Scottish Environment Minister visits grouse moor in Strathbraan where two golden eagles ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances

Back in September, Scottish Environment Minister Mairi McAllan was taken to visit a grouse moor in the notorious Strathbraan area of Perthshire.

Regular blog readers will know that Strathbraan is dominated by a number of estates with driven grouse moors and the area has been identified in a Government-commissioned report as being a hotspot for raptor persecution, particularly golden eagles, of which at least seven have ‘disappeared’ in recent years, including one whose tag was found a few years later, wrapped in lead sheeting (to block the signal) and dumped in the river (here).

[Utterly depressing intensively-managed grouse moor in Strathbraan. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

And then there was the suspicious disappearance of a white-tailed eagle (here), an illegally-trapped hen harrier called Rannoch (here), the suspicious disappearance of a hen harrier called Heather (here), the illegally shot peregrine (here), the long-eared owl held illegally in a trap (here), the ~100 corvids found dumped in a loch (here), the failed raven cull demanded by Strathbraan gamekeepers but thinly-disguised as something else (here), the subsequent illegal shooting of two ravens on two separate grouse moors in Strathbraan, the post mortem of one of them showing that not only had it been shot, it had most likely been stamped on repeatedly (here), and most recently the three-year General Licence restriction imposed on a Strathbraan grouse-shooting estate for wildlife crimes (here), a decision based on evidence provided by Police Scotland.

It’s quite the location, isn’t it? How odd then, that Scotland’s Moorland Forum would chose to take the Environment Minister for a visit. What was the purpose?

Judging by this tweet from Hugh Raven, it was to show the Minister ‘the skilled moorland management‘ at Auchnafree Estate, among ‘the beautiful Perthshire hills‘. Good grief.

I wonder if they talked about the ongoing raptor persecution in the Strathbraan area? And did they discuss the suspicious disappearance of the two satellite-tagged golden eagles, Adam & Charlie, who both vanished without trace on Auchnafree Estate on 18th April 2019?

When challenged about the visit on Twitter by the Scottish Raptor Study Group, Hugh claimed the estate had been “fully exonerated“:

Fully exonerated“? Really? By whom?

As I wrote at the time of Adam and Charlie’s suspicious disappearance, there was no evidence found during the subsequent police search to suggest that Auchnafree Estate employees were involved. Is that the same as being “fully exonerated“?

The ‘skilled moorland management’ at Auchnafree Estate was in focus again this morning on the BBC’s Farming Today radio programme. The head gamekeeper was recorded talking about the so-called benefits of grouse moor management on the estate; an opinion that went unchallenged by the BBC presenter accompanying him on the moor.

Funnily enough, I didn’t hear any discussion about illegal raptor persecution on the grouse moors of Strathbraan nor any mention of our two missing golden eagles on Auchnafree Estate.

Fortunately, Max Wiszniewski (Campaign Manager at REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform) was invited on to the second part of the programme and spoke well about the economic, environmental and societal limitations and damage of grouse moor management. Well done, Max!

The programme is available to listen to for 29 days here (starts at 06:15 mins).

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

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

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

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

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

Today the list has been updated to include the most recently reported victim, a young satellite-tagged hen harrier called ‘Sia’ that ‘disappeared’ on 10th October 2022 and is 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 73 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 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).

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).

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

To be continued……..

Not one of these 73 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 THREE 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 73 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.

Yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappears’ in suspicious circumstances in the North Pennines

Durham Constabulary have reported the suspicious disappearance of a young satellite-tagged hen harrier called ‘Sia’.

[‘Sia’ after being satellite-tagged in southern Scotland earlier this year. The tag was sponsored by the Lothian & Borders Raptor Study Group]

This is the press statement issued yesterday (4th November 2022):

Officers team up with partners in search for missing hen harrier

Officers have teamed up with partner agencies to investigate a suspected case of raptor persecution.

Led by Wildlife Officer, PC Dave Williamson, members of the Barnard Castle Neighbourhood Policing Team, RSPB, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Police Scotland carried out a search in an area close to Hamsterley Forest on Wednesday morning (November 2).

The activity came after a 2022 female hen harrier called Sia, from Southern Scotland, went missing in the area on October 10 when her tag stopped transmitting.

It is believed the protected species could have been shot down or killed unlawfully.

