Chris Packham wins High Court defamation trial & is awarded £90K in damages

Press release from Chris Packham’s solicitors at Leigh Day (25th May 2023):

Chris Packham wins High Court defamation trial and is awarded £90,000 in damages

The High Court has today ruled in favour of environmental campaigner and naturalist Chris Packham CBE in his defamation case brought against Dominic Wightman, editor of Country Squire Magazine, and one of the magazine’s contributors, Nigel Bean. The court accepted the account of a third defendant, Paul Read, who claimed he was a mere proof reader.

The Court has awarded Mr Packham £90,000 in damages against Mr Wightman and Mr Bean.

Chris, Charlotte and his legal team from Leigh Day and Doughty Street Chambers outside the High Court. Photo: Ruth Tingay

The case, heard between 2 and 11 May 2023 related to nine articles, ten social media posts and two videos. The court ruled that the allegations made in these materials were defamatory and untrue. The allegations included that:

  1. Mr Packham dishonestly raised funds for The Wildheart Sanctuary in relation to rescued tigers, which he falsely said had been mistreated
  2. Mr Packham lied about peat burning on Scottish game estates during COP26.
  3. Mr Packham dishonestly raised funds for the sanctuary during the covid pandemic while concealing that it would receive an insurance pay-out

During the trial, Mr Wightman and Mr Bean withdrew their truth defence in relation to the second and third of these allegations.  They maintained a truth defence in relation to the first allegation, but the court determined that they “fail[ed] to come even close to establishing the substantial truth” of that allegation. 

The Court concluded that: “Mr Packham did not lie and each of his own statements was made with a genuine belief in its truth.  There was no fraud of any type committed by him in making the fundraising statements.”

Mr Wightman and Mr Bean also argued that they had a reasonable belief that publication of the allegations was in the public interest.  The court ruled that this defence also failed “by some margin.” 

The judgment states that, “rather than approaching the task with an investigative mind, these defendants targeted Mr Packham as a person against whom they had an agenda”.  In particular, following receipt of Mr Packham’s initial legal complaint, the articles published by Mr Wightman and Mr Bean “gave way… to increasingly hyperbolic and vitriolic smearing of Mr Packham, with further unsubstantiated allegations of dishonesty regarding peat-burning and the Trust’s insurance gratuitously thrown in”.  One of the articles complained of mocked Mr Packham’s manner of speaking, and several made offensive references to his autism.

During the trial the court heard that Country Squire Magazine published 16 articles mentioning Mr Packham in the four years before the first article complained of in the legal case, and a further 93 articles were published in the three years following. Mr Packham had not been approached for comment before the publication of any of the articles containing allegations about him, as is journalistic best practice. Furthermore, there was sparse documentary evidence that any of the allegations had been properly researched to ensure their veracity.

Mr Read withdrew his reliance on the defences of truth and public interest when he instructed separate legal representation shortly before trial, and his case (which the Court accepted) was solely that: (i) as a mere proof-reader, he had insufficient involvement in the articles; and (ii) his retweets of the defamatory allegations had not circulated sufficiently widely to have caused serious reputational harm to Mr Packham. 

In awarding Mr Packham substantial damages against Mr Wightman and Mr Bean, the High Court accepted that their campaign “would have misled and agitated vocal and sometimes violent groups”, who “posted threatening and vile material about Mr Packham and his family online”. 

The Court also held that the men had used this case as a way of introducing offensive and wholly unsubstantiated allegations to smear Mr Packham, and to “scare [him] off… from seeking recourse in a public hearing for the libels”.

In addition to the articles, social media posts and video complained of the in the legal case the defendants had also claimed that a death threat received by Mr Packham had been written by himself. This caused particular anguish to Mr Packham as it implied that he had lied to his family and friends, as well as wasting police time.  The court held that Mr Packham did not write the death threat letter, concluding that “even a cursory examination of the handwriting in the death threat and comparison with a true sample of Mr Packham’s handwriting demonstrates obvious differences between the two.” 

