Game-shooting industry silent about short-eared owl found shot on North Pennines grouse moor

Earlier this week I blogged about the discovery of a short-eared owl that had been found shot on a grouse moor on the Wemmergill Estate in the North Pennines AONB (see here).

This is the same estate where two short-eared owls were found shot and stuffed into a hole in 2015 (here) and where a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Marc had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2018 (here).

[Short-eared owl. Photographer unknown]

Those of us interested in stamping out illegal raptor persecution have made sure that Durham Constabulary’s appeal for information about this latest victim has been distributed far and wide (e.g. see blog here by Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB partnership, and blog here by the Northern England Raptor Forum).

Unfortunately, the leading game-shooting organisations, some of whose members have been and/or are currently under investigation for various raptor persecution crimes, have once again failed to publicise or condemn this crime. I’ve just looked at the websites of the National Gamekeepers Organisation, BASC, Countryside Alliance and the Moorland Association and not one of them has published the police appeal or issued their own appeal.

It’s worth remembering that these organisations also serve on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), along with Government officials, police and NGOs. One of the roles of the RPPDG is apparently to raise awareness of ongoing raptor persecution crimes.

I’m not sure how staying silent meets this objective.

On the subject of the RPPDG, I’ve written to the Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and asked whether the Countryside Alliance representative, former Police Inspector Phil Davies, will be removed from the RPPDG following his participation in a webinar where criminal information was disseminated about persecuting wildlife and avoiding prosecution (see here). I await a response with interest.

UPDATE 25th October 2021: Police boot off Countryside Alliance rep from all wildlife crime priority delivery groups after hunting webinar trial (here)

Short-eared owl confirmed shot in Teesdale grouse moor area where two short-eared owls previously found shot

Article published in the Northern Echo yesterday:

Short-eared owl shot and killed in Teesdale

POLICE are appealing for information after a short-eared owl was shot down in Teesdale earlier this year.

A post-mortem on the bird has confirmed the likely cause of its death was being shot with a shot gun.

The owl was found by the side of the road in May.

[Short-eared owl. Photographer unknown]

PC Lorraine Nelson said: “Persecuting birds of prey is never acceptable and we will always do everything we can to work with partners to act on information received about alleged criminal activity.

We would encourage anyone with information on this incident to get in touch.”

Jack Ashton-Booth, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “Short-eared owls are declining nationally as a species.

Yet they are still widely targeted in our UK uplands: this is the third shot short-eared owl we are aware of in this area in the last six years.

In 2015 two dead short-eared owls, both of which had been shot, were found in a hole on moorland just over 1km away.

Each of those birds could have gone on to have three, four or five chicks, had they been allowed to live.

When I think of the scale of even just one area of moorland, and its array of nooks and crannies… how many more of these stunning birds could have been shot and concealed down holes or buried under peat?

It’s impossible to know.

This illegal killing must stop.

I urge any of you who may have information regarding individuals targeting these birds to come forward and call them out.”

If you have any information, call 101 and ask to speak to PC Nelson.

Alternatively, call the RSPB confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101.


This short-eared owl was found shot in May close to the Selset Reservoir in Teesdale, which is an area dominated by land managed for driven grouse shooting, as you can see from this Google map showing the tell-tale rectangular strips of burned heather:

According to RSPB Investigations Officer Jack Ashton-Booth, the latest victim was discovered just over 1km from where two short-eared owls had been found shot and buried in potholes on the Wemmergill Estate in 2015 (see here). Nobody was prosecuted for those two offences, just as nobody will be prosecuted for this latest wildlife crime.

Wemmergill Estate is also the last known location of satellite-tagged hen harrier Marc, who vanished in suspicious circumstances on this grouse moor in 2018 (see here).

The article published yesterday in the Northern Echo was presumably based on information from Durham Constabulary, and claims that the police are appealing for information. I can’t find anything about the crime, investigation or subsequent appeal on the Durham Constabulary website or the police’s Facebook page. If it is there, it’s well hidden.

And once again, it has taken five months for this ‘appeal’ to emerge. I suppose that’s an improvement on the seven months it took Durham Constabulary to appeal for information after the discovery of the two shot owls found in 2015.

Yesterday’s article in the Northern Echo states that:

A post-mortem on the bird has confirmed the likely cause of its death was being shot with a shot gun‘.

My understanding is that the post-mortem report confirmed the owl had been shot and that was the cause of its death shortly afterwards.

There may be more news to come about this latest crime. I will update the blog if/when I receive further information.

UPDATE 18.00hrs:

The RSPB investigations team has confirmed on Twitter that this latest shot short-eared owl was found dead on a grouse moor (estate unnamed but believed to be the same estate (Wemmergill) where two short-eared owls were found shot and shoved down a pothole in 2015.

Also, Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership has written a blog on the AONB website to draw attention to this latest crime (see here). Well done, Chris.

Bye then, Therese Coffey

Dr Therese Coffey MP has been promoted out of DEFRA and is now Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, following the resignation of Amber Rudd, according to today’s media.

There won’t be many in the conservation world sad to see her go. Despite (in spite of?) her scientific credentials, Dr Coffey has been the epitome of wilful blindness when it comes to the illegal killing of raptors on grouse moors; totally disinterested and apathetic time and time and time again.

