Blatant wilful blindness from Environment Minister Rebecca Pow on illegal killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors

How about this for blatant wilful blindness from an Environment Minister.

This response to a Westminster parliamentary question on the continued illegal persecution of birds of prey in the uplands is about as disingenuous as it gets. I doubt very much if Rebecca Pow wrote it herself – this’ll be the work of a DEFRA civil servant – but Rebecca Pow has allowed her name to be put to it without even a hint of shame.

[Westminster Environment Minister Rebecca Pow]

Here’s the written question from Fleur Anderson MP (Labour Shadow Minister):

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he is taking to prevent the killing of (a) hen harriers, (b) golden eagles, (c) peregrines, (d) goshawks and (e) other birds of prey in the uplands and support the recovery of each species’ populations’.

And here is the response from Environment Minister Pow, published in Hansard yesterday (10th September 2021), ironically on the same day that I’d blogged about there being no prosecution for the shooting of five buzzards found shot and buried on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park during the first lockdown in April 2020:

All wild birds including birds of prey are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which provides a powerful framework for the conservation of wild birds, their eggs, nests and habitats. The Government is committed to ensuring the protection afforded to birds of prey is effectively enforced. There are strong penalties for offenders, including imprisonment.

To address concerns about the illegal killing of birds of prey, senior government and enforcement officers have identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. Defra sits on the police-led Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, which takes forward activities to raise awareness and facilitate intelligence and incident reporting, leading to increased prevention and enforcement activity. The group focuses on ‘hotspot’ areas of the country (which will include some upland areas) rather than specific species, although the golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, peregrine and white-tailed eagle have been identified as being of particular concern.

Additionally, the Hen Harrier Action Plan seeks to secure the long-term future of the hen harrier as a breeding bird in England. It includes measures to stop illegal persecution, and an action to reintroduce the hen harrier in the south of England. The long-term plan was published in January 2016 and we believe that it remains the best way to safeguard the hen harrier in England. This year has seen a further increase in the number of breeding hen harriers in England. 84 chicks fledged from nests across the uplands in County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire. These are the highest numbers for hen harrier breeding in England since the 1960s’.

It’s quite obvious that this answer has been designed to pull the wool over the eyes of your average member of the public, assuring the uninformed and the gullible that the Government has this under control and there’s no reason for anyone to be concerned because the Government is ‘committed’ to effective enforcement and the criminals are sent to jail. That would all be fine if there WAS effective enforcement, and that offenders DID get sent to jail for these heinous crimes, but it’s an utter fallacy.

Yes, it’s accurate to say there are strong penalties available for raptor persecution crimes, including imprisonment, but as Minister Pow will know, there’s a huge gulf between there being a provision for this in the legislation and it being applied in real life. For example, when was the last time that a criminal gamekeeper was sent to jail for killing a bird of prey? That’s an easy one to answer – never, in England & Wales. It has never happened. The only time a gamekeeper has received a custodial sentence for killing a bird of prey in the UK was in 2014 when a gamekeeper was filmed clubbing to death a goshawk on the Kildrummy Estate in Scotland two years earlier (see here). It was headline news at the time precisely BECAUSE it was the first ever custodial sentence, and it was the last, too.

It’s also complete deception to claim that the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) is delivering increased prevention or increased enforcement in the hotspot persecution areas. There isn’t ANY evidence to support such claims. The RPPDG is, in my opinion, a partnership sham, designed to look as though efforts are being made to effectively tackle illegal raptor persecution in England and Wales. It’s been in existence since 2011 and the ‘delivery’ results speak for themselves – so far it has achieved absolutely sod all in terms of contributing towards the conservation of raptors in the UK and instead has frustrated the efforts of those organisations who are genuinely trying to stamp out persecution (e.g. see here).

And as for the so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan – readers of this blog don’t need reminding what an absolute joke this is. It does seem, however, that the Minister needs to be reminded that the illegal persecution of hen harriers on grouse moors is systemic, as demonstrated by the Government’s own commissioned research published in 2019 (here) which showed that satellite-tagged hen harriers are ten times more likely to be killed on land managed for driven grouse shooting than any other type of land management.