The court had also expected the handwriting expert instructed by Mr Wightman, Mr Bean and Mr Read to have been “horrified… and to have unequivocally withdrawn their evidence” when it emerged in November 2022 that their report, which concluded with certainty that Mr Packham wrote the death threat, had in fact analysed samples of his accountant’s handwriting.  However, Mr Wightman, Mr Bean and Mr Read did not withdraw the allegation when this error was pointed out to them.  Moreover, the court held that Mr Wightman was instrumental in procuring ostensibly third-party statements repeating the serious allegation, in “The Packham Papers” and in an article by Fieldsports TV. The death threat allegation was only formally withdrawn by Mr Read shortly before trial, and by the other defendants only on the third day of trial.

Chris Packham said:

Every day many thousands of innocent people are victims of online abuse and hate crimes. This can be racially, religiously or politically motivated. It can be generated in regard to gender politics, environmental beliefs, body shaming. This vile part of modern life ruins lives, livelihoods, reputations, it disrupts young peoples’ educations, causes incalculable mental health problems and tragically causes people to take their own lives.

As it stands the criminal law is simply not there to protect us from such hate – something that must change. The current governments ‘Online Safety Bill’ is plodding along. In the meantime a tiny minority of victims are able to take civil action.

In the offending articles and tweets Mr Wightman and Mr Bean accused me of defrauding the public to raise money to rescue tigers from circuses, defrauding the public by promoting a crowd-funder during the COVID epidemic, lying about the burning of peat during COP26, writing a death threat letter to myself, and elsewhere of bullying, sexual misconduct and rape. They also accused me of faking an arson attack at my home and repeatedly called upon the BBC to sack me.

In a full and frank vindication of my innocence the court has found that “Mr Packham did not lie and each of his own statements was made with a genuine belief in its truth”. 

Most egregiously all three defendants had advanced an allegation that I had forged a death threat letter to myself, an allegation that they managed to disseminate to the mainstream media. 

The Court has held that I did not write the death threat letter, concluding that “even a cursory examination of the handwriting in the death threat and comparison with a true sample of Mr Packham’s handwriting demonstrates obvious differences between the two”.

Thank you to my followers for your unswerving support and belief in my honest crusade to make the world a better place for wildlife, people and the environment.”

Carol Day, Solicitor at law firm Leigh Day said:

Mr Packham is grateful to the judge for his careful deliberation of the issues and is delighted with the judgment, which completely vindicates him of any fraudulent motivation in raising funds to rescue the ex-circus tigers, alongside further unsubstantiated allegations of dishonesty regarding peat-burning and insurance fraud. This case should provide a strong deterrent to anyone who sets out to gratuitously smear someone’s character simply because they don’t agree with their views.

Mr Packham is represented by partner Tessa Gregory and solicitor Carol Day of Leigh Day and barristers Jonathan Price and Claire Overman of Doughty Street Chambers. Leigh Day instructed specialist costs counsel Benjamin Williams KC of 4 New Square Chambers for the hearing on costs and consequential matters on 25 May 2023.


The full judgement can be read/downloaded here:

As you might expect, I’ve got some thoughts about this case that has dominated so much time and energy over the last two years. I’ll come back to it in the coming days once the dust has settled.

For now, I’d like to thank all the blog readers who have supported Chris throughout this hideous period – you’ve been brilliant, thank you so much.

UPDATE 27th May 2023: A message from Chris Packham after his libel victory in the High Court (see here)

At least half of Natural England’s brood meddled hen harriers are ‘missing’, according to DEFRA Minister

Earlier this month, Natural England announced its decision (here) to extend the insane hen harrier brood meddling trial beyond the five years (2018-2022 inclusive) it was originally intended to run.

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, in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. In general terms, the plan involves the removal of hen harrier chicks and eggs from grouse moors, rear them in captivity, then release them back into the uplands just in time for the start of the grouse-shooting season where they’ll be illegally killed. It’s plainly bonkers. For more background see here.

