Tag Archives: License driven grouse shooting

The tale of two Buzzards, one Eagle Owl and a gamekeeper with a gun during lockdown.

The past twelve months have been very challenging for all of humanity as the Covid Pandemic spread across the planet. The scientists immediately realised that the virus was spreading out of control through human to human contact and this pattern of transmissibility had to be broken. The response from the Government was to impose a ‘lockdown’ throughout England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland followed the same route, as did most of the rest of the world.

The imposition of lockdown was a draconian but essential decision. Thousands of people were dying in England every week, snatched from families who had to grieve without the opportunity to say goodbye and follow our funerary rituals. Schools were closed, shops and factories were closed; only absolutely essential services were allowed to operate and even these were operating at a reduced level. Lockdown had, understandably brought England to a standstill and we, the general public, played our part. Other than people engaged in providing essential services we complied with the lockdown policy and stayed at home during the early part of 2020. Interestingly, perhaps inexplicably, gamekeepers were exempt from the lockdown restriction from the beginning whilst the RSPB Investigations Team were furloughed for several weeks at the beginning of Lockdown One.

The countryside was closed and conservationists, including NERF, were concerned that raptor persecution would increase across the country. That concern changed to a predicable reality as the RSPB reported receiving a higher number of reports of persecution than normal during spring. In a 2020 press release Mark Thomas Head of RSPB Investigations said,

“Since lockdown began, the RSPB has been overrun with reports of birds of prey being targeted. It is clear that criminals on some sporting estates both in the uplands and lowlands, have used the wider closure of the countryside as an opportunity to ramp up their efforts to kill birds of prey.”

NERF commented on the appalling situation in the article ‘The country may have been in lockdown but in the countryside the killing fields were still open for business as usual.’ published on the NERF website 16 May 2020. [LINK].

Whilst we knew that the RSPB Investigations Team were receiving an increased volume of raptor persecution reports we were unaware of the nature of the allegations. However, following the publication of an article by the RSPB on 9 March 2021 we now have details of one of the cases that the Team were investigating. A report had been received approximately two years earlier alleging that a gamekeeper, on a grouse moor located inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park, was using a tethered Eagle Owl to lure birds of prey into a position where they could be shot. The use of Eagle Owls in this way has been recorded previously on grouse moors and appears to be on the increase. The initial observations were unsuccessful, however with the dogged determination we have seen for many years the Investigators stuck with the case and on 21 May 2019 the Team filmed a man arriving on a quad carrying a large box on the back. The box held an Eagle Owl which was removed and tethered to a cairn before the gamekeeper secreted himself close-by. Eagle Owls will not be tolerated in the territory of other birds, including raptors, which will attempt to drive the Eagle Owls off leaving the raptors vulnerable to being shot. During this period of observation no raptors were seen near the Eagle Owl and the person left with the Owl. Clearly the original intelligence had been correct and additional periods of observation were also undertaken during 2019 without success.

Undeterred the Team returned in 2020 and on 27 April they filmed a man tethering an Eagle Owl to a post before shooting and killing two Buzzards and attempting to kill a third. Undertaking covert observations requires exceptional skills, even more so when the observations are undertaken and filmed from c5 km away. The matter was reported to the Police and a search warrant was executed at the home of the suspect. Unfortunately due to the distance at which the killing of the two Buzzards was filmed it was not possible to identify the gamekeeper to the standard required to prosecute the suspect.

Inspector Matt Hagen, North Yorkshire Police, said:

“We conducted a search warrant and interviewed an individual in relation to this incident. Ultimately, however, the identity of the suspect on the film could not be proved, and it was not possible to bring about a prosecution. However this does not mean the event didn’t happen. We know that a gamekeeper on a grouse moor has been shooting buzzards, using a live eagle owl decoy to bring those buzzards into a position where they could be shot. We urge the public to report incidents like this to the police, and to come forward if they have information about this or any other incident involving the illegal killing of birds of prey.”

The RSPB video outlining the can be viewed here.

Whilst a lack of a prosecution is not someone involved in the case would have wished for we have to remember that the legislation that protected the suspect in this case also protects all of us should we be accused of a criminal offence. However; as Inspector Hagen stated so eloquently the investigation did prove that a gamekeeper on a grouse moor did use an Eagle Owl as a decoy and did kill two Buzzards.

If further evidence was needed that whilst the majority of the people in England were complying with the Government’s advice of ‘Stay home – protect the NHS – save lives – at least one grouse moor gamekeeper was taking the lives of Buzzards on the estate where he works. The RSPB Investigations Team commenced their observations and filmed the unidentified armed gamekeeper secreted near a tethered Eagle Owl on 21 May 2019. They returned and filmed another unidentified armed gamekeeper, perhaps the same person, killing two Buzzards 312 days later on 21 April 2020. Were they lucky to film him on the only day that he killed birds of prey using the Eagle Owl decoy? The odds are 311 to 1. The RSPB’s Investigations Team are very good but are they so lucky that they filmed him on the only day that he killed birds of prey?

