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.
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.
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.
As you know I took part in the video to celebrate Nick’s achievement during the first 12 months of his Chairmanship of the Police led Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime [PAW], Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG]. I was, and am, proud to have been asked to participate and I am grateful to Ruth for the opportunity to express NERF’s thanks to Nick.
Having been involved with this initiative from the outset and previous Defra / NE raptor based consultation groups over the last two decades I have no doubt that the RPPDG is the most challenging of the six UK Wildlife Crime Priority Groups to Chair. Of course Nick learned this very quickly when two of the game shooting interests on the Group, the National Gamekeepers Association and the Countryside Alliance, publicly questioned his integrity when he sought to bring balance to the RPPDG by welcoming additional national conservation based organisations to the Group. The shooting representatives failed, en masse, to attend a RPPDG meeting on the basis that they hadn’t been consulted about the increase in Group membership and the National Gamekeepers Organisation resigned in protest. It is self-evident that they saw the proposed changes as a dilution of their influence which had to be resisted.
This re-balancing of the Group was long overdue. Prior to Nick taking on the role as Chair the Groups had consisted of five shooting organisations [Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Countryside Alliance and Country Land Owners Association] and just two conservation organisations [RSPB, NERF then latterly a representative of the National Parks]. The remainder of the Group consists of Police and representatives from various Government Departments. With this imbalance of influence the shooting organisations were able to assert undue influence and little or nothing was achieved as a result. The RPPDG has two primary objectives, firstly to prevent raptor persecution and secondly to assist the Police to detect raptor persecution where ever it occurs and yet since the group was formed the shooting industry has, through their representatives, sought to undermine the Group and thwart every positive suggestion where they perceived it would have a negative impact on the industry.
The list of how they have collectively sought to exert their influence on the group is endless. Two examples to demonstrate this are: the attempt by the Countryside Alliance to block the RSPCA from joining the Group, a rather bizarre decision when we consider that the RSPCA has statutory powers to deal with wildlife crime.
Perhaps a more realistic assessment of why the decision was taken is because the RSPCA have the following policies, policies which are at odds with those of the Countryside Alliance:
5.9.1 The RSPCA is opposed to any hunting of animals with dogs or other animals
5.10.1 The RSPCA believes that ‘sport’ does not justify the causing of suffering to birds and other animals, and therefore the RSPCA is opposed to shooting for sport
5.10.3 The RSPCA is opposed to the pinioning, brailing and beak trimming of, and the use of spectacles or blinkers on, game birds kept in rearing pens
5.10.4 The RSPCA is opposed to the killing of predatory animals solely because they may be considered a threat to game birds
9.1.1 The RSPCA is opposed, in principle, to the taking or killing of wild animals, or the infliction of any suffering upon them unless a persuasive case can be made
9.2.1 The RSPCA is opposed to the manufacture, sale and use of all snares, traps using live decoys and any trap which causes suffering
The second example, which NERF believes is more sinister and has the potential to undermine our criminal justice system is the insistence by the shooting organisations that they should play a role in deciding what is or is not a raptor related crime despite the fact that there is legislation and there are Home Office Guidelines that set out explicitly what constitutes a ‘crime’ and how it should be dealt with. This cynical attempt to minimise the crime statistics, which predominately identifies members of the game shooting industry as the largest group of individuals committing raptor related crime, is clearly self-serving and has nothing to do with the aims of the RPPDG whatsoever.
Attempts to undermine the work of the RPPDG, including individual members of the Group, has been relentless and it is incumbent on right minded individuals and organisations to resist these vexatious attempts rigorously. It is difficult to see why anyone would object to the congratulatory tribute video to Nick unless it was part of a political agenda to damage your personal reputation, the reputation of the NWCU and of the RPPDG.
