Channel 4 News highlights raptor persecution on North Yorkshire grouse moors

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.

33 thoughts on “Channel 4 News highlights raptor persecution on North Yorkshire grouse moors”

  1. I thought it was very good and very hard hitting. I suspect the Countryfile piece will be much less so with more BS from the apologists. One thing that pisses me off is that both the piece on the BASC website and a similar one on that of the MA written by Amanda A talk about the raptor “debate.” Sorry but there is no debate that was had a long time ago in parliament and they decided all raptors are protected most of them specially so.
    We know you lot are only beginning to catch on to this with a lot of prodding but the time for debate has long gone and its not coming back.

    1. An extremely good point, Paul. The debate is history. What we’re now dealing with is upholding the resultant law. This is not negotiable – period!
      The onslaught in recent weeks gives the lie to the dark side’s alleged ‘zero tolerance’. Their representatives must cringe every time a fresh report comes in.
      What we can be sure of is that those incidents detected will have been the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Indeed, it is quite a feat that so many incidents have been recorded during a time when observers were excluded from the killing moors, fields and woodlands.
      Looks as though the hard graft involved in getting Operation Owl off the ground is now really paying off. Well done all.

    2. In a way i am glad they still use the word debate. It proves beyond doubt that they still don’t oppose raptor persecution.
      I wonder if they watched Mr Cummings and thought ‘Wow do we look this bad when we do it’.
      Of course not.

      1. Actually Anand from here they look exactly the same, both long past their sell by date.
        Then Emily Maitlis had the right about Cummings I doubt, like Peter below that, that Countryfile will be anywhere near as tough as that on them but we shall see.

    3. Describing something like, “the theory of evolution” as a “debate” is an old tactic which I’ve often seen from far right wing, christian fundamentalists groups in the USA. The language is important here because it follows a pattern and is designed not so much to convince critics, but to reassure adherents. Remember the adherents are trapped in a vortex in which their worldview is being sucked away into the ether, well MA etc need to get these people to hold their ground, so framing it as a debate, as the christian fundies did with evolution, is precisely the rung on the slippery slope/ladder that is needed. The propagandists from MA and BASC do their job quite well here. Remember it is not me they are trying to convince but xxxx xxxxx who spends money on shooting, from Redhill in Surrey.

      1. I was looking at propaganda and misinformation from the Intelligent Design lot in America a few months ago and you’re right it’s so reminiscent of what’s coming from the shooting lobby here, people totally unable to face up to a reality they’re losing their grip on and attempting to bolster each other in their ignorance and prejudice. No accident that there’s also close association with the (very) far right, the only British people I recall who’ve praised Trump were from the shooting community, usually between bouts of trying to vilify Chris Packham. Whether or not individuals are worried about raptor persecution and grouse moors if they’re half decent they should be disgusted at the mentality behind it which is exactly the same as that which allows so many other injustices to have survived into the 21st century.

  2. The news article was certainly damning but what I found most compelling was the lack of Ministerial input (Rebecca Pow or Lord Goldsmith), or comment from any relevant MPs: Kevin Hollirake, Rishi Sunak (though he may have other priorities at the moment) or Julian Smith. Serious Organised Crime is taking place in their constituencies and not a word of concern expressed. In the news piece, or anywhere else so far as I can tell.

    1. Hi Richard,

      Local MP Kevin Hollinrake has responded on twitter by retweeting North Yorkshire Police’s appeal for information on the Bransdale case and has denounced the shootings at ‘disgraceful’.

      Environment Minister Rebecca Pow has so far not bothered to respond to tweets directed at her about these crimes.

