Poisoned eagle in Dorset had 7 x lethal dose rodenticide in its liver

Further to the news that Dorset Police has announced it has prematurely closed its investigation into the poisoned white-tailed eagle that was found dead on a shooting estate in January 2022 (see here,  herehere and here), the post mortem results have now been revealed.

According to a blog written by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation (the group managing the eagle reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight):

Post mortem and toxicology testing through the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme has subsequently identified brodifacoum poisoning as the cause of death. Brodifacoum is a highly toxic anticoagulant rodenticide that causes internal haemorrhaging. The bird’s liver contained approximately seven times the amount of brodifacoum required to kill a bird like a White-tailed Eagle. The satellite data indicates that the eagle, which was otherwise healthy, deteriorated and died over a period of several days‘.

SEVEN times the lethal dose?

Good grief. It’s no wonder the award-winning Dorset Police wildlife crime officer Claire Dinsdale was planning to undertake a multi-agency search of the estate. It was the obvious next move.

Given these post-mortem results I’d like to know how Dorset Police can justify its decision to shelve the search and close the investigation. I’d also like to know if that decision had anything to do with Claire going on indefinite sick leave.

Up until now I’ve refrained from using the word ‘corrupt’ to describe Dorset Police’s decision and have instead suggested ‘undue political interference’. I’m afraid that corruption is looking more and more likely.

There’s much more to come on this story….

Question to be tabled in House of Lords about Dorset Police’s decision to close eagle poisoning investigation

Further to the news that Dorset Police has announced it has prematurely closed its investigation into the poisoned white-tailed eagle that was found dead on a shooting estate in January 2022 (see here,  here and here), a question is to be tabled in the House of Lords.

Life Peer Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (known to many of us as the former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett) responded to Dorset Police’s decision with shock when she posted this on Twitter earlier today:

Natalie consistently speaks out on wildlife crime and particularly on raptor persecution. Let’s see if any of her fellow peers, and especially those working at DEFRA (Richard Benyon & Zac Goldsmith) can muster any interest in what looks increasingly like dodgy dealings in Dorset.

RSPB ‘completely baffled’ by Dorset Police decision to prematurely end poisoned eagle investigation

Further to the news that Dorset Police has announced it has closed its investigation into the poisoned white-tailed eagle that was found on a shooting estate in January 2022 (see here and here), the RSPB has released a statement:

This story is a long way from over….

UPDATE 16.40hrs: Question to be tabled in House of Lords about Dorset Police’s decision to close eagle poisoning investigation (here)

Dorset Police does the unthinkable & confirms no further investigation into poisoned white-tailed eagle

Further to this morning’s post when I wrote about the rumours circulating that Dorset Police was about to announce it was closing its investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of a white-tailed eagle found poisoned on a game-shooting estate in January this year (see here), well they’ve only gone and done it.

A few minutes ago Dorset Police’s main Twitter account published the following statement:

For all the reasons I wrote about this morning, this is not only an astonishing move by the police but also of very high concern.

As the police statement says, at this stage it’s not possible to know whether the elevated amount of rodenticide (Brodifacoum) found in the eagle’s corpse was the result of a deliberate act (a crime) or due to accidental secondary poisoning, but surely the whole point of a police investigation is to, er, investigate the circumstances further to try and determine what happened?

And even more importantly than that, there is serious concern that whatever that eagle had eaten may still be out in the open, risking the lives of other wildlife, not least the other satellite-tagged white-tailed eagles known to frequent this area.

I am deeply suspicious of Dorset Police’s motivations for closing this investigation. Again, as discussed this morning there are too many ‘coincidences’ for me not to be incredulous about this and Dorset Police now has some questions to answer.

Who took the decision to close this investigation?

On what basis was that decision made?

Was the decision unduly influenced by political interference?

Why isn’t Dorset Police searching for evidence of poisoned baits?

How does Dorset Police justify the potential risk to other white-tailed eagles in the area?

Why has the word ‘wildlife’ been removed from Dorset Police’s Rural Wildlife crime team?

Who took the decision to remove it?

On what basis was that decision made?

Was the decision unduly influenced by political interference?

If you’d like to ask these questions, and/or any others, please email Dorset Police on: 101@dorset.pnn.police.uk Please quote reference # 55220015571.

