Author Archives: raptorforum

The tale of two Buzzards, one Eagle Owl and a gamekeeper with a gun during lockdown.

The past twelve months have been very challenging for all of humanity as the Covid Pandemic spread across the planet. The scientists immediately realised that the virus was spreading out of control through human to human contact and this pattern of transmissibility had to be broken. The response from the Government was to impose a ‘lockdown’ throughout England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland followed the same route, as did most of the rest of the world.

The imposition of lockdown was a draconian but essential decision. Thousands of people were dying in England every week, snatched from families who had to grieve without the opportunity to say goodbye and follow our funerary rituals. Schools were closed, shops and factories were closed; only absolutely essential services were allowed to operate and even these were operating at a reduced level. Lockdown had, understandably brought England to a standstill and we, the general public, played our part. Other than people engaged in providing essential services we complied with the lockdown policy and stayed at home during the early part of 2020. Interestingly, perhaps inexplicably, gamekeepers were exempt from the lockdown restriction from the beginning whilst the RSPB Investigations Team were furloughed for several weeks at the beginning of Lockdown One.

The countryside was closed and conservationists, including NERF, were concerned that raptor persecution would increase across the country. That concern changed to a predicable reality as the RSPB reported receiving a higher number of reports of persecution than normal during spring. In a 2020 press release Mark Thomas Head of RSPB Investigations said,

“Since lockdown began, the RSPB has been overrun with reports of birds of prey being targeted. It is clear that criminals on some sporting estates both in the uplands and lowlands, have used the wider closure of the countryside as an opportunity to ramp up their efforts to kill birds of prey.”

NERF commented on the appalling situation in the article ‘The country may have been in lockdown but in the countryside the killing fields were still open for business as usual.’ published on the NERF website 16 May 2020. [LINK].

Whilst we knew that the RSPB Investigations Team were receiving an increased volume of raptor persecution reports we were unaware of the nature of the allegations. However, following the publication of an article by the RSPB on 9 March 2021 we now have details of one of the cases that the Team were investigating. A report had been received approximately two years earlier alleging that a gamekeeper, on a grouse moor located inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park, was using a tethered Eagle Owl to lure birds of prey into a position where they could be shot. The use of Eagle Owls in this way has been recorded previously on grouse moors and appears to be on the increase. The initial observations were unsuccessful, however with the dogged determination we have seen for many years the Investigators stuck with the case and on 21 May 2019 the Team filmed a man arriving on a quad carrying a large box on the back. The box held an Eagle Owl which was removed and tethered to a cairn before the gamekeeper secreted himself close-by. Eagle Owls will not be tolerated in the territory of other birds, including raptors, which will attempt to drive the Eagle Owls off leaving the raptors vulnerable to being shot. During this period of observation no raptors were seen near the Eagle Owl and the person left with the Owl. Clearly the original intelligence had been correct and additional periods of observation were also undertaken during 2019 without success.

Undeterred the Team returned in 2020 and on 27 April they filmed a man tethering an Eagle Owl to a post before shooting and killing two Buzzards and attempting to kill a third. Undertaking covert observations requires exceptional skills, even more so when the observations are undertaken and filmed from c5 km away. The matter was reported to the Police and a search warrant was executed at the home of the suspect. Unfortunately due to the distance at which the killing of the two Buzzards was filmed it was not possible to identify the gamekeeper to the standard required to prosecute the suspect.

Inspector Matt Hagen, North Yorkshire Police, said:

“We conducted a search warrant and interviewed an individual in relation to this incident. Ultimately, however, the identity of the suspect on the film could not be proved, and it was not possible to bring about a prosecution. However this does not mean the event didn’t happen. We know that a gamekeeper on a grouse moor has been shooting buzzards, using a live eagle owl decoy to bring those buzzards into a position where they could be shot. We urge the public to report incidents like this to the police, and to come forward if they have information about this or any other incident involving the illegal killing of birds of prey.”

The RSPB video outlining the can be viewed here.

Whilst a lack of a prosecution is not someone involved in the case would have wished for we have to remember that the legislation that protected the suspect in this case also protects all of us should we be accused of a criminal offence. However; as Inspector Hagen stated so eloquently the investigation did prove that a gamekeeper on a grouse moor did use an Eagle Owl as a decoy and did kill two Buzzards.

If further evidence was needed that whilst the majority of the people in England were complying with the Government’s advice of ‘Stay home – protect the NHS – save lives – at least one grouse moor gamekeeper was taking the lives of Buzzards on the estate where he works. The RSPB Investigations Team commenced their observations and filmed the unidentified armed gamekeeper secreted near a tethered Eagle Owl on 21 May 2019. They returned and filmed another unidentified armed gamekeeper, perhaps the same person, killing two Buzzards 312 days later on 21 April 2020. Were they lucky to film him on the only day that he killed birds of prey using the Eagle Owl decoy? The odds are 311 to 1. The RSPB’s Investigations Team are very good but are they so lucky that they filmed him on the only day that he killed birds of prey?

