72 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 two most recently reported victims, two young satellite-tagged hen harriers that ‘disappeared’ earlier this year, one in Cumbria on 12th April 2022 and one in the North Pennines in May 2022 and are both the subject of a police investigation (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 72 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 £75k bung from representatives of the grouse shooting industry that prevents Natural England from criticising them or the sham brood meddling trial (see here). This is in addition to a £10k bung that Natural England accepted, under the same terms, in 2021 (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)

2020: 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). We learned 18 months later that her wings had been ripped off so her tag could be fitted to a crow in an attempt to cover up her death (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)

12 April 2022: Hen harrier ‘Free’ (Tag ID 201121) ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in Cumbria (here).

May 2022: A male breeding hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from a National Trust-owned grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here).

May 2022: Another breeding male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from a National Trust-owned grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

14 May 2022: Hen harrier ‘Harvey’ (Tag ID 213844) ‘disappeared’ from a ‘confidential site’ in the North Pennines (here).

To be continued……..

Not one of these 72 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 SEVENTY TWO 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 hereherehere 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 72 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.

3 shot buzzards found on Millden Estate – confirmation from Police Scotland

Police Scotland has finally confirmed that three dead buzzards found in bags on Millden Estate had been shot with a shotgun.

The corpses were discovered during the joint SSPCA/Police Scotland raid on Millden Estate in October 2019 in relation to wildlife crimes committed by depraved gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies, who was recently sentenced to jail for his role in a hideous gang of animal abusers (see here).

However, the discovery of the dead buzzards was not made public and I spent two and a half years trying to get an update from Police Scotland about the status of the investigation. At the end of the 2.5 years, I was told that I’d have to speak to the Crown Office, which I did in July 2022, and the Crown Office confirmed there were no prosecutions on the table for these crimes, and it also carefully avoided providing any specific details about the dead raptors (see here).

[An illegally shot buzzard. Not one of the ones found on Millden Estate]

Thanks to a blog reader, an FoI request was submitted to Police Scotland in July 2022 to ask for details of the shot buzzards. Here is Police Scotland’s response:

The fact there won’t be a prosecution for these three shot buzzards won’t be a surprise to anybody who has followed these sort of wildlife crime investigations for any length of time. The police can’t prove who shot the buzzards and dumped them in bags – I wonder whether any forensic work was undertaken?

Nevertheless, I hope that now we have police confirmation that the buzzards had been shot, paperwork will have been passed by the police to NatureScot to allow NatureScot to consider imposing a General Licence restriction on this Angus Glens estate – long overdue in my opinion, especially when you know what else has been uncovered on Millden Estate over many, many years.

Hen harrier persecution continues amid increased breeding success

There’s been quite a lot of news about hen harriers in the last couple of weeks as this year’s breeding figures have been announced: 119 chicks from 49 nests, 34 nests being successful (see Natural England press release here).

That is the highest number of chicks fledged in over a century, according to Natural England, but there are many questions still to be answered about these figures and as ever, Natural England isn’t being transparent with the results.

I’d like to know how many of the 49 nests were on privately-owned grouse moors. Not on tenanted grouse moors (e.g. like National Trust and water utility companies’ land) where tenants are now at risk of having their shooting leases withdrawn if persecution takes place, e.g. see here), not on RSPB reserves, or Forestry England land – but on actual privately owned moors managed for driven grouse shooting. I think it’s telling that this detail has not been provided.

13 of this year’s 119 chicks were ‘brood meddled’ from four nests at unknown locations in northern England – not very impressive considering 13 chicks successfully fledged from a single site, the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, without any need for brood meddling.

For new 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 is in place entirely as a result of the authorities failure to stop grouse moor managers from illegally killing this species. Instead of prosecuting these criminals, the Government has sanctioned the removal of the harriers from the grouse moors, to be reared in captivity and then released somewhere else to become targets for being killed on another grouse moor later in the year.