UPDATE 15.05hrs: RSPB ‘completely baffled’ by Dorset Police decision to prematurely end poisoned eagle investigation (here)

UPDATE 16.40hrs: Question to be tabled in House of Lords about Dorset Police’s decision to close eagle poisoning investigation (here)

UPDATE 30th March 2022: Poisoned eagle in Dorset had 7 x lethal dose rodenticide in its liver (here)

UPDATE 1st April 2022: Another eagle suspected poisoned on a Dorset shooting estate (here)

UPDATE 14th April 2022: Dorset Police refuse FoI request for correspondence between them and Chris Loder MP on poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 20th April 2022: Unconvincing statement from Dorset Police on closure of investigation into poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 21st April 2022: Chris Packham submits FoI requests to Dorset Police and the Crime Commissioner about poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 22nd April 2022: More questions asked about Dorset Police’s mishandling of the poisoned eagle investigation (here)

UPDATE 26th April 2022: The office of the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner: incompetent or something more sinister? (here)

UPDATE 27th April 2022: Dorset Police Chief Constable and the Police & Crime Commissioner on a futile damage limitation exercise (here)

UPDATE 29th April 2022: Another dead buzzard in Dorset – Police warn public of suspected poisoned baits (here)

UPDATE 29th April 2022: Email correspondence between Chris Loder MP and Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner re: poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 16th May 2022: Poisoned eagles in south of England feature in The Telegraph (here)

UPDATE 19th May 2022: Wildlife Crime Working Group seeks explanation from Dorset Police about failure to investigate poisoned eagle incident (here)

UPDATE 25th May 2022: Dorset Police and the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner in breach of Freedom of Information Act by failing to respond to Chris Packham’s request for info on poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 26th May 2022: Further breach of Freedom of Information Act by Dorset Police re: poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 30th May 2022: Your opportunity to question Dorset Police Chief Constable on poisoned eagle case 7 breaches of FoI law (here)

UPDATE 31st May 2022: Premature closure of poisoned eagle investigation was ‘proportionate’ claims Dorset Chief Constable (here)

UPDATE 31st May 2022: Dorset Police’s generic FoI response on poisoned eagle investigation is inaccurate and unsatisfactory (here)

UPDATE 8th June 2022: Poisoned eagle investigation: “You and I need to get our ducks in the row on this one”, Dorset PCC tells Chris Loder MP (here)

UPDATE 11th June 2022: BBC’s Countryfile to feature #EagleGate (here)

UPDATE 14th June 2022: Watch Dorset’s poisoned eagle fiasco on BBC’s Countryfile (here)

UPDATE 19th June 2022: Dorset Police continues its damage limitation exercise re: its botched investigation into the poisoned eagle (here)

Serious concerns about Dorset Police’s rumoured response to poisoned white-tailed eagle

Dorset has become a bit of a raptor persecution hotspot in recent years following the discovery of a shot buzzard (here), the suspicious deaths of two barn owls and several more buzzards (here), the disturbance of nesting peregrines (here), the suspected poisoning of a number of buzzards and an owl in two separate locations (here) and the poisoning of a red kite, which led to a multi-agency raid where banned poisons and several more dead raptors were discovered (here).

Fortunately, Dorset Police has one of the best-equipped and most experienced wildlife & rural crime teams in the country, or at least it did have.

In January this year, the corpse of a white-tailed eagle was found dead on an unnamed shooting estate in Dorset (here). When the story broke in February it made national news (e.g. here, here, here), not least because this eagle was from the inaugural reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight and it was one of two dead eagles that had been found in suspicious circumstances in recent months (another is believed to have been found dead in Sussex in October 2021).

[The dead white-tailed eagle found in Dorset in Jan 2022. Photo by Dorset Police]

Dorset Police’s wildlife crime team led a multi-agency search to find this satellite-tagged eagle and they were pro-active in quickly releasing a public statement, even though toxicology results were still awaited, to reflect their understandable concern for the safety of three other satellite-tagged eagles known to be in the county at that time:

This level of proactivity stood in stark contrast to Sussex Police, who still haven’t managed to make any statement about the eagle that was found in suspicious circumstances on a shooting estate in that county in October 2021.

