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

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.

https://raptorforum.wordpress.com/2018/12/09/two-owls-shot-in-the-dark-peak-why/

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

NERF

8 June 2020

Lockdown, the ‘New Normal’ and raptor crime

Poisoned Buzzard featured in the Channel 4 news item on raptor persecution

During the last three months the way that we live our lives has changed enormously and the phrase ‘New Normal’ is widely used by politicians, the media and the public when discussing the impact of the Covid – 19 pandemic. This ‘New Normal’ is how our lives will be affected for the foreseeable future. Regrettably if you were a bird of prey then for you lockdown could be described as ‘New Normal – Plus’.

We have witnessed high levels of raptor persecution, often associated with the game shooting industry, for decades and at times many of us believed that it couldn’t get any worse. How wrong we were. At the start of the Covid – 19 lockdown, which NERF supported, we warned that the level of bird of prey crime was likely to increase exponentially. It brings no comfort to realise that we were correct when making that prediction; not that it was difficult to predict an increase in persecution because we had seen a similar outcome during the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2001.

The seriousness of the problem was highlighted in a Channel 4 broadcast https://www.channel4.com/news/birds-of-prey-become-victims-of-crime

Five dead buzzards are pulled from a hole where they’d been hidden on a grouse shooting estate in Bransdale, North York Moors National Park

During the program Matt Hagen, Head of the North Yorkshire Police Rural Crime Team said, “All the shooting investigations that we’ve got going on at the moment are involving gamekeepers on grouse moors.”

The BBC’s flagship rural affairs programme ‘Countryfile’ also highlighted the increase in raptor persecution during lockdown https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000jrxz/countryfile-johns-home-patch

The subject was raised again on the BBC local news program ‘Look Northwest’ (unfortunately the BBC Look Northwest links only last 24 hours so we can’t share this with you). During the program Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said “Lockdown has kind of emboldened the criminals out there who want to kill birds of prey so they think with the restrictions that have been imposed there’ll be less people out in the countryside and there’s less chance of being caught”. He added, “In two thirds of the prosecutions that have ended up in court for bird of prey persecution since 1990, two thirds of those have been gamekeepers”.

If you are reading this article and were previously unaware of the level of bird of prey persecution these two statements, by very experienced investigators, tells you all you need to know about the criminality involved. It’s serious and organised crime in any meaning of the phrase.

There is ample evidence, reams of evidence, that some members of the game shooting industry form an ever present threat to birds of prey and yet the representatives of the industry continue to trot out endless statements of denial. During the Look Northwest exposé Duncan Thomas, the Northwest Director of BASC, said: “I really dispute these figures [number of raptors killed]. I would love to have a proper investigation in to exactly where they’re coming from. The RSPB are using birds of prey as a cash cow. It’s not proportionate, effective investigation, we must let the police get on with their job. We will expel anybody who is convicted of a wildlife crime of this nature”.

This is an outrageous statement from a Director of BASC, an organisation that is a member of the Police led Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG]. Rather than supporting the RSPB, the organisation which ironically is cleaning up the shooting industry, something that the industry is failing to do, by revealing the organised crime involved in some sections of the business, the industry continues to attack the hard working, dedicated and highly skilled RSPB Investigations Team.

Is the claim that the RSPB is “using birds of prey as a cash cow” BASC policy? Is it what the majority of their law-abiding members believe or has Mr Thomas gone rogue? The name RSPB spells out very clearly what its purpose is, i.e. to protect birds and that includes investigating the unlawful killing of birds. Would Mr Thomas, or BASC, make the same ridiculous statement about Victim Support, a charity set up to protect the human victims of crime? The ‘cash cow’ statement is ludicrous and will be seen as such by the general public, including, no doubt, many BASC members.

Interestingly on the BASC website Gary Doolan, Deputy Director of Communications and Public Affairs makes the following comment “For both programmes [Channel 4 and Look Northwest], BASC worked with other organisations in the background to ensure the messages we deliver to the audiences of those programmes are balanced and best represent the broad sweep of opinions within those organisations”.