Raptor persecution is one of the Government’s Wildlife Crime Priorities. The aim is to eliminate these crimes as far as is practicably possible and has a dedicated Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG] to address these crimes, but to what effect. In reality none. The Priority Group consists of the Government departments, Defra and NE, conservation organisations, including NERF and the RSPB. It also has representatives of the shooting industry every one of which trots out the mantra that they condemn all raptor persecution. Twenty four hours after the RSPB press release was circulated what have the Moorland Association, BASC, National Gamekeeper’s Association and the Countryside Alliance had to say about this case? Nothing. The sound of silence is deafening, but then again this is what we are used to. Several of the shooting organisations that sit on the RRPDG also sit on the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Management Plan Raptor Monitoring Group, as does NERF. The offences outlined in this case took place inside the National Park however; yet again the shooting organisations sitting on that committee remain silent, refusing to condemn the estate and the individual(s) involved.

Of course we should not be surprised by the silence expressed by the shooting industry with regard to this incident. When the case of the poisoned Peregrine, within the Peak District National Park, was brought to the attention of the public by the RSPB recently we also heard nothing from the shooting industry even though some of the members of the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative are also members the RPPDG and the YDNP raptor group. Why was that? Is there a common theme here?

Notwithstanding the fact that this enquiry didn’t end in a prosecution we are grateful for the hard work and dedication of the RSPB Investigations Team and Inspector Hagan’s Rural Crime Team for pursuing the case as was practically possible. Once again these events reinforce the fact that the shooting industry is incapable of self-regulation. The time for Government to introduce both the licensing of game shooting and vicarious liability for the owners of game shooting estates, making them legally liable for the actions of their employees, is long overdue. If birds of prey are to benefit from the legislation, that was enacted decades ago to protect them, these two changes to current legislation need to be made without delay.

If you have any information about this case, any other cases of raptor persecution, or any other Wildlife crime please contact the Police on 101, or,

Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Alternatively, you can call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.


11 March 2021

Natural England report confirms breeding Peregrines are missing from the northern uplands due to illegal persecution and deliberate disturbance.

Natural England have recently published:-

 “Definition of Favourable Conservation Status for the Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus

                                                                                                         Author: Allan Drewitt (Nov 2020)

Peregrine Falcon – Tim Melling

This is part of a wider Natural England project to define the Favourable Conservations Status (FCS) of various habitats and species in England at which they might be considered to be “thriving”.  The project aims to set aspirational levels for species’ populations and habitat conditions that will inform and guide decision makers to help achieve and sustain favourable status.  These analyses are based on ecological evidence and the expertise of specialist groups.

The Northern England Raptor Forum welcomes the report defining the would-be Favourable Conservation Status for the Peregrine Falcon. 

Many of our members have conducted long standing field studies into the fortunes of Peregrines in their area and contributed significant bodies of data to the key published papers that are cited in the Natural England report [Amar A. et al (2012), Melling T. et al (2018), Wilson M.W. et al (2018)].

Whilst the breeding populations of Peregrines in many areas of England have shown a general pattern of increases in recent decades the report makes clear this same trend is not evident in the northern uplands. Here marked losses in the range and population have been experienced and continue to this day. In particular, breeding productivity at sites on or near driven grouse moor estates is half of that found on non-grouse moor habitats.  There are now significant gaps across the northern uplands where Peregrines previously bred and where overall numbers are lower compared to the 1990s and 2000s, for example in the Dark Peak, Bowland Forest and the North Pennine SPA. 

The report concludes that current productivity in these areas is insufficient to allow the population to grow.  Restoration of the Peregrines’ natural range in the northern uplands would result in the presence of 90 pairs (compared with probably less than 20 pairs presently).  Crucially, the report judges that neither the habitat nor food abundance in the northern uplands are limiting to population growth.                                                                                                                                          

The principal reasons that upland Peregrines are faring so badly are given as illegal killing and nest site disturbance and the report makes clear that for a FCS to be achieved in England a significant growth in the northern upland population is now required and these illicit practices must cease.

Natural England have thus defined the underlying problem, which in itself is hardly news to many raptor fieldworkers.  However the FCS report does set an aspirational target for the future which is to be welcomed.  So far so good, the explicit acknowledgement that illegal activities are limiting upland populations is a positive step forward. The FCS has achieved its initial objective but the purpose of the report is inherently limited to just this so action plans with timelines are now needed urgently to deliver the stated goals. We now hope and trust Natural England will lead the way** with a renewed determination.

