Hen harrier chicks stamped to death in nest on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park

North Yorkshire Police has issued the following appeal for information this morning:

Hen harrier nest investigation – police appeal for information

North Yorkshire Police suspect that a nest of Hen Harrier chicks, found dead earlier this year, was deliberately destroyed by human activity, and are calling for anyone with information to come forward.

The Hen Harrier nest, near Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, was being monitored by Natural England fieldworkers as part of their routine Hen Harrier monitoring. The nest was progressing well, and by 10 May 2022 there were four chicks, aged approximately 8 to 12 days old. The parent female was satellite-tagged “Susie”, who was tagged in Cumbria in 2020.

Young hen harriers in a nest (not the nest in this current police investigation). Photo by Ian Newton

Natural England staff became concerned on 20 June when “Susie” was unexpectedly and abruptly shown tracking approximately 35km away from her nest. An adult female should be attentive and close to her nest during this period. Her sudden exit from the nest area was worrying.

For this reason, on 21 June, Natural England field staff acting under licence checked the nest – and made the grim discovery of three dead Hen Harrier chicks.

There were no clear signs that the chicks had been killed by a predator. The situation was suspicious and so the Police were informed.

Natural England staff retrieved nest camera footage which confirmed that there were four chicks in the nest before the incident, that they were well fed and provisioned by the parents, and looked fit and well.

After dark, at 9.54pm on 15 June, the camera showed the nest site appeared normal with “Susie” settled in the nest with chicks. However, at 9.59pm a sudden irregular ‘whiteout’ of the camera occurred, blinding the camera.

The camera used is movement-activated, and it was not triggered again until the following morning when footage captured apparently dead chicks in the nest and “Susie” attempting to feed them.

She can then be seen removing her dead chicks from the nest. Three of these were found just outside the nest, and it is not known where she deposited the fourth.

A ‘whiteout’ has not occurred with a Natural England nest camera before, and the camera itself continued to operate normally since then, and once “Susie” returned to her nest the following morning her movement triggered further recording of images.

There was no trace on the ground that a vehicle had driven over the nest, nor did the nest camera footage indicate that this had happened. There was, however, a footmark impression in the vegetation at the nest site, strongly indicating that a person had approached the nest. Natural England staff are careful to approach using known routes – the footprint observed was believed to be recent, and not made by Natural England staff.

Post-mortem examinations of the three chicks were subsequently conducted and showed that each suffered with multiple fractured bones including humerus in one chick, both femurs in the second chick, and in the third chick, the humerus and a crushed skull. The fractures were complete and showed a considerable trauma had taken place for each chick.

Although avian flu H5N1 virus was detected in one of the chicks, the post-mortem examinations also showed that the birds had been eating up until their deaths. This implies that deaths were sudden rather than a result of a chronic disease process.

North Yorkshire Police have considered all the evidence, and strongly suspect that someone approached the nest after dark and deliberately killed the chicks.

A predator would normally be expected to return and remove the dead chicks. Stoats can kill without rendering much obvious damage, but as the chicks were within the nest, it would be reasonable to expect nest camera footage of a predation or other event.

The living status of the chicks, followed by a ‘whiteout’ of the nest camera (possibly by a bright lamp, or something placed in front of the camera) – followed by all chicks being lifeless on the next footage – together with the post-mortem results showing broken bones in all the chicks and a crushed skull, suggests human illegal persecution activity.

The Hen Harrier is listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and is protected under Annex 1 of the EU Birds Directive (2009/147/EC) as it is considered vulnerable within Europe. It is on the red-list of birds of conservation concern in the UK.

A North Yorkshire Police spokesperson said: “Despite there being encouraging news this spring regarding the numbers of successful Hen Harrier nests this year, we sadly continue to be regularly called upon to investigate cases of illegal persecution of Hen Harriers and other birds of prey. There is no place for the selfish and illegal killing of our wildlife in our countryside.

Paul Cantwell, Investigative Support Officer with the Police UK National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: “This incident unfortunately shows that despite more recent breeding success in Hen Harriers, people still appear to be determined to cause harm to this vulnerable species through cruel criminal acts.

We urge anyone with information about this matter to report it to the Police or Crimestoppers.”

John Holmes, Natural England Strategy Director, said: “The evidence points to this being one of the most clear-cut and brutal cases of Hen Harrier persecution we’ve ever found, and we would urge anyone with information to come forward.

We were diligently monitoring this nest and moved quickly to ensure collection of forensic and other evidence to support a police investigation as soon as persecution was suspected.

We have recently seen welcome increases in Hen Harrier numbers, but despite our best efforts there are still those who are set on disrupting this progress. We will continue to work to monitor Hen Harrier nests, to increase understanding of Hen Harriers and to support our enforcement and forensic partners where foul play is suspected, following every evidential lead possible.

