Gunman filmed at hen harrier nest site with decoy eagle owl

The RSPB Investigations Team has published a blog this afternoon detailing an incident that was witnessed by a Natural England fieldworker at a hen harrier nest site in Cumbria during the breeding season.

[Hen harrier, photo by Frank Burns]

The full blog can be read here but the pertinent part is reproduced as follows:

‘We understand that a Natural England fieldworker was monitoring a hen harrier nest on moorland near Whernside, Cumbria, when he saw a man wearing camouflage carrying a firearm and a live bird of prey, believed to be an eagle owl about 300m from the hen harrier nesting area. He tethered the bird and sat a short distance away with his gun. In the circumstances there seems little doubt the intention was to draw in raptors, presumably the hen harriers, to shoot them. The use of a tethered live bird as a decoy to kill or take a wild bird is in itself illegal, but a method that seems to be increasingly used for targeting raptors. This was no doubt a highly stressful situation, we understand the fieldworker took some video footage and made himself visible. This eventually had the desired effect, and the suspect, realising he was under observation, left. It was reported to the police but due to evidential issues around establishing the identity of the suspect, it was not possible to take the matter forward to court. The RSPB would like to place on record our thanks to Cumbria Constabulary and the CPS for their determined efforts to progress this investigation. We firmly consider that this incident and the video should now be put in the public domain’.

Now, putting this news out late on a Friday afternoon isn’t helpful to anyone (apart from Natural England and the criminals within the grouse shooting industry who may hope that it’ll all blow over by Monday).

It won’t.

There is a lot to say about this incident as well as about Natural England’s continuing pisspoor conduct on all things hen harrier.

We’ll be coming back to it on Monday morning.

[Cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

UPDATE 15 September 2020: More on that gunman filmed with a decoy owl near hen harrier nest site on Whernside (here)

UPDATE 20 January 2021: Confirmation that hen harrier brood meddling estate was under police investigation (here)

57 thoughts on “Gunman filmed at hen harrier nest site with decoy eagle owl”

  1. i must admit to noticing that over the past few years more and more gamekeepers on Grouse Moors now seem to have taken a shine to keeping birds of prey ; something that was rarely, if ever, seen when I was younger. I do not remember seeing or knowing of one until relatively recently.

  2. In 2017 a gamekeeper was prosecuted for killing 2 short eared owls on the Whernside Estate.
    In that case the convicted male was in possession of a calling device – no doubt to lure in birds of prey.

    Is it a coincidence that this incident has occurred in the same vicinity, with a similar modus operandi?

    There are a number of stewardship schemes in the area.
    If this incident occurred on land included within those stewardship schemes, one has to ask why Natural England aren’t now reviewing any public funding being provided to estates and landowners in that area?

    Hopefully once the video is released into the public domain, someone may identify the perpetrator or provide new evidence to identify the offender.

    1. If this video is released it will be a big surprise to me and if there is an actual prosecution I and many others will be shocked Unatural England are a complete waste of money and undoubtedly in the pockets of the shooting fraternity.

  3. Scandalous that not only did this attempted shooting occur but that NE refuse to go public, frankly that smacks of appeasement of the game lobby. I thought the shooting at Whernside was tenanted, if so time they were kicked off.

  4. Spare a thought for the Natural England fieldworker who appears to have done the right thing by reporting it to the police – quite a frightening situation for a civilian. I trust he will be being complimented by his bosses??

    1. Indeed he should be complimented by his bosses but in reality, as I am sure Dave well knows, he has probably done serious damage to his career. I am aware of a number of ecologists and amateurs involved in bird surveys who, having given statements in relation to alleged wildlife offences find themselves personna non grata on moorlands which effectively stops them working. Strange really considering how concerned the industry is to stamp out the tiny remaining pockets of criminality involving a few bad apples. You might think they would be glad of the help.

    2. Why did the ne worker find a man with a shotgun an eagle owl frightening? If I was he I would of simply asked him what he was doing ,he may well have been after corvids just a thought

      1. Phil chapman – generally in life mankind fears what the doesn’t understand.
        Some animals have a permanent flight mode, some are wired up to fight or flight but man is never really too sure where he stands.

