RSPB’s 2021 Birdcrime report reveals second-highest figure on record

Last week the RSPB published its latest annual Birdcrime report covering the period Jan – Dec 2021.

The headlines from this rigorously-compiled data can be summarised as follows:

  • Protected birds of prey continue to be illegally killed in high numbers, particularly in relation to land managed for gamebird shooting
  • Birdcrime report reveals 80 of 108 confirmed incidents were in England alone: the second-highest figure for England on record
  • Norfolk is now the county with the worst record, followed by Dorset. North Yorkshire, which has topped the table for consecutive years, is now third.
  • ‘Nothing will change’ without urgent government action

The RSPB published two press releases about the report – one covering the crimes in England (here) and one covering the crimes in Scotland (here).

In 2021, yet again, over two thirds (71%) of all confirmed incidents of raptor persecution took place on land managed for gamebird shooting, where birds of prey are seen by some as a threat to gamebird stocks and illegally killed.

[Infographic from Birdcrime 2021]

Unsurprisingly, representatives from the game-shooting industry, all claiming to have ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution, have dismissed the data and some have gone as far as calling the RSPB ‘liars’.

The funniest response I’ve read so far is that written by the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group, who published this on Facebook:

‘The RSPB has released its Bird Crime Report and once again it predictably focuses an inordinate amount of attention on the gamekeeping profession. Why is the YDMG not embracing the report and working with the RSPB to improve the fortunes of moorland birds? Well to put it bluntly, the report is pure exaggeration, wordsmithing for self-promotion and simply the unjustified stigmatisation of a rural occupation and craft without basis. YDMG will refrain from using too many emotional remarks about the RSPB report but suffice it to say the moorland gamekeeping community is offended by the report and it’s [sic] misrepresentations…’.

It’s worth remembering that members of the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group, like so many of the other regional moorland groups, have for years been at the centre of police investigations into the illegal killing of birds of prey. Indeed, raptor persecution is such a problem in this area that the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has had to include the tackling of illegal raptor persecution as an objective in the Park’s official Management Plan (here) and last year was so incensed at the continued killing, the Park Authority was moved to issue a press statement about it (here).

Of course, disputing the RSPB’s persecution figures is now an annual pantomime by the game-shooting industry, because doing anything else would mean having to admit that some of their members are still killing these birds, nearly 70 years after it became illegal to do so. It seems it’s far easier for them to attack the reputation and credibility of the RSPB than get their own house in order and self-regulate.

In Scotland, this tactic worked for many years but eventually the weight of evidence against the grouse shooters was so great that the Scottish Government was forced to act and we now see the introduction of new legislation, brought in specifically to take action against those who continue to trap, poison and shoot birds of prey.

In England we still have a Government intent on wilful blindness, largely due to many in power having a vested interest in the game-shooting world. However, I read a tweet by ecologist and author Ian Carter recently, who often has a knack of hitting the nail on the head:

I think Ian is spot on with this and I think he summarises the views of many moderates on this subject, including mine.

The RSPB’s 2021 Birdcrime report can be downloaded below, along with the Data Appendices detailing the crimes:

RSPB Investigations Officer reflects on conviction of Norfolk raptor-killing gamekeeper Matthew Stroud

Last month, Norfolk gamekeeper Matthew Stroud, 46, of Fengate in Weeting was convicted of multiple offences including:

  • Three counts of using poisoned bait on or before 19 August 2021 and 14 September 2021.
  • Six counts of killing a Common Buzzard (a non-Schedule 1 wild bird) at Weeting between 10 August and 14 September 2021.
  • One count of intentionally killing a Northern Goshawk (a Schedule 1 wild bird) at Weeting on or about 10 August 2021.
  • One count of possessing a regulated substance – Strychnine Hydrochloride – without a licence on 14 September 2021.
  • One count of possessing 4 shotguns to kill a Schedule 1 wild bird on 14 September 2021.
  • One count of releasing 3,400 Common Pheasants into the wild between 1 June and 14 September 2021 contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
  • One count of incorrectly storing a biocidal product – Rentokil Phostoxin – on 14 September 2021 contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