However, the high profile dead eagle in Dorset led to some unwarranted criticism of the police wildlife crime team by local MP Chris Loder, who argued, extraordinarily, that Dorset ‘wasn’t the place for eagles’ and the police should be focusing their resources on other types of criminality (see here) and not on suspected wildlife crime. And it wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark made in haste; he continued his tirade for sometime afterwards (e.g. see here).

I don’t know whether it was a coincidence but by early March the Twitter account belonging to Dorset Police’s Rural Wildlife & Heritage Crime Team had a name change. The words ‘wildlife’ and ‘heritage’ were completely removed from the name:

Here’s the pre-March Twitter account name:

And here’s the post-March Twitter account name:

That seems a bit strange. What prompted this change?

A further ‘coincidence’ is that the former Rural Wildlife & Heritage Crime team leader has been on indefinite leave since early March.

Hmm.

And there’s another ‘coincidence’. In late February Dorset Police’s wildlife crime team was making arrangements with partners to conduct a multi-agency search of the estate where the dead white-tailed eagle had been found. By early March those plans had been shelved. Why was that?

Yesterday rumours were circulating amongst conservationists that the toxicology results from the dead eagle found in Dorset had revealed the cause of death was rodenticide poisoning. Apparently this wasn’t the low-level background trace amount that is often found in raptor post-mortems; I understand the amount found inside this eagle was many, many times higher than the lethal dose.

Rumours were also circulating that Dorset Police is planning to release a public statement to announce the discontinuation of the investigation into the death of this white-tailed eagle. That would be astonishing.

In my view, if this is what Dorset Police intends to do, it is of very, very serious concern. Rodenticides are known to have been used recently in a number of suspected raptor persecution incidents (e.g. see here and here) and I’m told that the use of ‘higher than normal doses’ may be a new tactic employed by those who want rid of raptors but don’t want the risk of being caught using banned substances.

The legal use of the most commonly-used rodenticide, Brodifacoum, has been relaxed recently, allowing pest controllers to use it outside buildings. It’s so toxic to wildlife that government advisors actually trained pest controllers how to use it legally. The misuse of this rodenticide is a crime.

Now, in the case of this poisoned white-tailed eagle in Dorset, there might be a perfectly legitimate explanation for why it had ingested such a high dose of rodenticide; it may well have been the result of a terrible but accidental secondary poisoning. But equally plausible is the possibility that it ate deliberately-laid out baits containing doses many times higher than the lethal dose, placed with the intention of targeting raptors (a crime).

But how can this be assessed if Dorset Police is discontinuing its investigation?

And more importantly, what if the substances that killed that eagle are still on the ground? We know that other satellite-tagged eagles are in the area, now at serious risk.

It seems there’s something very odd going on here.

I’ve also recently received an FoI response from Dorset Police about its correspondence with the anti-eagle MP, Chris Loder. I’ll blog more about that in due course.

UPDATE 13.21hrs: Dorset Police does the unthinkable & confirms no further investigation into poisoned white-tailed eagle (here)

UPDATE 15.05hrs: RSPB ‘completely baffled’ by Dorset Police decision to prematurely end poisoned eagle investigation (here)

UPDATE 16.40hrs: Question to be tabled in House of Lords about Dorset Police’s decision to close eagle poisoning investigation (here)

UPDATE 30th March 2022: Poisoned eagle in Dorset had 7 x lethal dose rodenticide in its liver (here)

UPDATE 1st April 2022: Another eagle suspected poisoned on a Dorset shooting estate (here)

UPDATE 4th April 2022: Buzzard and red kite suspected poisoned on North Dorset Estate (here)

UPDATE 14th April 2022: Dorset Police refuse FoI request for correspondence between them & Chris Loder MP on poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 20th April 2022: Unconvincing statement from Dorset Police on closure of investigation into poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 20th April 2022: Tediously predictable response from Minister to Natalie Bennett’s House of Lords question on poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 21st April 2022: Chris Packham submits FoI requests to Dorset Police & the Crime Commissioner about poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 22nd April 2022: More questions asked about Dorset Police’s mishandling of the poisoned eagle investigation (here)

UPDATE 26th April 2022: The Office of the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner: incompetent or something more sinister? (here)

UPDATE 27th April 2022: Dorset Police Chief Constable and the Police & Crime Commissioner on a futile damage limitation exercise (here)