        Sadly perhaps, this is yet another example of a claim being laid but without any supportive evidence.

        1. Alec,

          You say, ‘Sadly perhaps, this is yet another example of a claim being laid without any supportive evidence’.

          Just because you, personally, haven’t seen the video evidence doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!

          Natural England took the footage, Cumbria Police and the CPS have seen the footage. That’s the evidence, along with the testimony of the NE fieldworker. Or are you suggesting they’re all lying?

          1. No sir – I’m not suggesting that the prosecuting authorities are lying, but what I will say, as you appear to be pressing for an explanation is that as there are no grounds to affect a prosecution, and as the ‘evidence’ continues to be withheld, it would be entirely possible – indeed likely, that what was put before the Authorities may very well have been adulterated – or even manufactured and that those with the authority to prosecute, aware that falsified evidence has been presented previously, aren’t prepared to waste the time of our Courts.

            1. “aware that falsified evidence has been presented previously”

              Details please to back up this assertion. As to why the authorities did not proceed with a prosecution in the present case there is no need to speculate as the reason is given: the video evidence was not sufficient to identify the individual concerned.

              Finally, we can of course not prove whether or not the gunman intended to shoot corvids as P Chapman suggests or Hen Harriers. It would hardly have been responsible for the NE employee to wait for him to actually shoot a hen harrier from the nest he was monitoring! This is irrelevant though as the gunman had already committed a crime through his use of a tethered owl as a lure.

            2. Alec,
              It is a criminal offence under Section 5(2) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 to make a false statement to the police. This offence is punishable with up to 6 months imprisonment.
              This offence overlap with the more serious offence of Perverting the Course of justice, which can result in a very lengthy prison sentence, and be committed if a false report is made to the police. This would cover instances where evidence has been falsified or adulterated.

              You have claimed on a number of occasions that evidence of wildlife crimes presented to the police has been falsified. If this were the case then those witnesses would have been charged with one of the above offences.
              There is nothing to suggest this is happening, which clearly shows the evidence being presented to the police is honest and credible.

              The reason many of these wildlife crimes fail to end up with a successful prosecution is nothing to do with the crime itself, but more to do with the legal process.

              Perhaps its time to accept that wildlife crimes are being committed, and to contribute something constructive as to how we can stop these crimes occurring?????

      2. Remember, not only did the man have a gun, but as we’ve seen, he was in a position to flee without ever being identified – those two things together are what makes it frightening.

  5. When I worked as a Gamekeeper – I regularly used a stuffed Eagle Owl as a decoy and to attract Carrion Crows – I sat in a hide and it was highly successful.
    By killing Carrion Crows, I wasn’t just protecting the eggs of game birds which were attempting to nest – but also the passerines, waders and and non-game birds in which I took a very real interest.

    Without clear and unequivocal evidence to support the claim that the person supposedly videoed was intentionally shooting at birds of prey, then any claims must be considered as intentionally deceitful – a fact of which the relevant Police forces are becoming ever more aware, and finding ever more irksome.

    Provide evidence, name and shame, support the spurious claims with evidence – – and THEN this group may be taken seriously.

    1. Alec

      Whilst your tales of using a stuffed eagle owl decoy are riveting, they’re not actually relevant here. If you read the RSPB blog carefully you’ll note that the gunman had a LIVE tethered eagle owl, and, being a law-abiding (former) gamekeeper, you’ll also know it’s an offence to use a live tethered decoy to attract birds.

      In this particular case, Cumbria Police didn’t view the evidence of the Natural England fieldworker as ‘intentionally deceitful’ – on the contrary, they launched a criminal investigation on the back of it.

      The police have seen the evidence, as have the CPS. It would be helpful now if Natural England would share the evidence in the public interest.

    2. And we’re still waiting for this brazen apologist to provide any evidence whatsoever in support of his catalogue of ridiculous claims. Such breathtaking hypocrisy is par for the course in all his comments.

    3. Alec, I think you’ll find that this group IS being taken very seriously, already, not least by 123,000+ people who recently wrote to their local MPs!

