’ videos gets out to the general public it will be very bad news indeed for the estates.

      2. Yup – I’ve had that.

        I’ve been videoed by gamekeepers as they followed me in their vehicle driving at walking pace behind me out in the sticks on my own.

        I was once picked up by the police because the gamekeepers had spotted me walking up a track. I, fortunately, got lost but as the copper drove me to my car he told me to look up the lane I’d first walked up. The lane was blocked by, I think, 5 land rovers and a group of burly looking men. I don’t think they were wanting a nice cup of tea!

      3. That`s interesting Paul. I, and millions of us are not aware of this “mafia style” harassment of tourists on the moors. They really are a controlling force that need eradicating. If I know, then it`s very obvious that moor owners, managers, agents, BASC, NGA and every other person involved in the sport Know, and either comply or encourage it. This needs to be made as public as possible. The public will change it on mass armed with this knowledge, the government will buckle under the public pressure. I believe the writing is on the wall. There is no place in Humanity`s enlightened future for the mass killing of animals for pleasure. What do you suppose is the IQ of that “worminator” guy? ….Just curious

  4. One person I have spoken to in Nidderdale, who tried to do something to stop the raptor persecution, received threats and nasty detritus through their letterbox. I won’t go into details for fear of identifying them . It is obvious that ordinary people in this area are scared to stand up and be counted. The landowners have too much influence, money and contacts and the thugs they employ intimidate the local population. Of course, their jobs and homes depend on it. Probably same goes for Bowland and other grouse shooting areas. The law can’t protect you from these people – in any case, many grouse moor landowners have seats on NP boards or are magistrates. Some wildlife crime police I know of are shooters themselves (including trophy hunting ).

    1. Yes I’ve met one or two of those too. The classic of course is xxxxxxxxxxxxx once the xxxxxxxxx WCO for xxxxxxxxxx, I can only describe xxxxxxxxx in what Roderick Leslie describes on Mark’s blog as unparliamentary language, the same goes for his effectiveness as a wildlife cop. There are others too.

    2. To be far the majority of the Yorkshire uplands is unwelcoming in for tourists. I have stayed there once or twice and the attitude of the ‘country folk’ is more a a case of just post you money, don’t bother bringing it in person. Not a place I will be spending money in soon

  5. The other day i was watching a video of Naomi Klein talking to Greta Thunberg. I know very little of Naomi Klein so perhaps this is something she expands on in her book but she said something i had never heard before. It is obvious once you think about it, when faced with an emergency we humans turn around and see what others are doing, before we react. With the climate change crisis, Greta didn’t do this, perhaps because of her Asperger’s, but the vast majority have been up to now pretty ignoring the crisis because everyone else is. A crowd mentality.
    But it got me thinking and apologies if this is obvious, but we are tribal animals, when confronted with danger we act as a pack. If no one else is panicking everything must be OK.
    I wanted to stay in a watchtower at night at Top Slip near the border or Kerala and Tamil Nadu India. I had to have a guide to show me the way to the watchtower. He was a tribal Indian who had been attacked by a Leopard as a child. On the way through the forest in the dark, at one point as he scanned the vegetation around us with his torch, right to the side of us a Leopard passed by. It all happened so quickly that all i remember was the incredible excitement of seeing such a beautiful animal so close, it was less than 10m away, and checking to see how our guide was reacting and also checking that the girl who i had met was also OK, she was.
    My immediate reaction, was not to run or fight but to notice my companions. Later i found that the tribal believed he was untouchable by any wild animal because his childhood experience was a blessing.
    But all this makes me think that activism, including against raptor persecution, works because we look around and see that we are not alone, others are panicking too which not only restores our sanity but encourages us to keep fighting, which also attracts more and more like minded people. Then we are a movement..
    Thank you RPUK and Mark Avery for uniting us in our efforts to stop wildlife crime.
    This Nidderdale report is one step closer to that goal. If you haven’t read it, it is essential reading!
    It should be in the media.

    As far as climate change it looks like the leaders like Greta are waking people up but less so in the UK.

  6. All I can say is that the comments above are very depressing, especially about the landowners having so much power. I don’t really see a way forward as the police (due to no fault of theirs) are part of the whole rotten system. It will need a huge change in the law and system of land ownership to bring real changes.

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