General Licence restriction imposed on Moy, a grouse-shooting estate, after discovery of poisoned red kite

Press release from NatureScot, 21st June 2022:

General Licence restricted on Highland estate

NatureScot has restricted the use of General Licences on Moy Estate for three years

The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

This evidence included a poisoned red kite found on the estate in 2020, and incidents in relation to trapping offences.

[Red kite. Photographer unknown]

Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s Head of Wildlife Management, said: “We consider the information from Police Scotland provides robust evidence that wild birds have been killed or taken or there has been intention to do so illegally on this land.

“Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the use of general licences on this property for three years until June 2025. They may still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

“NatureScot is committed to using all the tools we have available to tackle wildlife crime. This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, although under tighter supervision.

“We believe this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime. We will continue to work closely with Police Scotland and consider information they provide on cases which may warrant restricting general licences.”

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out control of common species of wild birds, such as crows and magpies, to protect crops or livestock, without the need to apply for an individual licence.

In addition to this restriction, there are currently three other restrictions in place on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, Lochan Estate in Perthshire and Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire.

ENDS

The restriction notice reads as follows:

In line with NatureScot’s published General Licence restrictions: Framework for Implementing Restrictions we hereby give notice that a restriction has been applied to the land outlined in red overleaf. This restriction prohibits the use of General Licences 01, 02 and 03 on that land between 21st June 2022 and 21st June 2025.

Please note that this restriction does not imply responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals.

This one has been a long time coming. Moy is one of those estates where if its name comes up in conversation amongst raptor conservationists in Scotland, eyes tend to roll and knowing looks are exchanged. It has been identified as a raptor persecution hotspot for many, many years.

Here is a map we created way back in 2016 to highlight the extent of raptor persecution crimes in former Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s constituency (given his strong support of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association) and this shows the concentration of incidents on and close to Moy Estate:

Here is a selection of examples, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:

Moy Estate was raided by police in 2010 after the discovery of poisoned bait and dead raptors and illegally set traps. A gamekeeper was later convicted of possession of a red kite after its bloodied corpse was found in the back of his vehicle. It had two broken legs, consistent with being caught in spring traps, and a head injury. A bloodied shinty stick was also found in the back of the vehicle. Notably, the gamekeeper wasn’t convicted for killing the kite, just for having possession of it. Nobody was charged with killing this kite.

These baited traps were discovered on the moor (the illegally-set spring traps were originally disguised under moss, removed here for evidential purposes). No charges were brought.

The remains of two further red kites were discovered on the moor, including a severed red kite leg and some wing tags that had previously been fitted to a kite, all found buried in holes under some moss. No charges were brought.

A jar in one of the gamekeeper’s houses contained the leg rings of four young golden eagles – nobody could account for how they had ended up inside that jar. Perhaps he’d found them whilst ‘metal detecting at his uncle’s farm’ like gamekeeper Archie Watson, who recently gave this implausible explanation to the court for how he’d come to possess BTO leg rings from a buzzard and a red kite attached to his keyring.

This male hen harrier was found caught by its leg in an illegally-set spring trap on Moy Estate in 2010. No charges were brought. It survived after being rescued by raptor workers from the Scottish Raptor Study Group.

In May 2011 a satellite-tracked red kite ‘disappeared’ on Moy, and another one ‘disappeared’ in August 2011.

In 2016 Police Scotland issued an appeal for information following the discovery of disturbed and abandoned buzzard and goshawk nests in the Moy Forest. One goshawk and four buzzard nests were abandoned in suspicious circumstances, with some evidence of illegal disturbance. These nests were being monitored by staff from Forestry Enterprise Scotland (see here). No charges were brought.

In 2017 masked gunmen were caught on camera at a goshawk nest in Moy Forest. A few days later the nest and a clutch of four eggs was found abandoned (see here). No charges were brought.

In 2018 Police Scotland issued an appeal for information after a buzzard was found caught in an illegal pole trap in the Moy area (see here). No charges were brought.

In 2021 an individual was charged with the alleged killing of a bird of prey in this area. This case is believed to be progressing through the courts so I can’t comment further at this stage.

Of course, a General Licence restriction doesn’t amount to much of a sanction in real terms, as I’ve discussed on this blog endless times before (e.g. see here). However, it’s currently the only tool available to the authorities until we finally see the introduction of the promised grouse moor licensing scheme by the Scottish Government. Had that scheme been in place already, we’d hopefully have seen the removal of Moy Estate’s licence to shoot for a number of years, if not permanently.

