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Arson attack at the home of Chris Packham.

The arson attack at the home of Chris Packham overnight Thursday 8th / Friday 9th October was truly shocking, although perhaps not surprising and our thoughts are with him and his family at this extremely difficult time.

Chris has been under a sustained personal attack for many years be it via social media trolling or by being targeted by people leaving dead birds and animals hanging on the gates of his home. It is very easy to see Chris as the target of these attacks, which is undoubtedly true; however he is not the only victim. Chris’s partner and step-daughter are also victims and knowing that must be a heavy burden for Chris to bear. There are endless calls for Chris to stand strong and I have no doubt that he will; however this is a family standing strong, a family that will not be cowed by the bullies who wish to force them to abandon all that they believe in. When discussing why conservationists or environmentalists do what we do, I always respond by saying ‘this is who we are, not what we do’. What Chris does to protect the natural environment reflects upon who he is; it is part of his DNA and that cannot be changed, nor should it.

It is far too early to point towards a particular group of suspects, let alone the individuals involved. There is a long and varied line to work though ranging from individuals who are furious at the changes to the previously illegal General Licences, pro shooting lobbyists, pro hunting lobbyists, pro heather burning groups, climate emergency sceptics and a host of others or they could just be cult followers of the Patron Saint of Killing Stuff. Whilst the vehicle that was used by the arsonists was clearly a write-off there may be clues left for the Police to pursue during their investigation; hopefully to a successful conclusion.

This was an extreme warning. There has been a pattern of increased intensity targeting Chris and his family; in all probability by a large number of individuals each emboldened by a previous incident. However; this latest event is a very dangerous escalation and unless it is stopped immediately the situation is likely to deteriorate further. Experience in similar cases shows just what a small step it takes to move from violence against property to violence against people.

Disagreeing with Chris’s views and campaigns is fine; after all calm well-argued discussions to resolve disagreements to find a better way forward is a foundation stone on which a working democracy is built. It has been well documented that there are many organisations, with tens of thousands of supporters, which have opposing views to those held by Chris however, it is now time for those organisations to stand firm, denounce what has happened, and support the rule of law. They need to publicly condemn this latest case and the persistent trolling and they need to do it immediately. They also need to publicly encourage their membership to contact the Police if they have any information which may help them detect this outrageous crime. Failure to do so could be construed by those responsible as tacit approval for this wholly unacceptable criminal behaviour.

NERF

11 October 2021

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.

NERF

11 March 2021

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

Northern England Raptor Forum – Annual Conference 2020 cancelled.

It is with regret that we have to announce that the NERF Annual Conference planned for November 2020 has been cancelled. The effects of Covid-19 pandemic continue to disrupt daily life and threaten the health and well-being of people throughout the country.

NERF has a duty of care to our members and supporters, many of whom are in the vulnerable age group, and we have taken this decision to ensure the safety of delegates, speakers and venue staff is not put at risk.

We can now look forward to meeting again at the next conference in November 2021. In the meantime enjoy birding over the next few months and stay safe.

NERF 13 July 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2012 Red Philip and Swift raised one chick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images of Red Philip, courtesy of Paul Danielson.

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

Mobile: 07801 907832 or email: hfdobson@btinternet.com

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

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

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

Click to download full size pdf
Click to see full size

The citation on the certificate states:

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

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

NERF

21 December 2019

Congratulations Chris Packham CBE

Congratulations Chris, the award of the CBE in the New Year’s Honours List is well deserved. The conservation of our natural environment has always had a place in the public’s heart and yet the protection that it requires has for too long been seen as a ‘Cinderella’ service by successive Governments. Decades of avoidable decline have left many species and habitats vulnerable to minor changes that could have a major, negative impact. This is not a prediction, we are already witnessing potentially catastrophic changes occurring all around us. Fortunately if the correct remedial policies are implemented the situation can be reversed. Now they have a champion recognised both publicly and politically for years of effort, speaking out on behalf of our natural heritage.
NERF
December 2018.

Photo by Ruth Peacey

Response to the Defra Announcement of plans for Hen Harrier Brood Management

Defra has announced approval by Natural England of advanced plans to introduce brood management trials for Hen Harriers in 2018. See   https://www.gov.uk/government/news/innovative-licence-issued-to-help-hen-harrier

This is not wholly unexpected since the concept featured in Defra’s six point Hen Harrier Emergency Action Plan issued in January 2016.