Surely it’s not beyond the understanding of the Minister and her aides that the number of chicks fledged since the brood meddling trial began is irrelevant if the slaughter of those birds continues after the fledging period? We know that at least 56 hen harriers have been illegally killed and/or have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in the last three years alone (see here for the grim catalogue of death) and this number is set to rise when the police get around to publicising more incidents that have happened this year. Oh, and there hasn’t been a successful prosecution for any of them.

Nothing has changed. Raptors continue to be poisoned, trapped and shot on driven grouse moors and the Westminster Environment Minister’s wilful blindness is responsible for enabling that to continue.

29 thoughts on “Blatant wilful blindness from Environment Minister Rebecca Pow on illegal killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors”

  1. I had this same respose from my (Tory) MP. She did actually show genuine concern about the issue when I spoke to her last year but, like Ms Pow, she falls all-too-easily for the rubbish concocted by DEFRA for the shooting lobby. Above all, my experience is that these MPs really don’t want to rock the party boat.

  2. Unfortunately the Conservatives in our national government are as bad as the SNP in our devolved assembly, neither really care about our wildlife. Ironically you are now more likely to see BOP in Southern Britain , particularly red kites in the Chilterns ( ours in the Black Isle are still not doing very well) and soon both eagles and also even beavers will be doing better down south. Scotland until very recently, was the place to see iconic wildlife. Unfortunately that great reputation is being eroded.

    1. “Unfortunately the Conservatives in our national government are as bad as the SNP in our devolved assembly, neither really care about our wildlife.”

      I think that is too general a criticism. Both do care about wildlife (and some individuals, a lot), but it comes second to the consideration of economic activity and what they generally regard as ‘progress’. And both parties are also ‘in bed’ to a greater or lesser extent with powerful land owners. This latter (cultivated) relationship plays a dominant role in the shooting business. I think this explains political ‘support’ for wildlife ‘down south’ – away from powerful land owners’ conflicting economic interests…

      The great irony (to me) is that political support for shooting is a big vote loser, whenever it is openly discussed. But then someone across the pond once said about elections ‘it is all about the economy, stupid’.

      1. I think you have hit the nail on the head!
        One theme in politics which is pretty consistent throughout the world, is how a ruling elite will use their power and wealth to manipulate the political process to ensure that their position in society and their ideology remains dominant.
        This can at times be blatant and at other times subtle and veiled.
        This partly explains Rebecca Pow’s response to the killing of birds of prey.
        To recognise the issues which underlie raptor persecution could put her on a collision course with the powerful elite who own so much of the countryside in the UK, and especially the wealthy who own most of the grouse moors.
        These very influential individuals, many who have hereditary titles and can sit in the House of Lords simply don’t want inference in how they manage the land. Publicly they will condemn the illegal persecution of birds of prey, but they know full well that for their grouse moors to remain viable business ventures then raptor numbers over those moors need to be controlled. (hence such things as the hen Harrier brood management program)
        It is obvious to most of us, that part of the reason why so many birds of prey are killed, is that current legislation is simply inadequate in protecting these birds. The law fails to bring those responsible for the wildlife crimes to justice, or hold those encouraging such crimes accountable.
        As Minister of the Environment, Ms Pow who has stated that raptor persecution is a national wildlife priority, surely recognises the woeful number of offenders who are ever brought to justice for the illegal persecution of birds of prey?
        As such why isn’t she questioning why so few of those responsible for raptor persecution crimes are ever brought to justice?
        However, if Ms Pow was to recognise the inadequacies of the current legislation, and seek reform of the law so that the police and the courts could bring the wildlife criminals to justice, then she would probably be putting herself in a position where she could be exposing the links between game bird management, raptor persecution and those who own the land.
        This could potentially put her in a position of conflict with the dominant ideology of wealth, power and privilege tied to land ownership.
        Since the Tories are traditionally the political party of the land owning elite, then such a conflict is something which Ms Pow knows she needs to avoid.

  3. Great post thank you.
    Talk about see no evil, hear no evil speak no evil.
    Frustrating beyond words…….

    Sent from Samsung Mobile on O2

  4. In one way this is entirely predictable and all the answer to the question does is expose the completely uncaring attitude of DEFRA ministers hiding behind the inadequate policies they have in place. If we or indeed questioners in parliament expose this by suggesting policies are failing we will doubtless get all the bullshit of rising Hen Harrier numbers and the ahem success of brood meddling with populations now at a staggering 7.5% of expected. We need more questions to advance the case in parliament that go further than just allow Pow or other Tory ministers to get away with this nonsense.

