Two owls shot in the Dark Peak – why?

Once again the National Trust and the Peak District National Park Authority are in the news and once again it’s for all of the wrong reasons.

The area has a long, well documented, history of raptor persecution. However; in 2018 there were the first signs that a corner may have been turned and perhaps, just perhaps things were slowly improving for the beleaguered birds of prey in the Dark Peak. Hen Harriers bred for the first time in several years and was celebrated by everyone involved. Surely that was a positive signal, a glimmer of hope?

Well if it was a glimmer of hope it was soon extinguished and the Dark Peak is once again a dark place for birds of prey. Local Raptor Workers, all NERF members, are still trying to come to terms with the ‘disappearance’ of two satellite tagged Hen Harrier chicks, Octavia and Arthur, which fledged from the Dark Peak during the summer. Now we learn that a Short-eared Owl [SEO] was shot on 11 September on National Trust land on Marsden Moor near Wessenden Head, West Yorkshire. Additionally we learned that three weeks later on 1 October a Tawny Owl, which had also been shot was found stuffed into a drystone wall on land nearby but not on the National Trust property.

In the first incident a local runner had just returned to her car when she saw a Short-eared Owl fly over her head then heard gunshots from the direction of a vehicle described as a dark coloured pick-up truck with two dog cages with a thick wooden cover over the cages, parked nearby. The following morning the witness returned to the same location and found the SEO alive but injured. The bird was taken to a vet for treatment; however the injuries were so severe the bird had to be euthanized.

Short-eared Owls are scarce birds in the North of England, they are ‘Amber Listed’ as a species of concern in the UK. The breeding population which is probably less than a 1000 pairs in years when the vole population, a primary prey source, is low. This situation is taken so seriously that Special Protected Areas [SPAs] are designated for Short-eared Owls. Marsden Moor is part of one such SPA. If Short-eared Owls are supposed to be safe anywhere then land specially designated for their protection should be the ideal place to reside. On this occasion that was clearly not the case. We know of one SEO that was shot; how many more raptors have been shot in this area that we don’t know about? The persecution of owls, particularly Short-eared Owls, is a continuing problem in the North of England. This was demonstrated recently by a court case involving a gamekeeper convicted of shooting two owls in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The evidence strongly points to the fact that Short-eared Owls are being specifically targeted on upland estates.

Despite conducting extensive enquiries in the area West Yorkshire Police have been unable to trace the owner of the vehicle, with the very distinctive dog cages on the back, which was seen by the witness at the time that the SEO was shot.

What was the motive for killing the two owls? Who is most likely to profit from killing them? Is it possible that they were killed by some random passer-by who just happened to be parked up in in the area with a firearm to hand at the time the SEO flew overhead? Possible, but is it likely? Probably not.

No doubt the Investigating Officer(s) will be following these and other lines of enquiry. Identifying the individual(s) who has the Modus Operandi [MO], the opportunity and the desire to commit these crimes is the key to detecting them and NERF expects every member of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group to assist West Yorkshire Police in their enquiries to solve these crimes.

If you have any information that will help the Police bring the criminal before the courts please contact:

  • West Yorkshire Police on 101 quoting the log number 1742 – 11.09.2018
  • Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111
  • RSPB raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101


08 December 2018