I recently took part in a well-being survey at the conclusion of the 2019 Hen Harrier breeding season. The final question asked how uplifting was working with Hen Harriers? My answer was simple – not at all. The initial euphoria of finding birds skydancing, breeding and fledging young is immediately crushed by the knowledge that the birds will be killed on land managed for driven grouse shooting. The work that you and your colleagues at the NWCU, and in Police Forces across the country, undertake daily, can be mentally draining sapping morale to a point that the general public will never fully appreciate. The counter-balance has to be moments of levity taking a lighted hearted, self-deprecating look at the positive side of the work. The video was just that. People from across the conservation sector came together in celebration of Nick’s first 12 months in post and poking fun at his propensity to wear his infamous ‘rapper jacket’. No-one took part in the video with malicious intent. It was just funny and it was appropriate. It is still funny and it is still appropriate. I note that there are only 5 comments about the video on the RPUK blog and that they are all positive.
Complaints about the fact that the video, shot by Ruth, subsequently appeared on the RPUK website is irrelevant, a distraction from both the purpose of the video and the function of the website. The two are not related and to suggest otherwise is, in my view, purely malicious and should be seen as such. There are articles, observations and demands of Government that the Police cannot publicly support. Similarly this applies to NERF, we do not support all that is published on the RPUK website. However, the Police, NERF and society at large can, and should, support the demand for the ending of the illegal killing of birds of prey. There are no conflicts of interest, for the Police or NERF, in supporting demands for the compliance with the rule of law. This does not negatively impact upon the integrity of those of us who share those views, despite what individuals or organisations who have total disregard for wildlife or the rule of law would have us believe, or seek to undermine.
Whilst the video was produced to pay tribute to Nick’s efforts it has been somewhat over-looked by many people, including by yourself I might add, that the success of the newly revitalised RPPDG is also a testament to your tireless efforts to bring the various factions together in an effort to consign raptor persecution to the history books. I would like to place on record our heartfelt thanks to you for your persistence in the face of adversity and NERF looks forward to continuing with our productive relationship throughout 2020 and beyond.
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: email@example.com
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.
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.
The Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG] is a police led sub-group of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime. Chaired by Superintendent Nick Lyall, the RPPDG is charged with reducing raptor persecution in England and Wales. A similar group tackles the same issues in Scotland.
Members of the RPPDG are required to provide the Chairman with 6-monthly reports of their activities undertaken in support of the objectives of the Group. The NERF summer 2019 report is set out below.
During the summer of 2019, the Gateshead based Friends of Red Kites [FoRK] became full members of NERF and the Yorkshire Kites and the Washburn Raptor Monitoring Scheme / Yorkshire Kites Project became associate members / Advisors to NERF. Geographically the North of England extends to 37,331 km2 and NERF member groups operate in c60% of the region.
In common with previous breeding seasons, NERF members were extremely busy committing thousands of hours surveying the forests, in-bye and uplands for breeding raptors. The process includes surveying for ‘black hole’ species; in habitat that historically held breeding birds from which they are currently absent, or habitat which is eminently suitable for a particular species, but for various reasons (often related to persecution at the population level) either are not found or are significantly under represented. Despite historical absence it is essential that these areas are extensively covered during the pre-breeding season in order to produce continuing trend lines.
Collectively NERF’s priorities are the three Harrier species, Goshawk, Peregrine, Merlin, Raven, Short-eared Owls and Long-eared Owl. In addition individual groups focus on local priority species such as Osprey and Buzzard. The remaining raptor species were surveyed in accordance with available local resources.
During the breeding season members monitored hundreds of nests, often in remote, difficult to reach locations, and in adverse weather. Qualified and licenced members fitted BTO rings, passive integrated transponders [PiT tags], GSM tags and satellite tags to a variety of species.
NERF is a partner in the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Plus and members were involved in surveying, monitoring, protecting, ringing and satellite tagging chicks throughout the North of England.
The results of the work undertaken during the breeding season will be published in the NERF Annual Review 2019.
NERF members co-authored a scientific paper; Investigating Hen Harrier diet;
‘Metabarcoding‑based dietary analysis of hen harrier [Circus cyaneus] in Great Britain using buccal swabs from chicks’.