UPDATE 29th April 2022: Another dead buzzard in Dorset – Police warn public of suspected poisoned baits (here)

UPDATE 29th April 2022: Email correspondence between Chris Loder MP and Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner re: poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 16th May 2022: Poisoned eagles in south of England feature in The Telegraph (here)

UPDATE 19th May 2022: Wildlife Crime Working Group seeks explanation from Dorset Police about failure to investigate poisoned eagle incident (here)

White-tailed eagles continue to attract £millions tourism spending on Mull

Press release from RSPB Scotland (28 March 2022)

White-tailed eagles bring tourism boost to Mull

New study reveals significant benefits to the island’s economy

  • Between £4.9 million and £8 million of tourist spend is attracted annually by the birds 
  • Up to 160 jobs are supported by this spend
  • At least £2.1 million of local income is also supported

A new study “The Economic Impact of White-Tailed Eagles on the Isle of Mull” has revealed the scale of the economic benefits that white-tailed eagles bring to the island. Tourism inspired by these majestic birds of prey accounts for between £4.9 million and £8 million of spend every year here. This money supports between 98 and 160 full time jobs on the island, and between £2.1 million and £3.5 million of local income annually.

[Photo by Amanda Ferguson]

RSPB Scotland commissioned Progressive Partnership to undertake the study, which was then reviewed by an academic and an economist. During the summer of 2019, 398 face to face survey interviews were conducted at five sites across Mull with parties visiting the island, amounting to 1,248 people in total.

Information was recorded on holidaymakers and day trippers covering the number of people in the group, the amount of time they were staying, and the amount of money they were likely to spend a day. They were also asked about their motivation for their visit allowing for the importance of white-tailed eagles as an attraction to be recorded. Those who were local (12.4 percent) were not asked these questions.

This study is the third to be undertaken on Mull looking into the economic impact white-tailed eagles have here, following the first in 2005 and the second in 2010. It repeated the same surveys and process as the 2005 and 2010 independent studies allowing a comparison over 14 years of the increasing importance of white-tailed eagle tourism to Mull’s local economy.

Mull is home to 22 pairs of eagles, and in 2019 29 percent of tourists cited them as an important factor for their visit to the island, up from 23 percent in the 2010 study. Tourism spend inspired by these eagles has also increased since 2010 when it accounted for between £3 million and £5 million annually, which supported between 64 and 108 full time jobs, and between £1.4 million and £2.4 million of local income each year.

The importance of nature in driving Mull tourism was also highlighted with scenery and landscape, peace and tranquillity, and birds and wildlife also being given as some of the main reasons for visits in 2019.

White-tailed eagles used to be widespread across Scotland, but human persecution led to their extinction in 1918. A reintroduction programme began on the Isle of Rum in 1975 and in 1985 the first wild chick from the reintroduced population hatched on Mull.

[Photo by Amanda Ferguson]

Anne McCall, Director, RSPB Scotland said:Mull once again holds an important breeding population of white-tailed eagles, which are an incredible tourism draw for the island. This study makes clear the link between restoring nature and the local income earning opportunities that arise from it. However, living with these birds can pose challenges for some and it’s important that positive management protects both the birds and the livelihoods they can occasionally affect.

What the study can’t measure is those human benefits less tangible than economic ones such as physical and mental well-being, public education, and cultural resonance. The Scottish population of these birds also provides important indications of how our environment is faring in the nature and climate emergency. For many people the delight of seeing a white-tailed eagle is reason enough to take care of them but this study makes clear that the birds can pay their way too.”

Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater said: Scotland’s special wildlife brings many benefits – it attracts tourists to our shores and provides nature-based jobs that support our economy.  

That is why it is crucial that we must continue to support and protect Scotland’s bird of prey populations, such as the white-tailed eagle. Carefully managed re-introductions such as this one on Mull, are not only positive for the natural world but also positive for our communities.

Scotland was one of the first countries to recognise the twin crises of nature loss and climate change, and this report shows the many rewards that working together to protect our natural assets can offer.” Partnerships have been key to the success of the white-tailed eagle reintroduction in Mull including those between nature conservation organisations, funders, land managers and the local community. The award-winning Mull Eagle Watch began in 2000 to provide places where people could have great views of the birds without disturbing them, and is a partnership between RSPB Scotland, the Mull & Iona Community Trust, Forestry and Land Scotland, NatureScot and Police Scotland. Thanks to social media and television programmes the white-tailed eagles have become well known, and along with the presence of golden eagles here have led to Mull being dubbed “Eagle Island”.

