Category Archives: NERF Statement

Another sorry tale of a grouse moor, a bird of prey and a gamekeeper

Another ‘custodian of the countryside’, has been found guilty of killing birds of prey on a grouse moor. Perhaps it should read that it was another poor harvest in the ‘grouse moor orchard’ as another bad apple cropped up.

On this occasion it was two Short-eared Owls that were quietly going about their business, looking for food, when they had the misfortune to cross the gun sights of Timothy Cowin, the gamekeeper on the Whernside Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Having said misfortune, perhaps it was only a matter of time before they were shot to death on this particular grouse moor. The Whernside Estate had been on the radar of the RSPB Investigations Team for a couple of years following a Police investigation in to a report that a pigeon had been found in a crow cage trap on the moor. This is a common practice on shooting estates, used to lure raptors into crow cage traps and is illegal. Unfortunately there was insufficient evidence to pursue this case.

In April 2017 the RSPB returned to the estate to monitor the situation on the ground. At that time two of the Investigations Team bumped into Mr Cowin and exchanged pleasantries before continuing on their way. A little later they saw a masked man dressed in camouflaged clothing sitting a few metres from a plastic decoy and what appeared to be a speaker box on a fence post.

A few days later the RSPB Team returned to install a covert camera but before they had the opportunity to do so Mr Cowin turned up, wandered over the moor and shot two Short-eared Owls to death before concealing their bodies. The incident was filmed and the Police were called. The response time of the Police was exceptionally quick and they arrested Mr Cowin at the scene.

Mr Cowin eventually appeared before the court on 28th August 2018 and pleaded guilty to killing the two owls and to the possession of a device that is capable of being used to lure birds of prey within killing range. He was fined a total of £1,210, including costs and a victim’s surcharge. Many commentators have since derided this amount as far too lenient for this type offence and vented their anger on the courts when it would have been more appropriate to concentrate on the sentencing guidelines that sets out the punishment levels that are available to the magistrates.

There we have it; another case of birds of prey being killed on a grouse moor in the North of England and we only know about it because of the hard work of the RSPB Investigations Team. It wasn’t luck that put them on the Whernside Estate on that day; it was hard, intelligence led graft and it paid off. Of course you don’t have to be a statistical genius to work out that the chances of catching 100% of the raptor persecutors in the act of killing birds of prey will be close to zero. That leaves the obvious question; how many more birds are killed in similar circumstances that go undetected? Information received by the RSPB Investigations Team suggests that the numbers are very high.

Mr Cowin faced trial and was rightly convicted and since he pleaded guilty there is no right of appeal against his conviction and that is the end of it. But this cannot be right. Grouse moor owners are not, under the current legislation, culpable in any way what-so-ever for the actions of their staff. There are so many of these cases of raptor persecution on grouse moors that it is clear that the law requires updating immediately. Grouse moor owners and managers must be held accountable for the unlawful actions of their staff and it is high time that the offence of ‘vicarious liability’ is enacted. Vicarious liability is common place across many other industries and is already in place in Scotland for cases such as this. Once again English legislation is, lamentably, out of touch with reality.

When these offences took place Whernside Estate was, and in fact still remains, a member of the Moorland Association [MA]. We are told constantly, ad nauseam, by the MA that grouse moor owners and managers are capable of self-regulation and legislative intervention is not necessary but this is self-evidently not the case and a system of licensing game shooting is long overdue.

The Moorland Association condemned the actions of Mr Cowin but in reality they were faced with Hobson’s Choice; unable to do anything else but condemn raptor persecution in general and him in particular. The Moorland Association is a member of the Government’s Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG]; as are the RSPB, the Police and for that matter NERF. Why didn’t the Moorland Association’s press release contain a sentence along the lines of ‘Thanks to the hard work of the RSPB’s Investigations Team and North Yorkshire Police another raptor persecutor has been successfully prosecuted and we are grateful to them for ridding our industry of yet one more criminal, please continue your excellent work’. Could it be that they are more used to criticising the RSPB rather than supporting them and consequently felt unable to support them?