Two of this year’s pitiful brood meddled hen harriers removed from their parents in the wild and caged inside an aviary. Photo by Jemima Parry Jones.

The hen harrier brood meddling conservation sham is a five-year trial, started in 2018 and is being used to assess whether grouse moor owners’ attitudes towards hen harriers will change. I look forward to reading the scientific committee’s report, but judging by the continued persecution of this species on driven grouse moors, it can hardly be described as a brilliant success. A brilliant wheeze, perhaps, from the point of view of the grouse moor owners who’ve had harriers legally and forcibly removed from their moors, but a conservation success? How can it be when the original cause of the species’ decline (illegal persecution) hasn’t been addressed and is ongoing?

We already know that since 2018 when the brood meddling trial began, at least 70 hen harriers have either been illegally killed or have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, most of them on or close to driven grouse moors (see here). A scientific paper published in 2019, using the Government’s own data, demonstrated the unequivocal link between hen harrier persecution and driven grouse shooting (here).

And even in this latest press release from Natural England, we’re told that 15 hen harrier nests failed this year, “including failures subsequently investigated by the police“. How many were investigated? Where were they? How many were on privately-owned grouse moors? What were the outcomes of the police investigations? Why hasn’t there been any publicity about these suspected crimes?

The press release also reveals that since March this year, three more satellite-tagged hen harriers have ‘disappeared’, with at least two of them the subject of police investigations. Why hasn’t there been any publicity about these suspected crimes? I will update my list of dead/missing hen harriers shortly.

It continues to be a source of huge frustration that Natural England will go all-out promoting the ‘good news’ stories about hen harriers but never provides prominence to the ongoing cases of illegal persecution. I’m sure the £75k bung it’s received from the game-shooting industry has absolutely nothing to do with it.

I also note that Natural England’s press release says absolutely nothing about the unspeakable atrocity inflicted on hen harrier Asta, whose wings were torn off so her satellite tag could be fitted to a crow in an attempt to deceive the authorities that Asta was alive and well.

Changed attitudes? I don’t think so.

UPDATE 4th September 2022: Natural England utterly compromised on tackling hen harrier persecution (here)

Good news! Sidelined Dorset wildlife crime cop joins National Wildlife Crime Unit

Claire Dinsdale QPM, the wildlife crime officer who was leading on the Dorset eagle poisoning case until senior officers decided to close the investigation prematurely after what looked suspiciously like political interference (here), has left Dorset Police and has taken up a new role with the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU).

This is really good news! Claire was held in very high regard by those involved in tackling wildlife crime and her dedication to the role saw her contributing thousands of hours of her own time, on top of her normal police duties, to gather evidence to identify suspects and increase the chances of them being charged. She was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in 2020 for her efforts.

A twitter spat with local Conservative MP Chris Loder, followed by senior officers’ inexplicable decision to block the investigation into the poisoned eagle, led to Claire going on long-term sick leave in March this year.

I’m delighted to see her move to the NWCU where hopefully her contributions will be valued and supported.

Natural England accepts £75k bung for hen harriers from game-shooting organisation BASC

Earlier this year, Natural England, the so-called statutory regulator for conservation, and BASC, the British Association for Shooting (& Conservation) were boasting about a £75k donation made by BASC to Natural England to help finance ongoing hen harrier work.

I was interested in this arrangement, given that BASC is an organisation at the forefront of the game-shooting industry; an industry that has been responsible for the systematic persecution of the hen harrier for many, many years.

So I submitted an FoI to Natural England find out more.

Remember, last year BASC gave Natural England a £10k bung for hen harriers, on condition that Natural England didn’t say anything bad about BASC (see here).