There is a second comment on the BASC website that refers to the same subject “……………that hen harriers are being weaponised as a ‘cash cow’.

Perhaps the comment, made by Mr Thomas, that “The RSPB are using birds of prey as a cash cow” is BASC’s position statement after all.

Not content with attacking the integrity of the RSPB, some representatives of the shooting industry have previously launched despicable personal attacks on Chief Inspector Louise Hubble, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Superintendent Nick Lyall, the dynamic head of the RPPDG.

Attacks on Nick’s integrity are not new. The shooting industry representatives collectively walked out en masse when Nick brought additional conservation organisations in to the RPPDG. If the RPPDG is so bad, why did they all re-join? Perhaps the more pertinent question is, why were they allowed to return to the table? Constructive criticism is always welcome; however the constant attempt to undermine the RPPDG is intolerable.

NERF

8 June 2020

The country may have been in lockdown but in the countryside the killing fields were still open for business as usual.

On Friday 17 April 2020 the satellite tagged Red Kite named ‘KK’ joined the long list of raptors that have ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North of England. The Police were informed and the location of the last known fix was thoroughly searched using sophisticated tracking equipment. Unfortunately, as we have seen so many times before when a tag stops with no traceable malfunction once again the body was not recovered.

On 1 May we asked – Is the Red Kite named ‘KK’ Covid – 19 collateral damage?

Red Kite named ‘KK’ in tribute to one the FoRK volunteers

 

 

 

 

 

 

As soon as the lockdown was announced we were immediately concerned that there would be an upsurge in raptor persecution. This was not an unreasonable assumption, many of us had seen a similar pattern during the Foot and Mouth crisis during 2001.

Now that travel restrictions have been lifted and our members are back on the ground it is clear that persecution has been widespread. Breeding attempts that were recorded prior to the lockdown have failed. Breeding territories that have held birds for years are empty and there is a long list of proven persecution cases being dealt with by the Police.

In a recent press release issued by the RSPB, Mark Thomas Head of 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.”

The full press release, including a comment by Superintendent Nick Lyall, Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, can be seen here.

It is abundantly clear that whilst the general population was complying with the Government’s advice to ‘stay home and stay safe’ the wildlife criminals carried on killing. Just another day in the countryside; business as usual and there will undoubtedly be many more cases of Covid – 19 collateral damage to our bird of prey populations in the coming weeks.

Further information in relation to raptor persecution and the Police response can be found here. click the link to Operation Owl.

If you have any information about 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

16 May 2020

Licences to take wild Peregrine chicks – Part 2

On the 15th April 2020 Dave Slater, Director for wildlife licensing confirmed that Natural England had licenced the removal of 6 Peregrine chicks from the wild, by three individuals, over the next 2 years. [see here]

Understandably both Raptor Workers, who are committed to monitoring and protecting these magnificent birds, and members of the public who delight in seeing the masters of the skies in both wild places and our cities. NERF was dismayed by this decision and posted this response on the NERF website.

On the 20th April 2020 NERF wrote to Lord Goldsmith of Richmond, the Minister of State for the Pacific and the Environment. His portfolio includes the UK environment and conservation. In the letter we reminded him that the country was currently in lockdown as a result of the Covid – 19 pandemic and that the BTO has, understandably, suspended all Wildlife and Countryside licences and ringing permits for the foreseeable future. These restrictions apply to England’s rarest and most endangered species. At the same time Natural England has licenced the removal of 6 Peregrine chicks from the wild. It is NERF’s opinion that this is both unreasonable and irresponsible at the present time. The removal of these chicks cannot be classed as ‘front-line work’ and the multiple journeys to and from the nests cannot be classed as ‘essential’ under the Corona Virus Regulations.

Accessing Peregrine nests is a dangerous activity and an accident and subsequent rescue would put unnecessary stress on both the rescue and medical services. The British Mountaineering Council [BMC] has warned climbers and hill walkers to curtail their activities during the pandemic and that the Mountain Rescue Teams are also in lockdown and unavailable in case of an accident.

