Hen harrier update – Natural England has been keeping a terrible, terrible secret

Natural England has been keeping a secret.

A terrible, terrible secret about one of its satellite-tagged hen harriers.

I’ve been waiting all year for Natural England to inform the public about what has happened.

I waited in the spring, but there was no news.

I looked at Natural England’s summer update on its satellite-tagged hen harriers, published in July, but Natural England said nothing was amiss with this bird.

I watched in August as the grouse-shooting industry paraded its hen harrier propaganda throughout the media, claiming that hen harriers were being worshipped by gamekeepers or something equally as implausible. Natural England said nothing to challenge that view, despite knowing the grisly fate of one of its tagged hen harriers.

I read an article in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago where gamekeepers were being ‘lauded’ as the hen harrier’s ‘friend’ by a straight-faced Natural England employee (Stephen Murphy), who also claimed that hen harrier Bowland Betty, who had been found dead with shotgun injuries on a grouse moor, had been shot away from the grouse moor, not on it – a statement for which he has absolutely no evidence whatsoever!

Now its December and two days ago Natural England published another update about its satellite-tagged hen harriers. Several more have apparently vanished this year, which is no surprise given we know that at least 57 have been killed/vanished in the last three years, but I’ll come back to an analysis of these latest victims in the New Year.

Right now I’m more interested in whether Natural England would say anything about the fate of this particular bird.

It hasn’t.

Sorry, but I am not prepared to sit and watch this pantomime any longer.

The authorities need to come clean and admit what has happened here. Cover-ups don’t instil confidence and besides the public has a right to know what is happening to these hen harriers, and especially to those that are fitted with public-funded tags.

Over to you, Natural England, and you might want to include a statement about whether you believe this harrier’s wings were pulled off, perhaps when she was still alive, based on the evidence you have.

UPDATE 29th December 2021: Natural England refuses to comment on whether hen harrier had its wings ripped off in horrific persecution incident (here).

UPDATE 7th March 2022: Natural England still silent, apparently on police orders, about hen harrier whose wings were torn off (here)

UPDATE 25th August 2022: Hen harrier’s ‘wings removed’ & its satellite tag fitted to a crow in sick ploy to disguise the crime (here)

25 thoughts on “Hen harrier update – Natural England has been keeping a terrible, terrible secret”

  1. NE are not fit for purpose, FOI requests to them re moor burning and licences for traps show that they have either no clue what is going on, or do not care. The word ‘natural’ does not apply here, they seem to think their employees defending keepers, defending brood meddling, defending the indefensible is ok, it is not acceptable and this organisation has no credibility at all in my opinion. They have proved that with statements, lack of information, changing rules retrospectively re distraction feeding on the Swinton estate, and countless other pieces of misinformation or none at all, an utter disgrace.

    1. I worked for the NCC, English Nature and Natural England for over 25 years.
      I left because they gave me loads of money to leave and because we were no longer benefiting wildlife.
      There are still passionate wildlife people in NE but the management has lost its way.

  2. Why is the (English) Green Party silent on this issue? What do they say about the current performance of one of their famous ex-Parliamentary candidates now leading Natural England?

  3. Now I don’t know about this harrier Ruth, but you obviously know enough to be asking awkward questions of NE and I wish you well with that.
    It seems to me that whilst one cannot deny the fieldwork skills of Mr Murphy his”political” utterances need a huge pinch of salt or is that a vomit preventative. I know at least as much about the history of Swinton Estate as he does and the vomit inducing Guardian Article prompted me to write to both the paper and Murphy, one might add without publication or response. There is very good reason to suppose that for some little while before her death Bowland Betty was very unlikely to wander far and probably not off the estate. Also the day before River, the other harrier mentioned in the article, disappeared off line as it were, a man was filmed in a known harrier roost on the estate at dusk with gun and dogs, an unfortunate coincidence to say the least, perhaps he was protecting the roost although I rather doubt that. This an estate and surrounding area with an appalling record of raptor disappearances, breeding failures and unaccounted for absences, although of course any culprits remain unidentified. Until that changes I suggest the article should be treated with utter contempt.
    There are also a number of questions to be asked about recent harrier nesting attempts in that area which all seem to fail except the two required to continue brood meddling there. For 2019 NE told the Rare Breeding Birds Panel there were just the two”successful” nests and no other attempts, which was blatantly untrue and they knew it.
    Natural England seem to have forgotten who the friends of the Hen Harrier and indeed other protected raptors really are, because it sure as hell isn’t the DGS lobby.
    Whatever happened to this other harrier we really do deserve and need to know what happened, however inconvenient that is to NE and its new friends in DGS.

  4. The only bit of this ill conceived article that rang true was Katie -Jo Luxton’s free-standing comment. The comments about Bowland Betty were particularly interesting as the whole system has depended on someone somewhere shooting the Hen Harriers – so maybe some estates don’t but instead rely on others to do it for them. The fate of RSPB bred Hen Harriers which wander off RSPB land illustrates that only too clearly.

    And as far as I know persecution didn’t quite achieve the extinction of Hen Harrier in England because one pair bred at the top of Kielder Forest where, ironically, they were protected by an enveloping blanket of Sitka Spruce forest which prevented them from wnadering into harms way.

  5. yes always worry with names like Natural England self praise clearly no recommendation and all that .nothing ‘Natural ‘ about the silence need the forensics on to it and the public are paying for a service theyre not receiving yet again dreadful to here about the hen harriers wings poor thing 😔

  6. Hi Ruth

    This sounds absolutely horrific.

    On the subject of failings by public bodies, have you had an update on your request to NE to investigate the alleged illegal reckless disturbance of a hen harrier’s nest by a gamekeeper and a suspected NE employee whilst carrying out diversionary feeding?

