Short-eared owl confirmed shot in Teesdale grouse moor area where two short-eared owls previously found shot

Article published in the Northern Echo yesterday:

Short-eared owl shot and killed in Teesdale

POLICE are appealing for information after a short-eared owl was shot down in Teesdale earlier this year.

A post-mortem on the bird has confirmed the likely cause of its death was being shot with a shot gun.

The owl was found by the side of the road in May.

[Short-eared owl. Photographer unknown]

PC Lorraine Nelson said: “Persecuting birds of prey is never acceptable and we will always do everything we can to work with partners to act on information received about alleged criminal activity.

We would encourage anyone with information on this incident to get in touch.”

Jack Ashton-Booth, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “Short-eared owls are declining nationally as a species.

Yet they are still widely targeted in our UK uplands: this is the third shot short-eared owl we are aware of in this area in the last six years.

In 2015 two dead short-eared owls, both of which had been shot, were found in a hole on moorland just over 1km away.

Each of those birds could have gone on to have three, four or five chicks, had they been allowed to live.

When I think of the scale of even just one area of moorland, and its array of nooks and crannies… how many more of these stunning birds could have been shot and concealed down holes or buried under peat?

It’s impossible to know.

This illegal killing must stop.

I urge any of you who may have information regarding individuals targeting these birds to come forward and call them out.”

If you have any information, call 101 and ask to speak to PC Nelson.

Alternatively, call the RSPB confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101.


This short-eared owl was found shot in May close to the Selset Reservoir in Teesdale, which is an area dominated by land managed for driven grouse shooting, as you can see from this Google map showing the tell-tale rectangular strips of burned heather:

According to RSPB Investigations Officer Jack Ashton-Booth, the latest victim was discovered just over 1km from where two short-eared owls had been found shot and buried in potholes on the Wemmergill Estate in 2015 (see here). Nobody was prosecuted for those two offences, just as nobody will be prosecuted for this latest wildlife crime.

Wemmergill Estate is also the last known location of satellite-tagged hen harrier Marc, who vanished in suspicious circumstances on this grouse moor in 2018 (see here).

The article published yesterday in the Northern Echo was presumably based on information from Durham Constabulary, and claims that the police are appealing for information. I can’t find anything about the crime, investigation or subsequent appeal on the Durham Constabulary website or the police’s Facebook page. If it is there, it’s well hidden.

And once again, it has taken five months for this ‘appeal’ to emerge. I suppose that’s an improvement on the seven months it took Durham Constabulary to appeal for information after the discovery of the two shot owls found in 2015.

Yesterday’s article in the Northern Echo states that:

A post-mortem on the bird has confirmed the likely cause of its death was being shot with a shot gun‘.

My understanding is that the post-mortem report confirmed the owl had been shot and that was the cause of its death shortly afterwards.

There may be more news to come about this latest crime. I will update the blog if/when I receive further information.

UPDATE 18.00hrs:

The RSPB investigations team has confirmed on Twitter that this latest shot short-eared owl was found dead on a grouse moor (estate unnamed but believed to be the same estate (Wemmergill) where two short-eared owls were found shot and shoved down a pothole in 2015.

Also, Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership has written a blog on the AONB website to draw attention to this latest crime (see here). Well done, Chris.

22 thoughts on “Short-eared owl confirmed shot in Teesdale grouse moor area where two short-eared owls previously found shot”

  1. Why is there always such a huge delay by the police in publicising these crimes? Could you imagine the police waiting 5 months to announce an investigation into a murder, a rape, a serious assault or a terrorist atrocity? They would be pilloried if they did.

    A local vet could have confirmed that the bird had been shot within a few minutes and, as I know from personal experience, vets are only too willing to help provide an x-ray without charge if the victim is a wild animal.

    Despite the rhetoric, I seriously doubt that wildlife crime has the priority all police forces claim: it rings as hollow as the assertions of the shooting industry that they don’t tolerate the illegal killing of birds of prey, yet still it goes on . I challenge BASC, Countryside Alliance, Moorland Association, the gamekeepers organisations and the rest of them to point to the last time they actually helped solve the illegal killing of a bird of prey and put one of their members in the dock with the evidence to secure a conviction!