Another interesting fact about this case is that the RSPB were on the Whernside Estate to install a covert camera in an attempt to film potentially criminal activity. Although they didn’t have the opportunity to do so before Mr Cowin committed the offences that was their intent. We also know that they did indeed film Mr Cowin, without the consent of the landowner. In this case the Moorland Association haven’t condemned the RSPB for covertly filming the defendant as they did following the recent court case involving the killing of two Peregrines in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire. Does this signal a change of heart by the MA?  Do they now support the RSPB installing covert cameras to catch criminals on grouse moors? Alternatively was the MA left unable to criticise the RSPB in this case because Mr Cowin pleaded guilty? We will find out the answer to that question when the next case involving evidence obtained by the RSPB, using covert filming, comes before the courts; and there will no doubt be many more than one, and probably sooner rather than later.

NERF would like to thank the North Yorkshire Police, the CPS and the RSPB Investigations Team for their hard work in bringing this case to a successful conclusion.


August 2018


Hen Harriers – the English cohort of 2018

In recent days there has been a great deal of positive publicity surrounding the breeding success of Hen Harriers in the North of England during 2018. There is no doubt that the increase in both the numbers of chicks fledging and the distribution of the successful nests is very welcome news indeed.

NERF members in the Dark Peak, the Forest of Bowland and Northumberland were involved in locating the nests, then helping to monitor them throughout the breeding season before ringing and fitting satellite tags to the young. Working in various essential partnerships with the National Trust, United Utilities, the Forestry Commission and the RSPB the long hours, on the hills over many months, certainly paid dividends and everyone involved should be congratulated.

Interestingly it comes as no surprise to read that the Moorland Association tells a different story, claiming that the success is solely down to their members and those of the GWCT stating that the ‘Key to this success has been an unprecedented 21 chicks fledged from land managed for grouse shooting; over 60% of this year’s young (34)’. The question here is, ‘what has changed in 2018’? Is the Moorland Association suggesting that the numbers have increased because fewer of their members killed Hen Harriers this year than in previous years?

The phrase ‘land managed for grouse shooting’ is an interesting one. Dealing only with the nests monitored by NERF members; it is a fact that there are shooting tenants on the land where both the Derbyshire and Lancashire nests, 4 and 13 chicks respectively, were situated. However, it would be more accurate to describe the nest in Derbyshire as being ‘on land owned by the National Trust, managed as a public amenity’ and the 3 Lancashire nests as being ‘on land owned by United Utilities, managed to produce water resources for the north-west and as an upland nature reserve in partnership with the RSPB’.

Having claimed the credit for this year’s ‘unprecedented’ number of Hen Harrier fledglings they fail to mention that two nests, containing 4 and 6 eggs respectively, failed in unexplained circumstances on what is unquestionably a grouse moor in West Yorkshire.

Readers will no doubt separate spin from reality and come to their own conclusions about the contribution that the Moorland Association actually made to this year’s success.

2018 has been announced as a great year for the Hen Harriers in the North of England, but was it? That depends on how the ‘success’ is measured:

  • if the number of chicks fledging this year is compared to the numbers fledging in recent years then it is a good year
  • if the number of pairs breeding in the North of England, 9 pairs – 2 of which had polygamous males, is measured against the SPA designations, 11 in the North Pennine Moors and 13 in the Bowland Fells the situation doesn’t look so good after all. We should have seen 24 pairs, not 9, and if they produced an average of 4 chicks per nest then we would have seen 96 chicks not 34 the situation looks disastrous if the 9 pairs are measured against the projected carrying capacity of 332 pairs across the North of England moors

NERF both recognises and celebrates this year’s first steps in the improved fortunes of English Hen Harriers but it is too soon to break out the champagne. Twenty-eight of 34 English chicks fledged from the nests were monitored by NERF in 2018 and many of these chicks were fitted with satellite tags as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE + Project. These chicks are already flying free and some have dispersed from their natal areas. If future trends can be predicted by past events then regrettably many of the cohort of 2018 will have joined the ranks of the ‘disappeared’ by Christmas, never to be heard of again. Unfortunately it is not just the satellite tagged birds that will die in unexplained circumstances; logic would suggest that many more birds will join the ‘disappeared’ and history teaches us that they will be predominantly lost on land dedicated to driven grouse shooting.

