Author Archives: raptorforum

Is the Red Kite named ‘KK’ Covid – 19 collateral damage?








On Friday 17 April 2020 the Red Kite ‘KK’ joined the long list of raptors that have ‘disappeared’– on a grouse moor.

In June 2019 NERF members, the Friends of Red Kites [FoRK] based in the North East of England, arranged for a Red Kite chick to be fitted with a satellite tracking device. The chick was named ‘KK’ in tribute to one the FoRK volunteers. The bird was also fitted with wing tags bearing the ID number 00, one of which can be seen in the photograph. After the tag was fitted the data it provided was monitored and mapped by the RSPB.

Red Kites are extremely placid birds of prey, a delight to handle as chicks and a beautiful graceful bird to watch gliding across open country. They are largely carrion feeders, scavenging on dead animals, cleaning up the countryside. They do not pose a threat to the shooting industry and yet in some quarters they are vilified for the sole reason that they a member of the raptor family.

During the remainder of 2019 KK toured the North of England as far south as the Peak District before returning to the Derwent Valley, Tyne & Wear.

In common with our extensive experience of other satellite tagged birds, KK’s life followed a pattern that we have seen with all too regularly. The tag worked perfectly and then without the warning signs that we would expect to see from a tag that is nearing its natural end of life the transmission suddenly and inexplicably stopped.

That the last fix, prior to the ‘stop no malfunction’ located the bird on a grouse moor near the Derwent Reservoir, in County Durham. Despite an extensive ground search being carried out by a very experienced team, using sophisticated equipment, the body was not found. These facts will not come as a surprise to those of us who follow these cases closely. Natural England’s Hen Harrier data reveals that satellite tagged birds are 10 times more likely to ‘disappear’ when the tag fails without warning when the bird was on a grouse moor at the time [Murgatroyd et al]. Data already in the public domain indicates that Hen Harrier chicks satellite tagged as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life Project reveal a similar pattern.

This is not the first Red Kite to ‘disappear’ in the Derwent Gorge area and the quote from Harold Dobson, spokesman for the Friends of the Red Kites, tell us all we need to know:

“Since 2010, seven red kites have been found poisoned or shot near the Derwent Gorge and surrounding Durham Moorland. We fear that this may be the tip of the iceberg and that many more persecuted kites are never found.”

David Raw representing NERF member, the Durham Upland Bird Study Group, has commented:-

“The abrupt loss of an otherwise reliable signal from this carefully tracked bird is of great concern. The original Northern Kites release project and later our colleagues in Friends of Red Kites have all worked tirelessly to establish a viable population of these magnificent birds in our region. Local success has brought pleasure, pride and enjoyment within the community but expansion of the breeding range is now overdue. The loss of this bird in suspicious circumstances, in the same area as other known persecution incidents of Red Kites, reflects an appalling situation and is surely indicative of how selfish criminal activity is holding back the population.”

From the moment that the Government announced the Covid – 19 lockdown Raptor Workers have been expressing concern that raptor persecution would increase significantly after we were, for understandable reasons, prevented from surveying and monitoring birds of prey. This is not an unreasonable fear, we saw a similar pattern in 2001 when access to the countryside was banned during the Foot and Mouth outbreak.

Is KK Covid – 19 collateral damage, or was this bird already destined to join the long line of birds that have ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors irrespective of the current pandemic?

The RSPB press release can be seen here [link]

If you have any information about this incident, please contact the Police on 101, quoting the reference number 22042020-0078., or,

Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Alternatively, if you have information about this case or of other birds of prey being killed or targeted you can call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.