We call for all landowners and managers to help police identify and prosecute anyone who commits these horrific crimes against birds of prey.”

Anyone with any information regarding this incident is asked to contact North Yorkshire Police on 101 and quote incident reference number 12220107140, online via the North Yorkshire Police website, or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

Although this appeal for information includes a detailed commentary of the known facts, I note with interest that the words ‘grouse moor’ have been excluded. According to my well-placed sources, this crime definitely took place on a grouse moor.

I would argue that North Yorkshire Police, in cahoots with Natural England, has deliberately excluded this detail.

I also note that this crime took place six months ago, in June. Why has it taken until December for the police to issue an appeal for information?

What we’re seeing here is nothing less than blatant censorship of raptor persecution crime data, designed to minimise media coverage to allow the grouse-shooting industry’s narrative of ‘hen harrier breeding success’ to be the strongest.

You only have to look at all the media propaganda we saw in August, from both the grouse shooting industry and Natural England, about the so-called ‘success’ of the hen harrier brood meddling trial. It was timed to coincide with the start of the grouse-shooting season (12th August) to paint grouse shooting in a positive light. It is absolutely bloody outrageous that Natural England knew about this heinous crime in August but said nothing about it; instead allowing the grouse shooter’s narrative to run unimpeded in the national press.

They did exactly the same with the news about the hen harrier called ‘Asta’, whose wings had been ripped off so her satellite tag could be attacked to a crow in an attempt to deceive researchers that Asta was alive and well (see here). That crime took place in spring 2021 but the news about it only emerged this summer because someone tipped me off and I blogged about it.

I’d like to know whether this latest sadistic crime, stamping to death four young, helpless hen harrier chicks in their nest, took place on the same Whernside grouse moor where a gunman was filmed next to a tethered eagle owl in a hen harrier’s breeding territory in 2020 (see here). It later emerged that Natural England had permitted hen harrier brood meddling on this estate, even though the estate was under police investigation for suspected raptor persecution (see here).

I’m sick to the back teeth of the raptor-killing criminals in the grouse shooting industry getting away with these crimes, aided and abetted, it would appear, by the police and the statutory nature conservation agency. Something has to change.

UPDATE 15th December 2022: 77 hen harriers confirmed ‘missing’ or illegally killed in UK since 2018, most of them on or close to grouse moors (here)

UPDATE 16th December 2022: Yorkshire Dales Bird of Prey ‘partnership’ responds to news of hen harriers stamped to death in nest (here)

UPDATE 27th January 2023: Hen harrier chicks stamped to death in nest: how the shooting industry manipulated the narrative (here)

34 thoughts on “Hen harrier chicks stamped to death in nest on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park”

    1. Great idea….glad someone thought of that.

      Much more action from the police is required other than a press release 6 months later.

  1. I salute your diligence against these characters. I feel it will pay off over time. Please don’t feel disheartened, the Truth is a very powerful thing, it always wins eventually. Just takes time. These cowardly liars will be exposed. People everywhere are ‘awakening’ to seeing nature in a new and refreshing caring way. And there are more of us than them. Take heart and thanks for your work.

    1. Steve after 19 months Police Scotland have failed to reveal a red kite was poisoned near Grantown on Spey, Highland.

  2. Bl**dy savages who would do this. Such individuals are a menace not only to these poor creatures but to society in general. If they are not stopped then summary justice may well become the norm…what else is there.

  3. Absolutely sickening. There are a lot of unanswered questions here. Who really is ruling the roost in these matters? NY Police appeared to be making good progress in investigating wildlife crime issues until its officer in charge was apparently stifled from discussing these matters and moved to other duties. What is going on? One can be forgiven for thinking that undue pressure and influence is being brought to bear on the investigative processes – just when it appeared that we were making good progress.

  4. There can only be one conclusion made in the delay in anousing this crime that Nature England did not want this to spoil the news of increased breeding in England and that all is well with the Hen H arrier.

  5. Well said, Raptor Persecution. It’s high time forensic style analysis conducted by someone who knows wildlife policing inside out — and NOT involving the usual suspects — was commissioned to look closely and accurately at how these operations involving raptors were conducted , where the mistakes were made, what could have been done differently and where the weak spots are. In this brief I would include, in detail, instances where on the job committed wildlife policemen and women were discriminated against on spurious matters that had nothing to do with the crime and lost their positions as a result.
    In my, and many others, opinions It is obviously organs of the State that have been corrupted and the power they hold tends to corrupt all involved and creates a chasm between sincere members of the security and prosecuting authtorities, the public and the dodgy individuals within the Authorities.
    It is like the whole organisation has been knowingly implanted with a Trojan Horse by those with the powers to do so making the whole thing as it stands a total waste of tax payers money with only the odd scrap thrown as an enticement to keep the public onboard. They are, simply, taking the piss from the Ivory Towers of Stately Homes and the Palace of Westminster, where it all brews and spills over to corrput the wider population.
    If they wil not sort out the policing and the prosecuting involved then concerned others must attempt to create a parallel system to shadow their every move and report publicly on what is actually happening in this criminal industry.