Meanwhile, what will be really interesting to see is whether the Moy Game Fair goes ahead this year, given that the shooting organisations have all claimed to have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution. I don’t think the likes of Scottish Land & Estates, Fergus Ewing MSP and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association can expect anything other than high-level criticism if they attend this event on an estate that has now been sanctioned for wildlife crimes by the statutory nature conservation advisor, based on evidence provided by Police Scotland. Mind you, the conviction of a gamekeeper on Moy Estate in 2011 didn’t stop them attending (see here and here).

Another gamekeeper convicted for poison offences on a pheasant shoot, but not charged for poisoned kite & shot buzzard

David Matthews, a gamekeeper with 50 years experience, has been convicted at Wrexham Magistrates Court for poison offences uncovered on the McAlpine Estate in Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, North Wales, where he has worked for 25 years.

In February 2021 a dead red kite was found on the estate by a member of the public and a later toxicology analysis revealed it had been poisoned with Bendiocarb.

[The poisoned red kite. Photo by RSPB]

When RSPB Investigations Officers subsequently visited the McAlpine Estate they found a dead buzzard inside a pheasant release pen. When the body was x-rayed, a piece of shot could be seen lodged in the bird’s skull.

[The shot buzzard found inside the pheasant release pen. Photo by RSPB]

A multi-agency search in October 2021 by North Wales Police, the Welsh Government, RSPB and the National Wildlife Crime Unit uncovered an unlocked barn containing 18 highly toxic products, including Cymag which has been banned since 2004. They also found the remains of a pheasant, inside a game bag on a bonfire site inside a pheasant release pen. The pheasant tested positive for Bendiocarb. Another dead buzzard was too badly decomposed to be tested.

Gamekeeper Matthews pleaded guilty to one charge relating to the possession of unauthorised pesticides. He received a total fine of £219.

You can read the full details of this case on the RSPB’s blog here.

In that blog, the RSPB state, ‘It remains unknown who killed the buzzard and the kite‘.

I’m pretty sure that the RSPB investigators, just like the rest of us, have a pretty good idea who might have been responsible but presumably there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone. Such is the nature of this game that it would be libellous to suggest a suspect.

It seems odd to me, though, that a gamekeeper who had worked on the estate for 25 years wouldn’t have noticed someone laying poisoned baits, placing the bait inside a game bag and leaving it on a bonfire site inside a pheasant release pen, and shooting dead a buzzard and leaving its corpse inside a pheasant release pen.

His £219 fine makes a total mockery of the system. Had this case been in Scotland, the fine for possessing an unauthorised poison would now be £40,000. That’s a serious deterrent.

£219 is not.

This is the reality and I’ll be reminding DEFRA Minister Lord Benyon of this the next time he repeats the Westminister Government’s tediously predictable claim that raptor-killing criminals face ‘significant sanctions…including an unlimited fine and/or a six month custodial sentence‘ (e.g. see this from Environment Minister Rebecca Pow in September 2021, and this from Richard Benyon in February 2022, and this from Rebecca Pow in February 2022, and this from Richard Benyon in April 2022).

Matthews is the 7th gamekeeper to be convicted in seven months across England, Scotland and Wales. There are still multiple cases pending court in the coming months. Clear evidence then that the game-shooting industry’s supposed ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards raptor persecution is simply just rhetoric and that the Government’s so-called ‘significant sanctions’ are complete bollocks.

The other convicted gamekeepers in recent months are:

Gamekeeper Shane Leech who was convicted in November 2021 for firearms and pesticides offences after the discovery of a poisoned buzzard found close to pheasant-rearing pens in Lakenheath, Suffolk (here);

Gamekeeper Peter Givens who was convicted in November 2021 for causing the death of a goshawk and a barn owl which starved to death in an illegally-operated trap on the Cathpair Estate in the Scottish Borders (here);

Gamekeeper Hilton Prest who was convicted in December 2021 for causing a sparrowhawk to starve to death in an illegally-operated trap in Cheshire (here);

Gamekeeper John Orrey who was convicted in January 2022 for battering to death two buzzards he’d caught in a cage trap on a pheasant shoot in Nottinghamshire (here);

Gamekeeper Rhys Davies from the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, Scotland, who was convicted in May 2022 for animal cruelty relating to badger baiting (he’ll be sentenced at the end of June – here);

Gamekeeper Archie Watson who was convicted in June 2022 for raptor persecution and firearms offences after he was filmed throwing 8 dead raptors down a well on a pheasant-shoot in Wiltshire (here).