[Photo by David Cole]

Well, it seems this cosy arrangement is continuing, only this time with a bigger bung and the same condition that requires Natural England to refrain from saying anything bad about BASC:

You can read the full Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) here, as released to me via my FoI request:

It’s apparent from this document that the latest MOA was eventually signed in January 2022. However, other material released in response to my FoI request reveals that Natural England and BASC were discussing this MOA as far back as 27th May 2021 – just a few weeks after the disappearance of hen harrier Asta from a grouse moor in County Durham, whose wings had been ‘removed’ so that her satellite tag could be affixed to a carrion crow in an attempt to deceive Natural England that the tag was still functioning and thus hen harrier Asta was alive and well (see here).

Who, in their right mind, would sign up to a ‘partnership’ with a game-shooting organisation knowing what unspeakable atrocity had just been inflicted on hen harrier Asta? The latest in a long, long line of atrocities inflicted on our beleaguered hen harriers by members of this industry.

My view is that the £75k bung goes some way to explain Natural England’s reluctance to publicise this latest crime.

[Cartoon by Gill Lewis]

Hen harrier’s ‘wings removed’ & its satellite tag fitted to a crow in sick ploy to disguise the crime

In December 2021 I blogged about a disturbing incident I’d heard about concerning a young satellite-tagged hen harrier whose wings had been ripped off – whether that was done when she was still alive or after she’d been killed was not known (see here).

I understood the incident had happened approximately nine months earlier, in Spring 2021, and I asked Natural England to clarify. Natural England refused to comment in December 2021 (see here) and in March 2022 it issued a statement saying it was remaining silent on police orders as the investigation was ongoing (see here).

I had intended to blog further about this case before now, but it’s been complicated for a number of reasons that I can’t divulge and besides, I didn’t want to compromise the ongoing police investigation by revealing too much detail that might provide a defendant with an opportunity to escape justice.

I’ve now been advised that the police investigation has been closed and nobody is being prosecuted due to there being insufficient evidence to charge anyone, so here is the full, sickening story.

Hen harrier ‘Asta’ hatched at a nest site in Northumberland in 2020. By the end of her first winter, she had settled in County Durham for several months and had a defined home range on moorland just south of the A66. Incidentally, an area dominated by moorland managed for driven grouse shooting where a young brood meddled hen harrier ‘vanished’ without trace in 2019 (here) and where a Marsh harrier was found with gunshot injuries in 2011 (here).

In late March 2021 Asta’s satellite tag signal temporarily went offline before reappearing in early April. However, when it came back online the signal was coming from 29km to the south east in the lowlands, near to Arrathorne in Richmondshire. Prior to this move, Asta’s tag had rarely dropped below 400m but was now showing an altitude of approx 103m.

This odd behaviour and the erratic tag data raised the suspicions of the Natural England employee who was monitoring the tag data and a search was launched to find out what was going on.

Eventually the tag was found later in April 2021 but it was no longer attached to hen harrier Asta – it had been fitted to a carrion crow (which was dead when the fieldworkers found it).

I use the word ‘fitted’ deliberately. The police were brought in and they asked two expert, highly experienced satellite-tag practitioners (including one from Natural England) to examine the tag and its harness while it was still attached to the crow. They both concluded that the harness had been deliberately ‘fitted‘ to the crow; in other words, it wasn’t a case of the crow having become entangled in a discarded tag harness, it was “only human intervention that could have fitted it in the manner it was securely attached” [to the crow], according to the police officer I’ve been talking to.

But here’s the bit that makes my blood run cold. The two experts also concluded that the harness “could not have been removed from the harrier unless the wings had been removed, and the condition of the harness did not suggest that it had become damaged and been able to just fall off the hen harrier. The hen harrier could not remove the harness/tag itself“.

Obviously, without sufficient evidence to prosecute anyone we’ll never know the full grisly details of what happened to Asta, but we can make an educated guess.

She vanished from a known raptor persecution hotspot, in an area managed for driven grouse shooting – an industry with an acknowledged filthy history of persecuting birds of prey, and particularly hen harriers, as demonstrated by decades of prosecutions, convictions and endless scientific evidence (e.g. here).

We also know the lengths the raptor killers will go to disguise their barbaric crimes, from removing a satellite tag, wrapping it in lead sheeting (to block the signal) and dumping it in a river (here), to dumping a tag 15 miles offshore in the North Sea (here).