  6. What type of sycopath sets out walking to a nest with chicks in it knowing he is going to crush them to death with his boot ? Does his conscience on the way to the nest not say to him , that this is wrong . Also do these people have a family and do they tell them what they have done ? The mind boggles that in 2022 this is still happening.

    1. Kevin, it’s a psychopath who knew the spot so well that he could find his way to it in the dark. Someone with a mindset which is so accustomed to killing things that he probably didn’t give a single thought to the ethical points you raise – having but one objective in mind. I doubt that the list of suspects would be a very long one.

  7. So Nat Eng knew about it from the start, but said nothing. Have N Yorks Pol explained the delay? Operational reasons, perhaps? The usual get-out?

    Am I right in thinking the grouse shooting season has just ended?

    We need the RSPB getting onto this, with their membership clout.

  8. It is clear to me that Natural England needs to invest in improved technology – multiple devices to catch tampering with the visible cameras, including smart water misting devices. The types of people who get up to no good are the types who invent underhanded ways to get away with it – conniving, evil minds. Let’s hope our protective, compassionate, creative minds can defeat theirs.

    1. A good step would be stop working in partnership with criminals. They are tacitly aiding and abeting.
      Was there not a clause in their rediculous partnership agreement which stated that NE must not bad mouth their buddies….

  9. Given this sadistic but routine crime took place 6 months ago and one assumes the investigation is now at best stalled WTF are we not told which estate or at least a more precise location. The police and NE could be accused of just paying lip service here and going the through the motions. My impression is that since Matt Hagan moved on raptor crime in North Yorkshire is being pursued less vigorously than it was.

  10. This is a despicable crime and the lack of information about it from N Yorkshire Police just makes it worse. I’m presuming this IS Whernside (ie one of the Three Peaks near Ribblehead) and not Great Whernside or Little Whernside which are in more prime grouse moor areas – I wouldn’t be surprised if the location was muddled to muddy the waters even more. Also, the police appeal makes mention that one chick had avian flu. Is this the case that DEFRA published in July as coming from the Ingleton area? It said it was found dead and tested positive. In which case why is it DEFRA can publicise the death contemporaneously while N Yorkshire Police, Natural England and the Yorkshire Dales National Park can sweep it under the carpet

  11. Absolutely disgusted by this. But speaking as a vet, that H5N1 report is very suspicious. For only one chick to be affected and (presumably?) no supporting pathology to be mentioned, I’d be very suspicious that this isn’t an erroneous report. If anyone claims at any stage that the the virus was involved then I’d be asking what the diagnosis was based on. If (as I suspect) it is based on RT-PCR then it is almost certainly a laboratory contamination from another case. This isn’t unusual. The test is *very* sensitive and the laboratory has likjely been dealing with lots of other HPAI-H5N1 cases this year. Viruses don’t break bones, criminals do

    1. Indeed it was death by stamping, just tested positive by whatever means after death. I’m just wondering if it was the same incident, re the coincidence of hen harrier deaths in the same area about the same time. If it was the same incident then there’s even more to this story than they’ve let on and we wouldn’t be surprised at that!

  12. I could ramble on about the sociology, means & motives and ground-level tactics of the boringly identikit cliques of keepers who do this stuff. And Mark Avery’s book might just as easily have been sub-titled “Institutional Corruption in the Uplands” . But increasingly I cannot see a breakthrough in England until there is a change of government. I would like to see more MP’s and (mainly Labour in the north) candidates for the next election getting seriously pissed off about this (the corruption if nothing else, they don’t even have to like birds) and associating themselves with this cause Making promises* that they will at least match the Scottish Governments slow-but-sure baby steps would be a start. If there isn’t a meaningful change after a few years with the next government, then what is to be done? Where can this go except direct mass action?

    *And yes, I know what Labour did/didn’t do with foxhunting, and they should commit to 100% ending it this next time they are in power, like they promised in the 90s.

  13. I might be being pedantic/ overly suspicious, but 9:54pm certainly isn’t after dark. Not on the 15th June it isn’t. A quick google suggests that sunset at Skipton would have been at 9:42 on that date. And of course it probably wouldn’t have been properly dark for another hour after that.

    1. And there seems to be errors in the dates. The police’s media release states that the chicks were 8 to 10 days old on the 10th May, but then it wasn’t until the 20th June that they say the incident happened. Harrier chicks take between 30 and 35 days to fledge. You would have thought that someone would have checked the detail before publishing a request for help….