Well done to the multi-agency search team involved in bringing David Matthews to court.

BBC’s Countryfile to feature #EagleGate

Tomorrow’s edition of Countryfile will include a feature on the continued illegal killing of birds of prey in the UK, focusing on the recent poisonings of at least two white-tailed eagles in southern England (the one in Dorset and the one in West Sussex).

Filming took place last week and lovely presenter Charlotte Smith interviewed a number of people including Paul Morton (representing Birds of Poole Harbour) and me (representing Wild Justice) as we enjoyed a boat trip along the Wareham Channel looking for eagles, ospreys, marsh harriers and peregrines.

They also managed to bag an interview with Chris Loder MP, the local politician who didn’t want Dorset Police to investigate the eagle poisoning and I believe there’ll be contributions (probably denials and abuse) from Tim Bonner (Countryside Alliance) and perhaps statements from Dorset Police and the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner, David Sidwick.

I’m hoping they asked Chris Loder MP what he thought David Sidwick meant when he told Loder: ‘You and I need to get our ducks in the row on this one‘ while discussing the murky police investigation into the poisoned eagle in Dorset.

I’ve no idea how the final edit will be presented, this is the BBC after all and they’ll want to be seen as being scrupulously impartial, which is fair enough.

I’m just delighted that they’ve chosen to feature the raptor persecution issue at all, and that six million viewers will learn that even though this is the 21st Century, eagles and many other raptor species are still being deliberately poisoned/trapped/shot in this country, predominantly by members of the game-shooting industry. No matter which part of the interviews the editors choose to show in the final cut, that is the message that the viewers will remember and it’s the most important message of all.

Countryfile airs on Sunday 12th June 2022 on BBC 1 at 7pm and will be available on iPlayer for 12 months.

Wildlife Crime Working Group seeks (& receives) assurance from Sussex Police re: poisoned eagle investigation

In February this year, I blogged about the suspicious deaths of two white-tailed eagles on two separate game-shooting estates – one in Dorset and the other one rumoured to be in West Sussex (see here).

Both eagles were from the Isle of Wight Reintroduction Project – a privately-funded but Government-backed five-year project bringing young sea eagles from Scotland and releasing them on the Isle of Wight to re-establish this species in part of its former range.

[A juvenile white-tailed eagle. Photographer unknown]

The dead eagle found poisoned on an unnamed shooting estate in Dorset remains an ongoing issue of concern, not least because Dorset Police chose to close the investigation prematurely without a proper explanation (see here, and more on that case shortly).

The dead eagle found poisoned on an unnamed shooting estate in West Sussex has received less attention, although in April I revealed this eagle had been poisoned with Bendiocarb and that toxicology results from a dead dog found on the same shooting estate were pending (see here).

The reason this eagle poisoning case has received less attention is simply down to the fact that Sussex Police has failed to publicise the crime, even though it took place seven months ago (Oct 2021)! However, I was pleased to see The Independent picked up the story from this blog, as did The Telegraph, so it did make the national news but we’ve heard nothing more from Sussex Police.

To ensure that Sussex Police doesn’t ‘do a Dorset Police’ and drop this investigation without an explanation, Wildlife & Countryside LINK’s Wildlife Crime Working Group, England’s largest coalition of organisations working to tackle wildlife crime, has written to the Chief Constable of Sussex Police seeking assurance to that effect.

Here’s the letter that was sent last week:

To her absolute credit, Chief Constable Jo Shiner phoned LINK that afternoon to reassure the Wildlife Crime Working Group that the Sussex investigation is very much ongoing and that she understands the need for possible raptor persecution crimes to be looked at closely. I’m told, by people who know these things, that a fast and personal response like this is unheard of.

Compare and contrast Jo Shiner’s response to that of the Chief Constable of Dorset Police, who had also received a letter from LINK (see here) seeking an explanation about the Force’s failure to investigate the poisoned eagle found dead in Dorset. He has yet to reply.

I’m really pleased to see LINK’s Wildlife Crime Working Group applying pressure in these cases to ensure they’re taken seriously by the respective police forces (not that that should even be needed), but should it really be down to wildlife and conservation NGOs to do this? Surely this is what our statutory agencies should be doing? Wilful blindness, writ large, again.