An un-meddled hen harrier being reared in the wild. Photo: Laurie Campbell

Following Natural England’s decision to extend the brood meddling trial, Natalie Bennett (Life peer, Green party) raised a number of pertinent questions in the House of Lords, as follows:

DEFRA Minister and grouse moor owner Lord Benyon responded last week with these answers:

The ‘overview’ of Natural England’s Scientific and Advisory Committee’s (NESAC) decision that Benyon points to is this blog, posted by Natural England on 16th March 2023. This ‘overview’ was already out of date when it was published because NE conveniently decided not to include the 2022 cohort of brood meddled hen harrier chicks – several of which were already confirmed as ‘missing’ by December 2022 (see here). Had they been included, NE’s graphs in that ‘overview’ blog wouldn’t look quite as favourable. Funny that.

You’ll note that what NE published was just an ‘overview’, and regular blog readers will know that in February 2023 I submitted an FoI request asking for a copy of the full NESAC report, only to be told by NE that there apparently wasn’t one (see here).

I’ve since submitted a further FoI request to determine if anybody at NE has produced a report, and if so, where is it? Surely someone has produced an assessment report, otherwise how on earth has NE assessed the application to extend the trial?! NE’s FoI response is due on 7th June 2023, although judging by NE’s continued obfuscation and lack of transparency (on which, more soon), I fully expect them to respond by telling me my information request is ‘complex’ and therefore they require a further 20 working days to complete the task. Let’s see.

I was pleased to see Benyon’s remark that ‘… all hen harriers are part of the trial…’. Good – that means that whoever is assessing the trial (assuming somebody is) will have to take in to account all of the 94 hen harriers (so far) that are confirmed ‘missing’ or illegally killed, most of them on or close to grouse moors, since the brood meddling trial began in 2018.

It was also interesting to note that Benyon admitted that of the 32 hen harrier chicks that have been brood meddled since the trial began, at least 16 of them are confirmed as ‘missing’. That’s half of them.

The brood meddling sham doesn’t sound quite as ‘successful’ now, does it?

And given the recent spate of vanishing hen harriers (see here, here and here), in addition to the publication of yet another scientific paper that confirms the ongoing and widespread illegal persecution of this species on many driven grouse moors (see here), I’d say Natural England looks to be in some trouble with its justification to extend the brood meddling trial.

More on that soon.

Man charged in relation to eagle nest disturbance in Strathspey

Police Scotland has issued the following press statement:

Two men have been arrested following a report of an eagle’s nest being disturbed in the Strathspey area.

On Thursday 23 March 2023, officers received information of activity that could be detrimental to the breeding eagles.

Enquiries were carried out and a 28-year-old man was arrested and charged in relation with the incident. A 33-year-old man was also arrested and reported to the Procurator Fiscal.

Wildlife Crime Officer, Police Constable Jon Clarke, said: “Police Scotland takes all wildlife crime seriously and reports made to us will always be investigated. Anyone with information should contact us on 101 or make a call anonymously to the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111“.


It’s not clear whether the second man has been charged. However, as one man has been charged, this case is now live and so comments on this blog post aren’t permitted. Thanks for your understanding.

Wildlife & Muirburn (Scotland) Bill: responses to Rural Affairs Committee’s call for views now published

As part of its scrutiny of the Wildlife & Muirburn (Scotland) Bill, the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs & Islands Committee put out a public call for views which ran from 31st March – 5th May 2023.

For new blog readers, this is the Bill that has been introduced by the Scottish Government in response to the recommendations made in the 2019 Werritty Review and is designed to bring in licensing for grouse moor management and put an end to the illegal killing of birds of prey on grouse moors.

The Committee received 5,705 submissions in total, 109 from organisations and 5,596 from individuals.

The Committee has now published two documents in relation to these responses. One document summarising the views of individuals, and one document detailing the full responses from named organisations.

I’ve only skimmed these so far and it’ll take some time to go through in detail but I was amused to see on the list of respondees a number of estates that are currently serving General Licence restrictions imposed after ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime was uncovered on estate land (e.g. Millden Estate in the Angus Glens and Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park).

You can read and/or download both documents here:

The Stage 1 scrutiny of the Bill is due to be completed by 6 October 2023 after the Scottish Parliament recently agreed to a motion to this effect (see here).

The Committee will be calling forward various organisations to give evidence before summer recess begins on 1st July 2023 and these sessions should be available to view on Scottish Parliament TV.

I’ll post links to these evidence sessions as they become available.