1 May 2020


Wild Justice Raptor Forensic Fund

Wild Justice Raptor Forensic Fund

Common Buzzard – Found Poisoned in the Peak District National Park April 2019

It is a sad reality that raptor persecution still persists at high levels, not just in the northern uplands monitored by NERF but across the UK as a whole. The true scale of persecution may never be known but it is widely accepted to be many times higher than the official data would suggest. In 2020 it is self-evident that not a single species of raptor is free from persecution. The majority, if not all, of this persecution is perpetrated for profit or pleasure, and is frequently connected to the game shooting industry. Trapping, shooting, poisoning and egg collecting continues apace and seems to be never ending. Criminals, and they are criminals, who kill raptors must be brought before the courts to account for their criminality wherever and whenever possible. At the present time the threat of being caught and prosecuted is low and needs to increase significantly if a crime prevention strategy is to prove successful. The wider use of forensic science will prove to be a good tool to facilitate this aim.

Whilst raptor persecution continues to plague our country the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts are simultaneously looking more to forensic science to support traditional witness evidence before they will pursue a case through the courts. To complete the perfect storm of continuing persecution and the demand for forensic evidence by prosecutors the situation has been exacerbated by falling Police budgets, which have been reduced dramatically by recent governments. Not one Police Department has been immune and the forensic budget managers have seen significant reductions in the funding available to them. We all appreciate the challenges that budget managers have to face daily and it is understandable, if frustrating to Raptor Workers, when bird of prey crime fails to make the cut when funds are allocated.

Wild Justice has stepped in to help fill this funding gap by offering financial assistance to Police Officers who are investigating raptor persecution cases and having difficulty in securing funding for forensic analysis of potential exhibits. This is an excellent initiative, which NERF fully supports.

NERF is a founding member of the Police led Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG] and were partners in the five-year Hen Harrier Life Plus Project which ended in 2019. We are all aware that Hen Harriers are one of the most persecuted birds of prey across the UK and remain on the point of extinction as a breeding species in England, as a direct result of persecution.

NERF is a collaborative self-funded group of volunteers monitoring and protecting birds of prey across the North of England and unfortunately every one of our member groups has experience of raptor persecution within their own study areas. Many of us have also been involved in cases where the search for forensic evidence, vital to support the case, was not pursued because of lack of funding thereby resulting in the investigation being abandoned prior to trial. We believe that this initiative will make a very significant impact on the investigation of raptor related criminal cases. On some occasions forensic evidence may lead to successful prosecutions. In other cases where raptor persecution is suspected, but the perpetrator has not been identified, forensic analysis can still be used to confirm the cause of death. This second function is vital in order that the true extent of persecution can be recorded with greater accuracy. When poisons, placed openly in the countryside, are used to kill birds of prey they pose a significant risk to members of general public, and / or their pets, who may suffer serious illness or in extreme cases death if they come into contact with them. Not all suspected poisoning cases meet the criteria used by the Government’s Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme [WIIS] to gain access to the scheme. This initiative will enable Police Officers to obtain funding to identify whether or not the suspected bait is a poison or if the suspected victim was poisoned. This information is essential to safeguard the public by issuing timely warnings across the local area.

NERF is so confident that this initiative will make a valuable contribution to protecting the nation’s birds of prey we are contributing £1,000 to the fund. We would also recommend that any organisation, or individual, with a passion for raptors should also contribute to the fund. The primary functions of the RPPDG are to help the Police prevent and detect bird of prey related crimes. Contributing to this fund is an excellent opportunity for members of the RPPDG, particularly those organisations who represent the shooting industry, to demonstrate their much vaunted zero tolerance of raptor persecution and justify their continued presence as members of the Group.

Steve Downing, NERF Chairman, commented “As a former Wildlife Crime Officer I fully appreciate the complex decision making process that is used to assess competing applications for funding the forensic analysis of potential exhibits. Every application for forensic funding is justifiable, however it is understandable why some crimes take precedence over cases of raptor persecution. This raptor related forensic analysis fund is a very valuable tool that will make a tremendous difference in the battle to detect wildlife crime and Wild Justice is to be commended for introducing the scheme”.