      Incidentally, when I worked as a Gamekeeper” I was encouraged to shoot raptors, taught how to use Gin Traps & Pole Traps & had to carry two poisons at all times, Alphachloralose & Strychnine, for lacing baits to kill raptors. During my time as a Keeper, when Keepers got together, fellow Keepers spoke openly about controlling Hawks on their beats & often resorted to euphemisms like they ‘relocated it’, ‘sent it on a holiday’, or just ‘sent it packing’. I’m not saying I actually killed any myself, but I did receive all the appropriate training & was encouraged to do so.

      During my 2nd year, my Head Keeper shot a pair of Sparrowhawks at their nest, in the wood next to the rearing field & simply left the young birds in the nest to starve to death. I recovered the 4 young Hawks & reared them myself, in a large cage on the rearing field, feeding them largely on dead Pheasant chicks. When ready, I passed them on to a raptor group 30 miles away, who hacked them back into the wild.

      During my last day as a Keeper, on one of the drives that day two guns shot at a Peregrine when it flew over them, as they waited for the Pheasants to break cover. I was flanking that day & shouted for them to stop shooting because it was a Peregrine. After the drive the Lord himself gave me a rollicking for giving ‘him’ a red face in front of his guests & excused the incident claiming “it was only a Kestrel” … as if that made it OK!! Of course, being a life-long birder & having worked full time as a Falconer for a while, I of course could easily tell them apart. Anyway, I was disgusted by the incident & for me, this was the last straw.

      Anyway, the point is that I know the levels of criminality that existed then amongst Keepers & how easy it was for them to kill raptors & not be caught in the act or leave any evidence & from the regular reports of dead birds of prey being recovered from & around, shooting estates up & down the country today, I have absolutely no reason to think that attitudes towards raptors, or crimes committed against them, have changed since I left Keepering. The attitude amongst Keepers then was that the end justified the means & I actually met a Keeper recently who came out with that same old clap-trap & he also trotted out that popular myth amongst shooters today, that hawks are wiping out songbirds, as if to justify any actions he may have taken against them. Of course, he didn’t admit to killing any, but he did speak about the many Pine Martins he’d ‘relocated’!

      Let’s face it, we both know that it’s no accident that Birds of Prey are scarce around most shooting estates & I look forward to the day that they’re all Licensed, so that even although there is not enough evidence to convict individual keepers when crimes are known to have been committed, at least the shooting activities can be forced to cease there for long enough to force owners & managers to start taking raptor persecution seriously & to, at long last, perhaps start taking active steps to stamp it out & get rid of the criminal keepers.

    4. Alec,

      This isn’t a question of lack of evidence.
      It’s a question of having the eyes to see the evidence,
      a mind to understand the evidence,
      and a willingness to accept the evidence.

      We have already come to the conclusion in other discussions, that you will only accept evidence which supports your view of the world.

      Despite your misunderstanding, that is not how the legal system works.

      What was the purpose of a man dressed in camouflage clothing, armed with a shotgun, in possession of live tethered lure bird( an illegal act in itself)to position himself approximately 300m away from a Hen Harrier nest, (a bird which is highly persecuted and endangered.) ?
      Let’s not forget that Hen Harrier nest sites are few and far between.
      So, isn’t it odd he was so close to a nest site?
      A man, who when he realised he was being observed left the area.
      Was he simply up on the moor having a picnic?

      Or had he come to that area, with all that paraphernalia, with criminal intent?

      The fact that a lure bird was being used in illegal circumstances is clear evidence that the man was not a law abiding citizen.

      The incident generated a police investigation, which we are told did not result in prosecution because of issues with proving identification. ( an issue we know causes problems in many criminal investigation)

      If this individual was as innocent as you trying to claim, then this individual would have offered that “innocent” explanation to the police, and the matter of identification would not have arisen.

      Whilst this is all circumstantial evidence, without any other explanation it can only reasonably be concluded that the man was in that area to target the nearby Hen Harriers, or at least engage in some other unlawful activity.

      It is because of a failure of those involved in game shooting to accept the evidence, and realise that there are those involved within the shooting industry who are criminals and persecute birds of prey, that we have arrived at this current impasse.