UPDATE 29th May 2023: Timetable announced for evidence sessions on Wildlife & Muirburn (Scotland) Bill (here)

New short documentary on British owls by student Ben Garrick

Ben Garrick is a young, talented third-year student of marine and natural history photography at Falmouth University and for his final year project he set out to find and film Britain’s owls.

Barn owl. Photo: Ben Garrick

He’s just released his beautifully-filmed short documentary on YouTube, to deserved rave reviews. It’s as much about the dedication and resilience needed to complete the project as it is about the owls.

Well worth a watch!

29-year old red kite, oldest on record, dies in Oxfordshire

The UK’s oldest known red kite has died in Oxfordshire.

Aragon, named after the region in Spain from where he was donated, was one of the red kites released in the Chilterns in 1994 as part of a UK reintroduction scheme.

Schoolchildren in Brize Norton recently found him injured outside their school and he was collected by Chrissie Gaines who runs a local owl sanctuary and was taken for veterinary attention. She believed he’d been attacked by other birds.

Aragon the red kite. Photo: Chrissie Gaines

Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, he didn’t survive his injuries and died aged 29 years.

More details on BBC news website here

Monumentally inadequate sentence for Barry Nicolle, serial red kite poisoner in Dumfries & Galloway

In April 2023, Barry Nicolle, 67, a wildfowl collector from Dumfries & Galloway, pleaded guilty to 14 charges relating to the poisoning of red kites with banned pesticides, which included the placing of poisonous baits out in the countryside (see here and here).

This morning he was sentenced at Dumfries Sheriff Court and was given a monumentally inadequate community service order – to complete 216 hours of unpaid work within 12 months.

The RSPB has issued the following press release:


A Dumfries and Galloway wildfowl collector was today (19 May 2023) sentenced to 216 hours of community payback at Dumfries Sheriff Court, after being convicted of multiple charges relating to the use of illegal poisons to target protected wildlife.

At a previous hearing, Barry Nicolle (67) plead guilty to 14 charges, including the illegal poisoning of five Red Kites and 10 Rooks, the placing of poison baits out in open countryside and the possession of banned pesticides. 

A container of the banned poison Aldicarb, found at Nicolle’s house. Photo: Crown Office

Speaking in court today, the Sherriff said the crimes were serious enough to cross the threshold for prison to be considered, however given that the individual had no previous convictions, in light of his age, and due to sentencing guidelines regarding custodial penalties of less than 12 months, a community order was served.

The case dates back to spring 2019, when several dead Red Kites were found by members of the public in the Springholm area, between Dumfries and Castle Douglas. Toxicology tests by the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture government laboratory revealed that all had died after consuming meat laced with poison. More victims were identified over the following months, including a number of Rooks found poisoned in the playground of the local primary school. One kite found killed was lying adjacent to the body of a Mandarin Duck used as a bait and found to have been laced with the same banned pesticide that killed the kite.

Mandarin Ducks are not a native species in Scotland, and the use of this exotic species as a bait drew Police Scotland’s attention to Nicolle who kept a large collection of exotic ducks and geese in an enclosure next to his house. During the execution of a search warrant at his premises in February 2020, police officers found quantities of aldicarb and bendiocarb, both illegal poisons, and both of which had been detected in the victims. Officers also found a Larsen trap being used illegally adjacent to Nicolle’s duck ponds. Nicolle was subsequently arrested and charged.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: “We welcome today’s conviction of a Mr Nicolle for multiple offences linked to the illegal poisoning of Red Kites and Rooks around the village of Springholm. The placing of poison baits out in the open is illegal, dangerous and indiscriminate. It is exceedingly fortunate that Mr Nicolle’s repeated actions did not result in serious injury to a young child.

The investigation of this case was an excellent example of partnership working. We would particularly like to thank Police Scotland, notably wildlife crime officer PC John Cowan, for their dogged determination to identify the perpetrator of these offences and to see them face justice, and to Procurators Fiscal from the Crown Office’s Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit, for their diligent work in securing a conviction in such a complex case.”