  2. Interesting, I saw a SEO hunting in the field east of Wemmergill Hall Farm and south of the B6276 at this location on 28th May, both in the early morning and afternoon on the way to and from work. It was remarkable as I’ve driven through this part of the North Pennines regularly for seven years and never seen a bird of prey.

    Perhaps the mate of the one that was shot? I didn’t see it again although made a point of looking.

    1. Hi winn-darley, yep they sure know how to ‘keep the balance’ in that part of Teesdale. It is not predator control but almost total local extinction of all significant “unsavoury” predatory species, protected or not. When one does see a bird or prey or a Raven around there it is a bitter-sweet thing, a delight that is also fused with a depressing and powerless feeling that you know what will happen to it sooner or later. Makes you wish you’d never seen it in the first place. Certainly there are more sightings to be made of keepers in ford rangers or toyota hilux’s or on their quads than of any predatory creatures. Not even many stoats these days – but with 8 to 12 traps per sq/km then what can we expect. Some sort of impact such as a conviction has got to be made in this area soon – just to show that they cannot have it all their own way, and to stop them laughing openly at the law.

  3. Again, same problem, same outcome, and nothing has been done..
    It is time to stop grouse killing, and ban all shotgun use in the UK.
    Time and time again the idiots with guns have proved they are not responsible enough to have them and use them.
    There is obviously no regulation in who owns a gun, and who uses them, they may well have a licence to have one but no idea of what they can and can’t shoot.
    How many more of our birds will be murdered to protect grouse shooting moors, why is this still happening, every single wild bird that is murdered to protect grouse is abhorrent, and all landowners know it is happening, and I suspect a lot of them encourage it to protect their income, the whole idea of killing a grouse for fun is lost on me, what purpose does it serve?, murdering birds of prey, and other protected birds to stop them getting to the grouse is madness, if the birds of prey take some grouse that’s tough luck, it’s nature, the birds can not be persecuted for doing what is natural to them, if you begrudge them a grouse then don’t release them, and stop murdering them.
    The only winner in grouse killing moors are the landowners, they make a lot of money for murdering birds.
    I don’t care if they are royals, barristers, judges, or bankers, or even rich oiks with nothing better to do with their money, its time it was banned, banned for the wellbeing of the birds, for animals, and the environment, after all, they burn the land so birds have no place to hide, this drives out the wildlife, killing many animals, and birds, and also changes the natural environment for these creatures, it drives them away from habitats perfect apart from the idiots toting guns.
    I believe that as custodians of the land, owners should be held liable for any ILLEGAL shooting that takes place on the land, and prosecuted to the full extent of the law, I expect at that point we will stop seeing birds being killed.
    Or even have the licensing revoked if any bird of prey is killed on the land, or over it, because they will use any slight loophole to wriggle out of it.
    Sadly the rich people have good legal teams who will find any slight hole in the law, and always find a way to get out of being prosecuted.
    Make them liable, make shooting grouse illegal, and actually follow that with an airtight law that makes them responsible for any birds shot, or baited, or poisoned, or even snared, because this is also still happening around grouse moors.
    The birds of prey are important, more so than the rich landowners, and their gun toting rich people, so what if they put a few quid into taxes, its still blood money, and I don’t believe that they are improving the local areas, they certainly don’t make me want to visit, and on top of that the burning of the land is contributing to global warming by releasing the gasses caught by the Heather and bracken and other plants.
    Time to stop all shooting, and hunting for good.

    1. I think they know very well what they can and should not shoot, it is far from everybody with a shotgun certificate. I suspect most who have such certificates and guns have never shot at anything illegal in their lives, I didn’t when I had access to guns a long time ago. You miss the point if you think this is the case, these people kill SEOs and by the sound of it probably all other predators to protect their interests , the Red Grouse. Many years ago I was told by an ex-keeper ( ex because he didn’t do it) that in all his many years of being a grouse keeper he thought all those who killed illegally did so under instruction from higher up the chain, in many years of going on moors and raptor work I’ve only come across 2 who did it anyway. We need better imposition of the legislation we have and far better legislation including at the very least licencing of grouse management, vicarious liability although my own preference is for ALL driven shooting to be banned. History tells us that the carnage our native predators pay for driven shooting to be possible is obscene routine criminality and it is two generations beyond when it should have stopped entirely.
      It is also way past time as Simon says that if shooting organisations expect us to believe their “zero tolerance” joke they should be shopping the criminals in their midst.