Another dead buzzard in Dorset – Police warn public of suspected poisoned baits

Yet another dead buzzard has been found in North Dorset.

Whilst the cause of death has yet to be ascertained (presumably the carcass has been sent for post mortem), yesterday PC Rob Hammond warned the public to keep their dogs on leads to avoid the risk of them coming into contact with potential poisoned baits.

Well done to PC Hammond for putting out this timely warning. Even though poisoning has not yet been confirmed, the potential risk to the public and their dogs is high so he’s done exactly the right thing.

Dorset is fast becoming quite the hotspot for raptor persecution. I’ve been looking through some reports from the last few years and have found the following incidents of raptor persecution recorded in the county:

May 2018: Buzzard found shot dead (here).

May 2018: Suspicious deaths of two barn owls and several more buzzards (here).

March 2020: Disturbance of nesting peregrines (here).

April 2020: Several buzzards were found dead within close proximity to each other in the Ashmore Wood area near Blandford. These birds were sent for testing and enquiries remain ongoing (here).

August 2020: Two buzzards, one dead, were found near the body of a rabbit. An owl and a further two buzzards were also found. Analysis has confirmed Brodifacoum in the buzzard which is likely to have caused the death. The second buzzard and the owl had background residues and the analysis on the rabbit was negative.

September 2020: A dead buzzard was found on a bridleway, it had been shot.

November 2020: A dead red kite and rat were found near a footpath. Analysis has confirmed Bendiocarb in the stomach contents of the red kite and in pots removed from a vehicle and a sachet in a shed, which is likely to be the cause of death. No residues were found in the rat.

February 2021: A buzzard and a red kite were found in a wooded area. Analysis has confirmed Brodifacoum in the liver of the red kite which will have contributed to its death, the levels of Brodifacoum in the buzzard are borderline and uncertain if the exposure contributed to its death. 

March 2021: A multi-agency raid was carried out on a shooting estate in North Dorset. A number of dead birds of prey and several pesticides, including banned substances, were located at the premises. A firearm was also recovered (here).

January 2022: A dead white-tailed eagle was found poisoned on a shooting estate in North Dorset. The post mortem found its liver contained 7 x lethal dose of rodenticide Brodifacoum. Inexplicably, Dorset Police closed the investigation before conducting a search (here).

February 2022: Another white-tailed eagle was suspected to have been poisoned on another shooting estate in North Dorset. This one survived (here).

February 2022: A dead buzzard and a dead red kite are found dead on a shooting estate in North Dorset, suspected poisoned. Toxicology results awaited (here).

April 2022: A dead buzzard found dead in the Ashmore area. Toxicology results awaited.

It’s pretty clear that Dorset has a raptor persecution issue and I understand there are several more investigations that have yet to be reported in the public domain. Given these incidents, and more, it’s astonishing that the local MP, Chris Loder, thinks the police shouldn’t ‘waste resources’ on investigating wildlife crimes.

It’s even more astounding that Dorset Police shut down the poisoned eagle investigation, without conducting a search, and continue to refuse any explanation for their decision and yet still the top brass claim to be taking raptor persecution ‘seriously’, not that anyone believes them anymore.

It’s heartening then to see on-the-ground officers like PC Rob Hammond, trying to do the right thing. I wonder how long it’ll be before he’s told to drop the case and/or stop investigating wildlife crime, as has his colleague, PC Claire Dinsdale?

White-tailed eagle poisoned with banned pesticide on a game-shooting estate in West Sussex

In February this year, I blogged about the suspicious deaths of two white-tailed eagles on two separate game-shooting estates – one in Dorset and the other one rumoured to be in West Sussex (see here).

Both eagles were from the Isle of Wight Reintroduction Project – a Government-backed five-year project bringing young sea eagles from Scotland and releasing them on the Isle of Wight to re-establish this species in part of its former range.

[A juvenile white-tailed eagle. Photographer unknown]

The dead eagle found on a shooting estate in Dorset in January has barely been out of the news since then, not least because even though a post mortem found its liver contained 7 x the lethal dose of the rodenticide Brodifacoum, Dorset Police decided to shut down the investigation prematurely for reasons which are still to be established (see here).