  5. Chris Roberts wrote:-

    “Unfortunately the Conservatives in our national government are as bad as the SNP in our devolved assembly, neither really care about our wildlife.”

    Absolutely correct !

  6. Well! There’s a surprise!
    ‘World-beating bullshit’ seems to be HMGovt default position, yet again!
    Can someone in Govt please speak the truth, for a change, and not try to cover up a multitude of sins with soundbite waffle?

  7. I just hope that there will soon be a coalition of all opposition parties and of a good number of fair minded middle-of-the-road Conservatives to get rid of these lunatics. Once re-set somewhere near the centre of the spectrum, better quality politicians will emerge / come out from hiding (on all sides) and debate and accountability will hopefully be valued and encouraged in all areas including raptor persecution. This current lot are just opportunist gamblers and gangsters – in the first instance everybody else must unite temporarily to get them out before they wreck the whole system of civil society.

    1. ‘These lunatics’ are just a symptom of a failed ‘constitution’, a failed political system and a failed political culture. England is still essentially a mediaeval imperial state, which has been too arrogant to reform its institutions and attitudes and create a modern popular democracy, and which has been able to hide its constitutional and political failure behind royal flummery and Churchill ancestor worship. The current crisis which is manifest on multiple fronts and which has all the hallmarks of a failed state has been coming since the war and there is no constitutional democratic capacity to turn that around. Johnson has understood the nature of the British elective dictatorship in which the executive has total power, he has exposed the sham, and is doing exactly as he likes, including gerrymandering the franchise in multiple ways, encouraging the further corporate capture of the state, outlawing political protest and taking control of the media, all of which reinforces the Tory position. There is no effective democracy to turn to in answer to this and the so called opposition are in any case entirely products of the same political culture. You think Starmer will save you ? You think the British State has the moral or political capacity to address the coming environmental crises ? They have just ok’d the discharge of untreated sewage into multiple English rivers because of treatment supply failure, a pretty fair comment on the general state of play.

        1. Whataboutery is never an argument. It’s an excuse. And even on these terms it fails in comparison with the European democracies which England laughably presumes to compare itself with.

          1. ” And even on these terms it fails in comparison with the European democracies which England laughably presumes to compare itself with.”

            Utter rubbish. Are you talking about the ‘democracies’ run by an unelected elite, some prominent leaders of which have criminal convictions? And what about the rest of the world? Where do you see “the moral or political capacity to address the coming environmental crises ?”

      1. Yes, but as the line goes in Doctor Zvihago (something like it anyway): Revolutionary commander – ‘We must act firmly to remove the cancer’, Dr Z – ‘Yes, but who will keep the patient alive during the operation?’ I am not for smashing everything up, but nor for giving up either.

  8. Until we have a system which requires evidence to underpin the spin then civil servants will get away with peddling twaddle and ministers who ‘sign off’ such rubbish are likewise not held to account. Sadly little else on offer from politics I fear?

  9. I would think that rather than confirming the views of civil servants as you are all trying your hardest to do at present, you who inhabit (lurk on?) this blog ought to take a step back and think about what you’re asking for.

    At present, the government has an ongoing problem with illegal immigration to deal with, ongoing problems with tax evasion, a pandemic to keep control of (and believe me, controlling conspiracy theorists is like herding cats) and a fractitious public who are on the cusp of believing that the Government really is out to get them, and the fall-out from having to push up taxes again to pay for the covid-19 pandemic.

    Increasing the penalties for a crime doesn’t deter criminals; this has been known for centuries. Trying to change the balance of evidence is a recipe for getting the entire law thrown out by the Supreme Court (and frankly, nobody would even contemplate the idea at all for so minor an offence). The best way to do it is to increase the chances of actually catching criminals, which means more police officers on the ground.

    That means you lot will all have to do something very, very difficult. Something so terrible, so incredibly distasteful that I fully expect nobody here will have the guts to actually do it.

    You’re going to have to put your hands in your own pockets and pay for policing yourselves. Nobody else has the money, not the RSPB, not the government, nobody. So, off you go then, enjoy.