ENDS

The new report can be downloaded here:

RSPB Scotland has published a 7-minute video to accompany today’s publication. The video can be watched here:

Fight continues to protect iconic mountain hares – article from The Scotsman

An article written by James Silvey, Senior Species & Habitats Officer at RSPB Scotland, published by The Scotsman newspaper on 22nd March 2022.

Fight continues to protect iconic mountain hares

March 1, 2022 marked the first anniversary for protected status of one of Scotland’s most iconic mammals, the mountain hare. This protection was long overdue and a direct result of the unregulated killing that had been undertaken as routine management across many upland areas of Scotland for over 30 years.

The story of why mountain hares became a protected species starts with grouse and the business of driven grouse shooting which relies on large numbers of these birds to be shot at the end of the summer. The main techniques to achieve these large numbers are disease management, predator control and regular burning of vegetation to promote fresh heather growth. Like grouse, mountain hares feed on heather and have similar predators so conditions on grouse moors also benefited this species and as such many of their stronghold sites were often associated with grouse moors. That was until a change of management in the 1990s.

Through the late 1990s and 2000s tens of thousands of mountain hares were routinely shot on grouse moors across the species stronghold sites. This was in the misguided attempt of reducing tick numbers which could transmit an often-fatal disease to grouse chicks known as louping ill.

The scale of killing was alarming and, in an effort to control the culls, Scottish Government introduced a closed season in 2011 and called for voluntary restraint in 2014. Neither effort worked and pictures of culls and dumped dead hares continued to appear in the media. Estimates at the time gave figures of 26,000 hares killed annually. However, the actual figure was likely much higher.

Despite the concern, evidence of what effect such heavy persecution was having on mountain hare populations was in short supply until 2018, when two independent scientific papers were published that came to similar conclusions; mountain hares had declined, with the analyses from one paper showing that these declines had been catastrophic in areas that were predominantly managed for grouse.

This new evidence, coupled with an admittance from Scottish Government that mountain hares were in “unfavourable conservation status” led to a change in the law in 2019 – spearheaded by Green MSP Alison Johnstone – and protection for the species in 2020.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t finish here. Whilst mountain hares now are a protected species, NatureScot are still able to issue licences to individuals to kill mountain hares for specific reasons, such as the protection of young trees. In the past with species like beavers, we have seen how these licences can be used to kill significant numbers of animals. From 1st March 2021 when mountain hare protection came into effect to 28th February 2022, 51 licences for lethal control were approved by NatureScot with an estimated 3000 hares licenced to be shot.

Compared to the estimated 26,000 killed annually before protection, this may seem to be a significant improvement. However, it is important to know where these hares were killed, over what area, for what purpose and crucially if lethal control really was the only option as opposed to non-lethal measures such as fencing.

Species like mountain hare are protected for a reason, and it is vitally important that any licences that are issued are done so only as a last resort and with the highest safeguards in place to prevent any population decline both nationally and locally.

Having fought so long for protection of this upland species RSPB Scotland will continue to monitor the management of mountain hares closely and call for the increased use of non-lethal measures where available. In addition to this, complete transparency is required when it comes to all species licensing so that data on numbers of licences approved, numbers of animals killed and for what purpose are freely available and where necessary challenged.

ENDS

RSPB Scotland encouraging the public to continue to report upland fires this season

Earlier this month the RSPB in England announced that members of the public had been using the new Burning App to report upland fires to the RSPB, many of which were on peatland inside supposedly protected areas (see here).

This information is crucial for the RSPB to build a picture of where lawful, and more importantly unlawful, fires may be being used as part of grouse moor management practices, to inform policy-makers about the need for better protection of blanket bog and other peatland habitats.