NERF has called on Lord Goldsmith to suspend the licences during 2020. The full text of the letter can be read [here]

Similarly we wrote to Tony Juniper, Chairman of natural England. The full text of the letter can be read [here]

Twelve days later neither Lord Goldsmith nor Mr Juniper have responded to our letters. Time is pressing and we await their responses.

NERF

2 May 2020

Is the Red Kite named ‘KK’ Covid – 19 collateral damage?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Friday 17 April 2020 the Red Kite ‘KK’ joined the long list of raptors that have ‘disappeared’– on a grouse moor.

In June 2019 NERF members, the Friends of Red Kites [FoRK] based in the North East of England, arranged for a Red Kite chick to be fitted with a satellite tracking device. The chick was named ‘KK’ in tribute to one the FoRK volunteers. The bird was also fitted with wing tags bearing the ID number 00, one of which can be seen in the photograph. After the tag was fitted the data it provided was monitored and mapped by the RSPB.

Red Kites are extremely placid birds of prey, a delight to handle as chicks and a beautiful graceful bird to watch gliding across open country. They are largely carrion feeders, scavenging on dead animals, cleaning up the countryside. They do not pose a threat to the shooting industry and yet in some quarters they are vilified for the sole reason that they a member of the raptor family.

During the remainder of 2019 KK toured the North of England as far south as the Peak District before returning to the Derwent Valley, Tyne & Wear.

In common with our extensive experience of other satellite tagged birds, KK’s life followed a pattern that we have seen with all too regularly. The tag worked perfectly and then without the warning signs that we would expect to see from a tag that is nearing its natural end of life the transmission suddenly and inexplicably stopped.

That the last fix, prior to the ‘stop no malfunction’ located the bird on a grouse moor near the Derwent Reservoir, in County Durham. Despite an extensive ground search being carried out by a very experienced team, using sophisticated equipment, the body was not found. These facts will not come as a surprise to those of us who follow these cases closely. Natural England’s Hen Harrier data reveals that satellite tagged birds are 10 times more likely to ‘disappear’ when the tag fails without warning when the bird was on a grouse moor at the time [Murgatroyd et al]. Data already in the public domain indicates that Hen Harrier chicks satellite tagged as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life Project reveal a similar pattern.

This is not the first Red Kite to ‘disappear’ in the Derwent Gorge area and the quote from Harold Dobson, spokesman for the Friends of the Red Kites, tell us all we need to know:

“Since 2010, seven red kites have been found poisoned or shot near the Derwent Gorge and surrounding Durham Moorland. We fear that this may be the tip of the iceberg and that many more persecuted kites are never found.”

David Raw representing NERF member, the Durham Upland Bird Study Group, has commented:-

“The abrupt loss of an otherwise reliable signal from this carefully tracked bird is of great concern. The original Northern Kites release project and later our colleagues in Friends of Red Kites have all worked tirelessly to establish a viable population of these magnificent birds in our region. Local success has brought pleasure, pride and enjoyment within the community but expansion of the breeding range is now overdue. The loss of this bird in suspicious circumstances, in the same area as other known persecution incidents of Red Kites, reflects an appalling situation and is surely indicative of how selfish criminal activity is holding back the population.”

From the moment that the Government announced the Covid – 19 lockdown Raptor Workers have been expressing concern that raptor persecution would increase significantly after we were, for understandable reasons, prevented from surveying and monitoring birds of prey. This is not an unreasonable fear, we saw a similar pattern in 2001 when access to the countryside was banned during the Foot and Mouth outbreak.

Is KK Covid – 19 collateral damage, or was this bird already destined to join the long line of birds that have ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors irrespective of the current pandemic?

