Hen harrier shot on grouse moor: North Yorkshire Police make an arrest

North Yorkshire Police have arrested a man in connection with the reported shooting of a hen harrier on a grouse moor near the village of Keasden.

He has been released under investigation whilst police await the results of forensic analysis.

This incident relates to the reported shooting of a male hen harrier near White Syke Hill in the Bowland AONB last October. A previous blog on this case can be read here.

[Hen harrier photo by Richard Verroen]

This is significant progress from North Yorkshire Police, not just in this particular investigation but also more generally in the investigation of crimes against birds of prey. Regular blog readers will be well aware of the infrequency of arrests in many of these cases, sometimes due to incompetence, inexperience and/or missed opportunities, sometimes due to lack of support from senior officers, but more often than not due to a lack of witnesses and insufficient evidence to instigate a prosecution against a named individual.

This is an issue that especially affects the persecution of hen harriers. Rigorous scientific research has demonstrated the eye-watering extent of hen harrier persecution on many driven grouse moors in northern England (e.g. here); it happens so often it’s brought the English hen harrier breeding population to its knees, but when was the last time you saw a named individual in court facing prosecution for allegedly killing one?

We have long argued that the scale of illegal raptor persecution, particularly on some driven grouse moors, amounts to serious organised crime and that the people involved are skilled at removing and destroying evidence to avoid prosecution. It takes tenacity, sometimes a bit of luck, and above all, determination, to get these people anywhere near a court room, let alone to secure a conviction.

This investigation is still in the very early stages and it may not progress to a charge if the evidence doesn’t reach the required standard but for now let’s congratulate North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Crime Team for getting it this far.

If you have any information that could help this investigation please contact North Yorkshire Police on Tel 101 quoting reference number: 12190193431.

30 thoughts on “Hen harrier shot on grouse moor: North Yorkshire Police make an arrest”

  1. The Yorkshire grouse moor I encountered last autumn, was devoid of bird life larger than insects. Most upland areas I have either lived in or visited there are always a few crows and and pigeons flying around possibly a buzzard or Kestrel, as well as a few little brown jobs (pipits, Sky Larks etc). In this case nothing!
    I live pretty close to a less intensively managed grouse moor and over the weekend in spite of the wind and some snow on the ground, there was still bird life!

  2. Good news, for those cynics who think that NYP are not serious about catching wildlife criminals TAKE NOTE. Having known several NYP wildlife crime officers and had conversations with others there is little doubt that despite the lack of evidence in many cases leading to nothing more than frustration all round these guys mean business, are thoroughly trained and totally committed, in complete contrast to some other forces we could all name. Lets hope they have enough to get an alleged criminal in court, well done guys.
    This has quite made my day, better go out now and buy my much better half a birthday present for next Tuesday, whilst she isn’t here.

    1. I am cynical one swallow does not make a summer, and one arrest does not mark a significant change. If this happens regularly then I will agree that it marks a change in attitude at the top: I don’t blame the feet on the ground but the senior officers and policy makers.

    1. I fully support earlier comments regarding the dedication of these NY police officers. Regarding comments about the attitudes of their bosses, I very much doubt that the progress made in wildlife policing in the area in recent years could have been achieved without full support from the top of the shop. The whole team deserves our full support.

  3. Even more squeaky bum time for this sordid industry and it’s slaves, the keepers.
    We just need to keep on pushing at that door that is starting to let a little light into their criminality.
    And please DGS gamekeepers, why not seek more useful employment as your jobs are beginning to look a little less secure now. The capital value of intensive grouse moors is starting to look just that little bit more vulnerable in future ………
    With falling values the whole house of cards will collapse.
    Trouble is that DGS keepers are really otherwise unemployable – I’ve known many of them.
    Who wants to employ people who are only trained to act illegally ?
    It will all pass into history, like gin traps and poison ….. Oh I forgot they’re still using spring traps and poison !

    Keep up the pressure !

  4. Congratulations to North Yorkshire police but the fact that this arrest feels like a victory only serves to show just how far we have yet to go to eliminate the illegal persecution of our raptors.

