NERF’s response to Murgatroyd et al. Natural England’s paper identifying that the persecution of Hen Harriers on grouse moors is suppressing the population in Britain.

NERF welcomes the publication of the Murgatroyd et al paper, which highlights the fact that the pattern of the disappearances of satellite tagged Hen Harriers confirms beyond all doubt that there is widespread illegal killing of Hen Harriers on British grouse moors. Therefore the ‘it’s just a few bad apples’ defence, that we so often hear from the grouse shooting industry, is destroyed completely by science.

But how did we get to this point and why did it take so long? Will this be the catalyst that spurs the Government to say enough is enough, self-regulation has failed our natural heritage and actually take affirmative action, or will it be the beginning of further years and years of pointless procrastination and fudge?

‘Hen Harriers face extinction as a breeding species in England’.

That was the strap line of the Police led Operation Artemis, launched in 2004 to tackle Hen Harrier persecution across the UK. In a nutshell the Operation confirmed that the problem was that Hen Harriers were being systematically killed on grouse moors and sought to directly address the issue with members of the grouse shooting industry. A Police Officer, normally a Wildlife Crime Officer, personally delivered a proposed new code of conduct to every identified grouse moor owner, grouse moor land agent, grouse moor shooting tenant and grouse moor gamekeeper across the UK. Adherence to that code of practice would have brought an end to the vast majority of Hen Harrier persecution. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. The claim that Hen Harriers were facing extinction as a breeding species in England was derided by the grouse shooting industry, which refused en masse to cooperate, whilst claiming that self-regulation was the answer not Police or Government intervention.

Notwithstanding the lack of cooperation from the grouse shooting industry and the ever present threat of Police action, the time period that Operation Artemis was in force, 2004 – 2008, consistently delivered the highest number of breeding pairs and the highest number of fledged young dispersed over a wider geographical area in England than at any other time in the decade 2002 to 2012.

On the 6th January 2009 Natural England declared “There is compelling evidence that persecution continues, both during and following the breeding season. Persecution continues to limit Hen Harrier recovery in England”.

Natural England’s solution to the problem. It’s time to talk. It’s good to talk; isn’t it?

Hen Harriers were still being killed on grouse moors and we, the conservationists, were told that what was needed to resolve the problem was a partnership approach. It was claimed that the partnership approach would solve the ever present so called ‘conflict’ between Hen Harriers and driven grouse shooting. The ‘partnership cloud’ descended on the Hen Harrier persecution problem and any attempt at resolving the issue became instantly fog bound, embroiled in meaningless and pointless discussions for years. The Environment Council, a highly experienced group of negotiators who were used to handling complex conflict resolutions, were called in to set up the Hen Harrier Dialogue. Conflict resolution, that’s a cosy euphemism for dealing with organised criminality whilst not upsetting anyone in the partnership. NERF had a seat at that particular table and spent years listening to the denials, obfuscation and demands from the very industry that everyone in the room knew was largely responsible for the problem in the first place. Not one inch of ground was given by those representing the grouse shooting industry and in the end the very costly Hen Harrier Dialogue, paid for out of the public purse, failed miserably and was abandoned. It was doomed to fail from the outset but the conservationists had attended the meetings and tried to find a workable solution in good faith. Regrettably it was all for nought. Years were lost whilst the talking and the killing continued.

The Hen Harrier Dialogue clearly proved that it is ‘good to talk’; depending that is on which side of the argument you are on of course. Unfortunately the Hen Harriers were on the wrong side once again and the number of Hen Harriers killed illegally continued to rise.

Following the failure of the Hen Harrier Dialogue it was claimed yet again that what was needed was yet another partnership approach. Once more this would mean that all interested parties were working together to achieve a common goal. That would resolve the issue once and for all; wouldn’t it? As a consequence the ill-conceived Hen Harrier Plan swung in to force, however, whilst the grouse shooting industry was included, NERF was excluded from the discussions.