Red Kites became extinct in Scotland in the 19th century due to persecution, but have been reintroduced in four areas, including Galloway. The reintroduction project here ran from 2001-04. Now, of an established Scottish population of around 450 pairs, Dumfries & Galloway contains about a third of these, making it the most important area of the country for these birds and their future conservation. In addition, the Galloway Red Kite Trail is a significant local tourist route, with over 100,000 visitors coming to the area to see the kites and contributing £8.2 million to the local economy between 2003-2015.

Red kite. Photo: Dick Forsman

Detective Inspector Dean Little, Senior Investigating Officer at Police Scotland, said: “Wildlife crime can be complex to investigate and difficult to prove in court. In this case local officers on the ground were able to promptly gather evidence and work with a number of partners who utilised specialist forensic methods to build a case against Nicolle.

Scotland’s wildlife is one of its greatest attractions, which is especially true in our local area. Nicolle’s reckless use of illegal poison was not only selfish and damaging to the birds it killed, but also posed a risk to the environment and members of the public who came across them.

I would like to thank the numerous partners who assisted in this case and members of the public who provided information and assisted police enquiries. Crimes against nature are not unpunishable and we welcome the sentencing today of Nicolle which shows our continued commitment to investigate wildlife crime and bring perpetrators to court.”


Given the extent and seriousness of Nicolle’s crimes, I just can’t believe how lenient the Sheriff has been, although obviously he is constrained by sentencing guidelines.

It’s a complete replication of what happened when gamekeeper Alan Wilson was sentenced for his multiple offences at Longformacus in the Scottish Borders in 2019 (see here). Wilson also avoided jail, also avoided a fine and was just given a community payback order of 225 hours. It’s as though the Sheriffs in these cases are considering the offences as individual offences instead of looking at them as a cumulative pattern, which would easily then pass the custody threshold and exceed the 12 months limit.

Unfortunately, Nicolle committed his crimes prior to the enactment of the new Animals & Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020; legislation that was introduced to increase the penalties available for certain wildlife crimes, including those under Section 1(1)(a) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act – ‘Intentionally, or recklessly, killing, injuring, or taking a wild bird‘. 

Although, as we saw in a recent test case of this new legislation (the sentencing of a gamekeeper on Moy Estate for raptor-killing), it won’t necessarily lead to a significant punishment (see here).

I feel incredibly sorry for the multi-agency investigators in the latest case, who have clearly worked hard to bring a successful prosecution against Nicolle. In my opinion this pathetic sentence doesn’t reflect their efforts, doesn’t act as a deterrent for others, and certainly doesn’t reflect the seriousness of Nicolle’s crimes, which he knowingly committed, repeatedly, over a period of months.

Despite his conviction, this is a bad day for wildlife crime fighters.

UPDATE: The Crown Office has published the following statement, which provides a few more details:


A 67-year-old waterfowl enthusiast has been sentenced for killing multiple birds of prey and other birds. 

Barry Nicolle, who runs an exotic wildfowl breeding farm in Dumfries and Galloway, has been given a Community Payback Order and ordered to carry out 216 hours of unpaid work after pleading guilty at Dumfries Sheriff Court to the indiscriminate use of banned poisons, which killed five red kites and ten rooks.  

This believed to be the first Scottish conviction in which multiple birds of prey have been killed with poison. 

He also pled guilty to possession of several highly toxic pesticides, using a crow trap illegally and an air weapon licensing offence. 

Between May 2019 and February 2020 Nicolle laced bait including mandarin duckling and a mallard duck with banned pesticides. He also placed poisoned bread on fence posts around his land which is about 150m (164 yards) from Springholm Primary School. 

All of this was done to attract and kill scavengers in a bid to protect his own collection of exotic and ornamental waterfowl from a perceived threat.  

Speaking after the sentencing, Fiona Caldwell, who leads on wildlife and environmental crime for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said: 

“Barry Nicolle’s actions led to the illegal killing of multiple Red Kite’s and Rooks. 

“The laying of bait laced with poisons was shockingly irresponsible and Nicolle has shown an utter disregard for the wildlife laws which serve to protect these species.  

“I would like to thank Police Scotland, RSPB Scotland, the Scottish SPCAthe SRUC Veterinary Investigation Centre and SASA for their part in investigating and gathering evidence of these repugnant offences. 