The eagle rumoured to have been found dead on a shooting estate in West Sussex last October (2021) has received less media attention because, inexplicably, Sussex Police have failed to make a public statement about it.

Today, I can report that this white-tailed eagle was poisoned with the banned pesticide Bendiocarb, according to a recently published laboratory report. It reads:

A dog died and a sea eagle and buzzard were found dead. Analysis has confirmed bendiocarb in the stomach contents of the sea eagle which is an abuse of the product. Negative analysis for the buzzard‘.

Until recently, a product containing 80% Bendiocarb was available for registered use in England (it’s been banned in Scotland since 2005 and it’s so toxic that even possession of this pesticide is considered a serious offence there). However, approval for this particular product was withdrawn in England in December 2020. Another product containing a much lower concentration of Bendiocarb (1.25%) was re-approved for use in England in 2019 but with a significant caveat – it was for indoor use only.

So unless this sea eagle broke into secure premises, opened a few sachets with its nail scissors and scoffed the contents, it seems pretty likely that a serious wildlife crime has taken place, probably including the use of poisoned bait(s) laced with Bendiocarb.

The report mentions that the buzzard tested negative for Bendiocarb poisoning but it’s interesting that no results are provided for the dog. I wonder why that is?

The immediate questions, of course, are why Sussex Police have failed, after six months, to make a statement about such a high profile criminal investigation (I assume there is an investigation, but given what’s been going on in Dorset, then who knows?) and why Sussex Police have failed to warn the public that a dangerously toxic poison is in use in a particular area where the public may have access? (The banned product containing 80% Bendiocarb can have fatal consequences for humans [adults and children] if the product is swallowed or inhaled. You can expect the same result for a pet dog).

If you’re a West Sussex resident, may I suggest you contact your MP and ask what the hell is going on? Why are you being exposed to such risk without any public warning being issued? The police are supposed to be there to protect the public, not the poisoners.

If you’re a responsible game-shooter thinking about booking to attend a pheasant or partridge shoot in West Sussex this coming season, I hope you’ll carry out due diligence and boycott any estate involved.

UPDATE 16.50hrs: The Independent has picked up on this blog and published an article (here)

UPDATE 25th May 2022: Wildlife Crime Working Group seeks (& receives) assurance from Sussex Police re: poisoned eagle investigation (here)

Invercauld Estate in Cairngorms loses appeal against General Licence restriction imposed for wildlife crime

Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park has lost its appeal against a General Licence restriction that was imposed on the estate in February 2022 (see here) after Police Scotland provided the licensing authority (NatureScot) with evidence of wildlife crime against birds of prey on the estate, notably the discovery of a ‘deliberately poisoned’ golden eagle lying next to a poisoned hare bait in March 2021 (see here).

[Photo of the poisoned eagle & hare bait found on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Regular blog readers will know that the three-year General Licence restriction on the Gairnshiel & Micras part of Invercauld Estate took effect on 9th February 2022, prohibiting the use of General Licences 01, 02 and 03 on the estate until 9th February 2025 (see here).

The estate submitted a formal appeal against NatureScot’s restriction decision on 25th February 2022 and the official ‘restriction notice’ was removed from NatureScot’s website. I looked today and the notice has been reinstated, which I take to mean that the estate’s appeal has failed, in the same way that Lochan Estate’s recent appeal against restriction also failed (see here).

Here is the map from Naturescot showing the area of restriction on the Gairnshiel & Micras area of the estate:

If you’re at all familiar with Invercauld Estate you’ll recognise that this restriction area is only a small part of what is a massive grouse-shooting estate in the Cairngorms National Park (data from Andy Wightman’s excellent Who Owns Scotland website) rather than the restriction being applied across the entire estate, as seems to have been the case with other sanctioned estates:

I was curious about why the General Licence restriction was, well, restricted for want of a better term, to just the small area of Garnshiels and Micras, so I asked the licensing team at NatureScot about that decision.

The response from NatureScot was prompt (thank you!) and went like this:

‘…The decision was made on the basis that the evidence of crime provided [by Police Scotland] related to this one beat, rather than across the whole estate; and that the separate beats on this estate are managed independently of each other. Hence, the ultimate decision was to restrict to the beats where the evidence of crime occurred‘.