**Defra defines a key role of Natural England as:- “… delivering the environmental priorities of central government. Its general purpose is to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations    

NERF   January 11th 2021                                                                                                    


Amar, A., Court, I.R., Davison, M., Downing, S., Grimshaw, Pickford, T., & Raw, D. 2012. Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations. Biological Conservation. 145:86-94

Melling, T., Thomas, M., Price, M. & Roos, Staffan. 2018. Raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park. British Birds 111:275-29

Wilson, M. W., Balmer D. E., Jones, K., King, V. A., Raw, D., Rollie, C. J., Rooney, E., Ruddock, M., Smith, G. D., Stevenson, A., Stirling-Aird, P. K., Wernham, C. V., Weston, J. M. & Noble, D. G. 2018. The breeding population of Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and Channel Islands in 2014. Bird Study

Hen Harrier Fund Raiser

The Nidderdale Raptor Study Group in collaboration with the Northern England Raptor Forum are proud to bring you this exciting fund raising opportunity to raise money for the RSPB Investigations Team to purchase satellite tags to be fitted to Hen Harriers.

Hen Harrier Tag Fitted

The Hen Harrier, Circus cyaneus, is the UK’s most persecuted Bird of Prey. Previously driven to extinction as a breeding species in England the population is struggling to make a widespread come-back. The population remains perilously small and persecution on land managed for driven grouse shooting continues to be the primary factor limiting both population growth and expansion.

In a scientific paper published by Murgatroyd et al, using data from Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project, the authors revealed that the likelihood of Hen Harriers dying, or disappearing, was ten times higher within landscapes predominantly covered by grouse moor, compared to areas with no grouse moor. The study also revealed that 72% of tagged harriers were either confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed.

Satellite Tag with harness

For the past 10 years the RSPB has been monitoring Hen Harriers, firstly within the Skydancer Project and latterly as part of the Hen Harrier Life Plus Project. In both projects satellite tags were fitted to nestlings during the breeding season by highly trained specialists. The solar powered tags, weighing 9.5 grams, are fitted to the birds by a harness that resembles a backpack. Once activated the tags are exceptionally reliable and provide data that allows the RSPB Investigations Team to accurately track the bird’s                                                                                                                movements daily.

The satellite tag also provides the ornithologists with data about how much solar generated voltage the tag has available and also information regarding the bird’s mobility and temperature. When analysed in conjunction with one another it can tell us whether the bird is dead or alive.

By carefully analysing all the data it is possible to determine the most probable reason why an individual bird appears to have stopped moving. Obviously, the bird may have died of natural causes or been predated. In the event that the tag suddenly and without prior warning fails to communicate with the satellites overhead, within a predicted time frame, a situation frequently referred to as ‘stop no malfunction’ , the most likely reason is that the bird has been killed.

In both scenarios a thorough ground search is conducted by the RSPB Investigations Team in the area of the last known location of the bird using very sophisticated equipment. In cases where the satellite data indicates that the bird probably died of natural causes the dead bird is invariably located. In contrast when the tag inexplicably ‘stops no malfunction’ the dead birds are rarely located, a further indication that the bird was illegally killed and the tag destroyed.

Whilst the RSPB data has yet to be published [the scientific papers are being completed at the moment] by reading the high volume of press statements released by the RSPB over the life time of both projects, it is not unreasonable to assume that analysis of the satellite data will provide another damning indictment of the grouse shooting industry.

In addition to highlighting regions of high levels of persecution the satellite date also identifies previously unknown winter roosting areas. There is a saying amongst Hen Harrier workers – ‘Harriers bring Harriers’. By following the satellite tagged Harriers we are able to count the untagged birds that are also using the winter roosts, some of which were previously unknown prior to the development of satellite tags. That in turn allows researchers to better understand how Hen Harriers occupy the landscape across the northern uplands over winter. Using all of this data the statisticians are able to model the autumn / winter population more accurately.

Using the modelled winter population data and comparing it with the known breeding population gives us a better understanding of how the population is prospering overall year on year. This information can be used by the RSPB and other conservation NGOs to lobby Government to change legislation to better protect this extremely vulnerable species from disturbance during the autumn / winter roosting season.

Map showing Apollo’s’ journey

Raptor workers have long suspected / known that the UK hosts Hen Harriers from Scotland and the near continent during the autumn and winter. The use of satellite tags has now confirmed that ‘English Hen Harriers’ also travel vast distances to over winter hundreds of miles from their breeding sites. This satellite track indicates the movements of a bird that was originally tagged in the Forest of Bowland in 2019. The bird returned to Bowland earlier this year and is now back in Spain. Sharing this data with our European partners enables them to monitor the bird over-winter on our behalf and to potentially locate unknown local roosts, in much the same way that the RSPB Investigations Teams do in the UK.

The use of satellite tags has already delivered a tremendous amount of new data confirming the continuing high level of persecution on land managed for driven grouse shooting. Additionally the data has highlighted the remarkable mobility of Hen Harriers outside of the breeding season. However, there is still much to learn about these magnificent birds and the continued deployment of satellite tags is vital to achieving this goal.

