Natural England denies cocking up police investigation at Whernside hen harrier site

Earlier this month the RSPB published a blog (here) detailing an incident that was witnessed by a Natural England fieldworker at a hen harrier nest site in Whernside, Cumbria during this year’s breeding season and Natural England’s subsequent refusal to publicise the details.

The alleged incident involved an armed man sitting near a tethered eagle owl that had been placed within the territory of a pair of breeding hen harriers in an area where controversial brood meddling was taking place.

Here’s what the RSPB wrote about the incident:

‘…..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’.

A few days later we published a blog about an allegation we’d heard from a number of sources, that the police investigation couldn’t progress because a Natural England staff member had contravened the Police & Criminal Evidence Act by phoning up the alleged gunman and asking whether he’d been present at the alleged crime scene (see here).

Two days later, Natural England published a blog (here), written by Dave Slater, Natural England’s Director for Wildlife Licensing and Enforcement Cases, in which he claimed to want to ‘clarify Natural England’s position on raptor persecution and recent media coverage’.

The Natural England blog (here) is well worth a read and when you’ve done that, have a look at Mark Avery’s dissection of it (here) in which Natural England’s contortions are laid bare.

The one part of the NE blog that Mark didn’t address was this bit, which looks like a response to the allegations made on RPUK that Natural England had cocked up the police investigation at that hen harrier site at Whernside:

The statement of interest here is the middle paragraph. Natural England reckons the failed police investigation ‘was not related to anything our field worker had done‘ but NE carefully avoided mentioning the allegation that an NE staff member had phoned up the suspect and had thus compromised the police investigation by breaching the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

Is Natural England denying that a staff member phoned up the suspect? If so, it would be useful for Natural England to put that in writing.

It would also be useful if the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and/or Cumbria Police released the legal advice that was given by the CPS to Cumbria Police on this particular case.

It would also be helpful if Natural England would publish the video evidence of an armed man, sitting with a tethered eagle owl, in the territory of a pair of breeding hen harriers at one of this year’s brood meddling locations. It’s not like there’s anything to hide, is there?

In related news, if you want further evidence of Natural England’s absolute ineptitude when it comes to the conservation of birds, have a read of this (here), published today by Mark Avery. It’s shocking.

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

6 thoughts on “Natural England denies cocking up police investigation at Whernside hen harrier site”

  1. And how many other suspicious incidents have NE not disclosed? I recall that the RSPB blogged about possible incidents around the brood meddling sites in 2019 that NE had kept quiet about.

    “we need to be scrupulous in our statutory role – as we have a duty to all parties as a responsible regulator”

    So it’s ok to claim how successful the brood meddling trial is, and ok to keep quiet about potentially illegal activity around brood meddling sites?!!!

    Utter BS.

    1. Indeed NE have claimed that they were aware of only the two pairs of Hen Harriers involved in the Brood meddling trial in North Yorkshire in 2019. Yet I have an email informing them of the pair I and a colleague found in that area ( I have been told by others this was a third pair and it failed) and a reply from NE acknowledging my report and telling me they were aware of these birds.
      This is a serious problem for NE in terms of their credibility, compounded by the fact that they put out a PR statement at the end of each season rather than a summary of a proper scientific report.
      Who are they protecting by not releasing that video? certainly not themselves they look bloody fools to all sides, the dark side think they should have kept shtum and the rest of us think they are protecting the dark sides interests. If there was any doubt that the video could ID the man with gun and owl he face could be modified. At all angles including what Mark Avery has published today NE are an organisation that has completely lost its way, purpose and credibility.

  2. “This incident happened five months ago and was reported by a Natural England field worker who was monitoring nests in the area. The field worker immediately reported what they witnessed to the police, who investigated, but chose not to pursue a prosecution. (we understand this was not related to anything our field worker had done)”

    As you and Mark Avery have noted, there are a few interesting unaddressed issues here.

    The incident “was reported by a Natural England field worker” presumably to both the police and a more senior member of staff at NE and who else?

    “we understand this (decision not to pursue a prosecution) was not related to anything our field worker had done”. Fine but as your blog has pointed out it has been reported that “a Natural England staff member phoned the gunman” the day after the incident. So – was THAT action related to the decision not to prosecute?

    There are several strange things about that phone call. Who made it and what did they discuss with the gunman?

    The NE staffer who made the phone call must have had the contact details of the gunman – which , to my mind, strongly suggests that the gunman was someone who was involved in the project either at an organisational level or in the field. It would also explain how the NE fieldworker apparently recognised the gunman. In addition, it would explain how the gunman was apparently so well prepared. He seemed to be aware of the location of the nest and had all the professional knowledge and kit to lure a bird of prey towards him – a gun, camouflage outfit and a tethered decoy eagle owl.

    It seems to me that NE must have been the lead regulator of this licensed project so I wonder whether someone more senior to the field worker decided to issue cautionary words of advice to the gunman but that that conversation was only uncovered as the police investigation progressed.

    Why else would a NE staffer ring up a gunman? It must, surely, have been more than a call to query whether or not the camouflaged individual was the gunman. For a NE staffer to expect an alleged gunman to confess to him that he was the apparent culprit I reckon there must have been an incentive offered – like no prosecution – just words of advice.

    I suspect that the motive for the NE staffer to offer something like that would have been even greater in this controversial project because it has been subject to judicial proceedings. It seems to me that it would have been hugely embarrassing and undermining to NE if publicity and criminal proceedings were to have taken place in relation to this project that is supposed to be addressing the motive for gamekeepers to commit wildlife crime and the lack of hen harriers on grouse shooting moors. To my mind, this incident might even be important enough to support any future action for judicial review of the project by an interested party. I imagine that that difficulty could have helped secure a decision to offer advice to the alleged culprit and to keep the matter private.

    It’s speculation on my part but I have written to NE asking certain questions which I hope will clarify the situation.

  3. Does anyone else get a warning like the following when clicking on the links to Marks blog? If others do, can someone please inform Mark. Win 10, Firefox and Malwarebytes here, btw…

    Website blocked due to a suspicious top level domain (TLD)

    Website blocked:
    Malwarebytes Browser Guard blocked this website because it may contain scam activity.

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