The RSPB press release can be seen here [link]

If you have any information about this incident, please contact the Police on 101, quoting the reference number 22042020-0078., or,

Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Alternatively, if you have information about this case or of other birds of prey being killed or targeted you can call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

NERF

1 May 2020

 

Wild Justice Raptor Forensic Fund


Wild Justice Raptor Forensic Fund

Common Buzzard – Found Poisoned in the Peak District National Park April 2019

It is a sad reality that raptor persecution still persists at high levels, not just in the northern uplands monitored by NERF but across the UK as a whole. The true scale of persecution may never be known but it is widely accepted to be many times higher than the official data would suggest. In 2020 it is self-evident that not a single species of raptor is free from persecution. The majority, if not all, of this persecution is perpetrated for profit or pleasure, and is frequently connected to the game shooting industry. Trapping, shooting, poisoning and egg collecting continues apace and seems to be never ending. Criminals, and they are criminals, who kill raptors must be brought before the courts to account for their criminality wherever and whenever possible. At the present time the threat of being caught and prosecuted is low and needs to increase significantly if a crime prevention strategy is to prove successful. The wider use of forensic science will prove to be a good tool to facilitate this aim.

Whilst raptor persecution continues to plague our country the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts are simultaneously looking more to forensic science to support traditional witness evidence before they will pursue a case through the courts. To complete the perfect storm of continuing persecution and the demand for forensic evidence by prosecutors the situation has been exacerbated by falling Police budgets, which have been reduced dramatically by recent governments. Not one Police Department has been immune and the forensic budget managers have seen significant reductions in the funding available to them. We all appreciate the challenges that budget managers have to face daily and it is understandable, if frustrating to Raptor Workers, when bird of prey crime fails to make the cut when funds are allocated.

Wild Justice has stepped in to help fill this funding gap by offering financial assistance to Police Officers who are investigating raptor persecution cases and having difficulty in securing funding for forensic analysis of potential exhibits. This is an excellent initiative, which NERF fully supports.

NERF is a founding member of the Police led Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG] and were partners in the five-year Hen Harrier Life Plus Project which ended in 2019. We are all aware that Hen Harriers are one of the most persecuted birds of prey across the UK and remain on the point of extinction as a breeding species in England, as a direct result of persecution.

NERF is a collaborative self-funded group of volunteers monitoring and protecting birds of prey across the North of England and unfortunately every one of our member groups has experience of raptor persecution within their own study areas. Many of us have also been involved in cases where the search for forensic evidence, vital to support the case, was not pursued because of lack of funding thereby resulting in the investigation being abandoned prior to trial. We believe that this initiative will make a very significant impact on the investigation of raptor related criminal cases. On some occasions forensic evidence may lead to successful prosecutions. In other cases where raptor persecution is suspected, but the perpetrator has not been identified, forensic analysis can still be used to confirm the cause of death. This second function is vital in order that the true extent of persecution can be recorded with greater accuracy. When poisons, placed openly in the countryside, are used to kill birds of prey they pose a significant risk to members of general public, and / or their pets, who may suffer serious illness or in extreme cases death if they come into contact with them. Not all suspected poisoning cases meet the criteria used by the Government’s Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme [WIIS] to gain access to the scheme. This initiative will enable Police Officers to obtain funding to identify whether or not the suspected bait is a poison or if the suspected victim was poisoned. This information is essential to safeguard the public by issuing timely warnings across the local area.

NERF is so confident that this initiative will make a valuable contribution to protecting the nation’s birds of prey we are contributing £1,000 to the fund. We would also recommend that any organisation, or individual, with a passion for raptors should also contribute to the fund. The primary functions of the RPPDG are to help the Police prevent and detect bird of prey related crimes. Contributing to this fund is an excellent opportunity for members of the RPPDG, particularly those organisations who represent the shooting industry, to demonstrate their much vaunted zero tolerance of raptor persecution and justify their continued presence as members of the Group.

Steve Downing, NERF Chairman, commented “As a former Wildlife Crime Officer I fully appreciate the complex decision making process that is used to assess competing applications for funding the forensic analysis of potential exhibits. Every application for forensic funding is justifiable, however it is understandable why some crimes take precedence over cases of raptor persecution. This raptor related forensic analysis fund is a very valuable tool that will make a tremendous difference in the battle to detect wildlife crime and Wild Justice is to be commended for introducing the scheme”.