PC David Williamson, who led the operation, said: “We will always do everything we can to act on information received about alleged criminal activity.

“I would encourage anyone with information about this suspected crime to get in touch.”  

If you have any information call 101 quoting incident reference number 79 of October 19, email PC Williamson at david.williamson@durham.police.uk or contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

There’s no detail provided about the last known location of Sia, nor of the area searched last Wednesday, but it’ll come as no surprise to anyone to see that the area next to Hamsterley Forest is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting:

A scientific study published in 2019 showed that hen harriers are ten times more likely to disappear/be killed over areas of land managed for grouse shooting relative to other land uses.

Sia isn’t the first satellite-tagged hen harrier to ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances in the North Pennines. Just looking at the data since 2018, there have been seven others:

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

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

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

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

And of course, it’s not just the North Pennines where they ‘vanish’. Since 2018, at least 72 hen harriers are known to have either been killed or to have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, mostly on or close to grouse moors across the UK. I’ll now have to update that list to 73, and counting.

Why does it keep happening? Simple. Nobody has been caught or prosecuted in any of these 73 cases, the chances of anyone being caught or prosecuted are virtually none existent, and so there is absolutely no deterrent whatsoever to stop this happening again and again and again.

In addition, this systemic criminality is being enabled by a series of DEFRA Ministers who repeatedly and resolutely display wilful blindness at every opportunity (e.g. see here).

This cannot continue.

Convicted Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Davies had ‘formed a close bond’ with another animal-fighting sadist

An article in today’s Daily Record reports that Rhys Davies, the Millden Estate gamekeeper jailed earlier this year for his involvement in depraved badger-baiting crimes (see here), had ‘formed a close bond’ with another animal-fighting sadist, Anthony Holloway.

[Convicted Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Davies]

According to today’s article, Holloway, 30, who is described as ‘a big player in the pit bull fighting scene‘ and, according to the Scottish SPCA’s Special Investigations Unit (here), ‘a significant member of organised dog fighting and badger baiting in Scotland and throughout the UK‘, sent disturbing videos to Rhys Davies, and others, depicting animal mutilation and footage of his dogs pulling badgers from their setts before being killed. The pair were also exchanging information regarding dog breeds and talking about what dogs are best for killing what animals, be it badger or fox. 

Whilst Davies received an eight-month custodial sentence, Holloway and another accomplice escaped jail, as I blogged previously (see here).

Today’s Daily Record article can be read here, but beware, it contains graphic video footage.

The gruesome offences of these men only came to the attention of the authorities after criminal mastermind Davies sent ‘trophy’ photographs of mutilated dogs and wildlife to an online ‘photobook’ shop and the shop assistant alerted the Scottish SPCA. It’s that ‘trophy’ fetish again that I was discussing just a few days ago (here).

The Scottish SPCA’s Special Investigations Unit deserves full credit for getting these monsters into court. And although the sentences handed down were pathetic, tougher penalties are now in place in Scotland for animal cruelty and wildlife crime.  New legislation enacted in December 2020 (the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020), increased the maximum penalty for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife crimes (including badger baiting) to five years imprisonment and unlimited fines. Unfortunately, Holloway & Davies’ crimes were uncovered prior to the new legislation being enacted so it couldn’t be applied retrospectively.

Hopefully we’ll soon be hearing about the Scottish Government’s ‘Independent Taskforce review’ into whether the SSPCA should be given increased powers to tackle other wildlife crimes, including raptor persecution. The Taskforce is due to report by the end of 2022 and the Scottish Government has made clear that the findings will be considered as part of the draft Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill.

I’d argue that if the SSPCA can deal with the prosecution and conviction of organised crime gangs involved with badger-baiting and dog-fighting, then they’re certainly well-equipped to deal with the raptor killers.

Grouse moor management in Scotland: Government launches public consultation

Today, the Scottish Government has launched a public consultation as the start of its commitment to introduce a licensing scheme for grouse moor management, following the publication of the Werritty Review in 2019, which was commissioned in 2017 after unequivocal evidence was published of the on-going illegal killing of golden eagles on some Scottish grouse moors.

That illegal killing continues, as evidenced by this young golden eagle recently found poisoned on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park laying next to a dead mountain hare that had been used as the poisoned bait (photo by RSPB Scotland).

