Tag Archives: Missing Hen Harrier

“Move along, there’s nothing to see here.”

Spokesperson for the ‘Custodians of the Countryside’.

Bird photographs courtesy of RSPB Birdcrime 2020 [gunsights added by NERF]

“Move along, there’s nothing to see here.” At least that is what the ‘Custodians’ would have us believe. In truth, that is far from the reality that we see on the ground. The latest RSPB Birdcrime Report, covering 2020, puts that nonsense to rest, again.

Whilst the general public were obeying the Government’s instructions to stay at home during the Covid – 19 lockdown to save the lives of our families and neighbours, the raptor killers were plying their trade across the countryside that the ‘Custodians’ were supposed to be protecting. You could be forgiven for asking – ‘how did that work out?’ The simple answer is – not well at all if you were a bird of prey on land used for game shooting. You could also be forgiven for thinking ‘well that is not new’ and you would be correct. The statistic that makes 2020 different is the scale of the killing. Lockdown gave the raptor-killers free reign to go about their daily business without fear of being caught and the latest statistics published by the RSPB reveals just how effective they were. You can read the full Bird Crime Report here.

Across the UK there were 137 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution, the highest annual number recorded by the RSPB and agreed by the National Wildlife Crime Unit. The shocking statistics reveal that there were 57 cases of shooting, 17 cases of trapping and 35 cases of poisoning of birds of prey. In total 63% of the reports came from land associated with game shooting [34% pheasant and partridge shooting, 28% grouse shooting and 1% mixed shooting]. Of the 137 confirmed cases, 99 occurred in England and c 66% of those were located in North Yorkshire making the county the hotspot for bird of prey crime for the 7th year in succession.

Following the release of the latest Birdcrime report there will no doubt be cries of derision from the game shooting industry; shouting foul, it’s nothing to do with us, we have zero tolerance of persecution, it was the bad apple brigade trying to discredit us and anyway 137 is a small number. ‘Nothing to see here, move along’.

Indeed 137 is a small number; but it has to be seen in context when discussing raptor persecution. The real question is not how many victims were found; it is – what percentage of victims were found? Most birds of prey are predominately brownish, perfectly camouflaged, a dead body will cover less than 1000 cm2 and they are killed on hundreds of thousands of hectares of land that is predominately brown. The amazing thing is that any are ever found and the true figure must be very, very significantly higher than the number reported. The phrase ‘the tip of the iceberg’ is frequently used when discussing raptor persecution statistics and it is an accurate description of the scale of the crimes against birds of prey. When searching for the victims of persecution the phrase ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’ is appropriate; but in 2020 no one was allowed to look in the haystack. Unlike the individuals who are employed in the game shooting industry, who were allowed free range over the countryside, the general public were confined within our homes. We were oblivious of how high the body count of protected species was becoming.

The negative media coverage criticizing the game shooting industry over recent weeks has, or should have, caused reputational damage to the industry; but does it care? There have been numerous reports of multi-agency, Police led, raids on shooting estates. Mr Phil Davies, the Countryside Alliance representative on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG], has rightly been removed from the Group following his involvement in a webinar where fox hunters were advised about tactics that they could use to avoid prosecution when conducting illegal hunts. You can read more about this on the Raptor Persecution UK Blog here.

A damning article entitled ‘Reports of raptor killings soared during the U.K.’s lockdown’, published in the National Geographic, a highly respected publication with global reach, focuses on the disgraceful illegal killing of birds of prey on shooting estates during the Covid lockdown period. You can read the full article here, although you will have to share an email address to read it.

Now we have RSPB Birdcrime spotlighting the fact that 137 confirmed cases of raptor persecution, the highest number on record, were reported in 2020. It also highlights the fact that 63% of the birds of prey that were slaughtered were killed on land associated with game shooting and 40% took place on protected landscapes, in our National Parks and in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or their Scottish equivalent.

It is a national disgrace and we all know it, so what response can we expect from the shooting industry in light of this latest report? “Move along, there’s nothing to see here” followed by attacks on the integrity of the RSPB and suggestions that a small amount of persecution is only part of the story, all is well and raptors are thriving. We have heard it all before. It’s as predictable as day follows night.

NERF has been calling for the licensing of the shooting industry, with the licence being applied to the land, not the owners or managers of the land, for several years. Once again we reiterate that call for licensing of shooting estates and it has to be implement without further delay. The public require it and our natural environment deserves it. We know that Government Departments set media alerts for reports such as the National Geographic article, Birdcrime and blogs, including the NERF website. Defra Ministers and Natural England know what is happening to our birds of prey, they know the scale of the problem and they know the causes of the problem; it is persecution by individuals connected with games shooting. The RSPB report identifies the fact that of the 186 individuals convicted of raptor persecution 66% were gamekeepers and a further 6% were also connected to the game shooting industry. The Government has published its own data which confirms these facts. How much more evidence do Ministers need before they take meaningful action?