  7. I wonder how much of the publicity from the Swinton estate about the work it is undertaking to improve the plight of then Hen Harrier on the estate is driven not by a real and innate desire to improve the conservation success of the Hen Harrier and allow the birds to thrive on the estate, but as a publicity stunt to try and counteract the increasing scrutiny the grouse shooting industry is coming under following yet another year of very damaging reported raptor persecution incidents associated with grouse moors, and in particular those estates in North Yorkshire where reported persecution is yet again the worst in the UK.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t foremost in the eyes of the Swinton estate, which is working extremely hard to build a reputation as an outstanding country hotel, which is attractive to the widest possible cliental. I am sure it will be very important for the estate to distance itself from claims of being involved in raptor persecution.
    I wish them success at this, and if it leads them away from driven grouse shooting, and stops raptor persecution in that area, then that is a good thing. Hopefully I am not being too naïve?

    This is very much a battle of hearts and minds.
    Sadly it would seem NE have been drawn into this battle and have adopted a position which supports the grouse shooting industries idea of conservation.

    I have not forgotten the words of another well known grouse moor owner on another nearby estate in North Yorkshire who clearly stated that he could tolerate a nesting pair of Hen Harriers on his grouse moors, but any more than that could have serious consequences for the viability of the grouse shooting business he operated.

    What I read into those words is that Hen Harriers are really very unwelcome on the grouse moors, if the estates could they would eradicate them, and that consequentially estates will use any lawful means to keep Hen Harriers at artificially low numbers in order to minimise the consequences on the grouse shooting. (hence we see the NE chick removal program!).
    For some estates which do not participate in the Hen Harrier management program this problem of unwelcome Hen Harriers probably means illegal methods are used from the outset.

    This then also raises the question of what happens when Hen Harrier numbers exceed that single breeding pair, and Hen Harriers return back to the grouse moors from which they were removed as chicks?
    Will the grouse moor owners who are reliant on the revenue generated from grouse shooting tolerate increasing Hen Harrier numbers? – very doubtful?
    So what happens to those birds on the dark corners of those moors away from the eyes of public, which have been distracted by the publicity of such media events as this article in the Guardian?
    I think the fate of so many satellite tagged birds gives a very strong indication of just what is exactly happening.
    And this appears to paint a very different picture from that portrayed in the Guardian article of benevolent grouse moor owners.
    I would find the claims much more believable if I saw grouse moor owners seriously cutting back on grouse shooting, maybe moving away entirely from driven grouse shooting to much more sustainable walk up shooting, and switching to other forms of eco tourism and use for their moors which wasn’t centred on maximising grouse numbers for a fee paying cliental, who treat the grouse as nothing more than living clay pigeons!!

    But this is an industry driven by money, and when grouse shooting pays far more per client per day than the revenue which can be generated from ramblers, bird watchers and mountain bikers it is easy to understand why grouse moor owners are so reluctant to change. Hopefully organisations like Revive can show grouse moor owners there are better alternatives which can still result in the moors being a valuable source of income.

    Until change comes, then I believe it would be far better if NE adopted a totally neutral stance and worked with the police and other bodies to ensure that the law as it currently stands is fully upheld, and where illegal activity or malpractice is uncovered or suspected, put in place measure to eradicate it, which should include such things as a suspension of payments to stewardship schemes, withdrawing GL’s or other punitive actions which ensure those who have managed to avoid prosecution through the courts at least face some consequence for their behaviour.

    1. This is the best response I have read on this subject in a long time. It encapsulates my views perfectly – thank you.

      I have always thought that the Swinton Estate was set up to “take one for the team” . Mark Cunliffe Lister, The Earl of Swinton and the chair of the Moorland Assoc wear many hats.

  8. In reputational terms, the Natural England guy Stephen Murphy has in that article declared the poker equivalent of an “all in” putting his total faith in the Swinton Estate and especially in its Headkeeper. Talk about putting your balls on the line! And he cannot claim ignorance if (when?) the shit does hit the fan. I am just utterly perplexed by the whole thing at Swinton. It is the only thing in the whole DGS debate where I add up all of the known quantities I am certain of eg. 2+2+2= 6, but in this case I just never arrive at a remotely plausable answer.

  9. The plain facts are, that NE is totally underfunded. There are dedicated people being told by their managers to forget their existing work ie. checking on SSSs etc and get on with new projects that that make the people at the top look good. There is a complete lack of monitoring and even historic sites are being ploughed up because of it.

  10. I’ve made multiple comments on that blog which have never passed the moderation stage, even though they’ve been perfectly civil. You’ll notice that the entire comment section of that latest blog is made up of copy and paste positive comments from driven grouse shooting supporters, which I don’t think is any coincidence at all. At this point, their blog functions as nothing more than a free advertisement for driven grouse shooting as they’ve completely sold themselves out by pushing this ludicrous brood meddling scheme. If anyone thinks Natural England are independent and not merely a puppet for the whims of DEFRA and their own political goals, I have a bridge to sell you.

  11. Gamekeepers aren’t the brightest sparks in the box if those I’ve come into contact with are anything to go by! I found them to be cruel & unfeeling. Some downright nasty! We were threatened by one gamekeeper & warned off by another for complaining about snares & a vixen & cub left on a pile of woodland debris.

  12. I am disgusted by the arrogance of the land owners and game keepers who just enjoy killing living things. In the name of sport. They could breed more grouse and call it natural wastage…….I realise a lot of money is in these areas and they say it helps with costs of estate running costs and the country way of life…I’ve managed to live in the country without killing wildlife. I respect life.

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