Confirmation that hen harrier brood meddling estate was under police investigation

Cast your minds back to September 2020, when the RSPB claimed that a Natural England fieldworker had filmed a gunman, with an eagle owl, close to a hen harrier nest site in Cumbria (see here).

The RSPB, quite fairly, considered that the tethering of an eagle owl and the positioning of an armed man nearby was evidence that the eagle owl was being used as a decoy to attract in raptors (perhaps hen harriers) which could then be shot at close range. It’s an increasingly familiar sight on some grouse moors (e.g. see here), despite the use of a tethered live decoy being illegal (but let’s face it, the grouse shooting industry isn’t exactly feted for its adherence to the law).

A police investigation in Cumbria ensued, but allegations were later made that a Natural England staff member had unintentionally frustrated the criminal investigation by contravening legal protocol and phoning up the suspected gunman and asking whether he was the person who’d been seen, with the owl decoy, near to the hen harrier nest the previous day (see here). The investigation came to an abrupt halt but Natural England denied that its staff member’s actions had any bearing on this decision (see here). We’ll never know for sure because Natural England can’t be trusted to be upfront about anything relating to the hen harrier and its precarious conservation status (e.g. see here for the latest example of why Natural England shouldn’t be trusted).

The other interesting aspect about this case was the suggestion that this estate was actively involved with Natural England’s insane hen harrier brood meddling trial last year. The suggestion was made in the RSPB blog although certainty was lacking due to the secrecy surrounding the location of brood meddled nest sites.

For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA as part of its ludicrous ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan‘ and carried out by Natural England (NE), in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here.

[A more realistic view of DEFRA’s hen harrier action plan. Cartoon by Dr Gerard Hobley]

Thanks to one of our blog readers making a Freedom of Information request to Natural England, it can now be confirmed that yes, this [unnamed] grouse-shooting estate where a gunman was filmed crouching close to a tethered eagle owl, in the territory of a pair of breeding hen harriers, was also one of the estates where Natural England licensed the removal of hen harrier chicks for brood meddling last year.

Although it took Natural England a couple of goes to confirm this, first of all denying it and then having to send an email two weeks later to correct the information:

It leaves you brimming with confidence in Natural England’s competence, doesn’t it?

The biggest joke in all of this is that the brood meddling trial is supposed to test whether those people responsible for killing hen harriers illegally would stop killing hen harriers if the chicks were brood meddled (removed from the grouse moor in June at the critical grouse-rearing stage and then returned to the wild in August). It’s a sort of ‘gentleman’s agreement’, as I saw it described by one commentator the other day. The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be many ‘gentlemen’ involved, or at least not honourable ones.

The irony of permitting brood meddling to take place on an estate under police investigation for suspected raptor persecution is not lost on any of us.

13 thoughts on “Confirmation that hen harrier brood meddling estate was under police investigation”

  1. Eye glazingly predictable.So much for Tony Juniper, another white horse……..Still, Trump’s gone so there’s always some hope……

  2. ‘Although it took Natural England a couple of goes to confirm this, first of all denying it and then having to send an email two weeks later to correct the information’
    Did they correct it voluntarily of their own accord or did they have to be reminded in some way?

  3. Just when are Natural England going to admit that the brood management experiment is over and has failed. Natural England has been taken in by the shooting lobby who had no intention of stopping or reducing the killing of Hen Harriers. Just another kicking the can down the road tactic by the shooting lobby. Time to wake up and smell the coffee. Time to call a halt.

    “It’s a sort of ‘gentleman’s agreement’” or as I would call it making a pact with the devil.

  4. This estate if I’m right has a recent history of raptor persecution, surely this should exclude them from the BM scheme because it clearly hasn’t stopped them persecuting although to be fair it wasn’t harriers a previous keeper was witnessed persecuting. Shows what a complete farce the whole bloody scheme is.

    [Ed: Hi Paul, uncertainty remains around whether this is the same estate to which you’re referring. The last I heard, this is a different estate, but I haven’t seen any evidence either way]

  5. It brings into sharp focus that, were we not having to battle against N.E. as well as the dark side, we might be making faster progress. If N.E. were actually doing what they are charged with doing and paid to do then where might we be now?
    Yes, it all comes down to the Government bidding but I find it impossible to think well of the puppets in this performance. All it takes for this to continue is for the Tony Junipers to do nothing to stop it.
    I’ve run out of patience and they’ve run out of credibility.

  6. Dear oh dear…… about institutionally corrupt; was the Natural England employee who so breached protocols here disciplined ? Talk about naiive ! Bet the estate had a laugh ? What a mug in a suit eh ? The sport its un reformable.