21 April 2020

Licenced removal of wild Peregrine Falcons for falconry

NERF is dismayed to learn that Natural England have licenced three falcon breeders to take 12 Peregrine Falcon chicks from the wild over the next 2 years. It is NERF’s opinion that the issuing of these licences cannot be justified on conservation grounds. We do not believe that there will be any conservation benefit for Peregrines from this scheme.

The UK Peregrine population is stable overall thanks to the increase in the urban population and it is not under the threat of collapse such as we saw when the use of persistent organochlorine pesticides devastated the species. We further believe that successful breeding of captive bred Peregrines should be able to fulfil the needs of UK falconers and the removal of wild birds to supplement the industry is unjustified.

NERF is preparing a fuller response to this unsatisfactory situation, which we will make available in the near future. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the country is in lock-down and our members, who also hold Wildlife and Countryside Act licences to both disturb and ring birds, including Peregrine Falcons, have been told by the BTO that our licences are suspended for the foreseeable future. One justification for the BTO’s decision is that ringing activities do include an element of risk and an accident could potentially put the emergency and medical services under unnecessary extra strain in these difficult times. Abseiling or climbing in to a Peregrine eyrie is a risky operation, even for experienced climbers or qualified rope access professionals and in the current circumstances it is understandably prohibited by the BTO. NERF believes that the same conditions should be applied to the licensees.


The restrictions imposed on Raptor Workers have been done to save lives during the COVID-19 are unlikely to be lifted in the near future consequently NERF believes that Natural England should suspend the licences to take Peregrine Falcon chicks from the wild during 2020.

It may be a different singer but it is the same old song.

The story of Mary’s short life is typical of many young Hen Harriers. The places and dates may change but the facts remain the same. It is a sad, shameful, reflection of humanity when Mary’s life can be summed up in the following 50 words.

Mary was a Hen Harrier. Mary hatched on the Isle of Man in the summer of 2019. Mary was satellite tagged by a NERF member working with Manx BirdLife and the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project. Mary left the Isle of Man. Mary was killed on a pheasant shooting estate.

Mary – Female Hen Harrier tagged on the Isle of Man in the summer of 2019

The fact that Mary was poisoned on a pheasant shooting estate in County Meath, Eire, not on a shooting estate in the UK, is irrelevant. The important fact is that she was killed on a shooting estate with carbofuran, a poison so toxic that a minute amount will kill a bird, a dog, a child or a fully grown adult. Knowing the risks involved someone indiscriminately laced a bait with this deadly poison and placed it in the open countryside where anything and everything coming into contact with it was at risk of death. Mary was at risk and Mary died as a result. This total disregard for any life-form, which is not a game bird, stems from the arrogance that we have seen demonstrated by many individuals involved in the shooting industry over decades.

Despite the recent warm words from the shooting industry that bird of prey persecution is unacceptable, the fact remains that this bird has joined the large number of Hen Harriers that have suffered a similar fate, in similar habitats and on land managed for game shooting. According to data published by Natural England almost three quarters of birds satellite tagged in the Natural England Hen Harrier Recovery Project disappeared inexplicably on shooting estates when their tags ‘stopped no malfunction’. [Murgatroyd et. al.] Whatever the location, in Eire or on the UK mainland, the problem of continuing raptor persecution is endemic. Put simply, birds of prey will not be tolerated across large sectors of their range.

The loss of Mary must be a terrible blow to Manx BirdLife. The Hen Harrier population on the island is small, enclosed and reducing. If there was ever a case for the introduction of new birds, new genes, into a small population then the Isle of Man must surely qualify.

Our sympathies go to Louise, the island’s Raptor Worker, and to Neil, of Manx BirdLife, and of course to Mary, a bird that paid the ultimate price for simply being a Hen Harrier. However you can rest assured that NERF will continue to play its part protecting and monitoring your Hen Harriers during 2020 and beyond.

Goodbye Mary. Hopefully your illegal killing will not be in vain and inquiries by the Garda Síochána will identify the person(s) responsible and the courts can then impose a suitable and substantial penalty. Whilst that will not help Mary it may help other Hen Harriers who follow her.


