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.