In 2009 the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime – Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG] was formed. It was time to talk; again. The Group consisting of the Police, The Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Natural England, the Welsh Government, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), The Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) and the titans of the shooting industry representing the Moorland Association (MA), the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO), the Countryside Alliance (CA) and The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC). The RPPDG, including the very same organisations that had stalled the Hen Harrier Dialogue, set off collectively in an accelerated bout of inaction. Theoretically the talking began afresh with the sole aim of ending raptor persecution in all its forms. Linked in pseudo-solidarity the Raptor Persecution Delivery Group marched in to the ‘partnership cloud’ once more; fog bound and going nowhere again. Olive branch after olive branch, concession after concession has been offered to the shooting industry representatives. Yet each and every positive proposal to date has been met with counter negative proposals designed with the sole aim of preventing any progress being made. At the same time several of the so called partners took every opportunity to attack the RSPB for assisting the Police to put professional criminals before the courts. In 2013 the prediction made by Operation Artemis in 2004 became a reality when the only two Hen Harrier breeding attempts in England failed.

The RSPB ‘Skydancer’ Project and the ongoing Hen Harrier Life Project, have for several years been highlighting the fact that Hen Harriers have been disappearing on or adjacent to moorland used for driven grouse shooting at an alarming rate.

Satellite tags which have catastrophically failed under inexplicable circumstances indicate that persecution is the most likely cause. The data has been dismissed as irrelevant by the grouse shooting industry for years. Rather than accept the reality they have constantly sought to divert attention from the fact that birds are being illegally killed on grouse moors by trying to lay the blame at the door of the tag manufacturers, RSPB staff, the Raptor Workers who fit the tags, bird watchers who allegedly disturb the birds and insufficient food supply.

All of these claims are ludicrous of course and they are disseminated for one purpose and one purpose alone – to divert attention away from the fact that the primary reason we have suppressed populations of Hen Harriers in the north of England is persecution of the species by members of the grouse shooting industry itself. This simple fact was accepted , without contest, by Natural England in the proceedings of the recent legal judgement on the challenge to Hen Harrier brood management trials– a plan in itself designed to allow yet another 5 years pass by whilst birds are persecuted.

So this is how we’ve arrived at where we are today and whilst some bird of prey populations are increasing the threat level for many others, including Hen Harriers, remains persistently high.

The RPPDG has been meeting for ten years and many tens of thousands of pounds have been squandered to deliver precisely nothing. Under the Chairmanship of Nick Lyall much is expected of the RPPDG in future and NERF remains committed to help to drive change forward. The number of conservation NGOs on the Group recently increased, at the moment we are collectively investing a tremendous amount of goodwill in the hope that progress will be forthcoming and the chairman is under tremendous pressure to deliver positive outcomes for all raptors not just Hen Harriers.

The sorry state of the Hen Harrier population and the root cause of the problem has been known for many years, probably decades. Now Murgatroyd et al provides the following stark, unequivocal evidence identifying the intensity of the persecution of Hen Harriers that exists on grouse moors. Their statement reads:

“We conclude that hen harriers in Britain suffer elevated levels of mortality on grouse moors, which is most likely the result of illegal killing.”

The authors of the report analysed satellite data from 58 Hen Harriers gathered over a 10 year period [2007 – 2017]. That is a very impressive amount of data to analyse and the conclusions, drawn from their analysis, are equally impressive. The authors need to be congratulated for their efforts in producing the paper. From their careful analysis of thousands of pieces of data they conclude that 72% of the 58 birds monitored, 42 individuals, were either confirmed killed [4 birds / 7%] whilst the remainder simply ‘disappeared’ when their tag inexplicably failed on grouse moors, predominantly in our protected landscapes.

Searches for those birds carried out with very sophisticated equipment by highly trained Natural England staff failed to locate either the bodies or the tags. This mirrors exactly the same pattern experienced by RSPB staff, evidenced by the number of unexplainable incidents where tags have catastrophically failed on or adjacent to grouse moors and neither the birds nor the tags were found after extensive searches were concluded.

What the paper doesn’t do, what it wasn’t tasked to do, is make a judgement about how many non-tagged Hen Harriers were killed over the same period in the same geographical areas. Whilst the exact number may never be known it is reasonable to assume that a great many birds were killed illegally in those same areas and for the same reasons that the satellite tagged birds were illegally killed. Whatever the true number of Hen Harriers illegally killed is, it will be certainly higher than the 42 individuals identified by this report.

This joint paper produced at the request of Natural England must be the last in a long line of wake up calls for the Government. Ministers need to publicly acknowledge that Hen Harriers have been and still are being systematically killed across the north of England by what can only be described as persistent organised crime.