Artist Dan Evans

Dan Evans, a Yorkshire-based artist, has kindly chosen to create an A2-sized oil painting of a male Hen Harrier, which has been donated to the Nidderdale Raptor Study Group for an online auction; all proceeds will go to RSPB Investigations to fund satellite tags for Hen Harriers. The painting was inspired after Dan had spent time with members of the Raptor Study Group monitoring Hen Harriers locally. This is a unique opportunity to acquire the original spectacular painting. To place your bid for the painting please click this link to the auction.

Hen Harrier Oil Painting
Click the links to bid on the original or to purchase prints

In addition to the auction, a limited number of signed prints will be available. The price of these are £50+p+p (A3) and £80+p+p (A2). Click here for details:




Once again all profits from the prints will go to fund satellite tags through the RSPB Investigations Team.

We appreciate that these are extraordinarily challenging times and not everyone who would like to buy a print will be in a position to do so but still want to support the project. To ensure that you have the opportunity to contribute to this invaluable scheme, on any level, we have created a ‘Justgiving’ fundraising webpage. If you would like to help us donate satellite tags to the RSPB Investigations Team please visit:

We would like to thank you in advance for supporting this scheme; a scheme that will be of tremendous benefit to Hen Harriers by increasing their level of protection and also by revealing invaluable data about how they move through, and use, their natural environment throughout the year. We would be grateful if you could circulate the details of the project as far and wide as possible.

In the meantime we would like to wish you and your families a Happy Christmas and a peaceful and fulfilling New Year.

Stay well and stay safe.


1 December 2020.

Scotland moves closer to licensing Grouse moor management.

On Thursday 26 November 2020, the Scottish Government announced that it is moving towards licencing grouse moor management in the coming year. Whilst licensing was part of the long overdue Werritty Report the fact that the Government decided to ignore the recommendation for a five year moratorium to allow the grouse shooting industry to demonstrate that they are capable of bringing an end to extensive use of illegal activities, including raptor persecution, by self-regulation within the industry.

Unsurprisingly, the industry is now expressing outrage at this decision. However, in reality this change was brought about by the on-going raptor persecution and persistent statements of denial, despite the abundance of evidence, by the industry leaders. Grouse moor managers have had decades to demonstrate that they already do, or can, comply with current legislation and yet to date they have spectacularly failed to do so. Legislation was the inevitable outcome.

Any licensing system must address other moorland management techniques, not just the authority to shoot Red Grouse. The licence will need to cover:

  • upland flood alleviation schemes to prevent downstream misery frequently suffered by valley residents
  • the use of lead shot
  • the use of medicated grit
  • the illegal use of traps and snares
  • heather burning.

Addressing these issues is essential, but this is not an exclusive list.

When the licensing scheme is eventually introduced it will require robust policing and effective sanctions if it is to deliver the projected benefits to both wildlife and the wider environment.

The Scottish Government is to be congratulated on taking this affirmative action. Raptors and other wildlife have no concept of borders and this action should offer them additional protection as they move back and forth between England and Scotland. The environmental protection clauses built into a licensing scheme will have a positive impact on the climate change emergency and benefit the population across the UK.

To achieve enhanced benefits for the whole of Great Britain NERF calls on DEFRA to introduce an effective system of licensing for the grouse shooting industry in England. The challenges faced by raptors on much of the land managed for driven grouse shooting in the North of England remains a clear and present danger. The threat from climate change currently faced by the planet is not going away and every beneficial action that will help to alleviate the damage needs to be taken now. Licensing grouse moor management may not be the answer to climate change, however it is part of the solution and should be introduced without further delay.


1 December 2020

Avian Flu found in the North of England

Avian flu has been found in wild birds across the North of England and DEFRA has raised the risk level from medium to high. The following cases have been reported by DEFRA

• near Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland [geese]
• near Ulverston, Cumbria [swans]
• near Blackpool, Lancashire [swans]
• near Ormskirk, Lancashire [a goose and a buzzard]
• near Boston, Lincolnshire [geese and ducks]
In addition the H5N8 strain has been confirmed in rearing turkeys at premises near Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

DEFRA advise that if you find dead or sick wild waterfowl [swans, geese or ducks] or other wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should not pick them up. Please report the location and species on the DEFRA helpline – telephone number 03459 33 55 77 – select option 7.

DEFRA staff will then collect some of these birds and test them in an effort to understand how the disease is distributed geographically and in different types of bird.
Further information can be obtained from the DEFRA website:

29 November 2020

Red Kite found poisoned at Scrampston, North Yorkshire.

On the 16th March 2020 the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, told the public to avoid unnecessary social contact. On the 23rd March the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, told the public to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. The country entered the first round of Covid-19 lockdown.

With the exception of essential workers who were vital to the continued safe running of the country the general public obeyed the Government’s edict and stayed at home, often enduring great hardship. Families were separated for months, schools were closed, weddings were cancelled, holidays were cancelled and thousands of people died as a result Covid-19. Families were unable to participate in funeral ceremonies to say a dignified farewell to loved ones.