[Gamekeepers setting fire to a grouse moor in Aberdeenshire in February 2022]

Last week RSPB Scotland also issued a press release calling on the public to help. Here’s a copy of that press release (from 17th March 2022):

Members of the public have reported 72 burns to RSPB this season

  • The RSPB’s new upland burning reporting app has documented over 72 reports of burning in our uplands from 1 October 2021 to 3 March 2022.
  • All of the reported burns were on likely peat (equal to or greater than 1 cm) with more than 1 in 4 on peat deeper than 30cm.
  • 1 in 5 reported burns were in a protected area (SSSI, SAC or SPA) The RSPB is calling on members of the public to report incidents of burning in our uplands using their Survey 123 app before the end of the burning season.
  • The data collected will help make the case for better protection of our globally important blanket bog and other peatland habitats. 
  • The RSPB supports Scottish Government’s stated commitment to introduce new legislation soon to ban burning on deep peatlands and to licence all moorland and grass burning to protect our people, our nature and our climate. 

This burning season, the RSPB launched the Burning Reporting App, allowing members of the public to simply and anonymously submit evidence of burning in our upland areas.

Burns can take place from the start of October until the end of April across our moors, hillsides and glens in Scotland. This practice is used by gamekeepers, deer managers and farmers to remove old heather and grass, with new growth preferred by grouse, deer and sheep to eat. However, these burns can have a significant impact on our upland landscapes, as well as on the diversity of habitats and species which call them home. In addition to carbon released during the burn itself, repeated burning reduces the landscapes’ ability to deal with extreme weather including flooding and drought, reduces vegetation structure and diversity and can lead to a reduction of water quality through the release of soil carbon.

Ahead of the end of this burning season in April, the RSPB is asking members of the public to report instances of burning in our uplands using the Survey 123 app.

These reports will help to support the RSPB’s call for the Scottish Government to take action to ban burning on peatlands, adopt a much tighter definition of peatland soils, and to licence all moorland and grass burning.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland said,We have had a great response from the public to our App, and with over 70 reports of burning so far, it’s clear that the Scottish public are eager to do their part to prevent further damage to these internationally significant landscapes for nature conservation and climate.

Peatlands are vital carbon stores and home to some of our most precious wildlife but burning threatens the natural heritage of these areas and damages peatlands.

In the context of the nature and climate emergency, we need to restore our peatlands to healthy condition through re-wetting, not by burning them. It is estimated that degraded peatlands in Scotland currently contribute about 13% of total Scottish greenhouse gas emissions.

In Scotland, the voluntary code of practice for burning, the Muirburn Code, says that burning on peatlands should not take place however RSPB is concerned that such burning does, in fact, continue. It is clear from the reports we have received so far that burns are being conducted on peatland soils and in some of our most important protected areas for wildlife.

Whilst we are pleased that the Scottish Government has announced that it is working towards licencing burning and a ban on burning on peatland, we urge this action to be delivered as soon as possible.”

Oriole Wagstaff, Casework Officer for RSPB UK said, “We cannot protect our uplands if we do not have a full picture of the land management undertaken throughout them. With many burns taking place in remote areas, we need the public to support us and report these burns.  

Our new burning app is providing vital information on the extent and location of burning across our upland areas in Scotland.  Information gathered to date shows that burning on peatlands is still happening and with some regularity.

We are grateful to the public in helping us with our objective of ensuring that any burning of vegetation in our uplands is carried out in future under a licence, providing protection for all public interests, and so that all burning on deep peatland soils is halted. 

In Scotland, burning can legally take place until 15th April, with extensions available until 30th April.  We are interested in reports of burning activity to assess its sustainability, particularly in relation to burning on peatland soils.”

To anonymously report a burn and download the app (available on iOS and Android), members of the public can visit the RSPB Burning website. There they can find instructions on how to download the app, as well as information on how to spot a burn and to stay safe when reporting a burn.

ENDS

UPDATE 31st May 2022: Investigation reveals widespread burning on grouse moors despite Government ban for protected peatlands (here)

68 hen harriers confirmed ‘missing’ or illegally killed since 2018, most of them on or close to UK grouse moors

For anyone who still wants to pretend that the grouse shooting industry isn’t responsible for the systematic extermination of hen harriers on grouse moors across the UK, here’s the latest catalogue of crime that suggests otherwise.

[This male hen harrier died in 2019 after his leg was almost severed in an illegally set trap that had been placed next to his nest on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

This is the blog I now publish after every reported killing or suspicious disappearance.