There is absolutely no point in the Government pursuing flawed policies including the plan for brood management and the proposed southern re-introduction scheme. Both of these ‘experiments’ will achieve nothing more than putting Hen Harriers, perhaps more Hen Harriers than would normally be expected, at risk of being illegally killed on grouse moors. The Government’s own data speaks volumes to that effect.

NERF believes that the Government should, with immediate effect:

  • abandon the proposed southern re-introduction scheme
  • abandon the proposed brood management scheme
  • take steps to licence driven grouse shooting, with appropriate sanctions when licence breaches occur
  • divert the funding allocated to the southern re-introduction scheme and the brood management scheme to the National Wildlife Crime Unit in order that adequate resources can be deployed to tackle the root cause of Hen Harrier persecution, i.e. organised crime.

It has been 15 years since Operation Artemis was launched, 15 wasted years but this paper can and should be the catalyst for change. Your department produced the data analysed by Murgatroyd et al Mr Gove; it is time for you to take decisive, affirmative action now to stop Hen Harrier persecution on driven grouse moors. Don’t waste another 5 years on unnecessary experiments whilst wallowing in the current unacceptable status quo, repeating the errors of the past. We know what the problem is and we don’t need to watch the continued slaughter of Hen Harriers on grouse moors in protected landscapes by armed criminals just to confirm once more what we already know.


21 March 2019


Judgement on the Legality of a Research Trial For Brood Management of Hen Harrier

Last week saw the ruling from Mrs Justice Lang to the judicial review challenge from the RSPB and Dr Mark Avery (the claimants) on the lawfulness of Natural England’s (NE) plan to begin a research trial for the active brood management of Hen Harrier in England.

The full judgement can be found at:-

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, R (On the Application Of) v Natural England [2019] EWHC 585 (Admin) (15 March 2019)

In summary, despite closely presented legal arguments the challenges from the claimants were rejected and Natural England would appear to be free to initiate the trials if nesting attempts in the coming breeding season allow.  A request has been made already by Mark Avery for permission to appeal the decision and at the time of writing this is being considered.  We await the outcome with interest.

Meanwhile the recent ruling is worthy of examination in some detail.

Members of the Northern England Raptor Forum have considerable experience of Hen Harriers in the field and indeed make significant contributions to their monitoring, protection and conservation.

A brood of Hen Harriers managed by the parent birds.

The ruling and the arguments presented do not change NERF’s unequivocal and resolute objections to any form of brood management at Hen Harrier nests.   Our original objections were set out in

What is documented and agreed without challenge in the ruling is that the main threat to the conservation of Hen Harriers is the unlawful persecution by those associated with the grouse moor industry. Indeed this comes from Natural England’s own published research.

NERF accepts that the purpose of Mrs Justice Lang’s review was necessarily limited to assessing the legality of the process by which Natural England arrived at their decision to grant a brood management trial.  This narrow outlook did not allow the wider picture of persecution to be addressed in any consequential way. Justice Lang herself remarked that it was not the court’s role to adjudicate on matters such as the alternatives of diversionary feeding, criminal sanction, law enforcement, compensation or the licensing of grouse shoots.   The lay person may find it perverse that the legal process and Natural England themselves appear to acknowledge and yet tolerate illegality whilst at the same time NE are investing effort and expense at interfering with the nests of rare breeding birds.  It seems all the more illogical that affected nests may well be on Special Protected Areas (SPA) which are designated in part for the protection and conservation of Hen Harriers.

The declared objectives of the brood management trial are twofold:-

  • To investigate the effect of brood management on the perceptions and behaviour of the moorland community (described as ‘social science’). Assessing whether conflict and persecution will reduce.
  • To test the practicality of brood management in artificially rearing young birds (eggs or young being taken from the nest), releasing them back into the wild and seeing them survive themselves to breed in the wild.

The judgement at least makes clear that this is a trial with the purpose of collecting research evidence. It must be shown to meet its objectives and the ruling does not signify the widespread roll out of brood management.

Meeting the objectives over the planned 5 year trial will be judged by a scientific panel reporting into Natural England.  Assessing the practicality of artificially rearing and releasing young birds will be challenging in itself and NERF would expect rigorous and exacting measures to be applied.  Will the conservation status of Hen Harriers in England be put at risk by interfering with the few nests that we might have?  What success will there be in rearing chicks artificially , how will they fair once released into what has been shown to be an unsafe environment and will they live long enough to breed themselves?   These are all key questions.