      My hope is that eventually enough of the very decent people in the game shooting industry will become so fed up with what these criminals are doing, that they will eradicate them from their midst – but at the moment that does not seem to be happening.

      And once that happens, hopefully we can then move forward and have some proper adult conversations about how we manage conservation for the benefit of all wildlife and the environment, and not simply to produce an over abundance of game birds to be shot.

      Fortunately, it is the those “deniers” in the shooting industry who are not taken seriously, and public sentiment very much lies with the conservation groups who work very hard to protect what little we have left of wildlife in the UK.

  6. As grouse shooting is legal to refer to those involved with a legal act as criminals is either very brave or very dumb?
    As is ever you present no evidence and an array of supposition. All shotguns are licensed any one allegedly shooting the land without permission would be guilty of a serious firearms offence that you fail to mention. The reason for raising this being the land owner will know who he has given permission to and hence would take the police but a matter of minutes to find said individual of what you say is correct. Hence for I cause you of being the criminals by realising incorrect and unproven data in an attempt to forward your cause seeking financial income from the same!
    It is clear from the afore that any alleged individual was not connected with the estate and hence your assertions that there is any link to grouse shooting is at best tenuous at worst farcical.
    I am in conclusion almost tempted to ask how much did you pay the actor!

    1. Ross,

      I think you’ll find that in this case the identity of the gunman, and his occupation, is known – to both Natural England and to the Police.

      The question remains – why is Natural England refusing to publicise this incident, now the criminal investigation has finished?

      1. Because it’s fake perhaps? But let’s look at reality
        1. Police can’t confirm the identity of the individual. [Ed: incorrect]
        2. Grouse shooting is not illegal as claimed.[Ed: nobody has claimed grouse shooting is illegal]
        3. As grouse shooting is not illegal the action of grouse shooting does not make you a criminal.[Ed: nobody has suggested it does]
        4. You have no link between the sledged individual and grouse shooting due to item 1.[Ed: incorrect]
        5. Your press release proves that you are prepared to make suppositions one order to support your views being they can’t be supported by fact as confirmed in items 1-4 inclusive. [Ed: incorrect. And we haven’t issued a press release]
        6. It is proven by your statements that you are adapt at deception and deceit as confirmed in 5.[Ed: Er…]
        7. The only think that is not know know Is are you capable of being honest as items 1-6 confirm that you are not “ FACT” [Ed: I’d recommend staying off the booze for a while]

    2. The offence would be trespassing with a firearm contrary to Sec 20 (2) of the Firearms Act 1968.

      But have you considered the fact that the landowner may have in fact leased the land and not know who would have been on the land with a firearm?
      Likewise if a number of individuals have been given permission to be on the land in possession of a firearm. Is it really feasible that the landowner, or the person in control of the land would know which of those individuals was the suspect in this incident?
      Even if the landowner provided a list of the names of all the people entitled to be on the moor with a firearm, the police would have to identify “beyond all reasonable doubt” which of those individuals was the offender.

      The RSPB in their press release make it very clear that due to “evidential issues establishing the identity of the suspect”, the matter did not proceed to court.

      No doubt, the suspect is known to the police, but as we have seen time and time again with raptor persecution incidents, identification evidence of the suspect can be a real barrier to successfully prosecuting the matter at court.
      Anyone familiar with the rules governing suspect identification will understand why.

      This doesn’t mean the suspect didn’t do it, it just means the identification evidence is insufficient to pass the CPS prosecution threshold test and for the matter to proceed to court.

      Grouse shooting may be legal, and no one is claiming that all the people involved with grouse shooting are criminals- far from it.

      But it is clear from all the incidents and successful prosecutions which have taken place over many years, that there are those who manage grouse moors who do not go about their activities in a lawful manner.

      This is even recognised by many of the organisations which represent grouse and game shooting, and I suspect the law abiding people in those organisations are as fed up with “wildlife criminals” as the rest of us.
      Surely it is better to acknowledge the existence of this criminality, and help eradicate it, so that birds of prey are offered the full protection that the law demands, rather than simply deny it and pretend it doesn’t happen??