All raptor work was suspended and Raptor Workers complied with the Government’s guidance and stayed at home to save lives. Regrettably, though perhaps not unsurprisingly, not everyone stayed at home to save lives. On the contrary wildlife criminals were out in the countryside taking the lives of birds of prey. The Covid-19 lockdown provided the criminals free reign to carry on – business as usual.

In April, during lockdown, a Red Kite was found dying at Scrampston, north-east of Malton in North Yorkshire. The bird did not survive and was submitted to WIIS, the Governments’ Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme, for toxicology tests to be carried out. Scientists at WIIS have confirmed that the bird was poisoned with a combination of Brodifacoum and Bendiocarb at levels higher than would normally be found in the natural environment.

Red Kites are predominantly scavengers and are therefore susceptible to poisoning. North Yorkshire has been the epicentre of raptor persecution for many years. When these two factors collide it is fair to say that across large areas of the North York Moors Birds of Prey are living on borrowed time.

If anyone reading this article is under the impression that this Red Kite was the only Bird of Prey poisoned in North Yorkshire during the first lockdown, or believes that this unfortunate bird was poisoned with the last few particles of Brodifacoum and Bendiocarb in the possession of the poisoner responsible for the death of this Red Kite they should think again. The chances of finding a poisoned bird before the poisoner has an opportunity to pick it up and dispose of it are infinitesimally low. Conversely, the opportunity to poison, and or shoot, high numbers of raptors without the risk of being caught is extremely high.

Whilst this article is specifically commenting upon one poisoned Red Kite in North Yorkshire it is worth reminding readers that poisons set out in the open to kill raptors are indiscriminate and all wildlife and pets in the area are at risk of death. Whilst society abhors the poisoning, and all other forms of indiscriminate killing of wildlife the individuals who lace the countryside with poison baits do not share that view and appear to have little or no conscience and killing predators is a daily event; killing anything else in the process is just a bi-product.

If you have any information to assist this or any other investigation please contact:

Police Wildlife Crime Officer Jez Walmsley at Malton Police Station (Tel: 101) and quote incident reference #12200055801.

Call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
Or you can contact the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

25 November 2020

NERF 2019 Review

We announced in July this year that we had taken the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 Raptor Conference due to be hosted by the two Peak District raptor groups in November.

Even without the second COVID 19, lockdown, we could not see an acceptable way to safeguard the conference attendees in a manner that enabled the conference to be popular success we have become accustomed to. Not least of which is the social side of the event, which many of our conference attendees consider to be important as the informative and entertaining presentations.

In any event the second lockdown, announced at the end of October, would have led to short notice cancellation and this risk alone meant that an early cancellation was the most sensible thing to do.

The initial lockdown at the start of spring 2020, will undoubtedly have influenced fieldwork and data that will feature in the 2020 report (to be published in 2021), it does not mean that the 2019 report could not go ahead. This did create some difficulties, namely how would we manage the distribution of a hard copy and recovering the cost of producing the report, the conference being key to both these issues in the past.

The solution we have settled on is to produce a downloadable reduced content 2019 report Whilst we are hopeful that the global Covid pandemic will have been brought to an end as the vaccines become available, at the present time we feel that it would be wise to be cautious in predicting what the future will hold for us during 2021. We will of course continue to update as the situation unfolds.

The 2019 report can be downloaded here. (or click the image below)

Stay safe and thank you for your continued support. Hopefully we will be able to gather together again at the NERF 2021 Conference.

NERF 21st November 2020

Click to download

Dryad joins the ‘disappeared’. From ‘tree spirit’ to dead in 90 days.

Dryad was a female Hen Harrier that was satellite tagged on 7 June this year in the Forest of Bowland. She was named in celebration of Dryad, the tree spirit who resembled a woman in Greek mythology, and she fledged a few days later. As with many of the other missing Hen Harriers, NERF members were involved with locating and monitoring her nest then ringing and satellite tagging her. The fact that Dryad has joined the ‘disappeared’ weighs heavy on the people involved.

The type of satellite tag fitted to Dryad is extremely reliable and prior to going off-line her satellite tag was functioning perfectly for three months. There are several descriptions of tag failures in these circumstances including ‘sudden stop’, ‘stopped, no malfunction’ and ‘catastrophic failure’, no matter how the failure is described they all trigger a land search in the area of the last know fix [LKF]. There is a function within the tag that continues to work after contact with the satellite is lost allowing a dead bird to be found. Highly trained RSPB Investigations staff, using very sophisticated equipment, searched the area, however perhaps not unexpectedly, the bird was not located. No matter how the inexplicable tag stoppage is described it means the same thing; Dryad has joined the ‘disappeared’, never to be seen again. Another young Hen Harrier’s life snuffed out in North Yorkshire. She had spent less than 3 months flying free. Free as a bird.

Whilst the matter has been reported to the Police we know that investigating this type of incident is notoriously difficult. Consequently, it is highly unlikely that there will be a successful outcome to their enquiries.