[Photo of gamekeeper Matthew Stroud and one of the six buzzards he shot and killed. Photo via Eastern Daily Press]

Even though Stroud’s crimes easily passed the threshold for a custodial sentence, he received a 12-month Community Order and was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work, fined £692 and ordered to pay costs of £145, compensation of £288.72 and a victim surcharge of £95. The court also ordered the forfeiture and destruction of all Stroud’s firearms, mobile phones and any chemicals (see here and here for previous blogs on this).

Stroud’s prosecution and conviction was the result of a well-run multi-agency investigation involving Norfolk Constabulary, Natural England, National Wildlife Crime Unit, Crown Prosecution Service and the RSPB Investigations Team.

Today, the RSPB has published a blog written by RSPB Investigations Officer Tom Grose, reflecting on the investigation and the subsequent sentence. You can read it here.

Raptor persecution crime fighters win national awards

I attended the UK Wildlife Crime Conference over the weekend, where law enforcers, statutory agencies and NGOs gather to hear the latest views, approaches, successes and challenges of combating wildlife crime in the UK. 

A feature of this annual event is the WWF-sponsored awards given to those whose work deserves national recognition.

This year, I was delighted to see two of those awards being won by teams whose work has focused on tackling the illegal persecution of birds of prey.

First up was Dr Eimear Rooney and Dr Marc Ruddock from the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, who won WWF Wildlife Crime Partner of the Year 2022:

To say their award was richly deserved is a massive understatement. I’ve watched them pour their hearts and souls into raptor conservation in Northern Ireland for many, many years and I can’t think of more deserving recipients.

Without their efforts, providing help, advice and training to an army of raptor monitoring volunteers, as well as doing their own fieldwork, as well as writing grant applications, as well as writing reports, as well as producing educational material, as well as fundraising, as well as hosting conferences, as well as political engagement, as well as engaging in multi-partner initiatives to tackle raptor persecution, often at the expense of spending time with their young families, and still managing to be the most upbeat and fun-loving people to be around, then raptors in Northern Ireland would be in a far more perilous state than they are currently.

I’m thrilled to see their efforts recognised at long last; well done Eimear & Marc!

The second team to win an award for its work tackling raptor persecution was a multi-agency team working on ‘Operation Tantallon’, which is a huge, ongoing investigation into the alleged theft and laundering of wild peregrines in Scotland and northern England.

This investigation team includes Police Scotland, Scottish SPCA, NWCU and SASA, with additional support from members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group. So far three people have been charged with offences, including a serving police officer (see here) and a part-time gamekeeper (here).

Members of Operation Tantallon received the Wildlife Crime Operation of the Year Award 2022 from Megan McCubbin (photo by Guy Shorrock):

The case is ongoing, the defendants are reportedly facing over 100 charges, and a wide range of investigative techniques have been deployed including surveillance, peregrine DNA analysis, searches under warrants, bankers warrants, cyber crime and the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The scale of this effort to bring a prosecution in a raptor persecution case is virtually unheard of in the UK and the ramifications, should the defendants be found guilty, will be huge. Further details of the case will be made available as the case progresses through the courts.

The dedication and determination of those involved in the multi-agency investigation has been outstanding and it’s good to see their hard work recognised. Well done, all!

Multi-agency raid in Shropshire after suspected persecution of birds of prey

Hot on the heels of a multi-agency raid in Lincolnshire earlier this week in relation to the suspected poisoning of three birds of prey (here), news has emerged that ANOTHER multi-agency raid took place on Friday 7th October, this time in Shropshire.

The team included police officers from the Shropshire Rural Crime & Wildlife Team, Natural England and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

Several items are reported to have been seized and will be sent for forensic examination. No further details have been publicised.