It is not implausible to surmise then that Asta was illegally killed and her tag fitted to a crow in the hope that the person monitoring the tag data would assume that nothing was amiss as the tag continued to transmit as the crow flew about the countryside.

This wouldn’t be the first time this has happened. I’m told a similar case apparently took place in Scotland several years ago when hen harriers were first being satellite-tagged by Roy Dennis.

Asta has not been found and let’s face it, she’s unlikely to be. Her mutilated, wingless corpse has probably been stamped into a peat bog or thrown into an incinerator, perhaps after ‘trophy‘ photographs had been taken.

I’ve been asked by the police not to divulge certain aspects of the investigation (so as not to compromise future investigations) and I’ll respect that request. I think it’s fair to say the investigation was rigorous, based on the information provided.

However, what I won’t respect is the police’s complete silence about this case. It’s been almost 18 months since it happened and there hasn’t been a peep. No statement, no public appeal for information, nothing. I don’t accept that issuing a statement or appeal, no matter how generalised, would have compromised the investigation.

I also won’t respect Natural England’s decision to remain silent. Natural England is supposed to be the regulator and is using public funds to pay for these satellite tags and staff time to monitor the data. It could easily have made a statement about this case, which is very much in the public interest, without compromising the police investigation.

In my view, saying nothing by hiding behind the excuse of a live police investigation is simply a convenient cover for Natural England not to have to admit that its hen harrier brood meddling trial is a conservation sham because hen harriers are still being brutalised by the industry with which NE has jumped in to bed (at least 70 hen harriers killed or ‘missing’ in suspicious circumstances just since 2018, most of them on driven grouse moors). Meanwhile, Natural England is happy to put its name to ludicrous propaganda being pumped out by the very industry responsible for bringing the hen harrier population to its knees.

I also noticed that in its summer 2021 update on its satellite-tagged hen harriers, Natural England stated that Asta’s tag was still transmitting in July 2021 and her status was listed as ‘alive’, when actually she was dead three months earlier:

What else is Natural England lying about?

What else is Natural England covering up?

And why on earth does it take a blogger to bring this horrific crime, a so-called national wildlife crime priority, to the public’s attention?

UPDATE 25th August 2022: Natural England accepts £75k bung for hen harriers from game-shooting organisation BASC (here)

UPDATE 4th September 2022: Natural England utterly compromised on tackling hen harrier persecution (here)

BBC programme ‘Caught Red Handed’ features conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey

A BBC programme called ‘Caught Red Handed‘ has featured the conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey and the role of the RSPB Investigations team in bringing him to justice.

Caught Red Handed‘ is a daytime TV programme, hosted by Dom Littlewood, that ‘looks at clever ways that the police and the public are catching crooks red handed‘. Currently being broadcast at 10am every weekday, this is bound to have brought the spectre of illegal raptor persecution to a much wider audience.

Orrey, you may recall, was convicted in January this year after covert footage provided by the RSPB caught him battering buzzards to death after he’d caught them in an illegally-set trap on a pheasant shoot at Hall Farm, Kneeton, Nottinghamshire (see here).

In the programme, previously-unseen footage of the police raid is shown:

There is an extensive interview with RSPB Investigator Tom Grose, who provides a behind-the-scenes explanation of the investigation. His poise and professionalism is exemplary.

This episode of Caught Red Handed is available on iPlayer for 29 days (here) and the feature lasts for about ten minutes, starting at 7.21 mins.

Excellent BBC regional news coverage of hen harrier persecution & conservation in Peak District National Park

Further to yesterday’s news that, against all the odds, two hen harrier nests have been successful this year on National Trust land in the Peak District National Park (see here), there was excellent coverage last night on the BBC’s regional news programme, North West Tonight.

