2018 worst year in more than a decade for illegal raptor persecution in England

Yesterday the RSPB published more data on its Raptor Persecution Map Hub, which now includes 12 years worth of searchable incidents. You can read about it here on the RSPB Investigations Team’s blog.

Coinciding with this release was a piece on the BBC’s Six O’Clock News followed up with a feature on BBC North West’s Inside Out programme.

The Inside Out programme is available to watch on iPlayer here for the next 29 days.

The feature runs for about ten minutes and includes interviews with the RSPB’s Investigations Team, North Yorkshire Police’s award-winning Wildlife Crime Officer Sgt Stu Grainger, and the Moorland Association’s top contortionist Amanda Anderson.

To be honest there’s nothing new here at all – it’s a well-rehearsed pantomime with claims made by the RSPB (based on evidential data) and counter-claims from the grouse shooting industry (pretending everything’s fine) but nevertheless, still well worth the airplay on national news that undoubtedly will have reached some people who’d previously been unaware of the level of criminality on many of the grouse moors of northern England.

The journalist, Gareth Barlow, did a reasonable job although just lacked the killer questions that would have exposed the Moorland Association’s nonsense with ease. For example, he picked up that 2018 was the worst year for recorded raptor persecution crimes in over a decade but he let Amanda Anderson get away with some snakeish slithering around the facts, as follows:

Gareth Barlow:A study from last year of data trackers showed that hen harriers are ten times more likely to die or disappear over land associated with grouse moors. How do you react to that data?”

Amanda Anderson:The study of tagged birds up to 2017 raises considerable issues. But actually since then 2018 saw 34 fledged hen harrier chicks in England and last year a record-breaking 47 chicks fledged, mostly from grouse moors“.

Let’s just analyse Amanda’s response. A casual and uninformed listener might think that, based on what she said, the grouse shooting industry has cleaned up its act since 2017, with ‘record-breaking’ [ahem] numbers of chicks fledging and everything’s fine now, nothing to see here, move along, gamekeepers love hen harriers too and the killing has stopped. But what happens to those ‘record-breaking’ number of fledged hen harriers once they leave the nest?

What Amanda ‘forgot’ to mention was the long list of satellite-tagged hen harriers that have either vanished in suspicious circumstances or been found illegally shot or trapped or poisoned, mostly on or close to land managed for game bird shooting, since 2018 (and since DEFRA’s so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan was enacted):

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published false information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 May 2019: A male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: A hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

There are two more satellite-tagged hen harriers (Tony & Rain) that are reported either confirmed or suspected to have been illegally killed in the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Report but no further details are available.

And then there were last year’s brood meddled hen harrier chicks that have been reported ‘missing’ but as they’re carrying a new type of tag known to be unreliable it’s not known if they’ve been bumped off or if they’re still ok. For the purposes of this mini-analysis we will discount these birds.

So that makes a total of at least 29 hen harriers that are known to have either ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances or have been found illegally killed in the last two years, during the period that Amanda Anderson was suggesting the killing had stopped.

That’s a lot of incidents for Amanda to ‘forget’ to mention, isn’t it?

And we’re supposed to trust the Moorland Association when it claims to have ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution!

24 thoughts on “2018 worst year in more than a decade for illegal raptor persecution in England”

  1. if you use the map provided by the RSPB you can see a constant decline in raptor persecution year on year? i am unsure how you have come to figure this misleading information ?

    1. You can in all honesty say that only a minority of English keepers are involved in hen harrier persecution for the simple reason there aren’t enough harriers about for most keepers to get a chance to kill any. No golden eagles were (probably) killed on a Yorkshire grouse moor last year for exactly the same reason no Siberian tigers were poached on them either.

    2. Hi Gerry,

      I think that you are looking at the whole of the UK and that the original discussion was about England. If you filter the results you will see for England.

      2007 – 64
      2008 – 39
      2009 – 60
      2010 – 59
      2011 – 48
      2012 – 55
      2013 – 58
      2014 – 54
      2015 – 57
      2016 – 56
      2017 – 59
      2018 – 67

  2. Personally I thought the Inside Out segment was brilliant. Mark and Stu came over with so much sincerity compared to Anderson’s oily PR tone that I don’t think anyone would need much background info on the subject to know whose comments should be trusted. Mark’s comeback that they’ve been saying they want to stamp out illegal persecution for years and nothing’s changed pulled the carpet from under any credibility her remarks might have been, temporarily, given. The grouse moor owner was rather insipid, but challenging the paltry contribution if any that they make to conservation needs a segment of its own at a later date. The scale of DGS and the wide range of other serious impacts it has warrants similar features on does DGS really create rural jobs or drive them away and do grouse moors conflict with reducing downstream flooding? Considering a massive chunk of both northern England and Scotland is taken up with the provision for one bloody silly hobby that level of attention is very long overdue. Grouse moors simultaneously being scrutinised publicly on all these fronts would really get over the point they are nothing but a massive pain in the arse we need to get shot of ASAP. Reality 1…Grouse Moor Propaganda 0.