  14. Susie’s name has come up before. She is on NE’s hen harrier tagging spreadsheet, which states that she bred in Bowland in 2021.

    Will NE tell us whether it was Susie’s nest that they brood meddled that year?

    If it was, Susie is not having much luck under NE’s watchful eye…

    Also, I can’t imagine why they would have forgotten to mention that in this press release (or suggested in all their guff around the Inglorious 12th that not all hen harrier matters were rosy).

    I had better stop there before I start to type stuff that RPUK will have to delete.

  15. I can’t think of any other type of crime where the police wait six months to issue an appeal – that will tell you all you need to know how rotten the entire system is

  16. I understand some of the the land to the west of Whernside, in Kingsdale/Deepdale is used for grouse shooting.
    It is a very remote area, and doesn’t receive the same number of visitors as the area to the east of Whernside. It is not the sort of place visitors would simply go for a walk on the hills. It is the sort of place that the presence of someone would only be for a specific purpose. However it should be ideal habitat for Hen Harriers, and if left unmolested should offer quiet and undisturbed breeding territory.

    The sudden whiteout of the camera, suggests that the perpetrator of this crime knew that the nest was being monitored by a camera and deliberately interfered with the images the camera was capturing.
    So who knew of the location of this nest, and who knew the nest was camera monitored?
    I would suggest such information would be limited to a select group of people, and even more limited as to who would have the means and motivation to access such a remote area at dusk.

    Appealing for witnesses so long after the event is a pretty pointless exercise.
    However, are North Yorkshire police to blame for this or Natural England?
    When did Natural England inform the police of the incident?
    What action did the police then take, and were any potential suspects identified?
    Did the police then make a decision not to make an immediate press release in order to conduct enquiries which might have been hindered had the matter been made public knowledge through a press release?
    North Yorkshire police have until now had a pretty good reputation in being proactive in tackling raptor persecution incidents, so there may have been operational reasons as to why it is only now that the matter has been brought to the media’s attention.

    What I would now hope would happen, is that the location of the nest is made public along with details of who owns and manages that moor.
    Surely the public have a right to know where national wildlife priority crimes are occurring, so that they can be extra vigilant, and help identify the criminals?

    I would also hope that Natural England learn from this incident, and covertly monitor Hen Harrier nests, so that whether a nest is camera monitored or not, and the location of any cameras is not shared with landowners. It would also seem that it might be prudent to covertly monitor any nest cameras with additional hidden cameras.

    Whilst I don’t for one minute think that Natural England would tolerate criminal activity, I do believe that they are being incredibly naïve in believing that partnership working with a game shooting industry which is blighted by criminal behavior is going to solve the Hen Harrier conservation problem.

    Whilst there are some very well managed estates where partnership working is the right way forward, it should by now be very clear that there are also estates where partnership working is simply not possible- and those estates need to be the subject of intense scrutiny and monitoring, so that In such a remote location as this, the criminals are identified and brought to justice.

    Hen Harrier conservation is never going to improve until there is a realization by those in authority that the biggest threat to Hen Harriers comes from those who don’t want these birds on their moors.

  17. It is obvious it is time NE are removed from this completely. The brood management scheme basically means, rear them and we will kill them later. This incident should have been publicised straight away, the timing is very suspicious with the shooting season and the recent BASC narratives re hen harrier success. Simply yet again, it stinks.

  18. What the f is going on! NE and the police implicated in the cover up of a heinous crime against these beautiful birds. Yes Something Better Change in the words of the Stranglers. This hatred towards birds of prey is so ingrained in the minds(!) Of these abominable people. So it’s okay to stamp to death hen harriers but not okay to raise questions about the shooting, gaming, monied landowners who breed birds for Fun and Money!! They have no soul!! I’m absolutely furious.

  19. We need politicians in power who take the state of nature in this country seriously and a government whose manifesto lays out how it will make the law work. At the moment it’s all lip service. We’re due a General Election in the ntdf. NOW is the time to be raising the profile of this issue.

  20. The facts suggest that both the police and Natural England were involved in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in this case. I read all the news posts on this site and time after time it seems there are long delays in making details of crimes against raptors public knowledge. This cannot be coincidence and appears to be a deliberate policy on the part of police and other bodies. Why are they so determined not to make information available so that there is a reasonable chance of bringing the culprits to justice?

  21. Our whole justice system has been dismantled by this government. A friend recently had her purse stolen from her handbag with £300 and bank cards whilst in a supermarket. The perpetrator was seen later on CCTV in another shop using the cash. The police could have easily followed this up. My friend was told she wasn’t a victim and therefore no crime as she would be compensated by the bank. So what chance do we have with wildlife crime. Do we form a private investigation team and take private prosecutions?
    I say this as a retired police officer as I can’t believe what has happened to our policing as it is today.

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