As many of you already know, the three-year General Licence restriction is barely worth the paper it’s written on because the estate can simply apply for ‘Individual licences’ (instead of relying on the General Licences) to continue its activities as before, albeit with the minor inconvenience of having to have a bit of a paper trail. This has been a major criticism of the General Licence restriction process ever since it began in 2014. This, combined with the shooting industry’s apparent reluctance to shun any estates where restrictions have been imposed for wildlife crime, means that the General Licence restriction is an utterly ineffective sanction (e.g. see here).

We were even provided with first-hand evidence of its ineffectiveness when further evidence of suspected wildlife crime was detected on two estates that were already serving a General Licence restriction for wildlife crime! Raeshaw Estate in the Scottish Borders had its Individual licences revoked (here) and Leadhills Estate was given a three-year extension to its original three-year General Licence restriction (here), a decision which it subsequently appealed and lost (here).

You may remember that in February, Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell asked Parliamentary questions about this absurd so-called sanction (see here); more on that shortly.

68 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 most recently reported victim, a young hen harrier called Oscar who had hatched in June and had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances by December (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 68 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 £10K bung from representatives of the grouse shooting industry that prevents Natural England from criticising them or the sham brood meddling trial (see 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)

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)

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)

To be continued……..

Not one of these 68 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 SIXTY EIGHT 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 herehere 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 68 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.

Thank you

Two gamekeepers expelled from BASC after wildlife crime convictions

The British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC) has expelled two of its members following convictions for wildlife crimes.

The two expelled members are gamekeeper Hilton Prest from Cheshire who was convicted in December 2021 and gamekeeper Shane Leech from Suffolk who was convicted in November 2021.

Unusually, BASC posted an announcement about the expulsions on its website last week:

I say ‘unusually’ because although I’m aware of previous expulsions from game-shooting organisations following wildlife crime convictions, these are not common and when they do happen we tend to see vague statements sometime later, such as, ‘The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has expelled five members in recent years‘, but there’s rarely any evidence provided by which to authenticate the claim.

I’d argue that this rare open & transparent statement from BASC is as a result of long-term campaigning by conservationists to get the shooting organisations to back up their claims of having ‘zero tolerance of raptor persecution’. I also see it as a sign that the shooting organisations are feeling the increasing pressure imposed by campaigners, forcing the shooting industry to show Government policy-makers that it can self-regulate and thus avoid the inevitable enforced regulation that is hurtling towards them in the near distance, following on the heels of the forthcoming regulation in Scotland.

Good work, everybody, and especially to the multi-agency teams (Suffolk & Cheshire Police, RSPB Investigations, Natural England, National Wildlife Crime Unit, Crown Prosecution Service) that secured the convictions of these two gamekeepers after months of painstaking work.

Police investigate after sudden death of white-tailed eagle on Isle of Wight

Another white-tailed eagle has died in southern England and another police investigation has been launched. This is the third one since October 2021 and all three investigations are focused on eagles from the Isle of Wight Reintroduction Project.

[A young white-tailed eagle, photo by Garth Peacock]

Hampshire Police have become involved after this latest eagle’s ‘sudden death’ on 24th February 2022. A post-mortem has revealed the eagle was carrying avian flu but this has not been confirmed as the cause of death and other evidence, not yet in the public domain, suggests there may be more to this than meets the eye.

Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, partners on the eagle reintroduction project, have issued a very carefully-worded statement:

A satellite-tracked White-tailed Eagle from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme was found dead on the Isle of Wight on 24 February 2022. Circumstances surrounding the sudden death of the bird are being investigated by Hampshire Police and partners.

During a post mortem examination it has been identified that the bird was carrying avian influenza, although it is unknown at this stage if this is related to the bird’s death and enquiries are continuing‘.

A spokesperson for Hampshire Constabulary said:

We were called shortly after 5pm on Thursday 24 February to a report of a dead sea eagle on Bowcombe Road on the Isle of Wight.

The investigation into the circumstances surrounding the animals death is ongoing.

We are not linking this to any other investigations at this time‘.

We are still waiting for the post-mortem and toxicology results to be published from the two other young sea eagles that have died in suspicious circumstances (see here). Both eagles were found dead on game-shooting estates, one in Sussex in October 2021 and one in Dorset in January 2022. Neither of them tested positive for avian flu.

There is ongoing police activity on both these cases, which may account for Dorset and Sussex police’s reluctance to release the post mortem results, but the longer this secrecy goes on, the more damaging to those force’s reputations when the results do finally emerge. And emerge they will, you can be sure of that.

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