Author Archives: raptorforum

Supporting the work of the RSPB Investigations Team

The RSPB Investigations Team has a reputation second to none in the field of investigating and detecting crimes against birds of prey. For more than two decades this highly qualified specialist team has been assisting Police Wildlife Crime Officers and the National Wildlife Crime Unit by providing expert evidence to the Courts. There is no doubt that without their evidence many of the cases would not have been successfully prosecuted and the relentless persecution of raptors would continue unchallenged.

The Investigations Team is now seeking help from the public to allow them to continue their vital work.

The RSPB has created a moving video, showing the challenges of working on the frontline in the fight against raptor persecution and exposing some shocking statistics. You can watch it here:

Further information can be found at:

www.rspb.org.uk/defend

 

NERF

12 August 2019

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Raptor Persecution Awareness Raising Day

Raptor Persecution Awareness Raising Day
Goathland Community Hub, North Yorkshire
10 am – 4 pm on Saturday 10 August 2019
Raptor persecution continues to plague the north of England and none of our birds of prey are immune. The needless slaughter of these iconic species continues unabated and the deaths are frequently associated with commercial game shooting.
To highlight the issue the Northern England Raptor Forum [NERF] is holding a second raptor persecution awareness raising day. The event will be held at the Community Hub in Goathland, North Yorkshire from 1000 to 1600 on Saturday 10 August 2019.
The event is supported by North Yorkshire Police, Operation Owl and the RSPB who will be on hand, together with members of NERF to discuss the issues with both bird of prey enthusiasts and members of the public who are committed to bringing bringing this disgraceful situation to and end.
Goathland is in the heart of the North Yorks Moors. It is the home of the popular TV series ‘Heartbeat’ and on the North York Moors Heritage Steam Railway.

Friends of Red Kites (in the North East of England) join NERF

The North England Raptor Forum is delighted to announce that the Friends of Red Kites in the North East of England (FoRK) have joined as members of the Forum.

FoRK are a well-established, membership-based, community organisation which was formed by volunteers in 2009 to encourage an active interest in the conservation of the Red Kite population in Gateshead’s Lower Derwent Valley and to continue to monitor their health & welfare.

It is the successor to the funded Northern Kites Project which was responsible for the re-introduction of 94 young red kites in the core area between 2004 and 2009.  [In 2006 red kites began to breed in the region for the first time after an absence of over 170 years.

In addition to FoRK’s considerable experience in monitoring and protecting Red Kites, the group channel their efforts into public engagement and education initiatives which raises awareness of the threats still apparent to Red Kites.   The species’ efforts to expand further into Northumberland, Durham and, indeed, Cumbria are also monitored by FoRK.

See www.friendsofredkites.org.uk for further details.

Coincident with this announcement we are also pleased to welcome the Yorkshire Kites Group which now formally joins NERF in an ‘Advisor’ capacity.   See www.yorkshirekites.net for further details.

NERF has enjoyed cooperation with both groups over many years but these changes represent an important advance.  Many of the issues faced with Red Kite conservation are shared by other raptors across our region and we look forward to seeing the benefits of exchanging information and expertise through our closer association with these two respected organisations.

NERF
1st  July ‘19

Hen Harrier Brood Management

In a few months time the outcome of the 2019 Hen Harrier breeding season will be announced. Some people will claim that it has been a good year and others will trumpet the outcome as a great year for Hen Harriers in England. Neither of these claims will be true, nor will they accurately reflect the fact that whatever the actual number of fledglings is this year, the population will remain perilously low for years to come despite the fact that there is sufficient space for c 300 pairs in the northern uplands.

If brood management goes ahead as planned 2019 will not be remembered as a good year for the English Hen Harrier population. It will be remembered, by leading conservation groups, including NERF, and Raptor Workers across the country as the year that Natural England (the English Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation) betrayed Hen Harriers to placate the grouse shooting industry. An industry that is, according to Natural England’s own data, largely responsible for the unexplained demise of 72% of Hen Harriers satellite tagged by their own staff. With that knowledge it is not unreasonable to assume that a similar percentage of un-tagged birds ‘disappeared’ under identical circumstances over the same period. It is also clear from press releases issued by RSPB that many of the birds satellite tagged as part of their Hen Harrier Life Project have also suffered the same fate on land managed for grouse shooting.