The greatest leap of faith, and one at this stage where we have the gravest doubts, is the astounding presumption that the mere existence of brood management trials will “decrease mortality as a consequence of a cessation in illegal persecution”.  This seems to be wishful thinking indeed since unlawful persecution is acknowledged to be the greatest current threat!

NERF wonders how the trial outcome in respect of the first objective, the “social science” bit, will be assessed and reported on with any degree of accountability.  To date the grouse shooting lobby have failed to acknowledge cases of “missing” satellite tagged young birds as being anything other than due to natural causes or tag failure, when all the evidence points to a significant proportion being the victims of illegal persecution.

If, as suggested, attitudes towards nesting or wintering birds might change as a result of a brood management trial then why not deliver that change here and now?  Must we wait another 5 years of trials during which yet more Hen Harriers will meet an untimely end?

We wonder what the projected cost to the public purse will be of not just the trial itself but also the possible subsequent wider evolution of brood management when the principal beneficiary appears to be the economics of the private grouse shooting industry.


20 March 2019

The fire is extinguished as Vulcan joins the ‘disappeared’

When Hen Harrier ‘River’ joined the 2018 cohort that had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances the NERF article, published on 22 January 2019 ended:

Until the next time; and regrettably there will be a next time.

Knowing that there would be a ‘next time’ did not take away the pain felt when we learnt that yet another young Hen Harrier had joined the ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances.

Little did we know when the article about River was written that Vulcan’s satellite tag had already suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting six days previously. Vulcan, one of five chicks from Northumberland, drifted south through the Peak District to Hampshire, spent time in Dorset before the tag finally sent out the last transmission from farmland, managed for pheasant and partridge shooting south of Calston Wellington, North Wiltshire.

Regrettably Wiltshire is no stranger to controversy where Hen Harriers are concerned. This is the county where Natural England propose to release circa 100 hen Harrier chicks, sourced from the Continent, over a 5-year period, as part of their southern reintroduction scheme. Natural England has always proclaimed that the area is a safe haven for reintroducing Hen Harriers – an essential condition for such reintroduction programmes, yet this new evidence would suggest that this is not the case. The fact that Vulcan has inexplicably ‘disappeared’ in an area approximately 10 kilometres to the north of the proposed release site is of great concern to our members.

NERF raptor workers are largely responsible for locating breeding attempts, monitoring the birds throughout the breeding season, ringing and satellite tagging the chicks in the North of England in partnership with RSPB.

Vulcan – in happier times

NERF has consistently opposed Natural England’s southern reintroduction scheme, which we believe is designed to divert attention away from the continuing tragedy of persecution of Hen Harriers, which remains the biggest threat to the species throughout England. Importing young birds and releasing them to face an uncertain future in the lowlands will not, in the opinion of NERF, be the panacea for Hen Harrier survival as a breeding species in England as envisaged by Natural England. The fate of Vulcan clearly demonstrates this. Nor will be a substitute for the demise due to persecution in upland areas. NERF urges Natural England to abandon the scheme and concentrate on resolving the primary problem of Hen Harrier persecution on land predominantly used for driven grouse shooting.


If you have any information that would aid the investigation please contact the authorities. There are several ways to pass on information; you can contact:

  • The Police on 101
  • Crimestoppers on 0800 555111
  • RSPB Investigation Team on 01767 680551
  • RSPB hotline on 0300 999 0101

NERF would like to thank the Forestry Commission, RSPB Life Project and Raptor Workers who watched over and protected Vulcan. You did a magnificent job and you should be proud of your efforts. NERF would also wish to thank Wiltshire Police and RSPB Investigations Team for their hard work investigating the disappearance of Vulcan.




10 March 2019

River – another young Hen Harrier joins the swelling ranks of the disappeared

Once again NERF is mourning the disappearance of another young Hen Harrier. This time a bird hatched on United Utilities land in the Forest of Bowland managed as a reserve by RSPB. River lasted just half a year before its life was ended on a grouse moor in the North of England. It is difficult to know what’s worse, the loss of yet another young Hen Harrier or the fact that we were not surprised that the RSPB have announced the fact that River’s satellite tag had inexplicably stopped working on a grouse moor in an area with a long history of raptor persecution. It was never a matter of if another report would be released it was a matter of when. It was never a matter of whether the bird had gone missing on a grouse moor or not, it was a matter of which grouse moor.