With contributions from the National Trust’s General Manager in the Peak District, Craig Best, and from Howard Jones of the RSPB’s Investigations Team, this short, three-minute piece managed to get across the significance of this year’s breeding success but without pretending that ongoing illegal persecution isn’t an issue.

The programme is available on iPlayer but expires at 7pm this evening so you’ll need to be quick. The link is here (starts at 14.34 min).

Well done to all involved.

Perspective required as National Trust celebrates two successful hen harrier nests in Peak District National Park

The National Trust is celebrating two successful hen harrier breeding attempts in the Peak District National Park this year, in what it describes as ‘the most successful year for hen harrier breeding in the Peak District for over a decade‘.

Here is a press release issued by the National Trust this morning:

National Trust records most successful year for hen harrier breeding in the Peak District for over a decade

Seven hen harriers have successfully fledged from multiple nests on National Trust land in the High Peak, making 2022 the most successful year for hen harrier breeding on land cared for by the conservation charity in the Peak District for over a decade, despite two nest failures earlier this year.

[Hen harrier chicks, photo by Tim Melling]

The National Trust, RSPB and Peak District Raptor Group have been working closely together to encourage more birds of prey to live and thrive in the Peak District, by protecting birds currently living there, whilst also creating rich feeding and nesting grounds.

Work undertaken by the Trust includes cutting heather to allow a more diverse range of moorland plants such as sphagnum moss, bilberry and cottongrass to grow, which helps attract the different insects and small mammals which the birds rely upon for food. The charity is also working closely with tenants to ensure their land management practices support the vision for more birds of prey in the area.

Craig Best, General Manager of the National Trust in the Peak District said:A great deal of work has gone into encouraging more breeding pairs of these majestic birds to the Peak District, so this is brilliant news.

The presence of the birds indicates a plentiful and healthy food source, which shows the work we have done so far to improve the landscape is starting to provide ideal conditions for different species to thrive. However, we want to see more of these important birds of prey in the High Peak, as they play an important role in creating the right ecological balance in the landscape. That is why it is crucial that we continue to work together to achieve our aim of growing the population of birds of prey in the area and doing everything we can to prevent persecution.”

Mark Thomas, Head of investigations at the RSPB said:

Despite the suspicious loss of two hen harrier nests in this area earlier in the season [Ed: see here] we are delighted that further pairs have bred successfully and raised youngsters. This is a validation of the National Trust’s Moorland Vision, and a testament to the partnership work being undertaken to ensure hen harriers and other species flourish in our uplands. Hen harriers are protected by law – yet a government study in 2019 identified criminal persecution by humans as the main factor suppressing the UK hen harrier population. The Dark Peak is sadly one of the worst areas in the UK for raptor persecution, for this reason we will be keeping a close eye on the continuing survival of the chicks that have been tagged this year.”

To help monitor the birds progress and to aid understanding of the species, the birds have also been fitted with tracking tags by the RSPB and Natural England. The National Trust also works with the local Raptor Monitoring Group.

Mike Price from the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group said: A mild winter, good prey availability and the fine weather during the nesting period have no doubt all contributed to what appears to be a successful year for breeding Hen Harriers both locally and nationally. It is another step along the journey to get a self-sustaining breeding population of Hen Harriers established in the area. Now the birds have fledged, the birds will face further threats, so we need to continue to work together to remain vigilant and do all we can to protect them.

Visitors and local residents can help with conservation efforts by staying on footpaths and keeping dogs on leads during ground nesting bird season, which lasts from the beginning of March to the end of July.

ENDS

When two nests inside a National Park are deemed a cause for celebration, and they amount to ‘the most successful breeding year for over a decade‘, you get a good idea of just how dire the situation is for hen harriers inside a National Park that has sufficient habitat and prey to host many, many more pairs.

The last time two hen harrier nests were successful on National Trust land in the Peak District National Park was back in 2006, fledging ten chicks. But those two nests were only ‘successful’ because a team of 40+ volunteers provided 24-hour-round-the-clock protection and supplementary feeding after the two breeding males ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (see here). Shockingly, they were only the second and third pairs to nest there in 140 years!