“The law protects wild birds and those who seek to poison them or possess stocks of illegal poison can be assured that the Procurator Fiscal will continue to prosecute such cases and ensure that offenders face the consequences of their actions.” 

The court heard that numerous reports of suspicious deaths of red kites in the Kirkpatrick Durham and Springholm areas were made to Police Scotland, RSPB and the Scottish SPCA Inspectors by members of the public.  

Springholm is at the heart of the breeding red kite population’s range in South West Scotland making it a key area of the country for these birds and their future conservation. 

Several red kite were found lying motionless on the ground in a distressed state and had to be euthanised. The ten poisoned rooks were found on the grounds of Springholm Primary School. 

Subsequent post-mortem examinations by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) Veterinary Investigation Centre and toxicology analysis by the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) Chemistry Branch established a pattern and cause of death linked to a banned Carbofuran based pesticide called Aldicarb.  

All the deaths centred around Nicolle’s property and as a result of these enquiries police applied for and were granted a warrant to search Wickerty Snook. 

On the morning of 4 February 2020 police wildlife officers, along with an RSPB investigator, a SASA scientist and others executed the warrant.  

During the search of Nicolle’s home, the poisons Aldicarb, Bendiocarb and Phostoxin, which contains aluminium phosphide, were found.  

Poisoned bait and traps, including an untagged and therefore illegal Larsen trap, were found on his land.  


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

Further to the news from the RSPB earlier this month that 20 hen harriers had ‘disappeared’ on English grouse moors between April 2022 and April 2023 (see here), leading to my updated tally of illegally killed/missing hen harriers since 2018 (n = 92), I’ve since realised that I forgot to add one of the brood-meddled hen harriers that ‘disappeared’ in Dec 2022 (a female, #R2-F2-20, who vanished in Cumbria). She has now been added to the list, below.

And further to the news yesterday that another satellite-tagged hen harrier has ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Bowland AONB (see here), I also need to add this harrier to the list.

So now the running tally is 94 illegally killed / ‘missing’ hen harriers since 2018.

Here’s the blog I always write after every reported killing or suspicious disappearance…

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

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

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). Incidentally, a further scientific paper published in 2023 by scientists at the RSPB, utilising even more recent data, echoed these results – 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 94 hen harriers gone since 2018, there is no question 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 ‘donation’ 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 ‘donation’ that Natural England accepted, under the same terms, in 2021 (here).

Cartoon by Gerard Hobley

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). One year later it was revealed that the satellite tag/harness of this young male called ‘Anu’ had been deliberately cut off (see here).

12 April 2022: Hen harrier ‘Free’ (Tag ID 201121) ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in Cumbria (here). It later emerged he hadn’t disappeared, but his mutilated corpse was found on moorland in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. A post mortem revealed the cause of death was having his head twisted and pulled off. One leg had also been torn off whilst he was still alive (here).

April 2022: Hen harrier ‘Pegasus’ (tagged by the RSPB) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Birkdale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (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).

20 June 2022: Hen harrier chick #1 stamped to death in nest on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

20 June 2022: Hen harrier chick #2 stamped to death in nest on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

20 June 2022: Hen harrier chick #3 stamped to death in nest on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

20 June 2022: Hen harrier chick #4 stamped to death in nest on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

17 August 2022: Hen harrier (brood meddled in 2022, #R1-M1-22) ‘disappeared’ on moorland in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

September 2022: Hen harrier ‘Sullis’ (tagged by the RSPB) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Cumbria (here).

5 October 2022: Hen harrier (brood meddled in 2022, #R3-M2-22) ‘disappeared’ on moorland in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

10 October 2022: Hen harrier ‘Sia’ ‘disappeared’ near Hamsterley Forest in the North Pennines (here).

October 2022: Hen harrier (brood meddled in 2021, #R1-F1-21) ‘disappeared’ in the North Sea off the North York Moors National Park (here).

December 2022: Hen harrier female (brood meddled in 2020, #R2-F2-20) ‘disappeared’ on moorland in Cumbria (here).

1 December 2022: Hen harrier male (brood meddled in 2021, #R1-M1-21) ‘disappeared’ on moorland in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

14 December 2022: Hen harrier female (brood meddled in 2022, #R3-F1-22) ‘disappeared’ on moorland in the North Pennines AONB (here).