How unpredictably, cruelly prophetic would her name be? According to the satellite data her last know fix [LKF] was on the border of Cumbria and Yorkshire, just inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Whilst the LKF provided a What3Words location we can’t reveal the position of that 3m2 block where the tag failed because it is not NERF’s data to reveal. The words could be, perhaps should be, Dryad / 90-days / disappeared. Sadly those three words are closer than you may think to the actual What3Words.

Map showing the approximate location of Hen Harrier Dryad’s last known fix.

Dryad was the 44th satellite tagged Hen Harrier to join the ‘disappeared’ in the last 2 years. Where does that leave the shooting industry’s representative’s claim that they have zero tolerance of raptor persecution? Really, where is the evidence to justify that claim? Other than warm words there is a distinct lack of evidence to support it.

The RSPB press release was published on 15 September and a check of the leading shooting industry websites during the morning of 16 September revealed the extent of their public declaration for their zero tolerance policy:

  • The Moorland Association reminds us that it has been ‘a record breaking year for Hen Harrier breeding’ but there was nothing about Dryad
  • The National Gamekeepers Association mentions the 2020 Hen Harrier breeding success but there was nothing about Dryad
  • BASC, in common with the other industry’s websites, has plenty of advice about Covid-19 but there was nothing about Dryad
  • Countryside Alliance also carries the month old story that 2020 was a good year for breeding Hen Harriers but there was no mention of Dryad.

There have been ongoing discussions with the shooting industry representatives for years, in various forums, that are supposed to be attempts to address the continuing problem of Hen Harrier persecution, yet to date nothing has been achieved. Hen Harriers remain at risk, continuing to face oblivion as a breeding species in England. You will read countless words from the shooting industry about the improvement in breeding success in 2020, however these numbers are merely a snapshot from one year. Whilst NERF welcomes this increase in breeding success it is not a future predictor of population expansion.

Perhaps the industry’s press officers are overwhelmed at the moment by the urgent need to update their websites informing their members that the Covid-19 ‘mingling rule’ does not apply to them and shooting can carry on as normal in this time of a ‘new normal’. Perhaps they haven’t had time to write something about Dryad yet. Perhaps they will write something today. Then again perhaps they won’t.

Dryad was the 44th satellite tagged Hen Harrier to join the ‘disappeared’ in the last 2 years. Where does that leave Natural England’s Hen Harrier Action Plan? How many birds have to die or inexplicably ‘disappear’ before they admit that their Plan isn’t working? Without changes to legislation, the licencing of game shooting and rigid law enforcement nothing will change. Why is Natural England continuing with their Hen Harrier brood management scheme?

The Moorland Association et al are leading proponents of Brood Management claiming that it provides a ‘a safety net’ for the grouse shooting industry and builds trust which in turn will ensure that raptor persecution will not be necessary. The concept of building trust between criminals and conservationists who represent potential victims is alien to most people. The belief that the Brood Management concept would achieve the proffered result was naive at best, at worst the whole idea was ridiculous, it is not achieving the stated aim and should be abandoned with immediate effect.

Persecution is the most significant threat to Hen Harriers which, despite claims to the contrary, continues to face extinction as a breeding species in England. We know that to be the case because Natural England have told us so in 2 of their own published papers. In 2008 Natural England published a paper in which they said; “There is compelling evidence that persecution continues, both during and following the breeding season.” The paper went on to say “Persecution continues to limit Hen Harrier recovery in England”. [A future for the Hen Harrier in England 2008.]. After that pronouncement nothing changed over the next decade and in 2019 Murgatroyd et al used Natural England’s data and published ‘Patterns of satellite tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors’.

These two papers and continued criminal behaviour by some members of the shooting community are very instructive. The economist John Maynard Keynes famously said, ‘When the facts change, I change my mind’. The facts have changed and continue to change. It is time for the senior managers in Natural England who are wedded to Brood Management to read their own data, abandon the Brood Management Scheme and start to repair the reputational damage that it is doing to the organisation.


16 September 2020

NERF’s response to the 2020 Hen Harrier breeding data published by Natural England.

Hen Harrier nest

The published Hen Harrier breeding data for 2020 has been heralded as a huge success in some quarters, but was it? There has been much back slapping from Natural England’s senior management, the Moorland Association, GWCT and BASC et al. Congratulations are offered all round with the claim that the Hen Harrier Action Plan is working. Cue brass band.

