Tag Archives: Poisoning

“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.

Red Kite found poisoned at Scrampston, North Yorkshire.

On the 16th March 2020 the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, told the public to avoid unnecessary social contact. On the 23rd March the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, told the public to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. The country entered the first round of Covid-19 lockdown.

With the exception of essential workers who were vital to the continued safe running of the country the general public obeyed the Government’s edict and stayed at home, often enduring great hardship. Families were separated for months, schools were closed, weddings were cancelled, holidays were cancelled and thousands of people died as a result Covid-19. Families were unable to participate in funeral ceremonies to say a dignified farewell to loved ones.

All raptor work was suspended and Raptor Workers complied with the Government’s guidance and stayed at home to save lives. Regrettably, though perhaps not unsurprisingly, not everyone stayed at home to save lives. On the contrary wildlife criminals were out in the countryside taking the lives of birds of prey. The Covid-19 lockdown provided the criminals free reign to carry on – business as usual.

In April, during lockdown, a Red Kite was found dying at Scrampston, north-east of Malton in North Yorkshire. The bird did not survive and was submitted to WIIS, the Governments’ Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme, for toxicology tests to be carried out. Scientists at WIIS have confirmed that the bird was poisoned with a combination of Brodifacoum and Bendiocarb at levels higher than would normally be found in the natural environment.

Red Kites are predominantly scavengers and are therefore susceptible to poisoning. North Yorkshire has been the epicentre of raptor persecution for many years. When these two factors collide it is fair to say that across large areas of the North York Moors Birds of Prey are living on borrowed time.

If anyone reading this article is under the impression that this Red Kite was the only Bird of Prey poisoned in North Yorkshire during the first lockdown, or believes that this unfortunate bird was poisoned with the last few particles of Brodifacoum and Bendiocarb in the possession of the poisoner responsible for the death of this Red Kite they should think again. The chances of finding a poisoned bird before the poisoner has an opportunity to pick it up and dispose of it are infinitesimally low. Conversely, the opportunity to poison, and or shoot, high numbers of raptors without the risk of being caught is extremely high.

Whilst this article is specifically commenting upon one poisoned Red Kite in North Yorkshire it is worth reminding readers that poisons set out in the open to kill raptors are indiscriminate and all wildlife and pets in the area are at risk of death. Whilst society abhors the poisoning, and all other forms of indiscriminate killing of wildlife the individuals who lace the countryside with poison baits do not share that view and appear to have little or no conscience and killing predators is a daily event; killing anything else in the process is just a bi-product.

If you have any information to assist this or any other investigation please contact:

Police Wildlife Crime Officer Jez Walmsley at Malton Police Station (Tel: 101) and quote incident reference #12200055801.

Alternatively:
Call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
Or you can contact the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

NERF
25 November 2020

RED KITE poisoned in the Nidderdale AONB

Red Kite – Tim Melling

‘Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless, is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives’.

Albert Schweitzer

The ink was hardly dry on the NERF article about the mysterious ‘disappearance’ of the RSPB satellite tagged Hen Harrier named Ada when news of this latest unlawful killing of a bird of prey was made public.

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 bird or 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.

NERF

1 December 2019