The Swinton Estate in North Yorkshire is once again the focus of a police investigation in to alleged wildlife crime.
This time the investigation hasn’t been triggered by the discovery of a shot hen harrier corpse or two on the Swinton grouse moors (see here and here), nor on the use of illegally-set traps (see here) and nor by reports of an armed man walking through a known hen harrier roost at dusk (see here).
No, this time it’s been triggered after a recent Freedom of Information request revealed the estate did not have a licence when one of its employees was filmed allegedly disturbing an active hen harrier nest earlier this spring.
[Photo by Ruth Tingay]
You might recall I first blogged about this incident in April 2021, after footage was sent to me of two individuals who had been observed visiting an active hen harrier nest on the estate, and just prior to that had been observed placing out food nearby for the breeding adults as part of a diversionary feeding scheme (see here). It was claimed that one individual was a Swinton Estate employee and the other one was a Natural England employee.
There were questions to be answered about why the estate was apparently providing diversionary food so early on in the breeding cycle (incubation stage) when the licence permitting diversionary feeding is very clear that this is only permissible once the chicks have hatched (see info here).
So I submitted a series of Freedom of Information requests to Natural England, which were met with NE’s standard unhelpfulness and obfuscation, e.g. telling me, after 20 working days had passed, that they needed an additional 20 working days to provide a copy of one licence return because apparently asking for this was unduly ‘complex’ (see here)!! I’ll come back to that particular aspect of this story in a separate blog because I now have a copy of the licence return and it’s quite interesting in itself.
At the same time as lodging the FoI requests, I also asked Natural England whether they were taking any enforcement action against the estate for allegedly breaching the terms of the diversionary feeding licence (known as a CL25 licence) – see here and here for previous correspondence.
To be fair, the Enforcement section of Natural England has been much more helpful and open than the FoI department. It’s been quite refreshing. Anyway, to cut a long story short, after chasing them for a while I received an email from the Enforcement team the other evening and to my surprise, this is what it said:
So, to clarify, Swinton Estate did not have a diversionary feeding licence in 2021 when one of its employees was observed allegedly providing diversionary food for hen harriers on the estate.
This means that technically there has not been a breach of the CL25 licence, because a licence hadn’t been issued. Therefore, Natural England are not in a position to take enforcement action and the case has instead been passed to North Yorkshire Police for investigation in to alleged offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act.
I have spoken briefly with a spokesperson at North Yorkshire Police who has confirmed an investigation has opened.
This is going to be really very interesting on all sorts of levels and for all sorts of reasons.
Not least because Swinton Estate is owned by Lord Masham, Mark Cunliffe Lister, who also happens to be the latest Chairman of the Moorland Association, the grouse moor owners’ lobby group in England.
But perhaps of most interest, I’m told that Natural England’s insane hen harrier brood meddling scheme has been undertaken on Swinton Estate in previous years and is apparently set/approved to have chicks removed again this year. How does that work, then, if the estate is under police investigation for alleged wildlife crime?
Ah, that’s right, it makes no difference whatsoever to Natural England’s sham conservation project – as we’ve seen previously on another estate, a police investigation in to alleged wildlife crime doesn’t stop NE from issuing a brood meddling licence and partnering with said estate (e.g. see here).
I’m pretty sure that Mark Avery, and perhaps even the RSPB, may have something to say about these latest revelations in relation to their respective legal challenges against hen harrier brood meddling. I’m pretty sure that the evidence uncovered so far suggests that NE’s so-called ‘rigorous scientific trial’ is not so rigorous after all – and that surely invalidates the so-called ‘research’? Let’s see.
More on this case, and on Swinton’s diversionary feeding licences from previous years, shortly….
UPDATE 14th June 2021: Natural England quietly alters terms of diversionary feeding licence (and hopes we won’t notice) (here)