It is understandable that the recent publicity about birds of prey has focussed on the good news about Hen Harriers but we must not lose sight of the fact that it is not just Hen Harriers that are persecuted on grouse moors. Marsh Harriers, Peregrine Falcons, Short-eared Owls, Goshawks and Red Kites are also under-represented in the same areas and there is no doubt that persecution continues to play a significant part in suppressing these populations.

With the Moorland Association claiming that they have full commitment to securing a healthy population of Hen Harriers NERF expects the same commitment, not spin or rhetoric, to be shown towards reducing persecution of all Birds of Prey on grouse moors in the northern uplands. Time will tell!

To highlight the plight of raptors across the North of England NERF is holding a Raptor Persecution Awareness Day at The Devonshire Institute, Grassington, North Yorkshire on 11th August. Further information is available on the NERF website. Speakers at the event include the Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, a North Yorkshire Police Wildlife Crime Office, a RSPB Senior Investigations Officer, and representatives from the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Peak District National Park and the RSPB Bowland Project Officer.


5th August 2018

The 2014 National Peregrine Falcon Breeding Survey

The results of the 2014 national Peregrine Falcon breeding survey have been published in the BTO’s journal, Bird Study, providing an up to date population estimate for the country.

The breeding population of Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and  Channel Islands in 2014  M. W. Wilson, D E Balmer et al


Members of the Northern England Raptor Forum made a significant contribution to the original survey through voluntary time spent monitoring specific sites and being allocated “random squares”.

The report estimates the overall population in 2014 to be 1769 pairs, an increase of 22% from the last major survey in 2002.  This outwardly encouraging result does however mask an unwelcome but not unexpected contrast in fortunes.  Populations in lowland regions in England have shown a dramatic recovery which is indeed a real success story in the post-pesticides era.   Sadly those in several upland regions have exhibited worrying declines.

This gap is stark and continues to grow.  The report attributes the demise of upland populations to possible decreases in prey availability in some regions and to known, illegal killing and deliberate disturbance especially in upland areas where the land use is predominantly for driven grouse shooting.  The results support earlier published studies including Amar et al (Ref 1) which demonstrated a reduction in site occupancy and breeding success from eyries close to managed grouse moors. Click here to read the abstract.

The situation in the uplands of northern England is perhaps best demonstrated by summarising those results from the survey which specifically covered the EU designated Special Protection Areas (SPAs).


In these 3 major SPAs only 4 nests from at least 24 pairs holding territory were known to be successful. This position falls well short of the levels expected from the citations when the SPAs were originally designated. It is clear that the present provisions for Peregrine within our SPAs are wholly insufficient.   SPAs are protected under EU Directives and the survey results expose serious infractions.  The UK government needs to take urgent action to restore the populations of Peregrine and other threatened raptors to a favourable status within our supposedly most protected landscape areas.  The situation of course extends to most upland areas in northern England.

The NERF Annual Reports have documented examples of Peregrines having been the direct target of illegal shootings and poisonings in recent years.

9th March 2018

REF 1 Amar et al . “Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations”. Journal of Biol. Conservation . 145: 86–94.

The Current Status of the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative

Recent social media publications have referred to the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative which is in disarray after the members failed to agree a joint statement following the publication of their latest report. The Peak District, including the National Park, has a justified reputation as a raptor persecution hotspot. The laudable aim of the Initiative was to find a new way of parties working together to increase the number of raptors breeding within the National Park. Unfortunately, the Initiative has failed spectacularly with the numbers of breeding pairs of key species falling and not increasing as planned.

NERF members, the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, have worked tirelessly within this Initiative and we fully support their frustration both with the Initiative in general and with the response of the Moorland Association in particular. Once again the Moorland Association has nailed its colours to the mast by refusing to acknowledge the true extent of the problem and at the same time continuing their tactics of discrediting the RSPB, volunteer raptor workers and now they have turned their attention to the Police.  According to FOI responses the Moorland Association are refusing to accept that an osprey found in the area with two fractured legs was not the subject of a crime and want the incident expunging from the record. This incident was thoroughly and professionally investigated by Derbyshire Police, the post-mortem results concluded that the osprey had suffered injuries that were consistent with being caught in an illegal spring trap.