Kevin Nota, Stephen Downing, Arati Iyengar 27 August 2019. Conservation Genetics DOI 10.1007/s10592-019-01215-y
The second NERF Raptor Persecution Awareness Raising Day was held in Goathland, North Yorkshire on 10th August. Despite severe weather warnings issued by the Met Office the event was well attended.
Members attended the RPPDG Satellite Tagging Awareness Workshop and various Operation Owl events, NERF members supported the RSPB Investigations Team training Durham Wildlife Crime Officers. In addition NERF has long-term commitments to the following long-term projects & partnerships:
PiT tagging Merlin
PiT tagging Peregrine Falcons
Hen Harrier DNA Project with SASA – lead in England and Wales
Peak District – Upland Skies Project
Partnership with Protected Landscapes [National Parks & AONBs]
PAW – Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group
Hen Harrier Satellite Tagging Consultation Group
Hen Harrier winter roost monitoring and summer nest monitoring
Merlin research paper NERF / RSPB
Rare Birds Breeding Panel
Sheffield Lakelands Landscape Project
Raptor Persecution Awareness Raising Days
Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative
European Hen Harrier / Short-Eared Owl Group
It is worthy of note that all activities undertaken by NERF and our member groups are self-funded.
In March 2019 a member of the public found a dead Red Kite below a tree in Blazefield, adjacent to a caravan site, on the outskirts of Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire. Regrettably the report of a dead bird of prey illegally killed in the county, is not ground breaking news. It is just another tragic case of bird of prey persecution in North Yorkshire; the heart of raptor persecution in England. Whilst this latest killing is a shocking incident few people who monitor events such as this will have been surprised by it.
The long history of bird of prey persecution in the Nidderdale ANOB has been documented by the RSPB Investigations Team. The data shows that between 1987 and 2017 43 birds of prey were confirmed as victims of persecution. Of those 43 no less than 24 were Red Kites.
The victim in this latest crime apparently wasn’t ringed and therefore we will never know where it came from. However, it is likely to have originated from either the Yorkshire Kites Project or the Gateshead based Red Kite Project, both of which are managed by NERF member groups.
Red Kites are scavengers and carrion forms a large part of their diet. This makes them very vulnerable to being poisoned by individuals or organisations that are determined to wilfully kill them. Red Kites are huge with a 1.5 metre wingspan but they are usually incapable of defending a prey item on the ground from more powerful avian predators such as Buzzards. In an attempt to overcome the potential of losing their food they usually carry it into a nearby tree before beginning to eat it. It is this behaviour that explains why poisoned Red Kites are frequently found dead under trees.
In this case the incident was reported to the authorities and the North Yorkshire Police submitted the bird for analysis under the Government’s Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme [WIIS]. The result of the analysis was that the bird had been killed with the highly toxic poisons bendiocarb and isofenphos. Not-withstanding the fact that the chemical analysis will have taken some time to complete and that the Police may also have needed additional time to conclude their investigation it is non-the-less regrettable that there was an eight month delay before the Police issued a press statement advising the public of the potential threat to wildlife, pets and people in the Pateley Bridge area.
Bendiocarb is one of the poisons of choice for anyone intent on killing birds of prey. However, it is also highly toxic and lethal to mammals, including humans. Placing a poisoned bait in the open countryside is an indiscriminate senseless act of criminality. Once the bait has been deployed the poisoner has no control what-so-ever over what may be killed by it. Wild animals, pets and people are all vulnerable and the person(s) responsible clearly had no regard for the life of anything or anyone who came into contact with it. Anyone using bendiocarb to indiscriminately kill wildlife has decided, de facto, that he, and it is most probably a he, has a self-declared ‘right’ to kill anything and everything he wants to kill, regardless of the consequences.
The Police press release states that extensive enquiries have failed to trace the source of the poisons or the person(s) responsible for deploying it in the countryside. No doubt their investigation would have focused on identifying those who would profit from killing the Red Kite and who had the motive, opportunity and capacity to carry out this crime. The list of potential suspects is in all probability relatively short.