2 February 2020

Nick Lyall ‘congratulatory video’

Dear Lou

As you know I took part in the video to celebrate Nick’s achievement during the first 12 months of his Chairmanship of the Police led Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime [PAW], Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG]. I was, and am, proud to have been asked to participate and I am grateful to Ruth for the opportunity to express NERF’s thanks to Nick.

Having been involved with this initiative from the outset and previous Defra / NE raptor based consultation groups over the last two decades I have no doubt that the RPPDG is the most challenging of the six UK Wildlife Crime Priority Groups to Chair. Of course Nick learned this very quickly when two of the game shooting interests on the Group, the National Gamekeepers Association and the Countryside Alliance, publicly questioned his integrity when he sought to bring balance to the RPPDG by welcoming additional national conservation based organisations to the Group. The shooting representatives failed, en masse, to attend a RPPDG meeting on the basis that they hadn’t been consulted about the increase in Group membership and the National Gamekeepers Organisation resigned in protest. It is self-evident that they saw the proposed changes as a dilution of their influence which had to be resisted.

This re-balancing of the Group was long overdue. Prior to Nick taking on the role as Chair the Groups had consisted of five shooting organisations [Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Countryside Alliance and Country Land Owners Association] and just two conservation organisations [RSPB, NERF then latterly a representative of the National Parks]. The remainder of the Group consists of Police and representatives from various Government Departments. With this imbalance of influence the shooting organisations were able to assert undue influence and little or nothing was achieved as a result. The RPPDG has two primary objectives, firstly to prevent raptor persecution and secondly to assist the Police to detect raptor persecution where ever it occurs and yet since the group was formed the shooting industry has, through their representatives, sought to undermine the Group and thwart every positive suggestion where they perceived it would have a negative impact on the industry.

The list of how they have collectively sought to exert their influence on the group is endless. Two examples to demonstrate this are: the attempt by the Countryside Alliance to block the RSPCA from joining the Group, a rather bizarre decision when we consider that the RSPCA has statutory powers to deal with wildlife crime.

Perhaps a more realistic assessment of why the decision was taken is because the RSPCA have the following policies, policies which are at odds with those of the Countryside Alliance:

  • 5.9.1 The RSPCA is opposed to any hunting of animals with dogs or other animals
  • 5.10.1 The RSPCA believes that ‘sport’ does not justify the causing of suffering to birds and other animals, and therefore the RSPCA is opposed to shooting for sport
  • 5.10.3 The RSPCA is opposed to the pinioning, brailing and beak trimming of, and the use of spectacles or blinkers on, game birds kept in rearing pens
  • 5.10.4 The RSPCA is opposed to the killing of predatory animals solely because they may be considered a threat to game birds
  • 9.1.1 The RSPCA is opposed, in principle, to the taking or killing of wild animals, or the infliction of any suffering upon them unless a persuasive case can be made
  • 9.2.1 The RSPCA is opposed to the manufacture, sale and use of all snares, traps using live decoys and any trap which causes suffering

The second example, which NERF believes is more sinister and has the potential to undermine our criminal justice system is the insistence by the shooting organisations that they should play a role in deciding what is or is not a raptor related crime despite the fact that there is legislation and there are Home Office Guidelines that set out explicitly what constitutes a ‘crime’ and how it should be dealt with. This cynical attempt to minimise the crime statistics, which predominately identifies members of the game shooting industry as the largest group of individuals committing raptor related crime, is clearly self-serving and has nothing to do with the aims of the RPPDG whatsoever.

Attempts to undermine the work of the RPPDG, including individual members of the Group, has been relentless and it is incumbent on right minded individuals and organisations to resist these vexatious attempts rigorously. It is difficult to see why anyone would object to the congratulatory tribute video to Nick unless it was part of a political agenda to damage your personal reputation, the reputation of the NWCU and of the RPPDG.