Well done to West Mercia Police for getting this news out on the same day as the raid, and well done to all the multi-agency partners for another excellent response to reports of suspected raptor persecution.

This latest multi-agency raid is the latest in a surge of similar investigations in response to raptor persecution crimes over the last couple of years, including a raid in Wiltshire on 23rd September 2020 (here), a raid in Suffolk on 18th January 2021 (here), a raid in January 2021 in Nottinghamshire (here), on 15th March 2021 a raid in Lincolnshire (see here), on 18th March 2021 a raid in Dorset (here), on 26th March 2021 a raid in Devon (see here), on 21st April 2021 a raid in Teesdale (here), on 2nd August 2021 another raid in Shropshire (here), on 12th August 2021 a raid in Herefordshire (here), on 14th September 2021 a raid in Norfolk (here), a raid in Wales in October 2021 (here) a raid in Humberside on 10th December 2021 (here), a raid in North Wales on 8th February 2022 (here) another raid in Suffolk on 22nd April 2022 (here), another raid in Norfolk on 29th April 2022 (here), and another raid in Lincolnshire on 4th October 2022 (here).

The majority of these cases are ongoing, or have progressed to impending court hearings, but a few have concluded, resulting in the conviction of criminal gamekeepers. These include:

*The Nottinghamshire case (from January 2021) where gamekeeper John Orrey was sentenced in January 2022 for battering to death two buzzards he’d caught inside a trap (here);

*The Suffolk case (also from January 2021) where gamekeeper Shane Leech was convicted of firearms and pesticides offences in November 2021 after the discovery of a poisoned buzzard found close to pheasant-rearing pens in Lakenheath (here);

*The Wales case (from October 2021) where gamekeeper David Matthews was convicted in June 2022 for pesticide offences following the discovery of a poisoned red kite and a shot red kite at a pheasant release pen on the McAlpine Estate in Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, North Wales (see here);

*The Wiltshire case (from September 2020) where gamekeeper Archie Watson was convicted in June 2022 after the discovery of at least 15 dead buzzards and red kites were found dumped in a well on a pheasant shoot on Galteemore Farm in Beckhampton (here);

*The Norfolk case (from September 2021) where gamekeeper Matthew Stroud was convicted in October 2022 for the poisoning of at least five buzzards and a goshawk, amongst other offences, on a pheasant shoot at Weeting, near Thetford (here).

Multi-agency raid in Lincolnshire after suspected poisoning of three birds of prey

Press release from Lincolnshire Police (6th October 2022):

Bird of prey poisoned, Horncastle

Our Rural Crime Action Team (RCAT) are investigating the suspected poisoning of three birds of prey in the Belchford area of Horncastle. 

On 4 October, the team conducted multi agency searches in the area along with officers from the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), the RSPB and Natural England. During the searches we recovered various items which we believe are linked to the offences under investigation. The offences include the suspected poisoning of three birds, two Buzzards and one Red Kite. 

Inspector Jason Baxter, from Lincolnshire Special Operations Unit, said: “Lincolnshire police will not tolerate the persecution of our wildlife and any offences reported to us will be thoroughly and expeditiously investigated and offenders will be dealt with robustly.”

Investigations are ongoing and we have identified one male suspect who will be interviewed in due course.

Investigating officer, Detective Constable Aaron Flint said: “A number of Birds of Prey appear to have been poisoned in the Horncastle area.

We would appeal for anyone with any information to contact us.”

If any members of the public have information that could assist with the investigation please call 101, email force.control@lincs.police.uk or through crime stoppers. Please remember to quote incident number 22000367672.

ENDS

Well done Lincolnshire Police, Natural England, RSPB and the National Wildlife Crime Unit for yet another excellent example of partnership-working between specialist agencies, and especially for issuing a statement/appeal for information just two days after the raid. I hope some of the other regional police forces are taking note.