They disappear in the same way political dissidents in authoritarian dictatorships have disappeared” (Stephen Barlow, 22 January 2021).

Today the list has been updated to include the most recently reported victim, a young hen harrier called Oscar who had hatched in June and had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances by December (see here).

I’ve been compiling this list only since 2018 because that is the year that the grouse shooting industry ‘leaders’ would have us believe that the criminal persecution of hen harriers had stopped and that these birds were being welcomed back on to the UK’s grouse moors (see here).

This assertion was made shortly before the publication of a devastating new scientific paper that demonstrated that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers were confirmed or considered likely to have been illegally killed, and this was ten times more likely to occur over areas of land managed for grouse shooting relative to other land uses (see here).

2018 was also the year that Natural England issued a licence to begin a hen harrier brood meddling trial on grouse moors in northern England. 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.

Brood meddling has been described as a sort of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ by commentator Stephen Welch:

I don’t get it, I thought the idea of that scheme was some kind of trade off – a gentleman’s agreement that the birds would be left in peace if they were moved from grouse moors at a certain density. It seems that one party is not keeping their side of the bargain“.

With at least 68 hen harriers gone since 2018, I think it’s fair to say that the grouse shooting industry is simply taking the piss. Meanwhile, Natural England pretends that ‘partnership working’ is the way to go and DEFRA Ministers remain silent.

‘Partnership working’ according to Natural England appears to include authorising the removal of hen harrier chicks from a grouse moor already under investigation by the police for suspected raptor persecution (here) and accepting a £10K bung from representatives of the grouse shooting industry that prevents Natural England from criticising them or the sham brood meddling trial (see here).

[Cartoon by Gill Lewis]

So here’s the latest gruesome list. Note that the majority of these birds (but not all) were fitted with satellite tags. How many more [untagged] harriers have been killed?

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published wholly inaccurate information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

23 October 2018: Hen harrier Tom ‘disappeared’ in South Wales (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

1 November 2018: Hen harrier Barney ‘disappeared’ on Bodmin Moor (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

26 April 2019: Hen harrier Rain ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Nairnshire (here)

11 May 2019: An untagged male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: An untagged hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

5 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 1 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

14 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183704) ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines (here)

23 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #55149) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

24 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 2 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

24 September 2019: Hen harrier Bronwyn ‘disappeared’ near a grouse moor in North Wales (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of an untagged male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

14 December 2019: Hen harrier Oscar ‘disappeared’ in Eskdalemuir, south Scotland (here)

January 2020: Members of the public report the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

23 March 2020: Hen harrier Rosie ‘disappeared’ at an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

1 April 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183703) ‘disappeared’ in unnamed location, tag intermittent (here)

5 April 2020: Hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

8 April 2020: Hen harrier Marlin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

19 May 2020: Hen harrier Fingal ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Lowther Hills, Scotland (here)

21 May 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183701) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Cumbria shortly after returning from wintering in France (here)

27 May 2020: Hen harrier Silver ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate, Scotland (here)

day/month unknown: Unnamed male hen harrier breeding on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria ‘disappeared’ while away hunting (here)

9 July 2020: Unnamed female hen harrier (#201118) ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed site in Northumberland (here).

25 July 2020: Hen harrier Harriet ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

14 August 2020: Hen harrier Solo ‘disappeared’ in confidential nest area in Lancashire (here)

7 September 2020: Hen harrier Dryad ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

16 September 2020: Hen harrier Fortune ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

19 September 2020: Hen harrier Harold ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

20 September 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2020, #55152) ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here)

24 February 2021: Hen harrier Tarras ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Northumberland (here)

12th April 2021: Hen harrier Yarrow ‘disappeared’ near Stockton, County Durham (here)

18 May 2021: Adult male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

18 May 2021: Another adult male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

24 July 2021: Hen harrier Asta ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in the North Pennines (here)

14th August 2021: Hen harrier Josephine ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in Northumberland (here)

17 September 2021: Hen harrier Reiver ‘disappeared’ in a grouse moor dominated region of Northumberland (here)

24 September 2021: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2021, R2-F-1-21) ‘disappeared’ in Northumberland (here)

15 November 2021: Hen harrier (brood meddled in 2020, #R2-F1-20) ‘disappeared’ at the edge of a grouse moor on Arkengarthdale Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