Once again NERF members had invested heavily in River. Together with RSPB staff and volunteers and United Utilities staff NERF members had committed endless hours protecting the adults, the nest and the young throughout the breeding season. Anyone who has not lived through the process may find it difficult to understand just how stressful it is sitting a kilometer away watching and waiting, worrying if everything is OK. The first visit to River’s nest, by a highly trained, licensed raptor worker, confirmed to the relief of all involved, that there was a full clutch and everything looked fine. Just another month to sit and watch; watch and protect. Finally the wait over; another milestone had been reached when the female was recorded by the watchers as she went out hunting and took food back to the nest.

The eggs had hatched. Would the weather hold?  Would the adults be able to catch enough food for the growing chicks? There would be no reduction in the stress levels. The watchers watched and kept meticulous notes of everything that they observed. Time for another nest visit. Have all of the eggs hatched? Do the chicks look to be in good condition? It takes a very short time for the raptor worker to assess that everything is looking good and on track. Once again the watchers breathed a collective sigh of relief but they knew that there was a long way to go; in fact there were two more months to go before anyone could relax.

The information gathered on the second nest visit was passed to the ringers who would decide when the next visit would be made. In the meantime the watchers watched.

Eventually the day arrived and the birds were ringed and their biometric data was  meticulously recorded. It was at that stage that the chicks that would be satellite tagged were selected. River was chosen and from the day that the tag was fitted we were able to monitor the bird’s movements remotely. Watching from 500 miles away by satellite is no less stressful. Waiting for the satellite to come on line, waiting for the data to download is horrendous. Finally it was all there and River was alive – for that day at least. Day after day it was all positive news until the data told a different, sadder story. The satellite tag, which had been working perfectly up to that point had, without warning stopped. Not just stopped moving – stopped working altogether. The day that we had all been dreading had arrived.

The Police and RSPB staff made a thorough search of the area where the last transmission came from and found nothing; no trace that River had ever existed. This has happened oh so many times before. Of course birds die but experience gained over many years tells us two things when a satellite tagged bird goes missing

  • when the cause of death is natural the tag continues to transmit and the body is located
  • when the tag stops and a thorough and extensive search fails to find the bird then we are inextricably drawn to the conclusion that the bird was killed and the tag destroyed

Even as I type this I can hear the shooting industry shouting from the mountain tops ‘you can’t prove it’. Predictable and frankly pathetic.

Time after time we have heard the leaders of the shooting industry seeking to persuade the general public that they abhor raptor persecution and that they are working tirelessly to bring it to an end. There is scant evidence to prove that claim. What’s the latest evidence that we have to show that they are working towards achieving that goal? Interestingly to show their collective commitment to ending persecution the Countryside Alliance, BASC, the Moorland Association and the National Gamekeepers Organisation all refused to attend the latest Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) meeting; the police led, Government sponsored partnership tasked with the single aim of bringing raptor persecution to an end. The NGO have since resigned from the Group. To justify their withdrawal from the RPPDG they have attempted to lay the blame for their departure at the door of Nick Lyall, the new and dynamic chairman, NERF, RSPB and the new members of the Group; namely the Wildlife Trust, a representative for the northern AONBs, Birders Against Wildlife Crime and the RSPCA Wildlife Unit. The new members can hardly be said to represent a bunch of eco terrorists. On the contrary these new members represent millions of people who care about the natural environment and the creatures we share it with. Collectively they have decades of experience that will prove invaluable to the success of the RPPDG.

Members of the shooting community who really do want to bring raptor persecution to an end are ideally placed to do so and NERF urges them to contact the North Yorkshire Police with any information that they have in respect of the disappearance of River. Perhaps the NGO, following their meeting with Defra, will be beating a path to the door of the North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force, outlining their new cunning plan to end raptor persecution. Then again perhaps not. NERF believes that Defra should decline all suggestions that a new forum should be formed. The RPPDG is the only forum to address raptor persecution in England and Wales and Defra must make that abundantly clear.

If you have any information that would aid the investigation please contact the authorities. There are several ways to pass on information; you can contact:

  • The Police on 101
  • Crimestoppers on 0800 555111
  • RSPB Investigation Team on 01767 680551
  • RSPB hotline on 0300 999 0101

NERF would like to thank the volunteers and raptor workers who watched over and protected River. You did a magnificent job and you should be proud of your efforts. NERF would also wish to thank the Police and RSPB for their hard work investigating the disappearance of River.