There has indeed been an increase in both the number of successful nests and the number of fledglings and this is to be welcomed. Sixty young from 19 successful nests; 3.2 fledglings per nest is within the range that we would have expected in a year when the weather in June was very favourable. Interestingly in the Natural England press release Tony Juniper is quoted as saying “2020 has seen the best breeding season for England’s hen harriers in years………………” but he fails to mention that there were actually 24 breeding attempts during 2020, 5 of which failed. We will return to this later. According to Natural England’s own data there were 23 breeding attempts in both 2003 and 2007 [A future for the Hen Harriers in England 2008]. Therefore an increase from 23 to 24 isn’t very much to celebrate and doing so is a classic example of ‘Shifting Baseline Syndrome’. The collapse of the Hen Harrier population has been accepted in some quarters, and welcomed in others, as the inevitable, unassailable consequence of the purported conflict between driven grouse shooting and Hen Harriers for decades. Society, including those members who have a duty to protect Hen Harriers, has come to accept a population range between 1% and 5% [3 – 15 pairs] of its agreed potential, is the acceptable norm. Therefore any increase beyond 15 pairs, no matter how small, is seen as something to be celebrated. It is not. If we are to achieve the goal of allowing the Hen Harrier population to increase in proportion with the available, suitable habitat then ‘Shifting Baseline Syndrome’ must be avoided.

Whilst the numbers are an improvement on recent years we shouldn’t get carried away with that. What we should be celebrating is that 330 pairs fledged 3.2 chicks per nest in England, not 19. One thousand chicks entering the population; imagine that. Unfortunately, imagining that prospect is probably all that many of us will ever be able to do. Interestingly, whilst a BASC statement welcomes the increase and acknowledges that there is much to do it also goes on to say “This figure means we are only 30 per cent of the way towards a sustainable English breeding hen harrier population”. If that comment accurately reflects BASC’s position and they are indeed suggesting that 20 nests represents 30% of a self-sustaining population then are they also implying that the English Hen Harrier population of 66 pairs is acceptable. Acceptable to whom? Is that their target population? Sixty-six pairs is only one-fifth of the projected carrying capacity in England.

Other than there being enough breeding birds in the population to raise young, the most important fact leading to increased productivity is prey availability. We know that in 2020 there was a ‘vole plague’ i.e. a plentiful and consistent food supply throughout the breeding season, in some of the breeding areas. The consistent availability of prey and in some cases the provision of supplementary / diversionary feeding understandably led to increased productivity. However, the situation will undoubtedly be reversed in future years when prey availability crashes and / or the demand for the provision of diversionary feeding exceeds the capacity to deliver it, either financially or physically.

Natural England claims that 2020 was a record year, however productivity is only a measure of breeding success. Survivability is the measure of population expansion. In the past according to the analysis of Natural England’s data 72% of satellite tagged birds were killed or very likely to have been killed on a grouse moor. Their landmark paper also revealed that Hen Harriers are likely to die or inexplicably disappear without trace was 10 times higher, yes 10 times higher, on grouse moors when compared to none grouse moors. “Patterns of satellite tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors”. Murgatroyd et al 2019. We won’t know for 1 or 2 years whether or not 2020 was a good year for Hen Harriers. Knowing that 72% of satellite tagged birds are killed or likely to have been killed on grouse moors it is not unreasonable to suggest that 72% of un-tagged birds suffered the same fate.

By making small assumptions and rounding the numbers to make the calculations less technical and using Murgatroyd et al as a base, we can predict what the final outcome will be for the 2020 cohort. Starting with 60 chicks, assuming that 32 were tagged we can predict that 75%, 24 individuals, will be killed or assumed to have been killed on grouse moors. Presuming that 75%, an additional 24 individuals, of the un-tagged birds were also killed or believed to have been killed on grouse moors during the same period, a total of 48 birds joined the ‘disappeared’ during the first year. The 12 remaining chicks, 20% of the original cohort, are not immune from dying and an unknown number will succumb to natural causes. The final number of chicks surviving their first year will depend largely on the availability of prey and the ferocity of the winter but is likely to be less than 12. Before people attempt to ridicule these calculations as ‘back of an envelope’ speculation they should read data published by Natural England in 2019. That data looked at 58 chicks and predicted that only 17%, less than 10 individuals would survive their first year. A very similar outcome to the one we predict for 2020.

The exact proportion of birds being killed or assumed to have been killed on grouse moors, revealed by Murgatroyd et al, may have come as a shock to some but the fact that persecution remains a limiting factor to population expansion is well documented and should not have come as a surprise. In 2008 Natural England published a paper in which they said; “There is compelling evidence that persecution continues, both during and following the breeding season.” The paper went on to say “Persecution continues to limit Hen Harrier recovery in England”. [A future for the Hen Harrier in England 2008.]

Natural England have produced two documents that unequivocally state that persecution is the primary problem limiting Hen Harrier population expansion. However, in Natural England’s latest press release Tony Juniper is quoted as saying “Although persecution is thought to be the main factor limiting hen harrier numbers in England”. At what point did Natural England’s evidence based statements that persecution is the main issue limiting population expansion become a ‘thought experiment’?

NERF is a member of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG], and as such is a consultee under Action 4 of NE’s Hen Harrier Recovery Plan. The paper can be found at . Yet when Natural England went in search of supporting comments for their press release they only published comments from the shooting industry. Perhaps Natural England would like to explain why that was the case. They may also want to explain why NERF wasn’t included in the list of organisations working in partnership for the benefit of Hen Harriers.