19 November 2021: Hen harrier Val ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park in Cumbria (here)

19 November 2021: Hen harrier Percy ‘disappeared’ in Lothian, Scotland (here)

12 December 2021: Hen harrier Jasmine ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor (High Rigg Moor on the Middlesmoor Estate) in the Nidderdale AONB in North Yorkshire (here)

9 January 2022: Hen harrier Ethel ‘disappeared’ in Northumberland (here)

26 January 2022: Hen harrier Amelia ‘disappeared’ in Bowland (here)

10 February 2022: An unnamed satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappeared’ in a grouse moor dominated area of the Peak District National Park (here)

To be continued……..

Not one of these 68 incidents has resulted in an arrest, let alone a prosecution. I had thought that when we reached 30 dead/missing hen harriers then the authorities might pretend to be interested and at least say a few words about this national scandal. We’ve now reached SIXTY EIGHT hen harriers, and still Govt ministers remain silent. They appear not to give a monkey’s. And yes, there are other things going on in the world, as always. That is not reason enough to ignore this blatant, brazen and systematic destruction of a supposedly protected species, being undertaken to satisfy the greed and bloodlust of a minority of society.

Please consider sending a copy of this list of dead/missing hen harriers to your elected representative. Ask them for their opinion, tell them your opinion, and demand action (politely please). We know where these crimes are happening and we know why they’re happening. The Government’s own data, published three years ago, have provided very clear evidence (see here). MPs need to know how many of us care about this issue and how we will not be fobbed off by disingenuous platitudes from DEFRA Ministers (e.g. see herehere and here for repeated recent examples of this).

Not sure who is your MP? Click here to find out.

Don’t be put off by thinking, ‘Well my MP is a grouse shooter, he/she won’t bother responding so why should I bother?’. Do not give these politicians an easy option out. As your elected representative they have a duty to listen to, and respond to, constituents’ concerns, whether they agree with them or not.

If you use social media, please share this post.

If you fancy scribbling a few sentences to your local newspaper or even a national one, please do.

Please talk to friends, family and colleagues about these 68 birds. They will be horrified about what’s being allowed to go on.

We MUST increase public awareness. It’s up to all of us.

Thank you

News emerges of another satellite-tagged hen harrier that ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2019

I was reading the 2021 annual report of the Lothian & Borders Raptor Study Group the other day (sorry, this is not a public document) and was reminded that the group had donated funds to pay for a number of hen harrier satellite tags over the last few years, and that these have been fitted to young birds in the region by licensed experts in the RSPB.

[A hen harrier photographed in southern Scotland, photo by Ian Poxton]

As I was scrolling down the list of tagged harriers and reading about their fates, one name stood out – a hen harrier called Oscar.

Oscar had been fitted with a satellite tag when he was a chick in July 2019 at a confidential nest site in Tweedsmuir and his fate was given in the report as:

Disappeared in Eskdalemuir area in suspicious circumstances 14/12/19‘.

The reason Oscar’s name stood out was because, oddly, he does not feature on the list of dead/missing hen harriers that I’ve been compiling since 2018 (this list currently stands at 67 dead/missing hen harriers).

I checked for any media coverage of Oscar’s suspicious disappearance but couldn’t find anything so I asked the RSPB for any info it could provide. I’m grateful for the following response:

Oscar was one of two chicks tagged at this nest on the same day.

On 14th December 2019, we received a transmission from Oscar’s tag close to where he had been roosting since November 2019; then we heard nothing further. We originally presumed that this was a natural death, as the battery voltage had been dropping, however further analysis of the tag data in February 2020 showed that it should be classified as a ‘sudden stop, no malfunction’, and the incident was subsequently reported to police on 28th Feb 2020. A follow up search was carried out involving police officers, however no sign of Oscar was forthcoming.

The area is dominated by upland sheep farming and forestry – no gamebird interests we’re aware of. There was no media release as this was just when COVID was kicking off….

Oscar’s sibling, Fingal, also disappeared in a similar manner in May 2020, but was not found (RPUK blogged about that one here)’.

It seems I need to update the list…

UPDATE 24th March 2022: 68 hen harriers confirmed ‘missing’ or illegally killed since 2018, most of them on or close to grouse moors (here)

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