This latest multi-agency raid is the latest in a surge of similar investigations in response to raptor persecution crimes over the last couple of years, including a raid in Wiltshire on 23rd September 2020 (here), a raid in Suffolk on 18th January 2021 (here), a raid in January 2021 in Nottinghamshire (here), on 15th March 2021 another raid in Lincolnshire (see here), on 18th March 2021 a raid in Dorset (here), on 26th March 2021 a raid in Devon (see here), on 21st April 2021 a raid in Teesdale (here), on 2nd August 2021 a raid in Shropshire (here), on 12th August 2021 a raid in Herefordshire (here), on 14th September 2021 a raid in Norfolk (here), a raid in Wales in October 2021 (here) a raid in Humberside on 10th December 2021 (here), a raid in North Wales on 8th February 2022 (here), another raid in Suffolk on 22nd April 2022 (here), and another raid in Norfolk on 29th April 2022 (here).

The majority of these cases are ongoing, or have progressed to impending court hearings, but a few have concluded, resulting in the conviction of criminal gamekeepers. These include:

*The Nottinghamshire case (from January 2021) where gamekeeper John Orrey was sentenced in January 2022 for battering to death two buzzards he’d caught inside a trap (here);

*The Suffolk case (also from January 2021) where gamekeeper Shane Leech was convicted of firearms and pesticides offences in November 2021 after the discovery of a poisoned buzzard found close to pheasant-rearing pens in Lakenheath (here);

*The Wales case (from October 2021) where gamekeeper David Matthews was convicted in June 2022 for pesticide offences following the discovery of a poisoned red kite and a shot red kite at a pheasant release pen on the McAlpine Estate in Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, North Wales (see here);

*The Wiltshire case (from September 2020) where gamekeeper Archie Watson was convicted in June 2022 after the discovery of at least 15 dead buzzards and red kites were found dumped in a well on a pheasant shoot on Galteemore Farm in Beckhampton (here);

*The Norfolk case (from September 2021) where gamekeeper Matthew Stroud was convicted in October 2022 for the poisoning of at least five buzzards and a goshawk, amongst other offences, on a pheasant shoot at Weeting, near Thetford (here).

Conviction of gamekeeper Matthew Stroud: statement from Norfolk Constabulary

Following yesterday’s news that 46-year-old gamekeeper Matthew Stroud had been convicted, amongst other things, of shooting and poisoning at least five buzzards and a goshawk on a pheasant shoot in Norfolk (see here), Norfolk Constabulary has issued a press statement which provides a bit more detail about the case.

[One the buzzards that gamekeeper Matthew Stroud shot dead]

Press release from Norfolk Constabulary:

Gamekeeper admits killing birds of prey

A Weeting gamekeeper appeared in court today (Wednesday 5 October 2022) and admitted shooting and poisoning several birds of prey.

  • Three counts of using poisoned bait on or before 19 August 2021 and 14 September 2021.
  • Six counts of killing a Common Buzzard (a non-Schedule 1 wild bird) at Weeting between 10 August and 14 September 2021.
  • One count of intentionally killing a Northern Goshawk (a Schedule 1 wild bird) at Weeting on or about 10 August 2021.
  • One count of possessing a regulated substance – Strychnine Hydrochloride – without a licence on 14 September 2021.
  • One count of possessing 4 shotguns to kill a Schedule 1 wild bird on 14 September 2021.
  • One count of releasing 3,400 Common Pheasants into the wild between 1 June and 14 September 2021 contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
  • One count of incorrectly storing a biocidal product – Rentokil Phostoxin – on 14 September 2021 contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

He received a 12-month Community Order and was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work, fined £692 and ordered to pay costs of £145, compensation of £288.72 and a victim surcharge of £95. The court also ordered the forfeiture and destruction of all Stroud’s firearms, mobile phones and any chemicals.

The court heard how the investigation started when RSPB officers found a young pheasant dead in Belvedere Wood, Weeting, on 19 August 2021. Tests later confirmed the pheasant had been poisoned with Strychnine Hydrochloride.