Until the next time; and regrettably there will be a next time NERF condemns all forms of raptor persecution.


22 January 19

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.
December 2018.

Photo by Ruth Peacey

Two owls shot in the Dark Peak – why?

Once again the National Trust and the Peak District National Park Authority are in the news and once again it’s for all of the wrong reasons.

The area has a long, well documented, history of raptor persecution. However; in 2018 there were the first signs that a corner may have been turned and perhaps, just perhaps things were slowly improving for the beleaguered birds of prey in the Dark Peak. Hen Harriers bred for the first time in several years and was celebrated by everyone involved. Surely that was a positive signal, a glimmer of hope?

Well if it was a glimmer of hope it was soon extinguished and the Dark Peak is once again a dark place for birds of prey. Local Raptor Workers, all NERF members, are still trying to come to terms with the ‘disappearance’ of two satellite tagged Hen Harrier chicks, Octavia and Arthur, which fledged from the Dark Peak during the summer. Now we learn that a Short-eared Owl [SEO] was shot on 11 September on National Trust land on Marsden Moor near Wessenden Head, West Yorkshire. Additionally we learned that three weeks later on 1 October a Tawny Owl, which had also been shot was found stuffed into a drystone wall on land nearby but not on the National Trust property.

In the first incident a local runner had just returned to her car when she saw a Short-eared Owl fly over her head then heard gunshots from the direction of a vehicle described as a dark coloured pick-up truck with two dog cages with a thick wooden cover over the cages, parked nearby. The following morning the witness returned to the same location and found the SEO alive but injured. The bird was taken to a vet for treatment; however the injuries were so severe the bird had to be euthanized.

Short-eared Owls are scarce birds in the North of England, they are ‘Amber Listed’ as a species of concern in the UK. The breeding population which is probably less than a 1000 pairs in years when the vole population, a primary prey source, is low. This situation is taken so seriously that Special Protected Areas [SPAs] are designated for Short-eared Owls. Marsden Moor is part of one such SPA. If Short-eared Owls are supposed to be safe anywhere then land specially designated for their protection should be the ideal place to reside. On this occasion that was clearly not the case. We know of one SEO that was shot; how many more raptors have been shot in this area that we don’t know about? The persecution of owls, particularly Short-eared Owls, is a continuing problem in the North of England. This was demonstrated recently by a court case involving a gamekeeper convicted of shooting two owls in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The evidence strongly points to the fact that Short-eared Owls are being specifically targeted on upland estates.

Despite conducting extensive enquiries in the area West Yorkshire Police have been unable to trace the owner of the vehicle, with the very distinctive dog cages on the back, which was seen by the witness at the time that the SEO was shot.

What was the motive for killing the two owls? Who is most likely to profit from killing them? Is it possible that they were killed by some random passer-by who just happened to be parked up in in the area with a firearm to hand at the time the SEO flew overhead? Possible, but is it likely? Probably not.

No doubt the Investigating Officer(s) will be following these and other lines of enquiry. Identifying the individual(s) who has the Modus Operandi [MO], the opportunity and the desire to commit these crimes is the key to detecting them and NERF expects every member of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group to assist West Yorkshire Police in their enquiries to solve these crimes.

If you have any information that will help the Police bring the criminal before the courts please contact:

  • West Yorkshire Police on 101 quoting the log number 1742 – 11.09.2018
  • Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111
  • RSPB raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101


08 December 2018

Arthur joins his sister Octavia in the land of ‘the disappeared’

Photo by Paul Thomas

Another day and another young Hen Harrier is listed as ‘missing in action’. This time it is Arthur, brother of Octavia; she was declared ‘missing’ in August. These two Hen Harriers were part of a brood of four chicks ringed and satellite tagged on 16 July by NERF members in the Dark Peak as part of the RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE Project. These four chicks carried the hopes and aspirations of the National Trust, the Peak District National Park, local Raptor Workers and all wildlife lovers living in the North of England in general and the Dark                                                                                                                  Peak in particular.