I recently took part in a well-being survey at the conclusion of the 2019 Hen Harrier breeding season. The final question asked how uplifting was working with Hen Harriers? My answer was simple – not at all. The initial euphoria of finding birds skydancing, breeding and fledging young is immediately crushed by the knowledge that the birds will be killed on land managed for driven grouse shooting. The work that you and your colleagues at the NWCU, and in Police Forces across the country, undertake daily, can be mentally draining sapping morale to a point that the general public will never fully appreciate. The counter-balance has to be moments of levity taking a lighted hearted, self-deprecating look at the positive side of the work. The video was just that. People from across the conservation sector came together in celebration of Nick’s first 12 months in post and poking fun at his propensity to wear his infamous ‘rapper jacket’. No-one took part in the video with malicious intent. It was just funny and it was appropriate. It is still funny and it is still appropriate. I note that there are only 5 comments about the video on the RPUK blog and that they are all positive.

Complaints about the fact that the video, shot by Ruth, subsequently appeared on the RPUK website is irrelevant, a distraction from both the purpose of the video and the function of the website. The two are not related and to suggest otherwise is, in my view, purely malicious and should be seen as such. There are articles, observations and demands of Government that the Police cannot publicly support. Similarly this applies to NERF, we do not support all that is published on the RPUK website. However,  the Police, NERF and society at large can, and should, support the demand for the ending of the illegal killing of birds of prey. There are no conflicts of interest, for the Police or NERF, in supporting demands for the compliance with the rule of law. This does not negatively impact upon the integrity of those of us who share those views, despite what individuals or organisations who have total disregard for wildlife or the rule of law would have us believe, or seek to undermine.

Whilst the video was produced to pay tribute to Nick’s efforts it has been somewhat over-looked by many people, including by yourself I might add, that the success of the newly revitalised RPPDG is also a testament to your tireless efforts to bring the various factions together in an effort to consign raptor persecution to the history books. I would like to place on record our heartfelt thanks to you for your persistence in the face of adversity and NERF looks forward to continuing with our productive relationship throughout 2020 and beyond.


Steve Downing

Chairman: Northern England Raptor Forum

The incredible story of a Red Kite called ‘Red Philip’ and the dedication of the Friends of Red Kites volunteers.

On 8th January 2020 the Friends of Red Kite [FoRK] announced that, sadly, one of their ‘founder’ Red Kites, known as ‘Red Philip’, had to be euthanised after suffering from a serious injury.

Red Philip was hatched in the Chilterns in 2004 and was transferred to the Derwent Valley later that year where he was fitted with wing-tag number 15. He was one of the first 20 Red Kite chicks to be tagged and released from the National Trust property at Gibside, Gateshead, as part of the Northern Kites Project. He was named by pupils at the St Philip Neri Primary School in Dunston, which adopted him as part of a special scheme for 107 schools.

In the spring of 2005, Red Philip set up a ‘first-year territory’ with a female, called ‘Flag’, however, they did not breed that year. In April 2006, he once again paired up with Flag. They successfully built a nest and in late May hatched the first Red Kite chick in the region after an absence of 170 years. The chick was successfully raised and fledged in late July. The young chick, although not wing-tagged, was nicknamed ‘Geordie’.

Flag and Red Philip successfully bred again in both 2007 and 2008. Two chicks were successfully raised in each year.

In 2009, Red Philip and Flag refurbished their 2008 nest and hatched a further two chicks, but failed to successfully fledge them. The chicks appeared to have fallen from the nest; one was recovered from below the nest and taken in to re-hab.

In March 2010, Red Philip and Flag started to refurbish their old nest, however this was then abandoned and Flag partnered with another male called ‘Thunderbird’. Flag and Thunderbird have remained partners to date.

In 2011, Red Philip found a new partner called ‘Swift’ and together, they built a new nest within his territory in the Derwent Walk Country Park. They successfully fledged three chicks, the first brood of 3 for Red Philip. Two of the chicks were wing-tagged however, the third chick was too small for tagging. It is not uncommon for Red Kites to ‘decorate’ their nests and this nest was found to contain the head of a soft toy seal.