  7. Unless I am misunderstanding something, there appears to be plenty amiss with this whole sorry episode.

    PACE Code C para 10.1 requires that a person suspected of committing an offence is cautioned prior to being asked any questions about that offence.
    Courts have given some guidance on this, and there must be “real grounds” for the suspicion that an offence has been committed by that person. A hunch or gut feeling is not deemed to be real grounds.

    If a person is questioned without being cautioned when a caution should have been given, any admissions made by that person are likely to be inadmissible as evidence.
    However that would not exclude the admissibility of other evidence, or the answers to questions put the suspect after a caution had been given.

    A person can be questioned without a caution, up to the point where the answers provided lead the interviewer to suspect that persons involvement in an offence, and at the point all further questioning must cease until the caution has been given.
    This is highlighted in the case R v Maguire 1989 where the court held that Code C did not prevent a police officer from asking questions at or near the scene of the crime to elicit an explanation which if true or accepted would clear a person from involvement in that crime.

    Equally a person who is identified as being at a crime scene and questioned about his involvement in that offence should be treated as a suspect from the outset and cautioned, as any answers may be self incriminating.

    Without knowing all the information about this case it is very difficult to know exactly what happened and why the case was discontinued.

    From reading the information posted in the blog it is not clear whether the man with the gun actually fired any shots at any birds lured by the presence of the tethered owl. If no shots were fired, it may have been decided that there was insufficient evidence to prove an offence was committed, especially if the suspect gave a no comment interview and didn’t provide the police with information about his/her intentions.

    Section 5(1)(d) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act states:
    ‘If any person uses as a decoy, for the purpose of killing or taking any wild bird or other animal whatever which is tethered, or which is secured by means of braces or other similar appliances, or which is blind, maimed or injured, he shall be guilty of an offence and be liable to a special penalty.

    Likewise if there was insufficient evidence to identify the suspect as being the person seen at the crime scene, then that would also be grounds to discontinue the case.

    Perhaps what this case does do is highlight a lack of openness and transparency regarding the issue of brood management. It raises questions about the relationship between Natural England and estates where brood management is taking place. Did any discussions take place between Natural England and the estate regarding the events which happened, and did this have any bearing on the decision for the case to be discontinued?

    More importantly it suggests the brood management scheme is a failure in that it would appear not to prevent the ceaseless persecution of raptors on estates where the brood management programme has been initiated. It is very doubtful a trespasser would be up on a remote moor in possession of a firearm and tethered Eagle Owl??

    The program also distracts from the real issue which is enforcing the law, and ensuring those who commit raptor crimes are brought to justice.
    If the current legislation is insufficient to protect raptors and especially endangered species like the Hen Harrier then the way foreword is to amend that legislation so it provides proper protection and brings offenders to justice, and not to capitulate to the criminals and try and protect birds by removing them from their natural habitat.

    Natural England might do better working more closely with the police and other conservation bodies to propose to Ministers amendments to wildlife legislation to make it fit for purpose, so that all wildlife is better protected and the legislation and its associated powers leave nowhere for the wildlife criminal to hide.

    Apologies if I have covered topics already raised in previous blogs on this issue, but the incident seems to serve as a good case in point for some of the weaknesses in the brood management program.

  8. Having been “involved” [clearing up the mess] in persecution cases where the discoverer/informant were employees of government nature conservation bodies; I saw a. the pressure these employees were in, to not contact the Police/RSPB/SSPCA – from their line managers and b. the habit of said line managers to contact the estate/gamekeeper on receiving a report. On occasion, the employee would contact my office at RSPB in confidence and we could deal with such cases professionally and successfully….there was a culture of not getting involved in the “messy” business of wildlife crime…Surely in the 21st century, it should be written into such employees contract that if they are aware of a suspected criminal offence they must contact the Police in the first instance [one day that will be the SSPCA but thats another matter!!]?…Thats the least we should expect from an official accountable body?

    1. Hi Dave,

      It’s my understanding that the police were notified by Natural England, pretty much immediately. The problem was that a Natural England employee then decided to phone the suspected gunman the next day for a chat about the incident!

      1. I am assuming that no one knows whether the illicit contact was not a deliberate ploy to sabotage the prospect of prosecution?

      2. In the RSPB that “employee” would have been facing disciplinary action and my wrath!…to me this at best indicates a totally unprofessional attitude/culture and at worst, a feeling of superiority to the justice system that the rest of us must live by.

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