What will it take for those in authority, including the Government, to wake up to the fact that the Moorland Association is a lobbying organisation committed only to benefitting their members’ interests?  Of course it is not just within this group where they seek to spread their influence, they are members of PAW and use the same tactics in that forum. It is NERF´s opinion that unless they demonstrate a change in attitude towards species’ protection they should no longer be treated as equals in Bird of Prey protection fora.

NERF fully understands the reasons why the RSPB has withdrawn from the Initiative and we look forward to working together on their Upland Skies project. As for the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative, 2018 is likely to be the make or break year. Further failure to achieve its stated goals will inevitably lead to a withdrawal of co-operation from NERF members. Whilst this would be regrettable, continuing with the status quo is no longer acceptable.

1st Feb 2018

Petition to license Driven Red Grouse shooting

From the very beginnings of driven grouse shooting individuals within the industry have been wreaking havoc in the northern uplands. Birds of Prey have been systematically killed in significant numbers with the single aim of increasing the stock of Red Grouse for commercial reasons, including elevating the land value of the estates. Red Kites, Goshawks, Peregrine Falcons, Raven and Short-eared Owls remain absent or substantially under-represented in vast swathes of eminently suitable habitat across the Pennine chain, the Forest of Bowland and the North York Moors. Hen Harriers in particular have been pushed to the brink of extinction as a breeding species throughout the region. All of the available evidence indicates that persecution on some grouse moors is the main driver limiting both regional and national populations of these species.

It is not only birds of prey that suffer from illegality or inappropriate upland management. To achieve high densities of Red Grouse the industry annually burns vast tracts of heather moor resulting in the death of countless numbers of reptiles, amphibians, early ground nesting birds , their invertebrate prey and reducing botanic diversity in the process. Heather burning regimes are now widely acknowledged to reduce the carbon storage capacity within the peat and that the process adds to the risks associated with global warming. It also adversely affects water quality and increases flood risk for downstream communities.

Traditionally the “very British” way of dealing with such issues has been through self-regulation. Representatives of the shooting industry have for many, many years attempted to reassure the public that self-regulation works and that they are best positioned to secure the future of our uplands, their overall biodiversity and the birds of prey that should thrive there. Evidence proves that this is far from the true. Self-regulation by this industry does not work, has never worked and despite reassurances to the contrary will never work in the future.

It is NERF’s opinion that the time for ineffective self-regulation is over. It is time for the Government to acknowledge that many of those controlling the Red Grouse shooting industry cannot be trusted to self-regulate and cannot be trusted to protect our birds of prey. The only way to deal with the environmental and conservation problems emanating from driven Red Grouse shooting is to introduce a robust system of licensing applicable to the landowners, estate managers and their staff. This is surely a reasonable and sensible approach and as with every other licensing system those not involved in criminality will have nothing to fear from a robust licensing system.

NERF supports the current petition to license Driven Red Grouse Shooting. To add your support please sign the petition at

15 January 2018

PAW – Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group Persecution maps England and Wales

Raptor persecution is widely acknowledged by Defra, Natural England and conservation NGOs, including NERF, to be adversely affecting many, if not all, of our iconic bird of prey species. It is also widely accepted that the majority of the people responsible for this persecution are to be found within the ranks of the game shooting industry. Of course this not new, some raptor species have been limited by persecution in terms of both population and distribution for tens of decades. From the perspective of the members of NERF this is particularly acute in the uplands of the North of England. Goshawk, Red Kites, Peregrines, Short-eared Owls and Raven are all but non-existent across vast swathes of suitable habitat along the Pennine Chain, in the Forest of Bowland and on the North York Moors. Breeding Hen Harriers are absent in all of the NERF study areas other than Northumberland where they breed on land that is not used for grouse shooting. This is despite the fact that the northern uplands contain SPAs that are designated for Hen Harriers.