    1. It was a worthwhile contribution to public education on the issue of illegal raptor persecution so thank you BBC. The more people see reports like that the more chance that they too will begin to pressure and lobby for necessary changes in land uses to deliver public good.

      A slight niggle was that AA was allowed to not answer the questions, instead just recycling the faded sound bytes that have long since been dismissed as empty etc.

      But, more of the same is needed, the public need to know what’s going on and where their taxes go;)

  3. True – we know this ground has been covered previously and true -there’s a wealth of detail which could have been included to disprove the MA’s claims and assertions. However, I saw the programme’s primary value as getting the message out to people who are unaware of just what goes on in the name of DGS. It’s my opinion that it was pitched at just the right level – not blinding folks with masses of science and figures and yet getting across a clear message. Having Mark on last was a masterstroke and nobody could have been left in any doubt what that message was. Many thanks to whoever was responsible for initiating the programme, as well as to those who took part. More of the same at regular intervals, please.

  4. Many thanks for the pointer to the iPlayer recording, and for the work in publishing that breathtaking list of crimes. And to think those are against Hen Harriers alone:-(

  5. I too thought the programme was excellent and very clearly aimed at the general public.

    In it Amanda Anderson said that in 2018 there were 34 hen harriers that fledged and last year the number was 47, “mostly from grouse moors” Is she right in her assertion?

  6. Amanda’s new found and almost damascene enthusiasm for illegal activities to be placed in employment contracts and tenancy agreements is surely a sign that the MoorAss will be fully supporting the RSPB’s call for licensing of grouse moors… unless of course it is all PR wash…

  7. Whilst the landowner’s open support for Hen Harriers is welcomed his comments are interesting – “one pair on this area would be sustainable, but a colony would undermine all the other conservation work that we do”.
    What message is this sending out, and how do gamekeepers interpret his comments?
    That any more than one pair on an estate should not be tolerated and should be eradicated?
    I am sure the landowner wouldn’t condone any illegal persecution of birds of prey by his employees.
    But could such comments explain why despite RSPB calculations that there is enough habitat for 300 pairs we are only seeing a handful of breeding pairs?
    Shouldn’t landowners be working from the basic presumption that birds of prey are protected by law regardless of numbers and that the commercial viability of an estate should not simply hinge on grouse shooting, but should include a diverse range of activities to ensure a sustainable income?
    Shouldn’t the message from landowners to employees be simple- if you undertaken any illegal activity, not only will your employment be terminated, but the estate will work with the police to gather evidence so that you will also face a criminal prosecution?
    Anything less is simply not convincing that landowners are working effectively to eradicate the illegal persecution of birds of prey. This should be the message from organisations like the Moorland Association to their members.
    Would it not also be an incentive if stewardship payments were linked to the number of breeding pairs, and a colony of Hen Harriers would attract a higher stewardship payment than simply having one nesting pair? Any evidence of illegal persecution would result in a complete withdrawal of stewardship payments.
    Whilst it is easy to dismiss this in principle. The police, RSPB and national wildlife crime unit need other government measures to support their work in trying to stop the criminality taking place on our remote uplands. Such might create a financial incentive for landowners to more fully support Hen Harriers on their land? Trying to detect crimes and prosecute the offenders is unlikely to work on its own.
    Hopefully if this program does nothing else- it raises public awareness of the issues facing birds of prey, and will increase the pressure on politicians to take the necessary steps to eradicate this abhorrent treatment of a very rare and precious species.

    1. I know that landowner and that moor it is just over 5000acres and with other moors on three sides. If you take the Harrier density figures from the work done during the HH dialogue that moor could support 2 pairs of harriers without any noticeable decline in the number of Grouse available to be shot. In fact because parts of that moor and some of those surrounding having plenty of grass/ cotton grass/heath rush it could well support 3 pairs of harriers if grouse numbers were good. I may well email him and point that out although I probably will not get a reply. The trouble is these people believe their own sides propaganda and when we tell even the better ones the real story they are at best conflicted and at worse think we are lying ( as there side do all the bloody time). Remember he is put up because he is one of the good guys with a keen genuine interest in birds other than Red Grouse ( Curlew, Ring Ouzel, Merlin), We only see a handful of Hen Harrier pairs because they have been brought to a very low ebb by killing at winter roosts. If the birds were left entirely alone ( including Brood Meddling, which probably severely effects population dynamics, limiting birds to “Honey pot” sites) I suspect that there would quickly be a substantial increase in numbers and a better geographical spread.
      When Amanda Anderson ( the smiling face of raptor persecution [Ed: for clarity, this was a phrase used in jest by a police officer to describe AA – it does not imply that AA has any direct involvement in raptor persecution]) Claims in the programme that 81 chicks have fledged in the last two years and most are from grouse moors it is indeed not entirely true, it includes the Forest of Bowland nests which yes come from land where some grouse are shot but this land is largely managed as an upland reserve by United Utilities and RSPB, the 2018 nest in YDNP was not on a grouse moor. The same applies in 2019 and it includes the young subjected to BM, they should certainly not be counted. Most of the other young were reared on Forestry land. She is very PR savvy the journalist when confronted with those numbers should have quoted the numbers known to be already dead as well as asking how many Amanda thinks may still be alive. The programme however delivered a message on prime time TV which can only be good and Mark having the last word was a great piece of editing.

