Following the news yesterday that a buzzard had been found confirmed poisoned in the Nidderdale AONB (see here), that the RSPB had seen a further increase in reports of raptor persecution since lockdown, including four new cases in the Peak District National Park (see here), and the discovery of five dead buzzards hidden in a hole on a grouse shooting estate in Bransdale in the North York Moors National Park, four of which have so far been confirmed as shot (see here), Channel 4 News featured a timely ‘special investigation’ piece last night, exploring the link between the illegal killing of birds of prey and grouse shooting estates across North Yorkshire.
The six minute film can be viewed here.
It includes interviews with North Yorkshire Police Inspector Matt Hagen (head of NYP Rural Crime Team) whose commentary was utterly damning (see below), Will Watson, a gamekeeper from an unnamed Nidderdale estate who said raptor persecution needs “nipping in the bud” as though this is a newly-emerging problem!, Duncan Thomas from BASC who reeled out the tired old patter that it was an “absolute minority of people” that “may commit offences“. He also claimed that BASC “have expelled members” following convictions for raptor persecution (really? When was that, then?) and that the industry is “very good at policing ourselves” (completely missing the point that if that was the case, there’d be no need for this programme to be aired), Guy Shorrock from the RSPB who pointed to the evidence that raptor persecution on grouse moors is organised crime on an industry-wide scale, and four Nidderdale residents (Keith Tordoff, Debra Jenkins, Charlotte & Chloe Amber) who were courageous enough to go on camera and speak out against illegal raptor persecution, even though at least one of them has previously received abuse and threatening letters for his efforts.
BASC was clearly worried about how this film would portray the game shooting industry because a few hours prior to the programme airing, this statement appeared on the BASC website, which says more about BASC staff’s concerns about criticism from their members than it does for its concerns about ongoing raptor killing.
The programme starts explosively with what looks like Police body camera footage as officers retrieve the five dead buzzards concealed in a hole at Fox Hole Crags on the edge of Bransdale:
Take a look at the date stamp of this footage – 18 April 2020, in the middle of lockdown. Those buzzards looked ‘freshly dead’. The significance of this date will become apparent.
The most interesting part of the programme was the interview with Inspector Matt Hagen, who Channel 4 accompanied while he was investigating the discovery of yet another dead buzzard in Nidderdale.
Here’s the transcript:
Alex Thomson (Channel 4 News correspondent): Lockdown has seen a sharp increase in reports of birds of prey found dead. We joined Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police as he followed up reports of a dead bird of prey seen in the Nidderdale area.
Inspector Matt Hagen: I’m absolutely shocked and disgusted at the level of raptor persecution that I am coming across.
Alex Thomson: Inspector Hagen told us that of 30 birds he’s collected in the past six months, only one has died of natural causes and his investigations lead clearly to a single group of suspects.
Matt Hagen: All the shooting investigations that we’ve got going on at the moment are involving gamekeepers on grouse moors.
Alex Thomson: All of them?
Matt Hagen: All of them.
Alex Thomson: Every single one?
Matt Hagen: That’s right.
Matt Hagen’s responses couldn’t have been clearer. Unequivocal, unambiguous and even to the uninformed Channel 4 viewer who might never have heard about raptor persecution, utterly compelling. Even the spin doctors from the grouse shooting industry will struggle with such devastating commentary, particularly because it came from a senior police officer directly involved with the investigations.
Now, about the date on that Police body cam footage where the dead buzzards were being pulled out of a hole in Bransdale in the North York Moors National Park – 18 April 2020. Channel 4 News filmed this interview with Matt Hagen over one month later, which indicates that grouse moor gamekeepers are under investigation for the shooting of those birds.
We’ll be exploring this further….
Well done to Alex Thomson et al at Channel 4 News for getting this issue on prime time TV.