      1. Sorry, but I thought we did pay for policing from our pockets (taxes) the issue perhaps is where those in power want to direct effort? Realistic fines could fund policing? Full cost recovery for shot gun licences might also help instead of subsiding an industry might also alleviate an already overstretched public service?

    1. I already give the RSPB extra money per month on top of my membership fee to fight raptor persecution, it will be the same story for many of the other people here and frankly anybody who pays taxes has a right to say what they should – and shouldn’t – be spent on. Cutting subsidy (i.e ‘agricultural’) to grouse moors would save public funds and they could at least be partly redirected towards more policing across the board. Then there’s the public subsidy that occurs when those paying for a firearms licence don’t pay the full cost – the police among others have to cough up out of their budget to compensate for the shooter friendly deficit.

      Then what about the extra costs grouse moors incur by having the emergency services deal with the fires their flammable nature causes, and the costs to so many others by the additional flood waters created thanks to muir burn, the general absence of trees and thereby in addition at present the impracticality of bringing in beavers to slow the flow as is happening in so many other places. If you’re determined to get your knickers in a bit of a twist Dan (is it recreational for you?), then there are far better targets than a bunch of people genuinely interested in stopping the legal and illegal slaughter of our wildlife and extensive/intensive abuse of a landscape so a tiny handful of people can spend an awful lot of money shooting birds for fun. I can think of an extremely long list of things it would be better to spend your time, life and pennies on than that.

    2. I agree the government has many balls to juggle, but that shouldn’t detract from Rebecca Pows responsibilities to effectively deal with raptor persecution, something which the government has stated as a national wildlife crime priority.
      In failing to recognise true nature of the problem, she is in effect stifling any realistic solutions to the issue.

      The relationship between a propensity to commit crime and deterring a person from that crime is far more complex than you suggest.
      However there is much evidence to support the view that increasing penalties does deter certain crimes. (This was a strategy used to target domestic burglary, it is one of the reasons why the fixed penalty was raised for misusing a mobile phone whilst driving, and there are other examples where tougher legislation and penalties have been introduced to deter certain crimes.)

      I don’t understand your comment about changing the balance of evidence. I don’t believe anyone has suggested this.
      The criminal courts will still work to a case having to be proved “beyond all reasonable doubt”, and the civil burden of proof will remain “on the balance of probabilities”.
      If you are alluding to the proposed grouse moor licencing scheme, then I understand this will fall within the remit of the civil law burden of proof. Whether this will be a success or not in reducing raptor persecution is very much a debateable question.

      As has been discussed time and time again on this forum, the nature of tackling raptor persecution is a difficult one. There are difficulties with identifying crime scenes, difficulties in obtaining evidence, forensic issues, as well investigative power issues to be solved. Simply increasing the number of police officers is not going to result in a dramatic reduction of raptor persecution.

      You are right in stating that catching those responsible for raptor persecution and bringing them to justice may well reduce the number of raptor crimes being committed. Especially if it then transpires that there is a link between those criminals and the game bird shooting industry.
      Should such a link be proved, then the public outcry could well be such, that the government will be left with no option but pass laws which severely curtail and restrict game bird shooting, whether that’s driven grouse shooting, or any of the other forms of game bird shooting.

      So maybe take a step back and think very carefully about what you are asking for, as you may find that catching and bringing those responsible for wildlife crimes to justice exposes the rotten core which lies behind so much of the game shooting industry, and restricts shooting in a way you may not like.

      (Apologies to those who in the game shooting industry who are doing everything right, and are managing the land in a proper and professional way to ensure birds of prey and other wildlife is able to flourish- but until there is recognition by the entire shooting world that there is embedded criminality within the industry, and come up with meaningful ways to tackle this, we are never going to eradicate raptor persecution. Sadly at the moment that does not appear to be happening, as the previous post about no one being brought to justice for the illegal of the 5 buzzards so aptly demonstrates. )

    3. No doubt Desperate Dan would soon have his arse in his hands if one of his (or his mates’) traps were destroyed, or somebody disrupted his shoot, and the police didn’t have the resources to investigate “so minor an offence”.

    4. The reason that governments have different ministers and departments is so they can manage the entirety of what is necessary to run the country. The continuing failure to deal with raptor persecution is a matter of will – they (the Tories / SNP) don’t want to lock up their friends or their friends’ employees.

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