    2. “one pair on this area would be sustainable, but a colony would undermine all the other conservation work that we do”

      I do not know any ornithologist who would describe the Hen Harrier as nesting/breeding in ‘colonies’.

      The Countryside Alliance (Tim Bonner) wrote, in Hope for Harriers, 7 June 2019: “Hen harriers breed in colonies and as a colony developed at Langholm driven grouse shooting became unsustainable and the gamekeepers who managed the moor were laid off.”

      This may well be the ‘source’ of the hyperbolic description used above.

      The Langholm Moor Demonstration project reported (Hen Harrier Breeding 2014) that *with diversionary feeding* there were 12 nests in total (that is within 25,000 acres / 100 square kilometres): “the social aspect of hen harriers which typically seek a semi-colonial nesting distribution.”

      However, the BTO reported to me that “Hen Harriers are described as solitary or semi-colonial breeders, and I wouldn’t describe them as breeding in colonies. In years when there are good numbers of small rodents a small number of pairs, typically 2-4 pairs loosely breed in the same area. In typical years most Hen Harriers breed in solitary pairs”

      So what might a ‘semi-colony’ of Hen Harriers look like?

      In Natural England’s ‘case’ for a ‘trial brood management scheme’ – as they call it – Elston et al (2014) claimed, on the basis of *modelling*, that: “At harrier [nest] densities of or below
      0.025 km[-]2, harrier impacts were predicted to reduce autumn grouse densities by <10%, suggesting
      that a quota scheme could theoretically support coexistence between grouse shooting and harrier

      This density of nests is ONE nest per 40 square kilometres! (The trial proposed to set a nest density of ONE nest per 100 square kilometres.)

      I therefore think the use of the word 'colony' to describe Hen Harrier characteristic breeding density is quite pejorative.

      1. Sorry Keith your maths isn’t correct in the Dreadful Brood Meddling trial nests can be meddled/robbed/vandalised whatever you prefer at 10km apart that is not 1 nest per 100 sq km it is 314 sq km per pair this is nearly 8 times lower than Elston et al density threshold. Modelling done for the Hen Harrier dialogue using grouse densities supplied by MA ( around 2008-2010) showed that harriers would have a negligible impact at 1 pr per 10 sq km with moderate grouse densities. The brood meddling threshold is 30 times lower. So brood meddling is taking place at a harrier density between 8 and 30 times lower than when there is a negligible impact. That’s not a compromise or science based it is taking the piss and/or pandering to grouse lobby prejudices about harrier predation, NOT SCIENCE!

        1. I’m sure that the birds didn’t have any such trouble divvying up their territories in pre-DGS days, when their naturally occurring wild food supply wasn’t being commandeered by greedy landowners wishing to make money out of it. No doubt the various predators sorted things out for themselves with the survival of the fittest ensuring a healthy population of both predators and prey.These days, as with so many other things in life, man has intervened and is at risk of controlling things out of existence – making a pretty fine fuck-up of the job in the process.

          1. “I’m sure that the birds didn’t have any such trouble divvying up their territories in pre-DGS days”

            Absolutely spot on. I think the entire idea of Hen Harriers nesting either ‘colonially’ or ‘semi-colonially’ is misplaced, even though they sometimes exhibit loose pair-bonding (polyandry and polygyny). They are predators and are in competition with each other for food.

            I think that because we have so ruthlessly persecuted them we have NEVER seen their natural nesting behaviour over suitable habitat.

            I certainly do not think that the nesting densities I referenced constitute anything other than being as sufficiently solitary as is safe for them within whatever suitable habitat is available.

            The Countryside Alliance are deliberately trying to invent an idea that, unless ‘controlled’, Hen Harriers would form some kind of threatening ‘swarm’…

        2. “Sorry Keith your maths isn’t correct in the Dreadful Brood Meddling trial nests can be meddled/robbed/vandalised whatever you prefer at 10km apart that is not 1 nest per 100 sq km it is 314 sq km per pair”

          My maths is perfectly correct, as measured in a square grid (and also trivially simple). If each nest is in the centre of a 10km square (ie. the nests are all at least 10km apart) then that represents a density of one nest per 100 square kilometres. I don’t understand why you think 10 x 10 is equal to 314?

          If, instead, each nest is in the centre of a 5km radius circle (ie. the nests are all at least 10km apart) then that represents a density of one nest per PI x radius-squared = PI x 25 = 78.54 square kilometres.

          The rest of your argument, therefore, falls.

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