NERF is at the forefront of Hen Harrier nest finding and monitoring during the breeding season, ringing, satellite tagging and winter roost monitoring in partnership with the RSPB. Despite this, we weren’t approached for a comment when Natural England published their press release. If we had been asked for and provided a comment we doubt that it would have been published. Natural England should be in no doubt that without the dedication of NERF members who commit hundreds of voluntary hours to monitoring and self-fund thousands of miles to monitor Hen Harriers the species would be in a much worse state than it is currently.

NERF is also concerned that the press release failed to acknowledge that there were in fact 24 active nests at the start of the breeding season. Two nests were being provisioned by a polygamous male and when he joined the ‘disappeared’ both nests were understandably abandoned. Two other nests, both of which were known to contain eggs, failed during the Covid-19 lockdown period when conservation staff and volunteers were prohibited from monitoring nests. There is every possibility that these 4 nests failed as a result of persecution and yet they don’t even warrant a mention in the press release. The 5th nest appears to have failed due to predation. Why didn’t Natural England, the Moorland Association or GWCT mention these failures in their statements? Were they attempting to bury bad news rather than being upfront and transparent by publishing all of the nest data in their press release?

Before the celebrations get out of hand we need to take a closer look at land ownership and usage and overlay that with the breeding data. Only by doing that can we develop a new understanding of the breeding success and its relationship with driven grouse shooting in 2020.

The shooting industry are claiming credit for the success because some of the nests were located on grouse moors. However, how relevant was that claim? How many of the 19 successful nests were actually successful solely on the basis that they nested on land managed for grouse shooting and for no other reason? The Moorland Association tell us that the answer is 12, more than 63%. That sounds impressive, but a closer look at the data suggests that when all other factors are considered it is not as impressive as the press release would have us believe.

In reality two nests were brood managed and they should be deducted from the Moorland Association’s claim on the basis that the young from these nests were raised in captivity, not on a grouse moor. Additionally the remaining nests in those brood managed clusters should also be deducted because they were required to be protected as part of the brood management scheme.

Four of the remaining nests were in the South Pennine SPA on United Utilities land in the Forest of Bowland, albeit it with a shooting tenant, and where therefore afforded special protection. Of the remaining nests, 1 nest was on a hill farm with a shooting tenant and both the farmer and tenant were unconcerned that the pair were breeding and both were actively supporting the local Raptor Workers who were monitoring the nest.

Whilst we accept that land with grouse shooting interests can be loosely classed as a grouse moor it should only be done so in the context that the landowner has control over the property. The tenant will be bound by contractual obligations which may include complying with current legislation and face the risk that the contract will be terminated in the event of a breach.

The remaining nest was located on what Raptor Workers and raptor conservationists would recognise as a private, traditional driven grouse moor. The nest was monitored from over the fence line by NERF members and the owner was aware of this.

The spin free results are not as impressive as we were led to believe. Why does Natural England’s senior management and the shooting industry representatives feel that it is necessary to use spin in this way? The data shows an increase, not staggeringly so, but an increase non-the-less. Of course the shooting industry will insist that whilst the primary land use may not be grouse shooting the land is managed for that purpose and the management techniques used benefit all ground nesting birds, including Hen Harriers. The discussion about the alleged benefits of grouse moor land management is for another day.

Before the celebrations begin we need to see the brood management scheme abandoned and year on year increases in both breeding success and chick survivability on land that is primarily used for grouse shooting. Those are the only measures that we should be using to quantify success. It is only when Hen Harriers are breeding on private grouse moors across the whole of the northern uplands that we may allow ourselves a little optimism for the future of a species that remains in peril.

Sorry brass band you can stand down. The fanfare has been cancelled for this year, again, and we won’t be keeping your number on speed dial for the time being at least.


11 September 2020

Another day in the Peak District National Park and another shot raptor

WARNING– This article contains a photograph of a Buzzard with horrific injuries.








This is yet one more example of how intolerant some members of society are towards Birds of Prey. This Buzzard was found by a member of the public who then telephoned the RSPB Investigations Team. The bird was subsequently taken to a veterinary surgeon by one of the Investigation Officers. Unfortunately the injuries sustained by the bird were so severe that it had to be euthanised.

When a post mortem was carried out it transpired that the Buzzard had been shot on a previous occasion and had survived only to be shot a second time.









The northern Peak District is a well-known blackspot for the shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey. In 2018, a rock climber witnessed a Red Kite being shot near Saddleworth and later in the year a Tawny Owl and a Short-eared Owl were found shot near Wessenden Head.

If you have any information relating to this incident:

  • contact Greater Manchester Police on 101
  • you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously telephone 0800 555111.
  • if you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB Investigations on 01767 680551


8 June 2020