It is self-evident that if this situation is to be reversed then persecution must be reduced significantly; it is extremely unlikely that it will ever be eliminated altogether. NERF has worked tirelessly within the RPPDG to find a solution to what appears to be an intractable problem, even though the solution is simple enough. All that needs to happen is for the criminals, for that is what they are, to stop killing birds of prey, stop committing crime. There is also a burden on the shooting industry to ensure that the members of the various representative bodies comply with the legislation. They also need to acknowledge that they, like the rest of society, have a duty to assist the Police and the prosecuting authorities to bring the criminals before the courts. The evidence suggests that the shooting organisations are failing in this respect and they are also failing to fulfil their wider social responsibilities by putting self-interest before protecting the natural environment, despite constantly claiming to be the real custodians of the countryside.Mapping out the extent and location of crimes and putting the information into the public domain is clearly beneficial and that is what the RPPDG maps were supposed to do. Unfortunately whilst the concept is laudable it is NERF’s position that the published maps fail to deliver the purported intended outcome. The maps do not include all forms of raptor persecution, they do not follow the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s definition of a raptor persecution crime. The methodology for mapping the data does not follow the Home Office guideline that the Police should follow the policy of one victim / one crime. They take no account of the guideline that if a witness reports a crime then it will be recorded as such until the subsequent investigation concludes that no crime occurred. The policy of only mapping raptor persecution offences where there is a recovered body, a positive forensic report or a conviction is fundamentally flawed.

Take these two examples:

  • a reliable witness finds what appears to be a poisoned bait, next to which there is a dead Buzzard. The witness follows the published advice and photographs the scene, takes a GPS grid reference, covers the bodies with vegetation to prevent further poisonings and reports the incident to the Police. The Police subsequently attend the scene to find that the suspected bait and the Buzzard have been removed. There is enough evidence to record and investigate the incident and the Police do so. Unfortunately the RPPDG ‘no body – no crime’ rule means that the incident will not make it on to the map
  • an experienced Raptor Worker is monitoring a Peregrine nest from a distance with binoculars when a person comes in to view and shoots one of the birds. The shooter picks up the body and walks off. The witness is too far away to intervene, and let’s be reasonable the criminal has a gun and direct intervention may not be the best policy at that time. The Raptor Worker reports the event to the Police and they duly record the incident. Following an investigation the person responsible for killing the Peregrine is not identified and the case is closed, undetected. Once again this incident fails the RPPDG ‘no body test and / or conviction test’ and doesn’t make it on to the maps

There is also no recognition that any attempt to commit a crime against a raptor is a crime. Take the second incident, above, for example. The shooter takes two shots but misses the Peregrine; clearly an attempt to kill it. Whilst the Police would record the incident as attempted offence it would not make it on to the RPPDG maps. Why not? Collectively the Police already have the data of all raptor related incidents reported to them therefore it is regrettable that the RPPDG, via the NWCU, insists that it is necessary to filter this data in a way that reduces the actual numbers of offences published in the public domain. There is no doubt that some individuals and organisations involved in the shooting industry will point to the maps to ‘prove beyond reasonable doubt’ that the number of incidents of raptor persecution is extremely low and a vindication that self-regulation is functioning perfectly well.

This restriction on how crimes are mapped by the NWCU would not be tolerated by society for any other form of criminality; nor should it be. Why then should raptor persecution related crimes be any different? Of course they should not. The Police have the data, they have had it for years, and it should be mapped according to the Home Office guidelines. NERF has pointed this out to the RPPDG on every occasion that the maps have been discussed; unfortunately our opinions have been ignored. NERF recognises that the full extent of raptor persecution will never be known to the authorities, they are committed in a shadowy world where offences are committed in remote locations often on terrain that is difficult to negotiate. There are relatively few people monitoring raptors and the likelihood of an individual witnessing a crime being committed against a bird of prey is miniscule. However, acknowledging that the true extent of the problem will never be known is a far cry from designing a system that, in NERF’s opinion, deliberately sets out to minimise the problem. It is inexplicable and unacceptable. Consequently NERF is unable to support the publication of the maps in the present format.

The Defra / RPPDG press release suggests that the mapping the will assist the Police in their efforts to prevent and detect raptor persecution. This statement is ludicrous; it will do no such thing. Whilst crime pattern analysis is a very valuable tool, used to advise Police Commanders how they can deploy their resources in a more effective way theses maps will do nothing to prevent or detect raptor related crimes unless Police Forces allocate sufficient resources to the deal with the problem. In the current financial situation where Police numbers are being reduced significantly NERF believes that nationally we will not see an increase in the number of Police Officers that are dedicated to deal with wildlife crime, including raptor related crime.