Further intelligence led Norfolk Police to execute a warrant at Stroud’s home, Belvedere Wood and Oisier Carr Wood on 14 September 2021 where the following discoveries were made:

  • Three dead buzzards were found at two release pens in Oisier Carr Wood. Tests later confirmed they had been shot.
  • Two pheasant carcasses with extremely high levels of Strychnine Hydrochloride and a poisoned Common Buzzard were found in Belvedere Wood – a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its internationally important population of Stone Curlews
  • Two bottles of Strychnine Chloride were found in the glovebox of Stroud’s all-terrain vehicle, and a bottle of Phostoxin discovered by officers in a lean-too style shed attached to his house.

In addition, Stroud’s mobile phone contained photos of a dead Goshawk and five dead Common Buzzards. He later confessed to officers that all the photos were of birds he had killed.

PC Chris Shelley, Norfolk Constabulary’s Rural Crime Officer, said: “This investigation is one of the biggest cases of its kind that we have dealt with in Norfolk.

Stroud actions were dangerous and inhumane – he shot and poisoned birds of prey as he saw fit, and at will, because it suited him to do so. He also used a highly dangerous poison – one that has been banned in the UK for the last 15 years – indiscriminately, which could have had a disastrous effect on other local wildlife and showed a scant disregard for the safety of others.

We’re committed to working with all partners to tackle rural crime and have worked closely with colleagues from the RSPB, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Natural England throughout this investigation. It is because of this close collaboration with them that we have been able to bring this case to court.

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “Laying poison baits out in the open is not only illegal but extremely dangerous and irresponsible. Baits like those being used present a deadly risk to any animal or person that might come across it.

It is particularly troubling that this was happening on an SPA, a designated area where wildlife and nature should have the highest legal protection.

We would like to thank Norfolk Police for leading such a thorough investigation, and to Natural England, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Crown Prosecution Service for their support.”

Ashley Petchey of the Crown Prosecution Service said: “This was a case where Mr Stroud has, whilst in his position as a gamekeeper, killed wild birds by shooting and poisoning. He has also released non-native species into a SSSI.  

The scale of the offences in this case demonstrates the lengths people will go to in order to persecute raptors.   

The Crown take all cases of raptor persecution seriously and where the full code test is met, bring offenders to justice.”

ENDS

UPDATE 4th November 2022: RSPB Investigations Officer reflects on conviction of Norfolk raptor-killing gamekeeper Matthew Stroud (here)

Norfolk gamekeeper convicted after shooting & poisoning multiple birds of prey

Press release from the RSPB today (5th October 2022):

Gamekeeper escapes jail after killing birds of prey

*Six buzzards and a goshawk were found illegally killed on a gamebird shoot near Thetford, along with lethal poison baits.

*Gamekeeper Matthew Stroud pleads guilty to multiple offences

*The RSPB is increasingly concerned about raptor persecution linked to pheasant and partridge shoots, and the impact of large-scale gamebirds releases.

Today (5 October 2022) at Norwich Magistrates’ court, gamekeeper Matthew Stroud received a 200 hour community order and was fined £692 for offences connected with raptor persecution. Stroud was ordered to pay £145 costs, £288.72 compensation and a £95 victim surcharge.

[Convicted criminal gamekeeper Matthew Stroud and one of his victims, a shot buzzard. Photos via RSPB and Eastern Daily Press]

Offences included shooting five buzzards and one goshawk, the poisoning of another buzzard, the laying of poison baits and illegal possession of poisons including strychnine.

Stroud also became the first person convicted for the unauthorised release of gamebirds on a Special Protection Area (SPA) – an internationally important site for conservation under the Habitats Regulations.

[Another of Stroud’s victims – he shot this goshawk. Photo via RSPB]

[Two containers of the banned poison strychnine found in the glovebox of Stroud’s all-terrain vehicle]

Sentencing Stroud, Magistrates said that he was lucky to escape jail today.