[Dr Coffey visiting Wemmergill Estate. Photo by Dave Mitchell]

This is the Environment Minister who sat through the 2016 Westminster Hall debate on banning driven grouse shooting playing with her phone and rummaging around in her handbag (here). The Environment Minister who was happy to pose on the grouse moor at Wemmergill Estate where the corpses of two shot short-eared owls had been found previously (here) and where a satellite-tagged hen harrier disappeared (here). The Environment Minister who was happy to rely on sophistry instead of addressing the issue of lead ammunition (here). The Environment Minister who couldn’t be arsed to issue a statement after the publication of research showing that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers were considered to have been illegally killed on driven grouse moors (here). The Environment Minister who couldn’t be arsed to offer a full explanation about why she refused to instigate an independent inquiry in to the (un)sustainability of English grouse moors (here). The Environment Minister who stifled attempts to improve wildlife crime reporting because she misunderstood the limitations of the current reporting structure (here).

There will be others from different conservation fields who share our disdain, including Friends of the Earth who criticised Dr Coffey last year for her enthusiastic promotion of the weedkiller Round Up which contains highly toxic Glyphosate (here).

Sorry to see her go? Not one tiny bit, although judging by her voting record her move to the Dept of Work & Pensions should be of grave concern to the sick and disabled.

Satellite-tagged hen harrier Marc disappears on grouse moor at Wemmergill

And so it continues.

Joint press release today from RSPB and Durham Police:


Durham Constabulary and the RSPB are appealing for information following the disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier near Middleton-in-Teesdale.

The harrier, named Marc, was one of a nest of two chicks tagged as part of the EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE+ project in July last year from a nest in the Scottish Borders.

Photo of Hen harrier Marc (right) photographed at the nest last summer with his brother Manu, who also disappeared on a grouse moor in the North Pennines. Photo by Tim Jones.

Marc’s tag had been transmitting regularly, showing no signs of any problems, until it suddenly stopped on the afternoon of 5 February. Data from Marc’s tag indicated he had been in the same area of upland farmland since late November before moving 10km north west on 27 January to an area of driven grouse moor, from here he posted several positions on the 5 February until 2.04pm, after which the tag inexplicably failed to send any further data.

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest raptors with only three successful nests recorded in England in 2017. There have been a number of other hen harriers that have gone missing in similar circumstances both in England and Scotland since the tagging project began in 2015. This includes Marc’s brother, a bird called Manu who was tagged in the same nest but went missing in October 2017 with his last known location being close to a grouse moor in Northumberland.

Mark Thomas, RSPB Principal Specialist, said: “Hen harriers are facing an uncertain future: these spectacular birds should be flourishing in our uplands but studies show that we are down to just a handful of pairs in England with illegal persecution identified as a prime factor. So it’s depressing when yet another hen harrier goes off the radar like this, especially when the supporting tag data is so precise.”

A spokesperson for Durham Constabulary said: “We are very concerned at the disappearance of one of these iconic birds of prey. Hen harriers are fully protected by law and raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority. We urge you to come forward if you have any information about the disappearance of this bird.”

If you have any information relating to this incident (ref 163 2022018), call Durham Constabulary on 101 or the confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101. All calls are anonymous.


The RSPB has also published a blog about Marc’s suspicious disappearance here

The RSPB has published a map showing the last known location of Marc’s tag:

A quick look on Google Earth shows this area is managed for driven grouse shooting:

We’ve done a bit of research and it looks like this area is part of the Wemmergill Estate, a well-known driven grouse shooting location in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is also part of a Special Protection Area (SPA) designated specifically for hen harriers. There should be at least 11 breeding pairs of hen harriers in this SPA – there are none.

The estate boundary (in red) on our map suggests the estate is divided in to two separate areas, but this could just be a function of the system used to assess rural payments received by the estate, which is the source of the estate boundary we have used above.

This map below, from the North Pennines AONB, suggests Wemmergill is not split in to two separate areas:

This is not the first time that the police have investigated a suspected raptor persecution incident in this location. In 2015, two dead short-eared owls were found shoved inside a pothole – both had been shot (see here).

So, it looks like DEFRA’s outrageous Hen Harrier Action Plan is continuing to fail. Launched in January 2016 and designed to supposedly protect hen harriers from criminal persecution, here we have yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier that has vanished without trace in an area managed for driven grouse shooting.

As Dr Hugh Webster commented recently, “They can hide the bodies. They can hide the tags. But they can’t hide the pattern“.

If you’re sick to the back teeth of hen harrier persecution and you have no faith in DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan, there’s no better time than now to support this legal challenge to the brood meddling part of that Plan – please support the crowdfunder here.

Here’s DEFRA Wildife Minister Dr Therese Coffey visiting Wemmergill Estate last August with her friends from the Moorland Association, the grouse moor owners’ lobby group.

Captions, anyone?

Two short-eared owls shot dead nr grouse moor in County Durham

Durham Police are appealing for information following the discovery of two dead short-eared owls in Co Durham.

The birds, found on 2nd March, had been shoved inside a pothole near to Selset Reservoir near Middleton-in-Teesdale. Their corpses were sent for post mortem which revealed they had been shot.

News article in the Chronicle here

You have to wonder why it’s taken the police seven months to appeal for information. It’s possible that there was a delay in receiving the post mortem results, but even so, the discovery of two owls inside a pothole surely raises suspicions of criminal behaviour? It’s ironic that the police appeal is eventually made during National Wildlife Crime Aware Week, where police forces across the country are advising the public how to spot signs of wildlife crime and encouraging them to report it. What’s the bloody point if the police then sit on the information for seven months?

Interesting to look at the land-use close to Selset Reservoir…..check out this Google map and note all those weird rectangular shapes (burnt strips of heather) – this is driven grouse moor country.

Ban driven grouse shooting: sign the petition here.

Photos of the two dead short-eared owls by RSPB.

Selset reservoir shot SEOs