NERF

21 April 2020

Licenced removal of wild Peregrine Falcons for falconry

NERF is dismayed to learn that Natural England have licenced three falcon breeders to take 12 Peregrine Falcon chicks from the wild over the next 2 years. It is NERF’s opinion that the issuing of these licences cannot be justified on conservation grounds. We do not believe that there will be any conservation benefit for Peregrines from this scheme.

The UK Peregrine population is stable overall thanks to the increase in the urban population and it is not under the threat of collapse such as we saw when the use of persistent organochlorine pesticides devastated the species. We further believe that successful breeding of captive bred Peregrines should be able to fulfil the needs of UK falconers and the removal of wild birds to supplement the industry is unjustified.

NERF is preparing a fuller response to this unsatisfactory situation, which we will make available in the near future. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the country is in lock-down and our members, who also hold Wildlife and Countryside Act licences to both disturb and ring birds, including Peregrine Falcons, have been told by the BTO that our licences are suspended for the foreseeable future. One justification for the BTO’s decision is that ringing activities do include an element of risk and an accident could potentially put the emergency and medical services under unnecessary extra strain in these difficult times. Abseiling or climbing in to a Peregrine eyrie is a risky operation, even for experienced climbers or qualified rope access professionals and in the current circumstances it is understandably prohibited by the BTO. NERF believes that the same conditions should be applied to the licensees.

 

The restrictions imposed on Raptor Workers have been done to save lives during the COVID-19 are unlikely to be lifted in the near future consequently NERF believes that Natural England should suspend the licences to take Peregrine Falcon chicks from the wild during 2020.

It may be a different singer but it is the same old song.

The story of Mary’s short life is typical of many young Hen Harriers. The places and dates may change but the facts remain the same. It is a sad, shameful, reflection of humanity when Mary’s life can be summed up in the following 50 words.

Mary was a Hen Harrier. Mary hatched on the Isle of Man in the summer of 2019. Mary was satellite tagged by a NERF member working with Manx BirdLife and the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project. Mary left the Isle of Man. Mary was killed on a pheasant shooting estate.

Mary – Female Hen Harrier tagged on the Isle of Man in the summer of 2019

The fact that Mary was poisoned on a pheasant shooting estate in County Meath, Eire, not on a shooting estate in the UK, is irrelevant. The important fact is that she was killed on a shooting estate with carbofuran, a poison so toxic that a minute amount will kill a bird, a dog, a child or a fully grown adult. Knowing the risks involved someone indiscriminately laced a bait with this deadly poison and placed it in the open countryside where anything and everything coming into contact with it was at risk of death. Mary was at risk and Mary died as a result. This total disregard for any life-form, which is not a game bird, stems from the arrogance that we have seen demonstrated by many individuals involved in the shooting industry over decades.

Despite the recent warm words from the shooting industry that bird of prey persecution is unacceptable, the fact remains that this bird has joined the large number of Hen Harriers that have suffered a similar fate, in similar habitats and on land managed for game shooting. According to data published by Natural England almost three quarters of birds satellite tagged in the Natural England Hen Harrier Recovery Project disappeared inexplicably on shooting estates when their tags ‘stopped no malfunction’. [Murgatroyd et. al.] Whatever the location, in Eire or on the UK mainland, the problem of continuing raptor persecution is endemic. Put simply, birds of prey will not be tolerated across large sectors of their range.

The loss of Mary must be a terrible blow to Manx BirdLife. The Hen Harrier population on the island is small, enclosed and reducing. If there was ever a case for the introduction of new birds, new genes, into a small population then the Isle of Man must surely qualify.

Our sympathies go to Louise, the island’s Raptor Worker, and to Neil, of Manx BirdLife, and of course to Mary, a bird that paid the ultimate price for simply being a Hen Harrier. However you can rest assured that NERF will continue to play its part protecting and monitoring your Hen Harriers during 2020 and beyond.

Goodbye Mary. Hopefully your illegal killing will not be in vain and inquiries by the Garda Síochána will identify the person(s) responsible and the courts can then impose a suitable and substantial penalty. Whilst that will not help Mary it may help other Hen Harriers who follow her.

NERF

2 February 2020