Natural England’s answer to those facts is the implementation of their flawed policy of Hen Harrier brood management on the basis that it is essential for Hen Harrier conservation and will lead to an increase in the English population. That second assertion may be true during the breeding season but it totally ignores the fact that all of the evidence reveals that persecution is more problematic after the chicks disperse from their breeding grounds. Brood management will do nothing to prevent persecution despite claims to the contrary. Anyone who believes that the entire grouse shooting industry will wholeheartedly welcome an increase in the Hen Harrier population is at best delusional. There are members of the industry who won’t even tolerate the small number of birds that already reside in, or transit through, the uplands at the present time let alone an increased number.

Following the confirmation that brood management has taken place this year, NERF fully expects an announcement in due course from Natural England stating how many eggs, or chicks were taken in to the scheme .What the hatching rates were from each clutch.  What the fledging rates were and confirmation that the birds were released back onto the moors from which they were removed. The project calls for all of the chicks to be satellite tagged prior to release back to the wild, in the interest of transparency NERF expects to read a prompt press release when the birds either die naturally or ‘disappear’ in circumstances that suggest persecution was the probable cause. The press release should include the location of the last known fix from the satellite tag.

Natural England has the legal right to undertake brood management, because they licensed themselves to do it. However, there is no right way to do the wrong thing and there is, in NERF’s opinion no justification for pursuing the brood management of Hen Harriers. We often hear the Police say that they cannot arrest their way out of the Hen Harrier persecution problem and in part that may be true. However, it is also true that Government policy should not be influenced by individuals or organisations that rely on criminality for their industry to prosper.

Additionally we need to know how much of the significant cost of brood management is being borne, not by the industry which has created the problem through illegal persecution, but by the British taxpayer.

Despite the hype that we can expect at the end of the breeding season, 2019 will not be a good year for Hen Harriers in England.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NERF

June 2019

 

 

Peregrine shot dead at Elton reservoir, Bury

Peregrine Falcons epitomize everyone’s vision of a top avian predator. They are sleek, elegant and phenomenally fast, stooping on their prey at up to 200 kilometres per hour.

Whilst urban Peregrines populations are increasing slightly their rural relatives are not faring so well. NERF members have been monitoring Peregrine nests for decades and there is a large body of evidence, gathered by experienced, licensed fieldworkers, to demonstrate that persecution, the killing of Peregrine Falcons, is continuing to have a detrimental impact on their numbers.

Whilst it is extremely disappointing to learn that another one of these magnificent has been killed, regrettably it comes as no surprise.

Following a report on a local Facebook group page that there was a dead Peregrine at the foot of a pylon on the Elton Reservoir local nature reserve, Bury a birdwatcher went in search of the bird and found the corpse beneath the pylon on 7th May [12th May in the papers – what do you think?]. A Peregrine had been watched regularly on the same pylon by local birdwatchers and was last recorded there, alive, on 30th April.

When the body was recovered it was evident that it had badly scavenged, however an x-ray organised by RSPCA Inspector Paul Heaton, a member of the NERF affiliated Manchester Raptor Group, revealed that there was an air pellet or a bullet embedded in the body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A post mortem is to be conducted by the RSPCA to remove the air pellet or bullet, which may assist the Police in their investigations to trace the culprit.

Despite the fact that the two local landowners had not given anyone permission to shoot over their respective land local people have reported that someone was shooting wood pigeons illegally in the area.

NERF would like to thank the RSPCA for taking the lead in the investigation of the killing of this Peregrine Falcon.

Eldon Reservoir is popular with dog walkers and the RSPCA have launched an appeal for information surrounding the killing of this magnificent bird. If you have any information that would aid the investigation please contact the authorities.

There are several ways to pass on information confidentially; you can contact:

  • The Police on 101
  • Crimestoppers on 0800 555111
  • RSPCA Investigations on 0300 1234 999
  • RSPB Investigation Team on 01767 680551
  • RSPB hotline on 0300 999 0101

 

NERF

15 May 2019

Dark Peak Peregrine ‘abandons’ nest containing three eggs. Really?

Hope springs eternal”.

So said Alexander Pope in his ‘Essay on Man’ written in 1732. This is a metaphor for man’s ability to keep on hoping that everything will work out for the best in the end no matter what the odds and it perfectly sums up the attitude of Raptor Workers at the start of every breeding season.

Autumn and winter in the northern uplands can be long, cold, wet dreary months. Eventually the wet grey days and long dark nights give way to warmer days; the clocks go forward and nature wakes up and bursts into life again.

However; despite following Pope’s philosophy spring time in the northern uplands always induces a mixture of elation and trepidation for NERF members. Having spent hundreds of long cold hours on the fells monitoring and protecting Hen Harriers on their roosts, often in dreadful weather, spring offers new hope. With luck the coming raptor breeding season will be successful; the weather will be kind, prey will be plentiful, clutch sizes will be large and by mid-summer young fledglings will be on the wing. That’s the hope but unfortunately the spectre of raptor persecution is never far away.