15 December 2022: Hen harrier female (brood meddled in 2022, #R2-F1-22) ‘disappeared’ on moorland in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

March 2023: Unnamed male hen harrier (tagged by Natural England – details not yet released) ‘disappeared’ in North Yorkshire (here).

April 2023: Unnamed female hen harrier (tagged by Natural England – details not yet released) ‘disappeared’ in North Yorkshire (here).

April 2023: Hen harrier ‘Lagertha’ (tagged by RSPB) ‘disappeared’ in North Yorkshire (here).

April 2023: Hen harrier ‘Nicola’ (Tag ID 234078) ”disappeared’ in North Yorkshire (here).

April 2023: Untagged male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from an active nest on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve in Cumbria (here).

April 2023: Another untagged male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from an active nest on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve in Cumbria (here).

April 2023: Untagged male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from an active nest in Durham (see here).

4/5 May 2023: Satellite-tagged hen harrier (ID not yet released) ‘disappeared’ from grouse moor in Bowland AONB in Lancashire (here).

To be continued…….

Not one of these 94 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 NINETY FOUR 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.

Hen harrier ‘disappears’ in Bowland: Lancashire Police appeal for information

Lancashire Police are appealing for information after the sudden ‘disappearance’ of a satellite-tagged hen harrier earlier this month.

This was posted on the Lancashire Rural Police Facebook page yesterday:

Following information being received that a sat tagged hen harrier had gone missing, and the tag suffering catastrophic failure, we have been working with our colleagues in the National Wildlife Crime Unit to try to locate the bird.

Today we have conducted a section 19 search, utilising tracking equipment, where the harrier was last known to be, this was in the Mallowdale area near to Kirkby Lonsdale.

Unfortunately we were not successful in locating the bird, which went missing over the 4th and 5th May, we are asking for anyone who has any information to contact Lancashire Police Rural Crime Task force via 101 or email and quote log number LC-20230516-0307‘.

There aren’t yet any further details about which hen harrier this is.

The harrier ‘disappeared’ the same day that the RSPB announced that 20 hen harriers had ‘vanished’ in the last year alone, most of them on grouse moors (here) and the day before Natural England described the mutilation of another hen harrier, whose leg and head had been ripped off whilst the bird was still alive (here).

The latest disappearance took place a week before the RSPB published a new scientific paper which confirms the ongoing and illegal killing of hen harriers on UK grouse moors (see here).

The latest ‘disappearance’ also coincided with Natural England’s announcement that the five-year hen harrier brood meddling ‘trial’ (conservation sham) is set to continue for a further five years (here), despite knowing that at least 92 hen harriers have been confirmed killed or have ‘disappeared’ since the ‘trial’ began in 2018 (here).

Now there’s yet another one to add to the list. This is the 8th hen harrier to ‘vanish’ since the start of this year, and it’s still only May.

How many more?

UPDATE 19th May 2023: The Forest of Bowland AONB posted the following on its website yesterday:

Yesterday, Lancashire Police’s Rural Crime Taskforce reported the disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier in the Forest of Bowland AONB. 

The bird went missing, with the tag suffering catastrophic failure, over 4th/ 5th May in Mallowdale, an area of moorland to the south of the village of Wray.  The Rural Taskforce and National Wildlife Crime Unit have since carried out a search of the area but have been unsuccessful in locating the missing bird.

Lancashire Police have issued an appeal to the public for information.  Please contact the Rural Crime Taskforce via 101 or email and quote log number LC-20230516-0307.

Elliott Lorimer, Forest of Bowland AONB Partnership Manager commented:

“The disappearance and failure of this satellite tagged Hen harrier is very concerning.  The Forest of Bowland is often considered a stronghold for this protected species, with conservation efforts in the area aiding the recovery of this threatened bird.  So, any loss in such circumstances is particularly upsetting.  I would strongly urge members of the public to contact Lancashire Police if they have any information that could relate to the disappearance of this bird.”


Job vacancies: 2 x Investigations Officers, RSPB Scotland

Here are two rare opportunities to join the RSPB’s Investigations Team in Scotland, on the frontline of tackling the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey.