As is so often the case, nobody has been charged or prosecuted for this hideous wildlife crime, which is a fundamental reason why the Govt is introducing a licencing scheme, presumably as a means of sanctioning an estate (by withdrawing its licence) when evidence of wildlife crime is discovered. Without knowing the exact details of how the licensing scheme will operate, it’s impossible at this stage to predict its effectiveness. There are many sceptics, and I’m one of them, but I’m also certain that the status quo is untenable and so I view licensing as a step in the right direction, but definitely not the end of the road.

The Government’s licensing consultation preamble reads as follows:

‘A Stronger & More Resilient Scotland: The Programme for Government 2022-23 which was published on the 8 September 2022 committed to introducing the following Bill:

Wildlife Management (Grouse)

The Bill will implement the recommendations of the Werritty Review and introduce licensing for grouse moor management to ensure that the management of driven grouse moors and related activities is undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner. The Bill will also include provisions to ban glue traps.

In November 2020, the Scottish Government published its response to the recommendations made by the Grouse Moor Management Group (“Werritty review”).  That report was commissioned by the Scottish Government in response to a report from NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage), published in May 2017, which found that around a third of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland disappeared in suspicious circumstances, on or around grouse moors.

The Werritty review made over 40 recommendations regarding grouse moor management. The recommendations, which were accepted by the Scottish Government, seek to address raptor persecution and ensure that the management of grouse moors is undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner.

As well as proposals relating to grouse moor management, this consultation also considers glue traps. A report from the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission, published on 23 March 2021 stated that

‘……the animal welfare issues connected with the use of glue traps would justify an immediate outright ban on their sale and use. This is our preferred recommendation‘.

This consultation is therefore seeking your views on the Scottish Government’s proposals on:

*Grouse moor licensing

*Muirburn

*Trapping (wildlife traps, glue traps, snares)

You can complete all the sections in the consultation or only those sections which are of interest/relevance to you’.

ENDS

The Government’s proposals for its grouse moor licensing scheme are laid out here:

I haven’t yet looked at the consultation paper so I can’t offer any comments or suggested responses yet but I will do very soon. The consultation will close on 14th December 2022.

The link to the consultation questionnaire can be found HERE.

UPDATE 26th October 2022: REVIVE coalition cautiously welcomes Scot Gov’s consultation on grouse moor licensing (here)

UPDATE 27th October 2022: Grouse shooting lobby quietly seething over proposed licensing scheme (here)

Book review: The Hen Harrier’s Year by Ian Carter & Dan Powell

For anyone who wants to learn more about the life history and ecology of the hen harrier, but has been put off by dry, academic scripts, this is the book for you.

Ian Carter has done a wonderful job of assimilating the scientific knowledge about the hen harrier and presenting it in such an engaging format that you’re left deciding whether to turn the page or grab your coat to go in search of this precious species.

The book’s title is an accurate reflection of the content, explaining what the hen harrier is likely to be doing during each month of the year. The text is beautifully and copiously illustrated by Dan Powell’s watercolours, with additional field notes from Dan.

No book about the hen harrier would be complete without a commentary on the illegal persecution it suffers at the hands of the grouse-shooting industry and Ian provides a good overview of this with a whole chapter entitled ‘Conflict on the Grouse Moor’, cleverly sandwiched between the months of June and July when young hen harriers should be fledging and dispersing had their parents not been targeted by the gamekeepers.

As an aside, prior to this book the main text available for those seeking to learn about the hen harrier was Donald Watson’s classic Poyser monograph, published in 1977, where he, too, wrote about the illegal persecution wrought on this species. It’s very telling that 45 years later, the carnage continues and at such a scale that Ian’s figures on it are already out of date:

Since 2018, more than 50 birds have been killed or have disappeared in suspicious circumstances (based on reliable data from their tags)” (p.99).

Presumably Ian wrote this text in 2021. One year later and the current number of hen harriers known to have been killed or to have disappeared in suspicious circumstances is 72 (see here).

I’ve followed Ian on Twitter for several years and have admired his clarity of thought and reasoning. This book mirrors that style and he writes with the understated, gentle authority of someone who’s not only read widely, but has also spent time in the field. His description of the ‘appealing ritual’ of attending a communal winter roost in search of harriers in December (p.145-147) will resonate with those who have congregated on the bone-chilling edges of saltwater mashes and fens in the hope of catching a glimpse of the elusive grey ghost.