  3. That BASC statement is full of the usual crap promoting a homologous ‘rural community’. In reality, plenty of us who live in rural locations have little time for the commercial game bird farms and the medieval hat-tipping that sustains them

    1. A bit of “anecdotal evidence” from a farmer, I surveyed their in-bye fields a couple of years ago for wading birds and they had good populations of Lapwing and Curlew and beautiful wildflower meadows farmed traditionally as a hillfarm. Apparently, according to the farmer, the only bad year for Lapwing he remembers was just after a pheasant shoot started just down the road. That year a load of Buzzards turned up and ate all the Lapwing chicks. Subsequent years, the Lapwing parents learned how to deal with the Buzzards and productivity went back up. The farmer who was very proud of their Lapwings didn’t sound overly fond of the shoot.

  4. We can only hope something can come out of this report eventually. Until recently I was recorder for the local club whose recordin g area is the Niddderdale AONB and apart from being out there and trying to act as eyes a lot of us feel pretty hopeless. I feel the Countryfile report will be a much weaker affair.

    1. Hi Pete do you know whether your club are still talking to/friendly with the Nidderdale Moorland group?

  5. Just read BASC’s statement. If they were to ask the RSPB one question it would be around whether the RSPB is weaponising hen harriers to act as a cash cow.

    When will the RSPB realise what these shooting organisations are bloody like?

    Blatently Aiding Serial Crime.

  6. Has happened for years. About time gamekeepers and hunters were brought to book. But a lot of money behind grouse shooting….Fines etc paid by shooters. This has to change.

  7. All good but while the industry continues, only covert policing which provides admissible evidence in court will be a game changer.

    Keep up the pressure !

  8. Time to push for serious penalties for the criminals including vicarious liability, that really hurts.

    Duncan Thomas you know the criminals, why don’t you do something about it? Just the usual BASC cobblers.

    1. I think many people in BASC are now captives on a ship that has long ago sailed and they have no way of getting back to a position of reality without admitting they’ve been spouting BS for decades …so they might as well stick with those that will have them…and who chuck them the odd crumb of a day or two in the butts. On the current trajectory their position in years to come will be like that scene in Downfall when its either run away in panic or stay with Hitler to the end. At least the keepers are “honestly dishonest”. Oh, btw BASC say C4 interviewed the NE raptor monitors, is that footage available does anyone know?

  9. I can think of no other industry in the UK which is allowed to operate in such an unlawful manner and harbour such blatant criminality within itself and yet escape the attention of parliament, and the passing of laws and regulations to ensure it can no longer operate in such a criminal fashion.
    The question has to be asked “Why?”.
    The sheer scale of the criminal killing of birds of prey, reported during this lockdown period, and the fact that suspicion is pointed so heavily towards gamekeepers working for shooting estates, means that politicians should now be in no doubt as to how riddled the shooting industry is with criminals, who seem to be so blatantly breaking the law.
    For those in the shooting industry and the various bodies that represent them to continue to bury their heads in the sand and continue to claim that “self regulation” is working, and this killing of raptors is just the work of one or two individuals is nothing short of farcical and childish.
    These crimes have been reported nationwide- so it can’t simply be one or two bad apples- more like a barrel load of rotting of filth!
    The evidence is now so overwhelming that it should be complete folly for parliament to continue to buy this worn out line of nonsense, and fail to pass the necessary laws and regulations. Laws which will either ban grouse shooting or at least ensure that the legislation is robust enough so that when raptor persecution takes place, there is a cessation of game shooting for a long enough period to allow raptor numbers to fully recover, with severe financial penalties to the landowner and prison sentences for those actually committing the persecution.
    The fact that so many of these crimes are occurring within National Parks and AONB makes the whole concept of even these designations completely meaningless. Which is something our politicians really do need to get their “heads round”, and take positive action, instead of simply trotting out empty condemnations.
    The silence from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow is damming. This has happened under her leadership, so hopefully the media will start to focus some attention on her, and what at the moment appears to be her complete failure to deal with this ongoing crime wave against what is supposed to be endangered and protected wildlife.
    What has taken place this Spring with regard raptors is nothing less than abominable. The British public have every right to be incredibly angry at what is taking place in our countryside.