Raptor persecution has been endemic in the Dark Peak for many years and has been documented by the RSPB in their publication ‘Peak Malpractice’ and the subsequent update. After several high profile incidents, occurring over many years, in 2018 matters appeared to be improving. When the Hen Harrier nest was discovered by NERF members, the hope was that the tide had turned, not just in the Dark Peak but across the Northern uplands as a whole. The organisations and individuals involved with these birds must be bitterly disappointed at this latest news. However NERF recognises their commitment and hopes for a better outcome in 2019.

Fortunately we have a great deal of evidence that reveals just how vulnerable Hen Harriers juveniles are when they leave their natal area. Thanks to the satellite data we know that Arthur spent his early days close to his nest before visiting the Brecon Beacons. He returned north, first to the eastern farmland in east Nidderdale before moving on towards the north-east. The satellite stopped transmitting, inexplicably, at Lowna Bridge in the North York Moors on 26 October. The area was searched thoroughly by RSPB Investigations staff, using very sophisticated equipment, yet once again the body was not located. The last known fix [LKF] is close to grouse moors and ironically about 300 metres north-west of Grouse Hall. Whether or not this is significant may be answered by the Police enquiries, although NERF will not be holding its collective breath that the Police will be in a position to make any meaningful progress with this case.

Five Hen Harriers from the 2018 cohort that were located, monitored, ringed and satellite tagged by NERF members have joined the ‘disappeared’. Hilma, Thor, Athena Octavia and Arthur – all missing – along with three others Heulwen, Stelmaria and Margot, which were not monitored by NERF. The phrase, ‘tip of the iceberg’ is often used when conservationists discuss raptor persecution and it is very likely to be an accurate description of the true extent of the problem. It is inconceivable that the only birds to have ‘disappeared’ from this year’s Hen Harrier broods are the ones that we have recorded from the satellite data. The question is ‘how many more are missing, presumed dead’? Of course the ‘tip of the iceberg’ analogy is based on a mixture of facts and anecdotes together with the analysis of raptor ‘black holes’ in habitats that are eminently suitable for particular species. Goshawks and Red Kites, which are absent from large swathes of the NERF Study Area, immediately spring to mind. Whilst this type of speculation / calculation may not be based on pure mathematics the totality of the information available from all sources pushes the speculation to the very brink of reality.

There is a well-known principle in law to deal with these types of cumulative events – ‘evidence of similar facts’, also known as ‘similar fact evidence’, establishes the conditions under which factual evidence of past misconduct of an accused can be admitted at trial for the purpose of inferring that the accused committed the misconduct at issue. Using this principle it is not unreasonable to compare two real time scenarios:

Scenario one

  1. satellite tag data indicates that the bird is dead
  2. the body is recovered and the post mortem shows that the bird died of natural causes

Scenario two

  1. unexplained catastrophic failure of a satellite tag
  2. the failure occurs on or close to a grouse moor
  3. an extensive search, using the same very sophisticated tracking equipment by trained staff, fails to locate the bird

It is clear that the two scenarios provide significantly different outcomes. The consistent failure to find birds that suffer from a catastrophic satellite tag failure is a good indicator that something unnatural is occurring in these cases. This consistency is ‘evidence of similar fact’ and should be treated as such by Defra and Natural England ministers and mandarins. Regrettably we all know that in this case, as with all of the others over the years, the North York Moors will echo to the sound of silence from Michael Gove and Therese Coffey.

What will it take Secretary of State Gove before you do or say anything other than trotting out the usual pre-prepared statement that you have a Hen Harrier Action Plan? If you have a plan Mr Gove you can be reassured by Raptor Workers and others that your plan is not working. You need to formulate an effective Plan before more Hen Harriers join the ranks of the ‘disappeared’ and the species reverts to being at serious risk as a breeding species in England once more.

It is not possible to predict when NERF will be obliged to write another obituary for a Hen Harrier but it is likely to be in the not too distant future. Raptor Workers and conservationists have to remain positive despite the adversity they face almost daily. It is worth taking inspiration from the following advice.

‘It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop’.


We may be going slowly but we will not stop highlighting the issues affecting Hen Harriers and all other raptors.

In his short life Arthur, a name which is derived from the Roman clan name Artorius meaning noble and courageous, may have fulfilled his obligations by demonstrating courage; but will his ‘disappearance’ provoke Government to take affirmative action? Time will tell but you can make a difference. If you have any information about the disappearance of Arthur please contact:-North Yorkshire Police on 101

  1. RSPB raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101
  2. Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111


13 November 2018