The Government also knows that land management practices on upland shooting estates, which includes heather burning, adds to global warming and destroys countless reptiles, amphibians, the eggs of early ground nesting birds, kills billons of insects, which is the primary food source for upland birds, and leads to increased downstream flooding. Having had these facts reinforced, again, with these latest reports will Defra Ministers and Natural England grasp this nettle with both hands and actually do something about it rather than tinkering around the edges with schemes such as Hen Harrier Brood Management and the ludicrous Hen Harrier Southern Re-introduction proposal. They might; but regrettably the chances of that happening are next to nil under the current Government and we are all the worse off for that.

In theory the Wildlife and Countryside Act provides all of the protection that raptors require. In reality it is inadequate because it fails at the compliance and enforcement stages. It is time for a change of emphasis, a change in enforcement strategy and sentencing guidelines; changes that will actually protect our iconic birds of prey are long overdue. They, and you, deserve nothing less.

If you have information in respect of any bird related crime please contact the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101

NERF

28 October 2021.

Short-Eared Owl found dead on the Wemmergill Estate in County Durham County Durham, again

Whenever a bird of prey is shot or poisoned, let’s not get pedantic about whether or not an owl is a raptor, the shooting industry usually offer one of two bland statements, sometimes both.: firstly ‘we have zero tolerance of raptor persecution’ and secondly ‘there’s no proof of persecution’.

Unfortunately, neither statement stands up to scrutiny. The oft used ‘zero tolerance’ statement is a classic example of Hobson’s Choice in action.; without positive action it is meaningless. An examination of the websites of the Moorland Association, BASC, the NGO and the Countryside Alliance at 1450 today reveals that not one of these organisations has a news item condemning the shooting of this bird. Those of us who follow these raptor crimes closely recognise this familiar response and it comes as no surprise.

Raptor persecution is happening across the northern uplands; that we know as a matter of fact. Regardless of how many times the shooting industry tries to play down the problem, the data doesn’t lie. What we don’t know is the scale of the problem. We are constantly told that ‘it’s just a few bad apples.’ Really? If it is just a few they are highly mobile popping up all over the uplands, killing something, anything, and moving on to the next. If there are just a ‘few bad apples’ as claimed, where are the ‘good apples’ helping the Police to rid their industry of criminals?

‘You can’t prove it was persecution’. Well, in this case we can. The Short-eared Owl was shot with a shotgun, and found on a grouse shooting estate, it was killed illegally and there is an ongoing Police investigation.

Shooting this bird was a mindless act of brutality; for what? For fun, to prevent it from eating the odd grouse chick? Really? They eat small mammals, predominately voles. If shooting this bird wasn’t despicable enough it was killed during the breeding season. If it was paired and had eggs or chicks it is likely that the eggs failed to hatch or the chicks starved to death. Unfortunately, this is not the first Shortie to be killed in the same area; two other bodies were found shot and unceremoniously stuffed down a hole in 2015. In addition to these 3 Short-eared Owls a Hen Harrier, satellite tagged and called Marc by the RSPB, disappeared without trace when his tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped working on the same grouse moor.

This latest incident occurred in the North Pennines AONB as did the disappearance of the Scottish bred Hen Harrier called Reiver, reported 3 days ago. Despite the valiant efforts by Chris Woodley-Stewart and his colleagues who work tirelessly to enhance the AONB, the outstanding natural beauty of the region is diminished every time a bird of prey is persecuted.

There is probably a statistical model for calculating the probability of finding 100% of raptors being killed and found in 2000 km2; if there is then the probability of finding them will be infinitesimally small. It is logical therefore to assume that many more birds of prey have met a similar fate; whilst we will never know the true figure it is reasonable to believe that the numbers will be very significantly higher than those recorded.

Someone knows, or seriously suspects, who is responsible for the death of this bird and if you want to help end the blight that pervades your community then please:

  • pass the information to Durham Police on 101
  • alternatively, if you have information in respect of this, or any other bird related crime, contact the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101
  • you can also pass information to the Police anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555111

NERF

21 October 2021

Border Reiver is MIA

If you think that you have read this information previously you are correct; only the name of the bird has changed. The remaining information is another example of business as usual as another Hen Harrier disappears without trace on or near a grouse moor in Northern England. This report refers to the 4th Hen Harrier to join the ranks of the ‘disappeared’ this year, and it has not ended yet.