It is NERF’s opinion that the publication of raptor persecution maps is fundamentally a good idea; the public have a right to know that birds of prey are being killed for pleasure or profit and the Government has a duty to ensure that they know the true extent of the problem. However; NERF’s position is unambiguous; the data used to populate the maps is incomplete and the scheme needs to be redesigned and implemented in a format that accurately depicts the true extent and impact of raptor persecution. Raptor persecution is a serious problem, it needs to be acknowledged as such by the authorities and tackled appropriately. Once this is done NERF will reverse its current position and support an improved mapping scheme. Not-with-standing our position in respect of the raptor persecution maps NERF will continue, as a member of the RPPDG, to work for the benefit of birds of prey.

Northern England Raptor Forum

15 December 2017

NERF’s response to the publication of RSPB Birdcrime 2016

The recent publication of the RSPB Birdcrime 2016 has once again highlighted the criminal activity that has resulted in the persecution of Birds of Prey, much of which took place within the geographical areas monitored by NERF Raptor Study Groups. Whilst some members of the shooting industry have sought to dismiss the report, pointing out that the number of annual prosecutions for persecution is minuscule, it is clear that in some areas – particularly those associated with gamebird shooting, that raptor persecution is undiminished.

The RSPB 2016 Bird Crime report can be read here

In Birdcrime the RSPB reported that there were a total of 81 confirmed incidents of Bird of Prey persecution across the UK during 2016. Fifty-three [65%] of these confirmed incidents took place in England. Disappointingly this is consistent with the 5 year average of 54 raptor related crimes per annum. The graph also highlights the fact that across the UK the overall number of persecution incidents, from 2000 onward, continues to increase.

Graph courtesy of RSPB Investigations.

It is clear from data collated by NERF members over many years that raptor populations, particularly in areas where the intensification of land management for game bird production has been, or is being, undertaken, are seriously adversely affected. It is not only Hen Harrier populations that are being suppressed, other raptor species specifically Goshawk, Peregrine, Red Kite and Common Buzzard populations are also under sustained threat in many areas. These species, often referred to as ‘black hole species’, are frequently absent despite the extensive availability of both excellent habitat and abundant prey.

In addition to recording the absence of ‘black hole species’ NERF members also monitor breeding attempts of these species at some sites that regularly fail in inexplicable circumstances on, or adjacent to, land used for game bird shooting. This is in stark contrast to the presence and productivity of breeding raptors that NERF members record away from this form of intensive land management. Without any other acceptable explanation to account for this disparity NERF can only conclude that these absences and continual breeding attempt failures are due to persecution.

The depressing plight of Peregrine Falcons across the NERF study areas was highlighted in the Amar et al scientific paper which was co-authored by NERF members. The paper identified that Peregrines fared less favourably on intensively managed grouse moors than they did away from grouse moors. Additionally the evidence revealed that where Peregrines were successful their productivity was in keeping with birds breeding away from grouse moors. The conclusion was that persecution rather than prey availability was the main driver for this difference. Data collated by NERF in the intervening years indicates that whilst the national Peregrine population has increased slightly the situation on land associated with game bird management in the northern uplands remains unchanged.

Click the above image to download the full Amar et al scientific paper exploring the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations








Following the release of the Birdcrime 2016 report senior representatives of both the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and the Nidderdale Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty have voiced their concerns about the adverse effects and reputational damage that the killing of birds of prey is having within their respective areas of responsibility. These timely interventions are very welcome and NERF looks forwards to hearing similar, unconditional statements of support for protected wildlife from other prominent national organisations who have an obligation to protect our national heritage.

The statements can be read by following the links below.

Similarly, in an article published in the November / December issue of The Shooting Times and repeated in the Times newspaper, Christopher Graffius, the CEO of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation [BASC] condemned raptor persecution by individuals connected with the shooting industry. He said “All of us [shooting organisations] need to realise that the killing of raptors is doing us no favours. It risks terminal damage to the sport…..” Mr Graffius also acknowledged that c70% of individuals convicted of raptor persecution since 1990 were gamekeepers employed on shooting estates. In the article Mr Graffius further acknowledged that “I know it’s not all keepers but the figures of those caught and convicted must be the tip of the iceberg….”NERF fully supports this assertion.