The Hen Harrier’s Year by Ian Carter and Dan Powell is now available from Pelagic Publishing (here) for £26.

Scottish Land & Estates still refusing to acknowledge extent of raptor persecution on grouse moors

In the last blog post where I wrote about the nine shot birds of prey found wrapped in bags on Millden Estate and just over the estate boundary, I included a quote from Tim Baynes of Scottish Land & Estates, who had written the following in a comment piece for The Field, published in August 2022:

Raptor persecution has been the stick with which grouse moors were beaten for two decades, but the past five years have seen a sea change. In Scotland, recorded crimes have effectively ceased on grouse moors, and raptors of all species have been increasing“.

I said I’d publish his outrageous comment piece in full, so here it is:

I really shouldn’t be surprised that The Field published this nonsense – that particular shooting industry rag has a track record of publishing patently inaccurate comment pieces (e.g. see here).

And I’m definitely not surprised that the author of this latest gibberish is Tim Baynes – his lengthy track record speaks for itself (for a small selection of the masses of examples see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

Needless to say, his latest claim that raptor persecution on Scottish grouse moors has “effectively ceased” is demonstrably untrue. You’ve only got to read my last blog post to understand this. If that doesn’t convince you, have a look at the General Licence restrictions currently imposed on grouse moor estates after Police Scotland found ‘clear evidence of raptor persecution’ – Leadhills Estate (here), Lochan Estate (here), Leadhills Estate [again] (here), Invercauld Estate (here), and Moy Estate (here).

And if you still need convincing, have a read of the Scottish Government’s Environment Minister’s statement in 2020 when she announced that there could be no further delay to the introduction of a grouse moor licensing scheme because:

“…despite our many attempts to address this issue, every year birds of prey continue to be killed or disappear in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors“.

Perhaps Tim Baynes’ perpetual denial of the bleedin’ obvious explains why he is no longer employed as ‘Director of Moorland’ at Scottish Land & Estates:

Nine raptors found shot & dumped in bags outside gamekeeper’s houses on Millden Estate and at the nearby River Esk in the Angus Glens

News has emerged that a total of nine birds of prey (eight buzzards and a sparrowhawk) have been found shot dead and dumped in bags in the Angus Glens.

We already knew about three of those shot buzzards (see here and here). They were found in bags outside two gamekeeper’s residences during a joint Scottish SPCA/Police Scotland raid on Millden Estate in October 2019 as part of an investigation into the criminal activities of depraved gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies, who was convicted in May this year for vile animal abuse and received a custodial sentence in August 2022 (here).

Nobody was charged for the killing or possession of those three shot buzzards (although Police Scotland had identified a suspect, the Crown Office chose not to pursue a prosecution – see here) and the news about those three shot buzzards only emerged this year after I’d spent two and a half years asking Police Scotland for details. For unknown reasons, Police Scotland chose not to issue a public appeal for information about those three illegally-killed raptors.

I can now reveal that those three shot buzzards weren’t the only ones found dead in the Angus Glens that Police Scotland was keeping out of the news.

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

Rumours have been circulating for a while that even more dead raptors had been found in connection to the raid on Millden Estate so last month I submitted another FoI to Police Scotland to request confirmation and this is the response I’ve just received:

So that’s a total of nine shot raptors, all found in bags. Note Police Scotland’s careful wording that the third bag containing six shot raptors was found at ‘a second location‘. I understand that this bag wasn’t found on Millden Estate but was discovered nearby on the bank of the River Esk, beyond the estate’s boundary.

This is a shocking story for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the number of dead raptors found shot and dumped in bags in this area of the Angus Glens, but secondly the decision of Police Scotland to keep quiet about them all for almost three years.

Whose interests are served by such silence? Not the public’s interest, that’s for sure, but the interests of the grouse-shooting industry, whose representatives are busily claiming that, “In Scotland, recorded [raptor persecution] crimes have effectively ceased on grouse moors” (Tim Baynes of Scottish Land & Estates writing in the August 2022 edition of The Field – I’ll publish his outrageous opinion piece shortly).

It’s just not good enough from Police Scotland. And this isn’t an isolated case either. More on another case shortly….

Natural England utterly compromised on tackling hen harrier persecution

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]

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.

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