      1. “I suspect most who have such certificates and guns have never shot at anything illegal in their lives”,——Wishful thinking Paul.

  4. Such a shame….already they have trouble finding mates…the partner of this might well have extreme difficulty going forward. I wish only the very worst suffering on the imbecile who killed this beautiful creature.

    1. indeed Anand, and if the world was right under peer pressure the bastard would fess up or ship out. As it is he will do neither and he and those around him will be smug about another routine wildlife crime got away with.

    1. Because the law prosecutes individuals and sadly as usual there is little to no evidence implying who that might be

    2. We have no law of vicarious liability in England and Wales and the Scottish version is too weak to be of any use. This is what governments do: pretend they are taking action whilst really doing nothing – both the Tories and the SNP are equally culpable and, when they were in power, Blair & Co deliberately made the Hunting with Hounds Act unenforceable so they could say they had met their manifesto commitment without stopping the nobs from enjoying their sadistic little pastime.

  5. The Driven Grouse Moor club who own these moors tend to have a lot of power over local newspapers, businesses, local politicians and , in some cases, the hierarchy of the area’s police force. Events since The Protectionv of Birds Act 1954 has led to the inescapable conclusion from my point of view that the criminals intent on eradicating these birds will stop at nothing and only an organisation with integrity can effectively put an end to it. Those controlled by commercial or Governmental have been proven to be compromised in this area.
    Legislation proves ineffective when the interests of the wealth are involved — unlike badger baiters or hare coursers who are routinely apprehnded, charged and convicted.
    What is required here is a body that is beyond reproach and has no connections to the above mentioned to investigate and collect the evidence. My opinion is that both the RSPCA and the SSPCA meet that criteria…. and it looks like the DGM Owners agree given the stiff opposition they provided against such a development when it was last mooted. It is now on the table once more and I feel every support should be given to that proposal — even a strong and persistant campaign to inform the public in no uncertain terms as to why this has now become a nec essity if these criminal gangs are to be halted.
    All it takes for a wildlife friendly police force to be subverted is a Driven Grouse Moor friendly high ranking police officer to be appointed and that alters overnight.
    Empowering the RSPCA and the SSPCA woukld certainly be a step in the right direction.

  6. Hopefully these beautiful creatures did not die in vain and that these vicious crimes will speed up the long over due time that Grouse killing is consigned to the history books and those that commit crime with firearms are giving the sentences that they deserve

  7. I saw my first and so far only SEO when I was twelve during a family drive towards Fintry. We went round a bend and there in broad, beautiful winter sunshine one was sitting on a fencepost for a second before it took off. An absolutely stunning image still as sharp as ever in my mind’s eye. This is what we’re all losing out on, especially kids, because of a particularly pathetic hobby. A wee digression I hope I can be forgiven for, but in the area of the picture taken up by grouse moor it looks as if it’s crisscrossed by quite a few watercourses (running along the bottom of the ‘dips’). As long as the gradient isn’t too steep, there’s even a modest amount of flow and providing there was some material to eat and make dams with then a hell of a lot of water could be held back by beavers on that grouse moor to the not insignificant benefit to homes, farms and businesses below it.

    This would also greatly reduce the speed and spread of any fire – you know that inferno they keep telling us will happen if they stop regular muir burn and there’ll be a consequent heavy build up of fuel load. Targeted tree planting along contours and watercourses by itself would slow the flow from grouse moors, add beaver then you’re really talking. For all the umpteen beaver trials we have we still don’t have one looking at how they could be translocated to the moors and how their colonisation of them and fire/flood reducing potential could be assisted. So far more than two hundred beavers have been ‘culled’ legally which could have helped us look into this. Try looking at the aerial view and envisage beaver dams along even just the lower ground water courses on the grouse moor to gauge the potential we’re currently wasting across the country.