At the end of the NERF article about the ‘disappearance’ of the Hen Harrier called Ada in suspicious circumstance we reminded the senior managers at both Natural England and Defra that the persecution of birds of prey is rampant across the North of England and we called on them to ‘do the right thing’ to protect our birds of prey. Two weeks from now we will have a new Government and a new Minister of the Environment and we call upon the incoming Minister to also ‘do the right thing’ and bolster protection of our birds of prey.
It is NERF’s opinion that this includes:
introducing vicarious liability for owners and managers of shooting estates,
taking a harder line by withholding financial support under the farm payment scheme where appropriate, and,
suspending the use of General Licences
In the meantime we await the next inevitable, depressing, press releases from the Police and RSPB that another raptor has been killed on or near a game shooting estate, in all probability in North Yorkshire.
The population of Pateley Bridge and surrounding area is less than 3,000 people. Whoever put the poisoned bait out in the open countryside and killed the Red Kite is most likely to live locally, shop locally, use the local pub and may have children or grand-children in the local school. In short if you live in the Pateley Bridge area the person indiscriminately putting poisoned baits out in your countryside, putting your life, the life of your pets and local wildlife at risk is your neighbour.
In addition to the physical threats posed by the use of dangerous poison there is also the reputational damage caused to this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and local businesses. This potential reputational damage was recognised by Pateley Bridge businessman Keith Tordoff in 2017 when he and a fellow businessman, jointly offered a reward for information following the unlawful killing of another Red Kite. On that occasion the bird was shot near Greenhow.
It is in the interest of the community to put an end to the cycle of raptor persecution that pervades Nidderdale. If you have any information that would aid the Police investigation please contact the authorities. There are several ways to pass on information; you can contact:
The Police on 101
Crimestoppers on 0800 555111
RSPB Investigation Team on 01767 680551
RSPB hotline on 0300 999 0101
Warning – if you find a dead bird of prey in suspicious circumstances, or what may be a poisoned bait please note your location, take photographs and if it is possible cover the bird or bait with vegetation safely. The most virulent poisons can kill on contact with the skin; do not take risks. The default position must be that it is a poisoned bait or the bird has been poisoned. Do not handle the birdor the suspected bait. Ring the Police and get professional help to recover the body for analysis. Ensure that you get an incident number from the Police contact centre.
Many Police Forces use the ‘What3Words’ app to identify specific locations. The app can be downloaded to a smartphone for free.
This picture shows Ada having been satellite tagged as part of the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project. It was taken just prior to her being returned to her nest. She was on the point of fledging, on the point of leading a long and productive life, adding generations of Hen Harriers wild and flying free in the North of England, or anywhere else she chose. That was her promise to her species; a promise that she would never live long enough to fulfill.
Whilst Ada’s nest was in southern Scotland, just over the Northumberland / Scottish Border, she was monitored and satellite tagged by NERF members working in partnership with the RSPB Life Project staff. We were heavily invested in Ada’s well-being and future potential. Her ‘disappearance’ without trace after a short life of 130 days, 2,790 days less than her expected lifespan, is not just an unfortunate tragic statistic to be accepted by the people involved. NERF takes the loss of Ada, and all of the other ‘disappeared’ Hen Harriers, tagged or not, personally and we are sick of it! Society is sick of it! Be under no illusion, the killing of Hen Harriers is not a random isolated act of brutality; it is a function of organised crime pervading grouse moors across our uplands, often sustaining their profitability. Anyone with a modicum of humanity cannot avoid being emotionally affected by the never-ending pointless slaughter. It is not just an insult to Hen Harriers, or the people that commit their lives to protecting them, it is an insult to the very fabric of civilization.