We understandably spend a great deal of time discussing and condemning Hen Harrier persecution however we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there is evidence  that all bird of prey species face the threat of persecution throughout the whole of the NERF raptor study area. Along with Hen Harriers we know that Buzzards, Goshawks, Short-eared Owls and Peregrine Falcons remain victims of egg collectors and they continue to be trapped, poisoned and shot to death annually. The problem is particularly acute in North Yorkshire and the Dark Peak but no region is totally immune.

Peregrine populations have been suppressed by persecution in the northern uplands for decades and in the Dark Peak Peregrines have had a torrid time for many, many years. This latest incident, which occurred in the Peak District National Park, involved an active Peregrine nest where the adults ‘disappeared’ leaving 3 unhatched eggs.

On the 26th of March 2019 two licensed Raptor Workers, from the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, were checking an historic peregrine breeding site on a remote crag on a grouse moor in the Glossop area when they witnessed a food pass between a male and female Peregrine Falcon. Along with this observation the Raptor Workers watched the adult male drive off a Kestrel that had strayed into the potential breeding area. From experience they quickly realised that this was a precursor to a breeding attempt and determined that they would return two weeks later.

The Raptor Workers returned to check on progress at the breeding site on the 8th of April 2019. After observing the nest site from a suitable distance for some considerable time they were dismayed when they realised that there were no adults present on the crag. In order to confirm whether or not the Peregrines had actually commenced breeding they made a licensed visit to the nesting ledge and there they discovered three cold Peregrine Falcon eggs. Whilst we may never know what actually occurred at this site research tells us that Peregrine falcons do not abandon their eggs unless one or both of the birds have been either killed or kept off of their nest for a very long period of time. The average incubation period for Peregrine eggs is 31 days [BTO] and yet adults are so committed to hatching their eggs they will continued incubating infertile eggs for periods considerably longer that the normal 31 days. Taking into account that the adults were absent, that the eggs were cold, that the nest was located in an area where raptor persecution is rife it is difficult to perceive a cause of this failure that doesn’t involve human interference at the site.

Peregrines are one of the earliest raptors to breed and this incident reminds all of us, not just Raptor Workers, that we must be vigilant whilst monitoring, or simply enjoying watching, all raptor breeding attempts. They are all vulnerable and NERF will play its part in protecting them in the months and years ahead. To some, following the philosophy ‘hope springs eternal’ may appear naïve when persecution of birds of prey continues apace. However; if we lose hope we lose everything. We will never lose hope; our magnificent birds of prey deserve no less. Persecution is pernicious and there is no place for it in modern day society.

For future information on the level of raptor persecution in the Dark Peak click on the links below.

Peak Malpractice 2006 – RSPB,
Peak Malpractice update 2007 – RSPB,
The Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative 2018 – Peak District National Park Authority, National Trust, Moorland Association, Natural England and both of the local Raptor Groups [The RSPB left the Initiative in early 2018 due to a lack of progress and ongoing raptor persecution incidents].
Raptor Persecution in the Peak District National Park – Melling et al 2018, highlighting the fortunes of breeding peregrine and goshawk in the Peak District National Park and the association of raptor persecution with driven grouse shooting.

This incident has been reported to the Police. If you have any information that would aid the investigation please contact the authorities. There are several ways to pass on information; you can contact:

  • The Police on 101
  • Crimestoppers on 0800 555111
  • RSPB Investigation Team on 01767 680551
  • RSPB hotline on 0300 999 0101

NERF

18 April 2019

NERF’s response to Murgatroyd et al. Natural England’s paper identifying that the persecution of Hen Harriers on grouse moors is suppressing the population in Britain.

NERF welcomes the publication of the Murgatroyd et al paper, which highlights the fact that the pattern of the disappearances of satellite tagged Hen Harriers confirms beyond all doubt that there is widespread illegal killing of Hen Harriers on British grouse moors. Therefore the ‘it’s just a few bad apples’ defence, that we so often hear from the grouse shooting industry, is destroyed completely by science.

But how did we get to this point and why did it take so long? Will this be the catalyst that spurs the Government to say enough is enough, self-regulation has failed our natural heritage and actually take affirmative action, or will it be the beginning of further years and years of pointless procrastination and fudge?

‘Hen Harriers face extinction as a breeding species in England’.