In 2012 Red Philip and Swift raised one chick.

In March 2013, Red Philip appeared to be on his own. Swift had left him for an untagged male holding the adjacent territory. Red Philip unsuccessfully tried to woo her back by visiting her whilst the male was away. Despite refurbishing his nest, and calling continuously, Red Philip failed to attract a mate.

He had better success in 2014 when he attracted a new partner, a Yorkshire female called ‘Soar’, and built a nest near Hagg Hill Farm. Together they successfully raised two chicks.

Unfortunately in March 2015 Red Philip was injured in a road accident at Winlaton. The RSPCA were called and he was taken to their expert avian vet at Morpeth where he was X-rayed. Whilst there were no fractures he had suffered some tissue damage and there was some internal bleeding. Following a course of treatment and a period of recuperation he was re-released back into the wild on his territory. Soar, although initially seen at the nest site, appeared to have deserted him. Throughout the remainder of the year, Red Philip was seen on a number of occasions near his territory. He continued to hold the territory during 2016 and 2017 however, the Raptor Workers found no evidence of a nest during the breeding season and a thorough check during the weeks that they would expect to find newly fledged young confirmed that he had not bred during both years.

In February 2017, Red Philip was once again been involved in a minor accident, having flown into the window of a bungalow near Barlow. He appeared slightly dazed but, after perching on the wheelbarrow for a while, he flew off again. It is believed he had been ‘hunting’ a swallow motif on the window, ironically designed to prevent birds crashing in to windows.

Red Philip was seen displaying and built a nest in 2019, however once again he failed to attract a mate and the nest was unused.

At the end of 2019, Red Philip, aged 15, was found in the Gibside Estate in a distressed condition. He was taken to the vets, Robson & Prescott of Morpeth. Examination of the previous injuries that he had sustained showed signs of arthritis and the vet determined that he would be unable to fly very far without considerable pain and discomfort. Reluctantly, the decision was taken to euthanise him. Red Philip’s body was, fittingly, buried on the Gibside Estate.

Red Philip was an iconic bird being one of the 94 Red Kite reintroduced in the Derwent Valley between 2004 and 2006. He had a full life with three partners [previously the theory was that Red Kite pair for life] and fathered 11 chicks. Red Philip had a number of followers; some of whom have been in tears after hearing of his demise. One member claimed that he was regarded as a member of the family.

Fifteen years after the first re-introduction, the local Red Kite population is faring well in the core area. Unfortunately away from the core area they remain under pressure and there is no doubt that persecution is preventing them from expanding their range. Red Kites are primarily scavengers, actively cleaning the countryside. They do not represent a risk to people, domestic animals or game interests. However, since 2010 seven Red Kites have been found poisoned or shot. Sadly, there will have been many more undetected victims of crime during that period.

Images of Red Philip, courtesy of Paul Danielson.

For further information please contact Harold Dobson [FoRK Media Relations]

Mobile: 07801 907832 or email:

NERF awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from the Chairman of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group

NERF has been a member of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG] for 10 years, working tirelessly to monitor and protect birds of prey in the North of England.

Between 2015 and 2019 NERF partnered the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project committing an extraordinary amount of voluntary time monitoring Hen Harriers at roost sites during the winter and locating and protecting nests during the breeding season. During the lifetime of the Project NERF members committed almost 15000 hours monitoring Hen Harriers and travelled in excess of 150,000 miles to and from the roost and nest sites. The value of NERF’s contribution to protecting Hen Harriers has been formally acknowledged by Superintendent Nick Lyall, the National Chair of the RPPDG, who has awarded NERF members a Certificate of Appreciation.

Click to download full size pdf
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The citation on the certificate states:

“For your time, effort and commitment in providing your personal time and money in order to monitor and protect endangered Hen Harriers.”

NERF is a voluntary organisation and it is humbling to have our efforts acknowledged by Nick.


21 December 2019