  8. My late father, a senior police officer who spent many, many years training young police officers, believed that ‘solving rural crime all boils down to practical bobbying’ … in other words local knowledge, with additional local insight and information from law-abiding locals.
    It amazes me (not) that, whilst local keepers profess to know what’s going on on their local patches, they never seem to know a thing about what’s going on on their local patches if whatever is going on on their local patches involves local wildlife crimes! (Hope I didn’t lose you there!) Mmm! How come that keepers are so quick to ‘share’ reports of investigators / conservationists being spotted in an area, yet can’t spot criminal activity under their own noses? Answers on a postcard …
    Why did it take the Durham Constabulary 5 months to agree that a crime had been committed in this case and ask the locals to share some local knowledge? Complicity? Couldn’t care less? Busy washing their hair?
    Get a grip FFS!

    1. Hi C Johnson, I often mull over the same things you mention. Here is one problem I have noticed. It is often the same individual officers who have been working closely, on friendly terms and perhaps effectively with keepers and Farmwatch types for years who are then expected to get the bottom of raptor persecution. It should not be same officers who work by night with keepers to chase the lurcher boys, lampers and the quad bike thieves, etc that then have to ‘turn’ on those same keepers the very next day to investigate dead buzzards and the like. But it often is. The organised illegal killing of creatures to protect game is to me a wholly seperate category of crime to casual poaching, lamping, coursing etc. It is wrong to bundle it all together as generic ‘wildlife crime’, but the police probably have to do so due to lack of resources. And of course you just have to laugh when the police are sent out to a wet windy moor one day in their seldom worn raincoats to be trained how to identify illegal traps and the like…sometimes actually by a keeper or on an Estate who they really ought to be keeping a very close eye on instead.

  9. The RSPB have produced an interactive raptor persecution map which highlights areas where raptor persecution incidents have been reported. The RSPB are an organisation which openly speaks out against raptor persecution.

    The various organisations representing game shooting all profess to condemn the illegal persecution of birds of prey.
    So why aren’t organisations like the BASC, Moorland Association, GWCT all producing similar maps or data indicating where raptor persecution incidents are occurring, and naming the shooting estates on which that persecution is alleged or suspected to have taken place?
    Such information would help their members/supporters avoid shooting on estates suspected of being involved in the criminal persecution of birds of prey.
    Shooting estates are predominantly a business, and I would hope that the vast majority of people who go shooting would prefer to support a business which operates legally, rather than support an enterprise where criminal activity is suspected to take place.
    So it is a very simple question to those shooting organisations- You claim to condemn the illegal persecution of birds of prey. So why aren’t you exposing the estates where illegal raptor persecution is taking place, and thus enable those who wish to shoot, to choose to support the estates which fully adhere to the principles set out in your various mission statements or principles?

    Failure to do this, risks an accusation that the shooting organisations don’t really believe in the principles they promote.

    (This accusation has been written about numerous times- but it is worth repeating, and repeating, and repeating, so that hopefully either the shooting organisations do something about it, or politicians introduce legislation which does!!)

    I can’t imagine many other industries where the umbrella organisations of that industry wouldn’t be doing everything possible to expose and rid the industry of the rogue players who make it impossible for that industry to operate on a level playing field. Failure to do so means those estates which do operate within the law are at a disadvantage to those estates that don’t.

    I can contrast the grouse moors of Upper Teesdale, where I never see, or rarely see birds of prey, to other grouse moors where I frequently see birds of prey, including buzzard, red kite ,and kestrels.
    The RSPB raptor persecution map is so revealing. The grouse moors where I see the most birds of prey, are the grouse moors which don’t feature on the map!!
    Says it all!!!

  10. This is utterly horrendous and in a part of the country that I love with all my heart.
    It is like being kicked in the stomach.
    It MUST be stopped. I never see other birds of prey in Teesdale either. It should be teeming with them.

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