That was the strap line of the Police led Operation Artemis, launched in 2004 to tackle Hen Harrier persecution across the UK. In a nutshell the Operation confirmed that the problem was that Hen Harriers were being systematically killed on grouse moors and sought to directly address the issue with members of the grouse shooting industry. A Police Officer, normally a Wildlife Crime Officer, personally delivered a proposed new code of conduct to every identified grouse moor owner, grouse moor land agent, grouse moor shooting tenant and grouse moor gamekeeper across the UK. Adherence to that code of practice would have brought an end to the vast majority of Hen Harrier persecution. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. The claim that Hen Harriers were facing extinction as a breeding species in England was derided by the grouse shooting industry, which refused en masse to cooperate, whilst claiming that self-regulation was the answer not Police or Government intervention.

Notwithstanding the lack of cooperation from the grouse shooting industry and the ever present threat of Police action, the time period that Operation Artemis was in force, 2004 – 2008, consistently delivered the highest number of breeding pairs and the highest number of fledged young dispersed over a wider geographical area in England than at any other time in the decade 2002 to 2012.

On the 6th January 2009 Natural England declared “There is compelling evidence that persecution continues, both during and following the breeding season. Persecution continues to limit Hen Harrier recovery in England”.

Natural England’s solution to the problem. It’s time to talk. It’s good to talk; isn’t it?

Hen Harriers were still being killed on grouse moors and we, the conservationists, were told that what was needed to resolve the problem was a partnership approach. It was claimed that the partnership approach would solve the ever present so called ‘conflict’ between Hen Harriers and driven grouse shooting. The ‘partnership cloud’ descended on the Hen Harrier persecution problem and any attempt at resolving the issue became instantly fog bound, embroiled in meaningless and pointless discussions for years. The Environment Council, a highly experienced group of negotiators who were used to handling complex conflict resolutions, were called in to set up the Hen Harrier Dialogue. Conflict resolution, that’s a cosy euphemism for dealing with organised criminality whilst not upsetting anyone in the partnership. NERF had a seat at that particular table and spent years listening to the denials, obfuscation and demands from the very industry that everyone in the room knew was largely responsible for the problem in the first place. Not one inch of ground was given by those representing the grouse shooting industry and in the end the very costly Hen Harrier Dialogue, paid for out of the public purse, failed miserably and was abandoned. It was doomed to fail from the outset but the conservationists had attended the meetings and tried to find a workable solution in good faith. Regrettably it was all for nought. Years were lost whilst the talking and the killing continued.

The Hen Harrier Dialogue clearly proved that it is ‘good to talk’; depending that is on which side of the argument you are on of course. Unfortunately the Hen Harriers were on the wrong side once again and the number of Hen Harriers killed illegally continued to rise.

Following the failure of the Hen Harrier Dialogue it was claimed yet again that what was needed was yet another partnership approach. Once more this would mean that all interested parties were working together to achieve a common goal. That would resolve the issue once and for all; wouldn’t it? As a consequence the ill-conceived Hen Harrier Plan swung in to force, however, whilst the grouse shooting industry was included, NERF was excluded from the discussions.

In 2009 the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime – Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG] was formed. It was time to talk; again. The Group consisting of the Police, The Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Natural England, the Welsh Government, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), The Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) and the titans of the shooting industry representing the Moorland Association (MA), the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO), the Countryside Alliance (CA) and The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC). The RPPDG, including the very same organisations that had stalled the Hen Harrier Dialogue, set off collectively in an accelerated bout of inaction. Theoretically the talking began afresh with the sole aim of ending raptor persecution in all its forms. Linked in pseudo-solidarity the Raptor Persecution Delivery Group marched in to the ‘partnership cloud’ once more; fog bound and going nowhere again. Olive branch after olive branch, concession after concession has been offered to the shooting industry representatives. Yet each and every positive proposal to date has been met with counter negative proposals designed with the sole aim of preventing any progress being made. At the same time several of the so called partners took every opportunity to attack the RSPB for assisting the Police to put professional criminals before the courts. In 2013 the prediction made by Operation Artemis in 2004 became a reality when the only two Hen Harrier breeding attempts in England failed.

The RSPB ‘Skydancer’ Project and the ongoing Hen Harrier Life Project, have for several years been highlighting the fact that Hen Harriers have been disappearing on or adjacent to moorland used for driven grouse shooting at an alarming rate.

