Category Archives: NERF Statement

RED KITE poisoned in the Nidderdale AONB

Red Kite – Tim Melling

‘Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless, is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives’.

Albert Schweitzer

The ink was hardly dry on the NERF article about the mysterious ‘disappearance’ of the RSPB satellite tagged Hen Harrier named Ada when news of this latest unlawful killing of a bird of prey was made public.

In March 2019 a member of the public found a dead Red Kite below a tree in Blazefield, adjacent to a caravan site, on the outskirts of Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire. Regrettably the report of a dead bird of prey illegally killed in the county, is not ground breaking news. It is just another tragic case of bird of prey persecution in North Yorkshire; the heart of raptor persecution in England. Whilst this latest killing is a shocking incident few people who monitor events such as this will have been surprised by it.

The long history of bird of prey persecution in the Nidderdale ANOB has been documented by the RSPB Investigations Team. The data shows that between 1987 and 2017 43 birds of prey were confirmed as victims of persecution. Of those 43 no less than 24 were Red Kites.

The victim in this latest crime apparently wasn’t ringed and therefore we will never know where it came from. However, it is likely to have originated from either the Yorkshire Kites Project or the Gateshead based Red Kite Project, both of which are managed by NERF member groups.

Red Kites are scavengers and carrion forms a large part of their diet. This makes them very vulnerable to being poisoned by individuals or organisations that are determined to wilfully kill them. Red Kites are huge with a 1.5 metre wingspan but they are usually incapable of defending a prey item on the ground from more powerful avian predators such as Buzzards. In an attempt to overcome the potential of losing their food they usually carry it into a nearby tree before beginning to eat it. It is this behaviour that explains why poisoned Red Kites are frequently found dead under trees.

In this case the incident was reported to the authorities and the North Yorkshire Police submitted the bird for analysis under the Government’s Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme [WIIS]. The result of the analysis was that the bird had been killed with the highly toxic poisons bendiocarb and isofenphos. Not-withstanding the fact that the chemical analysis will have taken some time to complete and that the Police may also have needed additional time to conclude their investigation it is non-the-less regrettable that there was an eight month delay before the Police issued a press statement advising the public of the potential threat to wildlife, pets and people in the Pateley Bridge area.

Bendiocarb is one of the poisons of choice for anyone intent on killing birds of prey. However, it is also highly toxic and lethal to mammals, including humans. Placing a poisoned bait in the open countryside is an indiscriminate senseless act of criminality. Once the bait has been deployed the poisoner has no control what-so-ever over what may be killed by it. Wild animals, pets and people are all vulnerable and the person(s) responsible clearly had no regard for the life of anything or anyone who came into contact with it. Anyone using bendiocarb to indiscriminately kill wildlife has decided, de facto, that he, and it is most probably a he, has a self-declared ‘right’ to kill anything and everything he wants to kill, regardless of the consequences.

The Police press release states that extensive enquiries have failed to trace the source of the poisons or the person(s) responsible for deploying it in the countryside. No doubt their investigation would have focused on identifying those who would profit from killing the Red Kite and who had the motive, opportunity and capacity to carry out this crime. The list of potential suspects is in all probability relatively short.

At the end of the NERF article about the ‘disappearance’ of the Hen Harrier called Ada in suspicious circumstance we reminded the senior managers at both Natural England and Defra that the persecution of birds of prey is rampant across the North of England and we called on them to ‘do the right thing’ to protect our birds of prey. Two weeks from now we will have a new Government and a new Minister of the Environment and we call upon the incoming Minister to also ‘do the right thing’ and bolster protection of our birds of prey.

It is NERF’s opinion that this includes:

  • introducing vicarious liability for owners and managers of shooting estates,
  • taking a harder line by withholding financial support under the farm payment scheme where appropriate, and,
  • suspending the use of General Licences

In the meantime we await the next inevitable, depressing, press releases from the Police and RSPB that another raptor has been killed on or near a game shooting estate, in all probability in North Yorkshire.

The population of Pateley Bridge and surrounding area is less than 3,000 people. Whoever put the poisoned bait out in the open countryside and killed the Red Kite is most likely to live locally, shop locally, use the local pub and may have children or grand-children in the local school. In short if you live in the Pateley Bridge area the person indiscriminately putting poisoned baits out in your countryside, putting your life, the life of your pets and local wildlife at risk is your neighbour.

In addition to the physical threats posed by the use of dangerous poison there is also the reputational damage caused to this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and local businesses. This potential reputational damage was recognised by Pateley Bridge businessman Keith Tordoff in 2017 when he and a fellow businessman, jointly offered a reward for information following the unlawful killing of another Red Kite. On that occasion the bird was shot near Greenhow.

It is in the interest of the community to put an end to the cycle of raptor persecution that pervades Nidderdale. If you have any information that would aid the Police 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

Warning – if you find a dead bird of prey in suspicious circumstances, or what may be a poisoned bait please note your location, take photographs and if it is possible cover the bird or bait with vegetation safely. The most virulent poisons can kill on contact with the skin; do not take risks. The default position must be that it is a poisoned bait or the bird has been poisoned. Do not handle the bird or the suspected bait. Ring the Police and get professional help to recover the body for analysis. Ensure that you get an incident number from the Police contact centre.