Raptor persecution is one of the Government’s Wildlife Crime Priorities. The aim is to eliminate these crimes as far as is practicably possible and has a dedicated Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG] to address these crimes, but to what effect. In reality none. The Priority Group consists of the Government departments, Defra and NE, conservation organisations, including NERF and the RSPB. It also has representatives of the shooting industry every one of which trots out the mantra that they condemn all raptor persecution. Twenty four hours after the RSPB press release was circulated what have the Moorland Association, BASC, National Gamekeeper’s Association and the Countryside Alliance had to say about this case? Nothing. The sound of silence is deafening, but then again this is what we are used to. Several of the shooting organisations that sit on the RRPDG also sit on the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Management Plan Raptor Monitoring Group, as does NERF. The offences outlined in this case took place inside the National Park however; yet again the shooting organisations sitting on that committee remain silent, refusing to condemn the estate and the individual(s) involved.

Of course we should not be surprised by the silence expressed by the shooting industry with regard to this incident. When the case of the poisoned Peregrine, within the Peak District National Park, was brought to the attention of the public by the RSPB recently we also heard nothing from the shooting industry even though some of the members of the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative are also members the RPPDG and the YDNP raptor group. Why was that? Is there a common theme here?

Notwithstanding the fact that this enquiry didn’t end in a prosecution we are grateful for the hard work and dedication of the RSPB Investigations Team and Inspector Hagan’s Rural Crime Team for pursuing the case as was practically possible. Once again these events reinforce the fact that the shooting industry is incapable of self-regulation. The time for Government to introduce both the licensing of game shooting and vicarious liability for the owners of game shooting estates, making them legally liable for the actions of their employees, is long overdue. If birds of prey are to benefit from the legislation, that was enacted decades ago to protect them, these two changes to current legislation need to be made without delay.

If you have any information about this case, any other cases of raptor persecution, or any other Wildlife crime please contact the Police on 101, or,

Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Alternatively, you can call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

NERF

11 March 2021

Scotland moves closer to licensing Grouse moor management.

On Thursday 26 November 2020, the Scottish Government announced that it is moving towards licencing grouse moor management in the coming year. Whilst licensing was part of the long overdue Werritty Report the fact that the Government decided to ignore the recommendation for a five year moratorium to allow the grouse shooting industry to demonstrate that they are capable of bringing an end to extensive use of illegal activities, including raptor persecution, by self-regulation within the industry.

Unsurprisingly, the industry is now expressing outrage at this decision. However, in reality this change was brought about by the on-going raptor persecution and persistent statements of denial, despite the abundance of evidence, by the industry leaders. Grouse moor managers have had decades to demonstrate that they already do, or can, comply with current legislation and yet to date they have spectacularly failed to do so. Legislation was the inevitable outcome.

Any licensing system must address other moorland management techniques, not just the authority to shoot Red Grouse. The licence will need to cover:

  • upland flood alleviation schemes to prevent downstream misery frequently suffered by valley residents
  • the use of lead shot
  • the use of medicated grit
  • the illegal use of traps and snares
  • heather burning.

Addressing these issues is essential, but this is not an exclusive list.

When the licensing scheme is eventually introduced it will require robust policing and effective sanctions if it is to deliver the projected benefits to both wildlife and the wider environment.

The Scottish Government is to be congratulated on taking this affirmative action. Raptors and other wildlife have no concept of borders and this action should offer them additional protection as they move back and forth between England and Scotland. The environmental protection clauses built into a licensing scheme will have a positive impact on the climate change emergency and benefit the population across the UK.

To achieve enhanced benefits for the whole of Great Britain NERF calls on DEFRA to introduce an effective system of licensing for the grouse shooting industry in England. The challenges faced by raptors on much of the land managed for driven grouse shooting in the North of England remains a clear and present danger. The threat from climate change currently faced by the planet is not going away and every beneficial action that will help to alleviate the damage needs to be taken now. Licensing grouse moor management may not be the answer to climate change, however it is part of the solution and should be introduced without further delay.

NERF

1 December 2020

Ada the latest in a long line of Hen Harriers to join the ‘disappeared’ – on a grouse moor



Ada – a feminine given name meaning noble,  first daughter    ‘disappeared’

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 pattern repeats itself

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’.

NERF

28 November 2019

Petition to license Driven Red Grouse shooting

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

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

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

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

NERF supports the current petition to license Driven Red Grouse Shooting. To add your support please sign the petition at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/207482

15 January 2018