The Northern England Raptor Forum was not consulted by the overseeing Upland Stakeholder Group during the plan’s evolution and NERF was refused a seat at the table. Nonetheless NERF has to date been willing and able to directly support certain features of the Defra plan; in particular, Action 1 – monitoring populations, Action 3 – the work of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group hosted by the National Wildlife Crime Unit, and Action 4 – nest and winter roost protection.   Indeed NERF members, along with other groups, have devoted endless hours of entirely voluntary fieldwork in monitoring & protection effort towards these aims.  Despite little acknowledgement from the Defra Stakeholder Group the reality is that the Hen Harrier’s status in the uplands of northern England would be far less well understood without NERF’s contribution.

Whilst ensuring that evidence-based data on the Hen Harrier’s true status is available as a fundamental input to the process, NERF throughout has been resolutely opposed to the inclusion of Brood Management in the Action Plan.   We have previously set out our reasons, In the following public statements “Statement on Hen Harrier Brood Management”“The Defra Hen Harrier Emergency Action Plan – Assessment of Year 1” and “Response to the publication of RSPB Birdcrime 2016” .

To recap on NERF’s reasons for opposing brood management and the initial research trials:-

  • The Hen Harrier is near extinct as a breeding species in England (an average of just 3 successful nests per year over the last 9 years, ranging 0-6 nests annually) and is threatened thoughout the year as the pattern of disappearance of satellite tagged juvenile birds confirms.
  • Bowland and the North Pennine Special Protection Areas {SPAs} are both designated for their supposed breeding populations of Hen Harrier at 13 and 11 pairs respectively. In 2016 and 2017 there were none in either.  The UK government has a legal responsibility to correct these serious infractions and restore the species to a favourable status.
  • Given the species’ fragile status we would expect Natural England to be focused on protection and addressing the known principal reason for the species’ demise which by their own admission (‘A Future for the Hen Harrier?’ NE 2008) is that of illegal persecution.
  • Recent nesting pairs have only occurred on land which is not used for driven grouse shooting. As such breeding birds cannot possibly impact on the overall economics of driven grouse shooting estates. To contemplate interference via brood management with potentially the very first nesting pair to repopulate any one or more estates is outrageous and an affront to sound species’ conservation.
  • Research has shown the natural carrying capacity of Hen Harrier habitat in northern England to be 300+ pairs! Therefore as a minimum we would expect to see the upland SPAs, protected under EU Directives, demonstrably supporting their designated populations of Hen Harrier. Across the whole region we’d also expect to have at least 70 breeding pairs, below which published reports show there would be no economic impact on Red Grouse numbers. Only when these thresholds are reached should the case for brood management be considered anew.
  • Adequate protection against illegal persecution must be evidenced first and a growth in breeding numbers seen. There is no point in expending an estimated £0.9-1.2 million, to release young birds after hand rearing, into a dangerous environment where continuing illegal persecution severely diminishes their chances of surviving their first winter.

In respect of the Defra / Natural England announcement, made on 16 Jan 18, confirming the intention to pursue brood management (subject to nests being found),  NERF continues to see brood management chiefly as a tool to increase grouse bags and little to do with the committed conservation of Hen Harrier in England. In our view it is certainly not, as its title suggests, a ‘help to Hen Harriers’ nor does it represent ‘the best possible outcome’ for them.  We cannot accept legitimising the removal of Hen Harriers from our moors given their tenuous status. The announcement amazingly gives no recognition of the underlying issue of illegal persecution.  Worryingly there is no suggestion within the terms of the research trial of a limit being set on the number of nests that might be targeted during the research period.

NERF is left dismayed that Defra and Natural England, as protectors of our natural environment should promote this untimely and unnecessary intervention which is seems wholly contrary to the best principles of conservation.  As such NERF members are now intent on re-evaluating areas of cooperation with Natural England.

18 Jan 18

2016 Annual Review – available to Purchase

There are a limited number of copies of the 2016 Annual Review available for purchase, at the fantastic price of just £5.00 plus £1.58 postage.

Please note conference attendee’s should have received a free copy of the report on the day of the conference, if anyone who attended didn’t pick a free copy then please do let us know using the link below.

Please use the form available here to request copies or email ajudithsmith@gmail.com