The court heard from the defence that Stroud was under pressure to produce game birds for the shoot after two poor years, that he had taken no pleasure in killing the buzzards and that he should have been informed that the law had changed around pheasant releases.

This is one of many incidents of raptor persecution identified on lowland pheasant and partridge shoots, which the RSPB says is an area of increasing concern. There is also evidence that large-scale releases of pheasant and partridge for shooting is having a detrimental impact on native wildlife.

The RSPB Investigations team conducted lengthy enquiries on an area of land managed by Stroud for pheasant shooting at Fengate Farm in Weeting, within the Breckland SPA. Following a number of visits, on 19 August 2021 they discovered a pheasant carcass – later found to contain the banned toxic chemical strychnine. The use of a poison bait such as a pheasant, laced with pesticides, is one of the most common methods of illegally killing birds of prey.

A subsequent search with Norfolk Police and partners uncovered further poison baits plus shot and poisoned raptors. Stroud’s phone also contained the photo of a goshawk and several buzzards which he admitted to shooting. They also found the deadly banned poison strychnine and phostoxin, a dangerous fumigant which was stored improperly.

In 2021 it became illegal to release gamebirds on or adjacent to an SPA without a licence, which Stroud had not sought, making him the first person to be prosecuted and convicted for this offence.

In 2020, Wild Justice issued proceedings in the High Court challenging the annual release of millions of non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges into the countryside and their potential impact on sites designated for nature conservation. DEFRA conceded the case and introduced General Licence 43 in an attempt to ensure that the impacts of those birds on those sites would be regulated.

Mark Thomas Head of RSPB Investigations UK, said:

It is difficult not to be disappointed with the outcome today considering the significance of the offences and combined efforts of the agencies involved. Laying poison baits out in the open is not only illegal but extremely dangerous and irresponsible. Baits like those being used at Fengate Farm present a deadly risk to any animal or person that might come across it. It is particularly troubling that this was happening on an SPA, a designated area where wildlife and nature should have the highest legal protection.

The RSPB’s most recent Birdcrime report in 2020 made clear that raptor persecution is not just an issue confined to grouse shooting estates: it is increasingly correlated with pheasant and partridge shoots.”

Mark added: “We would like to thank Norfolk Police for leading such a thorough investigation, and to Natural England, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Crown Prosecution Service for their support”.

Guilty pleas were entered to the following charges:

· Six charges in relation to killing of six different buzzards (five by shooting and one poisoned) during August and September 2021

· One charge in relation to killing a goshawk listed under schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside act 1981 in August 2021

· Three charges in relation to laying poison baits in August and September 2021

· One charges in relation to the possession of the banned pesticide, strychnine in September 2021

· A charge in relation to a firearm being an item capable of committing an offence in September 2021

· A charge in relation to the usage of the chemical phostoxin in September 2021

· One charge in relation to releasing pheasants illegally during 2022

ENDS

UPDATE 6th October 2022: Conviction of gamekeeper Matthew Stroud – statement from Norfolk Constabulary (here)

UPDATE 4th November 2022: RSPB Investigations Officer reflects on conviction of Norfolk raptor-killing gamekeeper, Matthew Stroud (here)

Red kite reported shot in Essex – Police appeal for information

Essex Police’s Rural, Wildlife & Heritage Crime Team is appealing for information after a red kite was reportedly found shot in Stapleford Abbots in the Epping Forest.

The kite was found on 3rd September 2022 and is currently undergoing veterinary treatment for what are believed to be shotgun injuries.

[Red kite photo by Javier Alonso Huerta]

No further details about this reported crime have been provided yet.

Anyone with any information that could assist the police investigation please call Essex Police on Tel. 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 to provide information anonymously and in confidence. Please quote incident reference number: 42/232180/22.

Hen harrier persecution continues amid increased breeding success

There’s been quite a lot of news about hen harriers in the last couple of weeks as this year’s breeding figures have been announced: 119 chicks from 49 nests, 34 nests being successful (see Natural England press release here).