Satellite tags which have catastrophically failed under inexplicable circumstances indicate that persecution is the most likely cause. The data has been dismissed as irrelevant by the grouse shooting industry for years. Rather than accept the reality they have constantly sought to divert attention from the fact that birds are being illegally killed on grouse moors by trying to lay the blame at the door of the tag manufacturers, RSPB staff, the Raptor Workers who fit the tags, bird watchers who allegedly disturb the birds and insufficient food supply.

All of these claims are ludicrous of course and they are disseminated for one purpose and one purpose alone – to divert attention away from the fact that the primary reason we have suppressed populations of Hen Harriers in the north of England is persecution of the species by members of the grouse shooting industry itself. This simple fact was accepted , without contest, by Natural England in the proceedings of the recent legal judgement on the challenge to Hen Harrier brood management trials– a plan in itself designed to allow yet another 5 years pass by whilst birds are persecuted.

So this is how we’ve arrived at where we are today and whilst some bird of prey populations are increasing the threat level for many others, including Hen Harriers, remains persistently high.

The RPPDG has been meeting for ten years and many tens of thousands of pounds have been squandered to deliver precisely nothing. Under the Chairmanship of Nick Lyall much is expected of the RPPDG in future and NERF remains committed to help to drive change forward. The number of conservation NGOs on the Group recently increased, at the moment we are collectively investing a tremendous amount of goodwill in the hope that progress will be forthcoming and the chairman is under tremendous pressure to deliver positive outcomes for all raptors not just Hen Harriers.

The sorry state of the Hen Harrier population and the root cause of the problem has been known for many years, probably decades. Now Murgatroyd et al provides the following stark, unequivocal evidence identifying the intensity of the persecution of Hen Harriers that exists on grouse moors. Their statement reads:

“We conclude that hen harriers in Britain suffer elevated levels of mortality on grouse moors, which is most likely the result of illegal killing.”

The authors of the report analysed satellite data from 58 Hen Harriers gathered over a 10 year period [2007 – 2017]. That is a very impressive amount of data to analyse and the conclusions, drawn from their analysis, are equally impressive. The authors need to be congratulated for their efforts in producing the paper. From their careful analysis of thousands of pieces of data they conclude that 72% of the 58 birds monitored, 42 individuals, were either confirmed killed [4 birds / 7%] whilst the remainder simply ‘disappeared’ when their tag inexplicably failed on grouse moors, predominantly in our protected landscapes.

Searches for those birds carried out with very sophisticated equipment by highly trained Natural England staff failed to locate either the bodies or the tags. This mirrors exactly the same pattern experienced by RSPB staff, evidenced by the number of unexplainable incidents where tags have catastrophically failed on or adjacent to grouse moors and neither the birds nor the tags were found after extensive searches were concluded.

What the paper doesn’t do, what it wasn’t tasked to do, is make a judgement about how many non-tagged Hen Harriers were killed over the same period in the same geographical areas. Whilst the exact number may never be known it is reasonable to assume that a great many birds were killed illegally in those same areas and for the same reasons that the satellite tagged birds were illegally killed. Whatever the true number of Hen Harriers illegally killed is, it will be certainly higher than the 42 individuals identified by this report.

This joint paper produced at the request of Natural England must be the last in a long line of wake up calls for the Government. Ministers need to publicly acknowledge that Hen Harriers have been and still are being systematically killed across the north of England by what can only be described as persistent organised crime.

There is absolutely no point in the Government pursuing flawed policies including the plan for brood management and the proposed southern re-introduction scheme. Both of these ‘experiments’ will achieve nothing more than putting Hen Harriers, perhaps more Hen Harriers than would normally be expected, at risk of being illegally killed on grouse moors. The Government’s own data speaks volumes to that effect.

NERF believes that the Government should, with immediate effect:

  • abandon the proposed southern re-introduction scheme
  • abandon the proposed brood management scheme
  • take steps to licence driven grouse shooting, with appropriate sanctions when licence breaches occur
  • divert the funding allocated to the southern re-introduction scheme and the brood management scheme to the National Wildlife Crime Unit in order that adequate resources can be deployed to tackle the root cause of Hen Harrier persecution, i.e. organised crime.

It has been 15 years since Operation Artemis was launched, 15 wasted years but this paper can and should be the catalyst for change. Your department produced the data analysed by Murgatroyd et al Mr Gove; it is time for you to take decisive, affirmative action now to stop Hen Harrier persecution on driven grouse moors. Don’t waste another 5 years on unnecessary experiments whilst wallowing in the current unacceptable status quo, repeating the errors of the past. We know what the problem is and we don’t need to watch the continued slaughter of Hen Harriers on grouse moors in protected landscapes by armed criminals just to confirm once more what we already know.

NERF

21 March 2019