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.

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.

Leadhills Estate ‘information day’ – an update

Many thanks to several blog readers who attended Leadhills Estate’s ‘Information Day‘ yesterday and sent reports.

[Grouse moor on Leadhills Estate. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

A number of people have told me that the rumours about the sale of the estate and/or the estate’s shooting rights were ‘categorically denied’ by Lord Andrew Hopetoun himself.

Hmm. Personally, I have zero confidence in anything this former Director of Scottish Land & Estates says after his previous statements about the relationship between the Hopetoun Estate in Edinburgh and the Hopetoun (Leadhills) Estate in South Lanarkshire (see here, here and here for previous blogs on this).

And given some of the statements published on information boards at yesterday’s meeting (see below), it’d hard to keep a straight face when you know that Leadhills Estate is currently serving not one, but TWO General Licence restrictions after the police found ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime (see here & here), just the latest in an astonishingly long list (at least 70 reports of alleged raptor persecution there since the early 2000’s).

Obviously, people can draw their own conclusions about what might be going on. Equally, I can draw my own and I can state with absolute certainty that Leadhills Estate will remain high on my watch list.

Here are the display boards from yesterday’s meeting:

Here is the map showing the areas of the estate that have been made available to forestry companies:

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:

Public consultation on the issue of ‘wild take’ of English raptors for falconry

Natural England has launched an eight-week public consultation as it reviews its position on the licensing of falconers permitting them to remove [unspecified] raptors from the wild for falconry/captive breeding programmes.

The call for evidence was announced last week (see here) and although the online notice is illustrated with a peregrine falcon, I’m somewhat alarmed to note from the accompanying text that this review does NOT appear to be restricted to the licensed removal of just peregrines from the wild, but could apply to any other raptor species Natural England considers to have ‘recovered’.

This is a controversial issue, of course, not least because of the history (and in some cases, ongoing) illegal persecution of some raptor species in the UK, and the ‘sport’ of falconry in this country being largely unregulated. For example, anybody can buy a captive bird of prey in the UK, without having to demonstrate any prior level of knowledge, let alone proficiency, in the bird’s care and welfare.

This is very different from falconry in the US, where falconers are required to undertake several years of supervised training and examination before they are considered appropriately qualified and are permitted to take raptors from the wild, usually for a temporary period with the bird being released back to the wild after being flown for a few seasons. Inspections of the bird’s housing is even a requirement of the licence.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some very good falconers in the UK – there are, for sure, and their expert skills are often deployed to help rehabilitate wild-injured raptors and release them back to the wild. It’s also true to say that falconry techniques have been central to the conservation of some raptor species (e.g. Mauritius kestrel, the peregrine in the US after the DDT crash, vulture species in India after the Diclofenac crash) but these arguments are not relevant to what is currently being proposed for the wild-take of peregrines and other raptors in the UK for ‘sport’, even though several UK falconers point to these arguments as apparent justification.

The last time Natural England issued licenses for the removal of young peregrines from the wild, for a purported captive-breeding programme in 2020, the news generated heated arguments both for and against the licences, as reported on Mark Avery’s blog (e.g. see here, here and here).

The situation was even more confused when it became apparent that the falconers involved were based in Scotland, that SNH had refused to issue licences for the removal of Scottish peregrines, but that Natural England had issued licenses for the removal of peregrines in England, to be then held in captivity in Scotland.

However, according to the latest news from Natural England, although licences were issued in 2020, ‘the licenses expired earlier this year with no chicks having been taken‘. NE doesn’t explain why.

For me, the justification for permanently removing raptors from the wild to satisfy a human’s ‘sporting’ need is not a convincing argument. There are plenty of captive-bred raptors available for those who wish to pursue this sport without the need to plunder wild populations that in some cases are still recovering from decades of persecution.

In the case of peregrines, this is even more of a concern when you realise that on previous licences, NE authorised the removal of chicks from nests in ‘all counties’ [in England], despite the well-documented evidence that peregrine populations in the uplands have suffered massive declines as a direct result of illegal persecution, particularly on land managed for driven grouse shooting (e.g. see here, here, here and here). Just because the species is currently ‘green-listed’ nationally, this status does not take into account the regional difficulties for this particular species.

Natural England makes a further argument that peregrines ‘need to be taken from the wild’ as opposed to considering the alternative of placing wild-disabled birds into the care of falconers because:

Wild peregrine falcons which have arrived in captivity due to injury are also not likely to be suitable as breeding from a bird from the wild is much more difficult than one reared by humans – they are simply not used to humans and are not as likely to breed successfully as a chick taken from the wild and reared by a human‘.

This is a surprising statement from Natural England, given that NE intends to do exactly this for its planned controversial release of hen harriers in southern England – using wild-disabled hen harriers from the continent for a captive breeding programme whereby the injured birds’ progeny will be released into the wild. I’d argue that NE’s position on peregrines is thoroughly hypocritical.

The public call for evidence is open to anybody and is available for 8 weeks. You can participate here.

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.

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)

Natural England accepts £75k bung for hen harriers from game-shooting organisation BASC

Earlier this year, Natural England, the so-called statutory regulator for conservation, and BASC, the British Association for Shooting (& Conservation) were boasting about a £75k donation made by BASC to Natural England to help finance ongoing hen harrier work.

I was interested in this arrangement, given that BASC is an organisation at the forefront of the game-shooting industry; an industry that has been responsible for the systematic persecution of the hen harrier for many, many years.

So I submitted an FoI to Natural England find out more.

Remember, last year BASC gave Natural England a £10k bung for hen harriers, on condition that Natural England didn’t say anything bad about BASC (see here).

[Photo by David Cole]

Well, it seems this cosy arrangement is continuing, only this time with a bigger bung and the same condition that requires Natural England to refrain from saying anything bad about BASC:

You can read the full Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) here, as released to me via my FoI request:

It’s apparent from this document that the latest MOA was eventually signed in January 2022. However, other material released in response to my FoI request reveals that Natural England and BASC were discussing this MOA as far back as 27th May 2021 – just a few weeks after the disappearance of hen harrier Asta from a grouse moor in County Durham, whose wings had been ‘removed’ so that her satellite tag could be affixed to a carrion crow in an attempt to deceive Natural England that the tag was still functioning and thus hen harrier Asta was alive and well (see here).

Who, in their right mind, would sign up to a ‘partnership’ with a game-shooting organisation knowing what unspeakable atrocity had just been inflicted on hen harrier Asta? The latest in a long, long line of atrocities inflicted on our beleaguered hen harriers by members of this industry.

My view is that the £75k bung goes some way to explain Natural England’s reluctance to publicise this latest crime.

[Cartoon by Gill Lewis]

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