The sudden and inexplicable catastrophic failure, or ‘stopped no malfunction’ of Ada’s tag followed an all too predictable pattern:
Ada was tagged on 28 June
the tags used by the RSPB are known to be 94% reliable
the tag provided excellent data for 105 days
prior to failure there was no indication that there were technical issues with the tag
the tag inexplicably ‘stopped no malfunction’ on 10 October
her last transmission placed her on a grouse moor, east of Allendale, Northumberland
a ground search conducted by very experienced RSPB staff using sophisticated tracking equipment failed to locate her
despite long periods of settled, sunny weather there has been no contact with Ada’s solar powered tag in the last 6 weeks
Police enquiries have proved unsuccessful
The pattern surrounding ‘disappeared’
Hen Harriers repeated itself, again, and Ada was the latest victim.
Unless the body of Ada is recovered we will never know what actually happened to her. However, our previous experience gives a very credible working hypothesis. The bodies of Hen Harriers that die naturally are invariably recovered and post-mortem examinations pronounce the cause of death as natural, even though some were revealed to have been previously shot although the injuries had not been fatal. The opposite is also true. Birds with satellite tags that ‘stop no malfunction’ when the last transmission was from a grouse moor are invariably not recovered. Why is that? This scenario was eloquently described in a recent paper, ‘Patterns of satellite tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors‘ Murgatroyd et al, March 2019, using Natural England’s data. The data revealed that 72% of the satellite tagged Hen Harriers in their study were killed, or very likely to have been killed, on British grouse moors.
In short – the combination of live Hen Harrier plus grouse
moor equals killed Hen Harrier, 72 times out of 100.
Ada was a Scottish Hen Harrier. She joined the ‘disappeared’ on an English grouse moor.
What will SNH have to say about that? What will the Scottish Government have to
say about that? Will there be harsh, angry communications between Scotland and
England or will it all be swept under the heather?
Where does Ada’s ‘disappearance’
leave the Defra / Natural England failed Hen Harrier Recovery Plan now? Will it
be business as usual, throwing huge amounts of tax-payers money, our money, at
the ill-conceived Brood Management Plan and the ludicrous Southern
Re-introduction Scheme? Or will the senior managers in Defra and Natural
England take a spoonful of humility, a dose of reality and make a public
announcement that these schemes are not fit for purpose until persecution ends
and the northern Hen Harrier breeding population reaches the minimum number set
out in Natural England’s SPA designations?
A change of policy by the senior managers at either Defra or
Natural England is highly unlikely, so it remains business as usual and Hen
Harriers will continue to ‘disappear’,
presumed killed, on grouse moors across the northern uplands. It is widely
accepted that past performance predicts future behaviour. Facing that
inevitability, under the current circumstances we must continue to collectively
apply pressure to the decision makers to do the right thing. The ‘right thing’ in this case would include
introducing a system of licensing driven grouse moors, introducing vicarious
liability for owners and managers of grouse moors, take a harder line by withholding
financial support under the farm payment scheme where appropriate and
suspending the use of General Licences.
In the meantime we await the next inevitable, depressing, press
release from the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project that another bird has ‘disappeared presumed dead’.
“It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. – Terry Pratchett – Men at Arms.
NERF has been opposed to the Natural England / Defra Hen Harrier Brood Management Plan from the moment it was announced. The plan was terminally flawed from the outset, it placed far too much trust in the claim made by the grouse shooting representatives, that they can deliver their part of the process and end Hen Harrier persecution. To say that such a belief was naive would qualify as one of the all-time understatements in the world of bird of prey protection.
The Brood Management Plan was introduced to placate the grouse moor owners and it is pointless to pretend otherwise. In return we were promised that once grouse moor owners had a ‘safety net’, allowing Hen Harrier chicks to be removed from grouse moors if two or more pairs attempted to breed within a predetermined area, then persecution would end.
2019 saw the implementation of this plan, followed shortly thereafter by the abject failure of the plan within a few short months.
Recent press releases detail the disappearance of three of the five Hen Harrier chicks, satellite tagged as part of the Hen Harrier Brood Management Plan and indicate that police investigations are being undertaken in all three cases.