  5. So, so sorry to be a cynical but I would like to think that WCO’s and other investigative bodies hav a pretty good idea of who’s doing what and where. Having evidence that will satisfy the CPO or Procurator Fiscal is another matter entirely.

    I have the highest regard for those engaged in the thankless task of bringing these criminals to book.

    I note that in the latest issue of the Scottish Wildlife Trust magazine there is a less than flattering appraisal of the Werrity review “Grouse moor review falls short.” At present however, we have other fish to fry.


    1. Hi Pip (and Simon)

      Your cynicism is understandable and probably shared by many.

      However, this latest case has progressed further than normal (i.e. an actual arrest) – and don’t forget the police can’t just arrest anybody for anything at anytime – they have to have reasonable grounds to suspect that person of having committed an offence. That an arrest has been made in this case suggests a lot of hard slog groundwork by the cops.

      The arrest alone is indicative of a renewed determination here. Sure, the CPS will need to be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to proceed and for there to be a reasonable chance of conviction, but that’s the next stage.

      For now, let’s support the North Yorks Police Rural Crime Team and encourage them to continue. There is no doubt that the knives will already be drawn against them by some dark influential figures who don’t want to see cases progressing against those within the grouse shooting industry. The police aren’t going to be encouraged to pursue these cases if we’re also slating them when they’re making genuine efforts and progress.

      By all means criticise them when they don’t do what they should be doing but this investigation isn’t one of those occasions.

      1. Well said RP there are of course many times when WCOs and other officers know who when a wildlife crime has been committed. Indeed in some cases it would be very surprising if they didn’t but, and it is often a very big but, having enough evidence to pursue a case is a very different issue with even the most stupid of rural criminals knowing the best response to any question is “no comment.” North Yorkshire has an unenviable reputation as a wildlife crime hotspot and there is considerable political support to solve these crimes. From my experience when they cannot be solved it is not from want of trying, these crimes by their very nature rarely have witnesses or evidence that irrefutably points to a single culprit so when cases fail to get to court or result in no arrest it is hardly surprising, even criminals have the benefit of the law and I for one don’t want that to change. When the police do get that evidence we should whole heartedly let them know how good that is because we still want them to pursue all cases even those we and they know are unlikely to be fruitful and NYP are one of the better forces at this and are undoubtedly on our side. I have had personal experiences involving other forces or police officers where that was certainly not the case so give credit where credit is due.

    2. ‘……I would like to think that WCO’s and other investigative bodies hav a pretty good idea of who’s doing what and where.’ How do you know that they haven’t? It beggars belief that folks on this blog keep knocking the Police when they’re doing their utmost to bring these villains to book. It must be soul-destroying knowing what has happened and who is responsible and yet being unable to prove it. As has been rightly said elsewhere, the very nature of these crimes and the circumstances and locations in which they are being committed are such that evidence and witnesses are likely to be hard to come by – especially something strong enough to convince the CPS that a case is worth pursuing. Such successful cases as I have known, personally, have involved a substantial element of good luck. It appears that this may have been the case here too, with a witness present on the moor unknown to the person with the gun. Let’s hope that the Police case is a strong one. In the meantime we should be supporting and encouraging these specialist wildlife crime investigators, not panning them for failing to adduce evidence which probably doesn’t even exist.

  6. Some progress at last. Meanwhile on the xxxxx xxxx xxxxx web page (SGA)…their chairman actually says…without any sense of irony…. “Some of our members have told us they would rather go to jail than take part in some government-sponsored slaughter of an iconic species.” In other words the SGA’s chairman admits that some of his members have little regard for the rule of law.

    1. yes but he is talking about deer, of course the SGA wants lots of deer for clients to shoot. Whilst for many of us regeneration of trees and more natural habitats requiring a much lower deer density is more desirable. Actually there will always be deer requiring shooting just that it will be based on a different regimen the SGA barely understand..