The National Trust was praised in 2016 when it terminated the shooting lease on one of its moors after video evidence emerged of an armed gamekeeper laying in wait next to a decoy hen harrier, presumably with the intention of luring in a live harrier and shooting it at close range (see here and here).

But despite that bold move by the National Trust, the suspected persecution of hen harriers in this National Park continues.

In 2018, a young satellite-tagged hen harrier called Octavia ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on a privately-owned grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here).

In 2021, a displaying pair of hen harriers ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on another privately-owned grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (see here).

In February this year, another satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on another privately-owned grouse moor, neighbouring the grouse moor where Octavia vanished 4 years earlier (see here).

In May this year, two active hen harrier nests were abandoned on a National Trust-leased moor after the suspicious disappearance of two more breeding males, leaving ten eggs to chill and die (see here).

So actually, the news that two hen harrier nests have been successful this year on National Trust land inside the Peak District National Park goes against all the odds and for that, the National Trust, the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group and the RSPB deserve to celebrate. However, as is emphasised in the National Trust press release, the seven fledglings are still not safe and face ongoing threats both inside the National Park and beyond.

Let’s see how long it takes before they feature on this sobering list of 70 (so far) hen harriers illegally killed or vanished in suspicious circumstances in the UK since 2018.

UPDATE 24th August 2022: Excellent BBC regional news coverage of hen harrier persecution & conservation in Peak District National Park (here)

Moy Estate loses appeal against General Licence restriction imposed for wildlife crime

Moy Estate in the Scottish Highlands has lost its appeal against a General Licence restriction that was imposed on the estate in June 2022 (see here) after Police Scotland provided the licensing authority (NatureScot) with evidence of wildlife crime against birds of prey on the estate, notably the discovery of a poisoned red kite in 2020 and ‘incidents in relation to trapping offences’.

[RPUK map showing Moy Estate boundary, based on information provided by Andy Wightman’s website, Who Owns Scotland]

Regular blog readers will know that the three-year General Licence restriction on Moy Estate took effect on 21st June 2022, prohibiting the use of General Licences 01, 02 and 03 on the estate until 21st June 2025.

However, the estate appealed the restriction (as is permitted by NatureScot’s restriction process) in July and the official ‘restriction notice’ was temporarily removed from NatureScot’s website whilst the appeal was underway.

It’s all a massive farce, of course, because the estate has already had one opportunity to appeal the decision, as part of the formal restriction process. I.E. NatureScot has to provide a written ‘notification’ to an estate when a restriction has been recommended, but before the final decision has been made. The estate then has 14 days to respond (appeal) and explain why the restriction is unwarranted. On receipt of that appeal, Naturescot makes its final decision and if it’s decided to go ahead and impose the General Licence restriction, then the estate is given ANOTHER opportunity to appeal the decision within 14 days.

I don’t have the details of Moy Estate’s appeal(s) because when I asked for similar documents relating to an appeal by Leadhills Estate against its second General Licence restriction last year, NatureScot came under pressure from the solicitor representing the estate who argued that the information was ‘of a sensitive nature and disclosure into the public domain ‘may prejudice the right to any future proceedings’. NatureScot upheld that view and refused to disclose the details of the appeal (see here). Given that the same solicitor is believed to be representing Moy Estate, I haven’t wasted my time by applying for the details, although I’d suggest, given the hilarious appeal that Leadhills Estate made against its first GL restriction (see here) that the real reason for withholding the information of any similar appeals is to avoid the embarrassment of having the laughable appeal letter torn to shreds by public scrutiny.

No matter really, because it’s NatureScot’s response to the appeal that’s really of interest, and in this case, Moy Estate’s appeal has failed and as of last week, the official restriction notice is back on public view on NatureScot’s website:

There’ll be more news from Moy next month when a man appears in court to face charges concerning the alleged shooting of a sparrowhawk.

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