Click to read full article









NERF applauds this intervention from BASC and we would like to offer our support for the stance that Mr Graffius and BASC are taking against raptor persecution. This progressive viewpoint from a leading representative of the shooting community is a very welcome change from the usual response raptor workers have come to expect from some sectors of the industry. The traditional response is to attempt to deflect responsibility for raptor related crimes away from the shooting industry, often towards the very people who spend countless hours rigorously protecting Birds of Prey. Alternatively the industry representatives frequently attempt to minimise the adverse impact that raptor persecution has on the viability of local populations.

Birds of prey have been protected in the UK since 1954 and yet there are still large areas of the country, particularly in the northern uplands of England, where persecution is endemic. The shooting industry is very well represented on the Police led Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime [PAW] Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG] and it is incumbent on other sectors of the industry to follow the BASC lead and acknowledge that it is not just ‘a few bad apples’ who are responsible for killing Birds of Prey. On the contrary whilst we acknowledge that not all those employed in game bird management are involved in raptor persecution the problem is widespread. The shooting industry claims to be the ‘custodian of the countryside’; however there is little, if any, evidence to support that claim. NERF believes that there needs to be a tangible, discernible shift in their attitude towards criminality if we are to succeed in bringing raptor persecution to an end. Simply participating in the RPPDG and condemning individual cases after the event is no longer adequate or acceptable. Affirmative action, not platitudes is what is required.

For members of the public who are not involved in Bird of Prey monitoring it must appear somewhat ridiculous that in the 21st century conservationists still have to call on sections of the shooting industry to simply obey the law and stop killing protected species, an activity that some undertake to increase bag numbers and the profitability of their shooting estate. This type of criminality would not be tolerated in any other business and cannot be tolerated in respect of Birds of Prey.

The 2017 Hen Harrier breeding season has once again been disastrous for the species, with only three pairs successfully rearing young in England. All three nests were in the Northumberland National Park and none were on a grouse moor. Despite warm words and assurances that ‘progress is being made’ from Natural England and the shooting industry NERF is unable to discern any evidence to support that claim and this assertion should be abandoned forthwith. Consequently NERF’s position on the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan remains unchanged, indeed after its second full year it is clear that it has yet to deliver on any of the tangible and beneficial outcome. Changes in the collective mind-set within the shooting industry is certainly needed. NERF’s position statement is available at:

NERF’s position that no progress is being made with respect to improving the distribution and breeding success of the English Hen Harrier population is supported by the Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority who said in his response to the publication of Birdcrime “Only when we start to see a number of successful [Hen Harrier] nest sites will we be able to say that things are really improving”.

On the positive side the struggle (for that is what it is) goes on to protect our national heritage allowing iconic raptor species to prosper in their natural environment. There are many individuals, including volunteers – largely unknown to the general public, who are working tirelessly to highlight the issues of raptor persecution in the hope that they will see a real change in the culture that has allowed these criminal practices to continue for so long. NERF would like to offer you our heartfelt thanks for the unceasing hard work that you undertake.

In addition to the volunteers there are professionals who are equally committed to ending raptor persecution and to bringing those responsible before the courts. North Yorkshire has for years been at the head of Bird of Prey persecution list of reported incidents, an unenviable reputation to hold. NERF therefore congratulates Dave Jones, Chief Constable of the North Yorkshire Police, for deploying a dedicated Rural Crime Team, which also has responsibility for investigating wildlife crime. NERF members are always available to offer expert advice to the Unit where needed.

Finally NERF would like to both praise and thank the RSPB Investigations Team for undertaking the vital work of investigating raptor persecution, not without personal risk, and for assisting the prosecuting authorities to obtain invaluable evidence when offences have been committed. It is not easy to withstand the constant barrage of attacks on the Team’s professionalism and integrity, particularly when those attacks are made by individuals and organisations who should, and actually do, know better. Congratulations and keep up the excellent work assured that you have the full support of NERF.