    1. Lets not kid ourselves this happens every spring and has done for decades, they’ve just been more blatant this spring because they thought they had it covered like in 2001 when FMD kept us out of the countryside.
      I don’t buy the attitude of the keeper ( I know the estate), and DT ‘s ludicrous statements would be an hilarious joke akin to something off Little Britain if it were not our precious raptors lives its about. Government or at least Tory Government, have made it very clear currently they don’t give a stuff for this often enough. We must continue to build the factual base and get more and more folk to understand what is going on, as Sennen Bottalock says “Keep up the pressure”
      If the Countryfile report on it is shit then tell the BBC it was so! I will.

  10. Write to your MSPs/MPs.
    If you can, help your local wildlife rescue centre.
    If you can, support your local conservation group.
    If you can, get out on to those moors and in those woods and photograph those atrocities.

    1. Lizzy,
      That is a really good answer.

      I believe we have arrived at the point where no amount of words are enough.
      I came to the same conclusion last night as I walked through one of my local woods- it was dusk, everyone had gone home, idiots had left their litter, there was just the sound of birds calling from the trees.

      In 1949 the government passed the legislation to set up National Parks.

      The Protection of Birds Act came into force in 1954.

      The Countryside and Wildlife Act was passed in 1981.

      Nearly 70 years of legislation and still the killing goes on!

      Over the years millions of pounds of tax payers money has been spent on numerous conservation projects – and still bird of prey numbers are nowhere near where they should be!

      What will it take to actually end this criminal behaviour?

      At a time of national crisis when the majority of the nation has worked to support the efforts undertaken to stop the spread of the coronavirus- a group of criminals have deliberately gone out into the countryside to kill birds of prey.
      Crimes undertaken so that other wealthy people who enjoy killing birds for fun can have more game birds to shoot at.
      That is not conservation, it is not wildlife or moorland management- it is simply despicable criminal behaviour!
      The shooting industry can no longer disassociate itself from this criminal behaviour; and does the pathetic comments from its various associations simply demonstrate a willingness to aid and abet this criminality?

      Would I be wrong to suggest the game shooting industry is acting like the drugs cartels??
      Have our grouse moors become the new Mexico?

      1. ‘Have our grouse moors become the new Mexico?’
        The only problem with that sentence is the tense.
        It is organized crime and always has been in that all the estates (even the good ones e.g. walked up) profit from the crimes of the criminals. That is, as far as i can see, a plain fact.

  11. I can’t help drawing a comparison between the serious problems the US are having with their police force & the problems the UK are having with their Gamekeepers!

    To see what I’m getting at, just substitute the word Gamekeeper for the word Cop in the following quotes from national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien who was trying to defend the Police:

    “There are cops that are — maybe don’t have the right training. And there are some that are just bad cops. And they need to be rooted out, because there’s a few bad apples that are giving law enforcement a terrible name.”

    Sounds just like the nonsense we hear from the NGO, GWCT & MA when they trot out the old ‘Bad Apples’ excuse.

    So when he was asked: “Do you think systemic racism is a problem in law enforcement agencies in the United States?,” the national security adviser was clear. “No, I don’t think there’s systemic racism.”

    Once again I see a direct comparison, because from all the evidence here in the UK, it’s clear that the ongoing serious problems from Raptor Persecution are not the work of a few bad apples, but rather one of an ongoing & age-old systemic attitude problem towards raptors throughout the Game Shooting industry in general & Driven Grouse Shooting in particular.

    If you find this hard to believe, may I remind you of the statements made by Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police, during the recent Channel 4 News Raptor Persecution Report, when he said:

    “Of 30 birds collected in the last 6 months, only one had died of natural causes”

    “All the shooting investigations we have ongoing at the moment involve Gamekeepers on Grouse Moors”

    Clearly then, this indicates a systemic problem, not just the work of a few isolated ‘bad apples’!

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