That is the highest number of chicks fledged in over a century, according to Natural England, but there are many questions still to be answered about these figures and as ever, Natural England isn’t being transparent with the results.

I’d like to know how many of the 49 nests were on privately-owned grouse moors. Not on tenanted grouse moors (e.g. like National Trust and water utility companies’ land) where tenants are now at risk of having their shooting leases withdrawn if persecution takes place, e.g. see here), not on RSPB reserves, or Forestry England land – but on actual privately owned moors managed for driven grouse shooting. I think it’s telling that this detail has not been provided.

13 of this year’s 119 chicks were ‘brood meddled’ from four nests at unknown locations in northern England – not very impressive considering 13 chicks successfully fledged from a single site, the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, without any need for brood meddling.

For new 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 is in place entirely as a result of the authorities failure to stop grouse moor managers from illegally killing this species. Instead of prosecuting these criminals, the Government has sanctioned the removal of the harriers from the grouse moors, to be reared in captivity and then released somewhere else to become targets for being killed on another grouse moor later in the year.

Two of this year’s pitiful brood meddled hen harriers removed from their parents in the wild and caged inside an aviary. Photo by Jemima Parry Jones.

The hen harrier brood meddling conservation sham is a five-year trial, started in 2018 and is being used to assess whether grouse moor owners’ attitudes towards hen harriers will change. I look forward to reading the scientific committee’s report, but judging by the continued persecution of this species on driven grouse moors, it can hardly be described as a brilliant success. A brilliant wheeze, perhaps, from the point of view of the grouse moor owners who’ve had harriers legally and forcibly removed from their moors, but a conservation success? How can it be when the original cause of the species’ decline (illegal persecution) hasn’t been addressed and is ongoing?

We already know that since 2018 when the brood meddling trial began, at least 70 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). A scientific paper published in 2019, using the Government’s own data, demonstrated the unequivocal link between hen harrier persecution and driven grouse shooting (here).

And even in this latest press release from Natural England, we’re told that 15 hen harrier nests failed this year, “including failures subsequently investigated by the police“. How many were investigated? Where were they? How many were on privately-owned grouse moors? What were the outcomes of the police investigations? Why hasn’t there been any publicity about these suspected crimes?

The press release also reveals that since March this year, three more satellite-tagged hen harriers have ‘disappeared’, with at least two of them the subject of police investigations. Why hasn’t there been any publicity about these suspected crimes? I will update my list of dead/missing hen harriers shortly.

It continues to be a source of huge frustration that Natural England will go all-out promoting the ‘good news’ stories about hen harriers but never provides prominence to the ongoing cases of illegal persecution. I’m sure the £75k bung it’s received from the game-shooting industry has absolutely nothing to do with it.

I also note that Natural England’s press release says absolutely nothing about the unspeakable atrocity inflicted on hen harrier Asta, whose wings were torn off so her satellite tag could be fitted to a crow in an attempt to deceive the authorities that Asta was alive and well.

Changed attitudes? I don’t think so.

UPDATE 4th September 2022: Natural England utterly compromised on tackling hen harrier persecution (here)

Good news! Sidelined Dorset wildlife crime cop joins National Wildlife Crime Unit

Claire Dinsdale QPM, the wildlife crime officer who was leading on the Dorset eagle poisoning case until senior officers decided to close the investigation prematurely after what looked suspiciously like political interference (here), has left Dorset Police and has taken up a new role with the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU).

This is really good news! Claire was held in very high regard by those involved in tackling wildlife crime and her dedication to the role saw her contributing thousands of hours of her own time, on top of her normal police duties, to gather evidence to identify suspects and increase the chances of them being charged. She was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in 2020 for her efforts.

A twitter spat with local Conservative MP Chris Loder, followed by senior officers’ inexplicable decision to block the investigation into the poisoned eagle, led to Claire going on long-term sick leave in March this year.

I’m delighted to see her move to the NWCU where hopefully her contributions will be valued and supported.

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