Here is the job spec, announced today:

Position 1: Full-time, 37.5 hrs per week, permanent.

Position 2: Full-time, 37.5 hrs per week, fixed-term until 31st March 2025.

Salary range: £30,940 to £33,215 per annum.

Closing date: Sunday 11th June 2023.

The RSPB Investigations team has two vacancies in Scotland, and is looking for enthusiastic, organised and committed individuals to join us in helping ensure a better future for our wildlife. This is a rare opportunity to join a dedicated team in the fight against wildlife crime and to really make a difference!

Across Scotland, our magnificent birds of prey continue to be illegally persecuted, with some of our rarest species such as golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines regularly targeted. These two roles will be focussed on fieldwork, with the aim of detecting, recording, analysis and dissemination of information on wildlife crime, particularly in relation to priority species and habitats.

An RSPB Investigator collecting a poisoned golden eagle. Photo: RSPB

If you could thrive in a dynamic, challenging environment where you will have the opportunity to contribute your own ideas within a unique and specialised team, then this could be the perfect opportunity for you!

The successful applicant will need to be based in Scotland and prepared to travel throughout the Scottish uplands and occasionally further afield. Some evening and/or weekend work may also be required.

What’s the role about?

These roles involve working on the front line, following up reports of dead birds, monitoring the nests of some of our rarest breeding species, and carrying out targeted fieldwork in areas with a history of criminal activity. 

An enthusiastic, professional approach to fieldwork is essential. You will be spending a lot of time outside in remote upland environments where excellent navigation skills, confidence in working alone, and health & safety awareness are imperative. You will also need excellent bird identification skills and a comprehensive working knowledge of Scotland’s birds of prey.

Engagement with external partners such as the police and statutory agencies through providing advice, expert witness, and investigative help will be a key part of the role.

You need to be robust, persistent, focused, show initiative and be able to work calmly in pressured situations. 

Essential skills, knowledge and experience:

  • A degree in ecology or conservation and/or relevant practical experience
  • Ability to undertake demanding fieldwork in remote locations, whether alone or as part of a small team, in all weather and over rough terrain
  • Comprehensive knowledge of wild birds, with experience in raptor monitoring
  • Knowledge of Scottish wildlife protection legislation
  • Knowledge of RSPB’s Investigations team priorities and work
  • Experience of practical conservation delivery in support of species & habitat conservation
  • Proven IT skills including MS Office software especially Excel, Outlook and Teams
  • A confident and personable manner, able to liaise professionally with enforcement partners, and also to handle reports of wildlife crime with understanding and empathy, sometimes in sensitive situations
  • Full, manual driving licence, valid in the UK

Desirable skills, knowledge and experience:

  • Knowledge of gamebird management practices
  • Experience of specialist software eg GIS
  • Experience of working with Police standards for information management/best practice, and/or statutory agencies, media, or law enforcement partners
  • Knowledge of data protection regulations
  • Knowledge and experience in the use of satellite transmitters to monitor birds of prey
  • Confident speaking in public eg. giving presentations, media interviews or giving evidence in court

We are looking to fill two roles as part of this vacancy:

  • One is a permanent position working 37.5 hours per week;
  • The other is a fixed-term contract until 31 March 2025, also working 37.5 hours per week. The RSPB reserves the right to extend or make this role permanent without further advertising dependent on business needs at the end of the contract term.

We are looking to conduct interviews for these positions from 19th June 2023. For further information please contact

As part of this application process you will be asked to complete an application form including evidence on how you meet the skills, knowledge, and experience listed above.

We are committed to developing an inclusive and diverse RSPB, in which everyone feels supported, valued, and able to be their full selves. To achieve our vision of creating a world richer in nature, we need more people, and more diverse people, on nature’s side. People of colour and disabled people are currently underrepresented across the environment, climate, sustainability, and conservation sector. If you identify as a person of colour and/or disabled, we are particularly interested in receiving your application. Contact us to discuss any additional support you may need to complete your application.

The RSPB is a licenced sponsor. This role is eligible for UK Visa Sponsorship

The RSPB is an equal opportunities employer. This role is covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

To apply, please click here.