This is the first year that the Brood Management Plan has been implemented and to date 60% of the chicks have ‘disappeared’, believed to have been illegally killed. However, if we take in to account the fact that the two remaining chicks from the ‘managed’ brood are reported to have migrated to France, then 100% of the brood managed birds that remained on grouse moors in the North of England, the most dangerous area for raptors in the UK, are in all probability dead. And in all probability, likely killed by members of the industry that asked us to trust them not to do so. How ironic!
The fact that these three young Hen Harriers have ‘disappeared’ will not have come as a surprise to anyone, nor will the fact that they all disappeared on grouse moors in the North of England; one in County Durham and two in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. According to Natural England’s own published data 72% of Hen Harrier chicks that were satellite tagged as part of their research ‘disappeared’ in similar circumstances over the last ten years.
These three birds join the list of many other Hen Harriers satellite tagged by Natural England and the RSPB which are now listed as ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances.
At some point Natural England will have to publicly acknowledge that the representatives of the shooting industry (in particular, the Moorland Association) are lobbying groups, not delivery groups. They are unable to either compel or ensure that their members will comply with any of the promises they make. Those of us who have sat around a negotiating table with them for over two decades realised this a long time ago. It would be helpful if this acknowledgment by Natural England came sooner rather than later and an alternative plan, a plan which is fit for purpose, is prepared for implementation before the 2020 breeding season arrives.
It is not only NERF members who believe that the Brood Management Plan should never have been implemented. Mark Avery and the RSPB both independently lodged legal challenges against the legality of the scheme. Whilst both legal challenges initially failed in court, they are now subject to the appeals process. Hopefully these legal challenges will be successful early next year, and the brood management plan can be consigned to the history book of catastrophic failed conservation measures.
Many independent raptor workers and other conservationists across the country have also denounced the scheme and will no doubt continue to do so if the plan is implemented in future years. It is also true that some of the Brood Management Board have expressed doubts about the plan, they should be listened to.
Following information that ‘Rosie’, another Natural England tagged bird, recently came back online, it is likely that there will be cries of foul from the grouse shooting industry claiming that the three ‘disappeared’ missing brood managed birds were also fitted with faulty tags. However, the circumstances of their disappearance, when the three tags ‘stopped no malfunction’, coupled with the fact that years of scientific research reveals that only 6% of satellites fail then any such claim would be misplaced.
What should happen next?
“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” – Albert Einstein et al.
There is little point continuing to rehash the events of 2019. Brood management was tried and despite the hard work of the Fieldworkers involved it has failed spectacularly within months. The project licence expires before the 2020 breeding season and NERF is firmly of the opinion that it should not be renewed. Natural England / Defra gave the benefit of the doubt to the grouse shooting industry, the Government tried and failed. It is now time to move on and abandon their Brood Management Plan.
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
This statement, or a version of it, is frequently attributed to the British economist John Maynard Keynes. The statement actually referred to macroeconomics but it is equally applicable to many aspects of daily life and is very relevant in relation to the failed Brood Management Plan.
So what will you do now Natural England? Fail to heed Einstein’s warning and plough on regardless of the facts, or follow Keynes’ philosophy and change direction?
87 confirmed incidents of Raptor Persecution. As we well know the number of incidents that are discovered/recorded are just the tip of the iceberg as previous highlighted by the BASC Director of Communications Christopher Graffius in this publication from December 2017.
As well as the year that NERF Members in the Peak District were involved in a study of the catalogue of Raptor Persecution Incidents recorded in the Dark Peak alongside the disparity between breeding success of both Goshawk and Peregrine Falcon in the Dark Peak compared to the White Peak areas of the Peak District National Park. The report from the study can be read here
Natural England’s answer to the issue of illegal raptor persecution in our uplands was to implement their flawed policy of Hen Harrier brood management on the basis that it is essential for Hen Harrier conservation and will lead to an increase in the English population. That second assertion may be true during the breeding season, but it totally ignores the fact that all of the evidence reveals that persecution is more problematic after the chicks disperse from their breeding grounds and that it affects many more raptor species.
The Head of RSPB Investigations Mark Thomas speaking about the ongoing issues of raptor persecution can be found below