      1. Yes any discussion re getting red deer numbers down to where they aren’t wrecking the hills and posing an increased risk to motorists is of course ‘verminising’ the deer, but the minute sea eagles, pine marten, raven, buzzard or beaver aren’t on the very cusp of extinction then they pose an imminent threat to our wildlife and rural communities and must be controlled!!! If there were awards for a professional organisation being not only unprofessional, but laughable then I struggle to think of any that would provide any serious competition stopping the SGA from getting it. How can any game keeper that isn’t a total berk be happy with the SGA ‘representing’ them? It’s bad enough they have Scottish in their name…cringe, cringe, cringe….

      2. Paul, “there will always be deer requiring shooting….” So who or what would do that if humans didn’t exist in the UK?

  7. And still it goes on. No chance of ever stopping these guys without strong legislation( custodial sentences) or licencing this sick pastime .Otherwise who blinks first?
    Not these people I promise you. No chance.

  8. All credit to the NYP Rural Crime team for conducting a thorough investigation and making an arrest.

    But far too often despite all the hard work put into an investigation by either the Police, National Wildlife Crime Unit, or other investigatory bodies like the RSPB, there isn’t sufficient evidence to either charge a suspect or secure a conviction at court.

    This reflects the problem of trying to investigate wildlife crimes,. Crimes which are committed in remote rural locations away from the gaze of the public and potential witnesses. Crimes where the victim can never tell us what happened , and where potential forensic evidence or the deceased bird is often concealed or destroyed by the offenders.

    My concern is that time and time again the offenders simply get away with their crimes, and this only serves to embolden them into a belief that they are untouchable by the law. Hence, the arrogance we often see displayed.

    Realistically the only way we will ever stop these crimes, is when the shooting industry is properly regulated. Regulations which take into account the suitability of nesting sites on grouse moors for raptors, and where land owners have to account for a complete lack of raptors at suitable nesting sites, or explain inadequate biodiversity on land which should support raptors.

    Surely, failure to provide an adequate account should result in the suspension of any right to shoot game over that land, unless independent monitoring by a body such as Natural England was able to prove without doubt that landowner was properly managing the land, and a lack of raptors was not as a result of the estates activities?

    I would also suggest that any regulations should also be sufficiently robust, so that any evidence regarding the use of illegal traps, poisons, or where the carcasses of illegally killed birds are found; then that alone would be sufficient to warrant punitive sanctions against the shooting estate and landowner- and where the burden of proof isn’t by definition always in the criminals favour.

    But well done to the police officers in NYP, who despite all the obstacles put in their way, are working hard to try and bring our wildlife criminals to justice.
    Lets hope other police forces use the lead taken by NYP , and we start to see “best practice” rolled out across the entire country.

    1. It will be interesting to see what changes to law the Scottish parliament make and whether that has knock on effect in the rest of the UK. I think you make very good point that the criminal elements are emboldened by the fact they continue to get away with it.
      Hopefully any new regulations will include licencing of both the shoots and the operatives, with the removal of licences for both if a prosecution results. If a shoot has to register all their employees, it becomes much clearer who is active on which shoot. Professional game keepers have a very good knowledge of what is happening on their patch and then to claim no knowledge of the criminal activities is laughable. Removal of a shoot’s licence will I suspect immediately clean up a lot of bad and criminal practices. If the perpetrator was not working for the shoot and the shoot looses their licence, the shoot can always sue the individual concerned, which I suspect would make for some interesting court proceedings.
      Sadly the police resources are spread very thinly so NYP have done well to charge someone. We need to avoid prejudicing the case in anyway. Let us hope that for a successful prosecution.

      1. Hi Eric66,

        Just a point of clarity – nobody has been charged (yet). North Yorkshire Police have arrested an individual, interviewed him and released him under investigation as they await the results of forensic analysis.

    1. I would think nothing Dave he is as yet an innocent suspect who has not yet been even charged. Should he/she be charged they are still innocent until proved guilty.

  9. Should be a mandatory 5 year prison sentence for killing a protected species. Won’t haooen under the Tories though. Too much vested interest.

  10. Many birds seem to have disappeared around where I live on Burnmoor fell all since xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx arrived!!

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