Many Police Forces use the ‘What3Words’ app to identify specific locations. The app can be downloaded to a smartphone for free.

NERF

1 December 2019

Ada the latest in a long line of Hen Harriers to join the ‘disappeared’ – on a grouse moor



Ada – a feminine given name meaning noble,  first daughter    ‘disappeared’

This picture shows Ada having been satellite tagged as part of the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project. It was taken just prior to her being returned to her nest. She was on the point of fledging, on the point of leading a long and productive life, adding generations of Hen Harriers wild and flying free in the North of England, or anywhere else she chose. That was her promise to her species; a promise that she would never live long enough to fulfill.

Whilst Ada’s nest was in southern Scotland, just over the Northumberland / Scottish Border, she was monitored and satellite tagged by NERF members working in partnership with the RSPB Life Project staff. We were heavily invested in Ada’s well-being and future potential. Her ‘disappearance’ without trace after a short life of 130 days, 2,790 days less than her expected lifespan, is not just an unfortunate tragic statistic to be accepted by the people involved. NERF takes the loss of Ada, and all of the other ‘disappeared’ Hen Harriers, tagged or not, personally and we are sick of it! Society is sick of it! Be under no illusion, the killing of Hen Harriers is not a random isolated act of brutality; it is a function of organised crime pervading grouse moors across our uplands, often sustaining their profitability. Anyone with a modicum of humanity cannot avoid being emotionally affected by the never-ending pointless slaughter. It is not just an insult to Hen Harriers, or the people that commit their lives to protecting them, it is an insult to the very fabric of civilization.

The pattern repeats itself

The sudden and inexplicable catastrophic failure, or ‘stopped no malfunction’ of Ada’s tag followed an all too predictable pattern:

  • Ada was tagged on 28 June
  • the tags used by the RSPB are known to be 94% reliable
  • the tag provided excellent data for 105 days
  • prior to failure there was no indication that there were technical issues with the tag
  • the tag inexplicably ‘stopped no malfunction’ on 10 October
  • her last transmission placed her on a grouse moor, east of Allendale, Northumberland
  • a ground search conducted by very experienced RSPB staff using sophisticated tracking equipment failed to locate her
  • despite long periods of settled, sunny weather there has been no contact with Ada’s solar powered tag in the last 6 weeks
  • Police enquiries have proved unsuccessful

The pattern surrounding ‘disappeared’ Hen Harriers repeated itself, again, and Ada was the latest victim.

Unless the body of Ada is recovered we will never know what actually happened to her. However, our previous experience gives a very credible working hypothesis. The bodies of Hen Harriers that die naturally are invariably recovered and post-mortem examinations pronounce the cause of death as natural, even though some were revealed to have been previously shot although the injuries had not been fatal. The opposite is also true. Birds with satellite tags that ‘stop no malfunction’ when the last transmission was from a grouse moor are invariably not recovered. Why is that? This scenario was eloquently described in a recent paper, ‘Patterns of satellite tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors‘ Murgatroyd et al, March 2019, using Natural England’s data. The data revealed that 72% of the satellite tagged Hen Harriers in their study were killed, or very likely to have been killed, on British grouse moors.

In short – the combination of live Hen Harrier plus grouse moor equals killed Hen Harrier, 72 times out of 100.

Ada was a Scottish Hen Harrier. She joined the ‘disappeared’ on an English grouse moor. What will SNH have to say about that? What will the Scottish Government have to say about that? Will there be harsh, angry communications between Scotland and England or will it all be swept under the heather?

Where does Ada’s ‘disappearance’ leave the Defra / Natural England failed Hen Harrier Recovery Plan now? Will it be business as usual, throwing huge amounts of tax-payers money, our money, at the ill-conceived Brood Management Plan and the ludicrous Southern Re-introduction Scheme? Or will the senior managers in Defra and Natural England take a spoonful of humility, a dose of reality and make a public announcement that these schemes are not fit for purpose until persecution ends and the northern Hen Harrier breeding population reaches the minimum number set out in Natural England’s SPA designations?

A change of policy by the senior managers at either Defra or Natural England is highly unlikely, so it remains business as usual and Hen Harriers will continue to ‘disappear’, presumed killed, on grouse moors across the northern uplands. It is widely accepted that past performance predicts future behaviour. Facing that inevitability, under the current circumstances we must continue to collectively apply pressure to the decision makers to do the right thing. The ‘right thing’ in this case would include introducing a system of licensing driven grouse moors, introducing vicarious liability for owners and managers of grouse moors, take a harder line by withholding financial support under the farm payment scheme where appropriate and suspending the use of General Licences.

In the meantime we await the next inevitable, depressing, press release from the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project that another bird has ‘disappeared presumed dead’.

NERF

28 November 2019

The Hen Harrier Brood Management Plan – what should happen next?

“It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. – Terry Pratchett – Men at Arms.