In summer of this year a female Hen Harrier called Reiver fledged from a nest on Langholm Moor in southern Scotland. Prior to fledging RSPB staff fitted her with a satellite tag as part of a long-standing project monitoring the movement and fate of the birds post fledging. The tags used in this project are extremely reliable and rarely fail as a result of faulty equipment. In fact, they are so reliable that they continue to work after a bird dies of natural causes, enabling researchers to locate the body. Having successfully fledged and strengthened her powerful flight muscles she made what would prove to be a fatal mistake; she crossed the border and entered English airspace. From that moment on her fate was sealed. This was one ‘Border Reiver’ that would not be returning home.

Initially Reiver’s tag functioned as expected providing technical data, together with her location and confirmation that she was in good health. Whilst the technical data and health indicators were welcome news her location gave cause for concern. Previously Hen Harriers had disappeared without trace in the same general area. In 2019 a Hen Harrier called Ada sent her last transmission to the satellite from a grouse moor east of Allendale Town. At the end of February this year Tarras, a bird that also fledged from Langholm, was never heard from again when contact with her was lost suddenly and inexplicably near Rowfoot, Northumberland.

On 17 September RSPB researchers pronounced that Reiver’s tag had ‘stopped, no malfunction’. Those 3 words may sound like a description of a technical failure, however that is far from the case. In fact, they are a euphemism for – the bird has been killed and we can’t find the body. Reiver disappeared without trace less than 5 kilometres from the area where Tarras also disappeared. A coincidence, or organised crime?

In addition to the 3 birds that have joined the ‘disappeared’ in Northumberland, Yarrow, a bird satellite tagged in 2020, disappeared in April. The satellite data from the last contact with Yarrow revealed that the flight path put her on a trajectory that would take her to the grouse moors of the North York Moors; a raptor persecution hotspot.

Four Hen Harriers are named in this article; Ada, Yarrow, Tarras and Reiver. They all disappeared in similar circumstances this year; never to be seen or heard of again. Even the most naïve nature lover would not accept that the disappearance of these 4 birds was a coincidence; and they would be correct to avoid that trap. Analysis of data from both the RSPB tagged birds and the data from birds tagged by Natural England unequivocally indicate that when Hen Harriers suffer from a satellite tag catastrophic failure / stop no malfunction on or near a grouse moor the most likely cause of the failure was that the bird was killed and the tag was destroyed. The common denominator in these cases, and countless others, is land managed for grouse shooting. It is long past the time when the Government stopped tinkering at the edges and got a grip on the Hen Harrier persecution problem. It will take more than declaring raptor persecution a wildlife crime priority, continuing with Brood Management and the ludicrous southern re-introduction scheme, if it ever happens, to resolve the raptor persecution problem on grouse moors. NERF has been calling for the licencing of grouse moors for several years and whilst it may not prevent all raptor related crimes in the uplands it will be a huge step to achieving that goal. Drafting legislation, which would include the suspension of a licence to operate a shoot, is not difficult; it just needs the political will to get on with it. Therein lies the problem; the Government does not have the political will to take any meaningful action to prevent raptor persecution. There are no ‘sunlit uplands’ for birds of prey in the North of England Prime Minister; in this part of the country the uplands are killing fields. The current situation is unsustainable; urgent action is needed to tackle this pernicious situation and it needs taking now.

We are only able to discuss the disappearance of these 4 birds because they were fitted with satellite tags by the RSPB; without those tags we would be totally unaware of the fate of these individuals. Whilst we can collectively mourn the loss of these 4 it is inconceivable to think that untagged Hen Harriers have not been killed this year in the same or similar locations.

Now that is a truly frightening thought; but it does go a long way to explain why the English breeding population remains perilously low. Unfortunately; the population will remain in a critical condition until persecution is ended and there is a very long way to go before that happens despite what the shooting industry would have us believe.

If you have any information relating to the disappearance of Reiver please contact Northumbria Police on 101 quoting reference NP-20210920-0837.

Alternatively, if you have information in respect of any bird related crime please contact the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101

You can also pass information to the Police anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555111

NERF

18 October 2021

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

RSPB Birdcrime Report 2018

The RSPB has today published the annual Birdcrime Report.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 was also the year that ‘Analysis of the Natural England’s data from satellite tagged Hen Harriers was published’

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.

NERF

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 https://raptorforum.wordpress.com/public-statements/brood-management

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.

 

NERF
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.

 

 

NERF

10 March 2019