Following on from the news that yet another shot raptor has been found in Nidderdale AONB (see here), there’s a topical news feature in today’s Yorkshire Post about the ongoing illegal persecution of birds of prey in North Yorkshire.
The article starts off well and focuses on quotes from Inspector Matt Hagen, who leads the North Yorks Police Rural Task Force and also from Supt Nick Lyall, Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG – the so-called partnership approach to tackling raptor persecution).
Here’s an extract:
The shooting, poisoning and trapping of birds such as red kites and buzzards is a crime previously described by the RSPB as “a stain on our countryside” and has risen in recent years after they were introduced to Yorkshire in the late nineties.
It is thought the offences have been happening for a long time, although increased awareness from the national police campaign Operation Owl has led to a rise in reports from the public.
Nidderdale in particular has been highlighted as a hotspot for the crime, while shootings of birds of prey have also been reported around West Yorkshire.
Disturbingly, there have also been reports of pets being killed after eating poisoned meat left out in suspected attempts at targeting scavenging birds of prey.
Between November 2018 and March of this year, there were 15 crimes recorded in North Yorkshire alone of birds being shot, poisoned or trapped, or tagged birds reported missing. Of these, nine had been shot, including a barn owl found shot in Ryedale in December 2019.
[A shot buzzard found in North Yorkshire in 2018, photo via North Yorkshire Police]
Inspector Matt Hagen, who is Head of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: “These crimes are very difficult to investigate because they happen in isolated places and there is often no one around to witness them.
“From what I have seen, some of the people that persecute birds of prey are of the opinion that they diminish the numbers of pheasants, grouse or partridges.
“Many gamekeepers are very pro-conservation, but it just takes one or two individuals in that industry to make a real impact. This is especially the case with hen harriers because they are so endangered. Many birds of prey that are persecuted we find that they were on a grouse moor, or at least near to one of those areas.
“I do know that with the hen harriers, there are not many left in this country, and if this carries on it may well be that they disappear.”
Poisoning is also an issue, where perpetrators leave out poisoned rabbit carcasses for carrion-eating birds such as red kites to find. This poses a risk to local wildlife, pets and even children, police have said.
Insp Hagen added: “We recently had two dogs poisoned in Pateley Bridge, one of whom sadly died. This is still being investigated, but it happened in an area known as a hotspot for these crimes.”
Operation Owl is a campaign originally spearheaded by North Yorkshire Police which has since been made into a national campaign urging the public to be eyes and ears for crimes committed against birds of prey, as most occur in remote areas.
Superintendent Nick Lyall of Bedfordshire Police currently leads the campaign, and has been meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service and senior Government ministers to urge for the crimes to be upgraded from summary-only offences – which can only be dealt with by magistrates and have more lenient sentences – to either-way offences, meaning they can be tried in a crown court.
Supt Lyall said: “We can do search warrants linked to wildlife crimes, but we can’t use our serious crime tactics of covert policing, such as surveillance, to catch these offenders. So for example, if we knew of a nest that was being targeted, we currently can’t put cameras in to see who was disturbing that nest.”
Supt Lyall added that only one or two people are convicted each year for crimes against these birds, with police relying mainly on witnesses as evidence.
“With the remote places these crimes are happening in, that makes it very difficult to prosecute,” he added.
The impact of these crimes is not just felt by the community, but on the environment as well.
A report published by the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in September revealed that red kites were failing to expand breeding territory from Wharfedale into neighbouring Nidderdale.
– END OF EXTRACT –
It was pretty accurate reporting up to this point but then it descended in to farce, first with this statement from the journalist:
‘Despite this there is hope, and most gamekeepers and landowners are now strongly committed to conserving all species, with 2019 being a record year for endangered hen harriers breeding’.
There’s a short, but crucially important, word missing from this statement, and that word is ‘say’. As in, ‘…..most gamekeepers and landowners say they’re now strongly committed to conserving all species……’
Of course they’re going to say they’re against raptor persecution – they’ve been saying that for 66 years, ever since the Protection of Birds Act 1954 was enacted. However, all the evidence, of humongous proportions, suggests otherwise!
The article then continues with contributions from Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association) and John Clarke (National Gamekeepers Organisation) both churning out the familiar patter about supposed ‘zero tolerance‘ of raptor persecution and Amanda particularly focusing on the so-called ‘enthusiastic’ support of moorland estates for hen harriers!
She ‘forgot’ to mention the two current police investigations in to the alleged witnessed shooting of hen harriers on two grouse moors and the game shooting industry’s subsequent silence (see here). She also ‘forgot’ to mention the 31 (at least) hen harriers believed to have been illegally killed since 2018, the year when grouse shooting industry reps would have us believe that hen harriers were welcomed back on the grouse moors. She also ‘forgot’ to mention the 2019 research paper that demonstrated that at least 72% of satellite-tracked hen harriers tagged by Natural England were believed to have been illegally killed on British grouse moors.
[This hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set spring trap (which almost severed his leg) on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate last year. He didn’t survive. Read his grim story here. Photo by Ruth Tingay]
Meanwhile, back in the real world unofficial reports from around the UK but particularly from areas managed for driven grouse shooting in the north of England indicate that raptor persecution crimes are still being committed, and that includes hen harriers being targeted yet again.
There’s a famous quote that springs to mind that some journalists would do well to consider:
“If someone says it’s raining, and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the f***ing window and find out which is true“.