NERF has been opposed to the Natural England / Defra Hen Harrier Brood Management Plan from the moment it was announced. The plan was terminally flawed from the outset, it placed far too much trust in the claim made by the grouse shooting representatives, that they can deliver their part of the process and end Hen Harrier persecution. To say that such a belief was naive would qualify as one of the all-time understatements in the world of bird of prey protection.

The Brood Management Plan was introduced to placate the grouse moor owners and it is pointless to pretend otherwise. In return we were promised that once grouse moor owners had a ‘safety net’, allowing Hen Harrier chicks to be removed from grouse moors if two or more pairs attempted to breed within a predetermined area, then persecution would end.

2019 saw the implementation of this plan, followed shortly thereafter by the abject failure of the plan within a few short months.

Recent press releases detail the disappearance of three of the five Hen Harrier chicks, satellite tagged as part of the Hen Harrier Brood Management Plan and indicate that police investigations are being undertaken in all three cases.

This is the first year that the Brood Management Plan has been implemented and to date 60% of the chicks have ‘disappeared’, believed to have been illegally killed. However, if we take in to account the fact that the two remaining chicks from the ‘managed’ brood are reported to have migrated to France, then 100% of the brood managed birds that remained on grouse moors in the North of England, the most dangerous area for raptors in the UK, are in all probability dead. And in all probability, likely killed by members of the industry that asked us to trust them not to do so. How ironic!

The fact that these three young Hen Harriers have ‘disappeared’ will not have come as a surprise to anyone, nor will the fact that they all disappeared on grouse moors in the North of England; one in County Durham and two in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. According to Natural England’s own published data 72% of Hen Harrier chicks that were satellite tagged as part of their research ‘disappeared’ in similar circumstances over the last ten years.

These three birds join the list of many other Hen Harriers satellite tagged by Natural England and the RSPB which are now listed as ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances.

At some point Natural England will have to publicly acknowledge that the representatives of the shooting industry (in particular, the Moorland Association) are lobbying groups, not delivery groups. They are unable to either compel or ensure that their members will comply with any of the promises they make. Those of us who have sat around a negotiating table with them for over two decades realised this a long time ago. It would be helpful if this acknowledgment by Natural England came sooner rather than later and an alternative plan, a plan which is fit for purpose, is prepared for implementation before the 2020 breeding season arrives.

It is not only NERF members who believe that the Brood Management Plan should never have been implemented. Mark Avery and the RSPB both independently lodged legal challenges against the legality of the scheme. Whilst both legal challenges initially failed in court, they are now subject to the appeals process. Hopefully these legal challenges will be successful early next year, and the brood management plan can be consigned to the history book of catastrophic failed conservation measures.

Many independent raptor workers and other conservationists across the country have also denounced the scheme and will no doubt continue to do so if the plan is implemented in future years. It is also true that some of the Brood Management Board have expressed doubts about the plan, they should be listened to.

Following information that ‘Rosie’, another Natural England tagged bird, recently came back online, it is likely that there will be cries of foul from the grouse shooting industry claiming that the three ‘disappeared’ missing brood managed birds were also fitted with faulty tags. However, the circumstances of their disappearance, when the three tags ‘stopped no malfunction’, coupled with the fact that years of scientific research reveals that only 6% of satellites fail then any such claim would be misplaced.

What should happen next?

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” – Albert Einstein et al.

There is little point continuing to rehash the events of 2019. Brood management was tried and despite the hard work of the Fieldworkers involved it has failed spectacularly within months. The project licence expires before the 2020 breeding season and NERF is firmly of the opinion that it should not be renewed. Natural England / Defra gave the benefit of the doubt to the grouse shooting industry, the Government tried and failed. It is now time to move on and abandon their Brood Management Plan.

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

This statement, or a version of it, is frequently attributed to the British economist John Maynard Keynes. The statement actually referred to macroeconomics but it is equally applicable to many aspects of daily life and is very relevant in relation to the failed Brood Management Plan.

So what will you do now Natural England? Fail to heed Einstein’s warning and plough on regardless of the facts, or follow Keynes’ philosophy and change direction?

NERF

26 October 2019

 

RSPB Birdcrime Report 2018

The RSPB has today published the annual Birdcrime Report.

87 confirmed incidents of Raptor Persecution. As we well know the number of incidents that are discovered/recorded are just the tip of the iceberg as previous highlighted by the BASC Director of Communications Christopher Graffius in this publication from December 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 was also the year that ‘Analysis of the Natural England’s data from satellite tagged Hen Harriers was published’

 

 

 

 

 

 

As well as the year that NERF Members in the Peak District were involved in a study of the catalogue of Raptor Persecution Incidents recorded in the Dark Peak alongside the disparity between breeding success of both Goshawk and Peregrine Falcon in the Dark Peak compared to the White Peak areas of the Peak District National Park. The report from the study can be read here

Natural England’s answer to the issue of illegal raptor persecution in our uplands was to implement 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 and that it affects many more raptor species.

The Head of RSPB Investigations Mark Thomas speaking about the ongoing issues of raptor persecution can be found below

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

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