Hen harrier Asta, a young, satellite-tagged bird being monitored by Natural England, met a brutal and sickening end on a grouse moor in County Durham in March 2021 (see here).
Her wings were ripped off so that her satellite tag and harness could be fitted to a crow, presumably done in an attempt to deceive the authorities that Asta was alive and well, as the satellite tag continued to transmit data as the crow flew around the countryside.
It’s not known if Asta was alive or already dead when her wings were torn off.
The crow was found dead a couple of weeks later in a lowland area of North Yorkshire and a police investigation was launched when it became apparent the tag and harness it was carrying had originally been fitted to Asta, and could only have been removed from her, intact, if her wings had been pulled off.
Thanks to blog reader Alan Gregory (@Barneygregorawg) who has shared these photos of Asta, as he puts it, ‘enjoying her brief life patrolling the Durham moors‘:
The level of depraved brutality involved in this crime is quite shocking, even to those of us who have become hardened to the relentless illegal killing of birds of prey in the UK. It’s virtually impossible not to look at these images of Asta and imagine the horror she faced at the hands of her killer.
The calculated deviousness of whoever committed this crime deserves the full attention of the statutory regulator, Natural England, and widespread publicity about the lengths these criminals will go to hide their ongoing, appalling violence towards this species and other birds of prey.
What we have instead is, 18 months on, Natural England still refusing to draw attention to this crime even though the police investigation has closed. Natural England has been contacted by a number of journalists this week but is refusing to comment about Asta, let alone issue a statement of condemnation, but has quite happily permitted a staff member to appear in a propaganda video put out by the Moorland Association singing the praises of the grouse-shooting industry for its fake tolerance and acceptance of the hen harrier.
And it’s not just this crime that Natural England is shying away from talking about. Since 2018, at least 72 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 for the list). Many of these birds were tagged and monitored by Natural England. And yet I haven’t seen any statement from Natural England about this appalling figure. Instead, I’ve seen great media prominence given to the number of breeding harriers, the number of chicks fledged, the number of nests brood meddled, and statements from Natural England of ‘great progress‘ being made but no detail provided about how many privately-owned grouse moors have been involved.
Natural England is supposed to be the statutory conservation agency but it is utterly compromised by accepting financial bungs from the shooting industry with a contract clause preventing criticism from Natural England (see here).
It can’t expect to be taken seriously when it continues to avoid talking about the ongoing and illegal killing of this species on driven grouse moors.
[Cartoon by Gill Lewis]