    3. Ross, your comments are quite laughable. You don’t have to look very far to know that criminals are at work within the shooting industry.

      Their use of illegal trapping, banned poisons and shooting, protected species is well known.

      But the criminals work in the shadow of wide-open spaces, a long way from scrutiny. They are protected by their bosses, the owners and or managers of shooting areas.

      The protection of known criminals, by those that employ them, is also criminal but wealth protects them.
      As for your comment “It is clear from the afore that any alleged individual was not connected with the estate…..” Do you know the alleged individual?

      There are many criminal connections to game bird shooting and the people organising game shooting know who they are and probably encourage or demand such activity. If they are against criminal behaviour why don’t they stop their employment and let the police know?


  7. It is also pertinent to mention that the RSPB blog suggests that the incident occurred on a moor on which ‘brood management’ took place. If so, it neatly illustrates why this technique, upheld by the shooting fraternity as the way forward for saving the hen harrier, is actually anything but if the birds are still killed after they have fledged.

    1. Perhaps he was also trying to scare the “exponential” Buzzards away, in order to stop them eating all the Brown Hares!

    2. Real gamekeeper: “Alec, are you coming down the pub?”
      Alec: “Sorry, I can’t. I’ve got to spend the evening with the wifes hairdryer drying out my stuffed Eagle Owl. It got a drenching yet again”.
      Real gamekeeper: “Well, I’m going – I want to revel in the notoriety that they think I nearly got caught out, but I was actually just testing to see if anyone was still keeping watch.”

  8. These are marvellous birds and should be left alone these criminals that shoot them should been shown on national tv and social sites ie facebook ect maybe sent to prison for spell and told to “do ya bird here”not on the moors

  9. If this is the work of someone that has nothing to do with the shoot why in gods name has it been suppressed surely the big tough men that go out with shotguns to blast little birds out of the sky (legally) would have no objections to being cleared of any lawbreaking by this random stranger out on a corvid hunt?

  10. Surely there can’t be many people able to lay their hands on an Eagle Owl. Would have thought that that might have helped to locate the culprit.

  11. You know, it’s maybe about time that every ‘keeper’ had a ‘Care in the Community Order’ issued, which ensures that a caring member of the human community will accompany them, whenever they go outside to work or ‘play’. It could be someone to hold their hands and steer them to safety whenever they were in danger of doing something really naughty!
    Alternatively … maybe ‘members of the public’ should start to follow keepers whenever they see them … a little like keepers do to ‘members of the public’ now!
    Trust & confidence in ‘Land Managers’ is at an all time LOW already. Driven grouse & pheasant & mixed shoots cannot blame ecologists / conservationists nor those they term ‘animal rights activists’ for their precarious position. The demise of such shoots is in the hands of the ‘countrymen & countrywomen’ who commit crimes. They are responsible for shooting themselves and their ‘beloved sports’ in the foot.
    Time they all limped off into history!

  12. I don’t quite understand what went on here.

    Speaking hypothetically, why would a landowner who had signed up to the brood meddling scheme be prepared to tolerate behaviour which might jeopardise the scheme working as it should?

    Is it a case of the landowner being disingenuous in his support for the scheme, or is it a third party attempting to undermine the scheme against the wishes of the landowner?

    1. Any minute now Amanda Anderson will issue a statement on behalf of the MA begging the police to press charges in relation to this outrageous behaviour by a “mysterious third party”……any minute now…….its coming…. just wait a minute….

      …….hurry up Amanda….

      …not long now…. ……………..not…………..long……….now……

  13. This is absolutely abhorrent, shameful and disgusting. I hope that full accountability for these incidences and greater transparency for wildlife management practices on sporting estates continues to progress and that law enforcement and legislators alike take notice of the public demand for such.

  14. Let’s see the video then! If it exists like the one where the sky dancing Harrier “Exploded” and plunged to the ground! (well actually it folded its wings and dropped out of sight probably to land in a tree) but doesn’t sound quite so dramatic! 🙄

  15. Gosh all the swivel-eyed shootards out in force with their conspiracy theories on this – wonder why they’re so triggered. Might be best to lay off the lead-contaminated meat lads.

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