Tag Archives: Raptor Persecution

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

Natural England report confirms breeding Peregrines are missing from the northern uplands due to illegal persecution and deliberate disturbance.

Natural England have recently published:-

 “Definition of Favourable Conservation Status for the Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus

                                                                                                         Author: Allan Drewitt (Nov 2020)

http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/5849435004469248?category=5415044475256832

Peregrine Falcon – Tim Melling

This is part of a wider Natural England project to define the Favourable Conservations Status (FCS) of various habitats and species in England at which they might be considered to be “thriving”.  The project aims to set aspirational levels for species’ populations and habitat conditions that will inform and guide decision makers to help achieve and sustain favourable status.  These analyses are based on ecological evidence and the expertise of specialist groups.

The Northern England Raptor Forum welcomes the report defining the would-be Favourable Conservation Status for the Peregrine Falcon. 

Many of our members have conducted long standing field studies into the fortunes of Peregrines in their area and contributed significant bodies of data to the key published papers that are cited in the Natural England report [Amar A. et al (2012), Melling T. et al (2018), Wilson M.W. et al (2018)].

Whilst the breeding populations of Peregrines in many areas of England have shown a general pattern of increases in recent decades the report makes clear this same trend is not evident in the northern uplands. Here marked losses in the range and population have been experienced and continue to this day. In particular, breeding productivity at sites on or near driven grouse moor estates is half of that found on non-grouse moor habitats.  There are now significant gaps across the northern uplands where Peregrines previously bred and where overall numbers are lower compared to the 1990s and 2000s, for example in the Dark Peak, Bowland Forest and the North Pennine SPA. 

The report concludes that current productivity in these areas is insufficient to allow the population to grow.  Restoration of the Peregrines’ natural range in the northern uplands would result in the presence of 90 pairs (compared with probably less than 20 pairs presently).  Crucially, the report judges that neither the habitat nor food abundance in the northern uplands are limiting to population growth.                                                                                                                                          

The principal reasons that upland Peregrines are faring so badly are given as illegal killing and nest site disturbance and the report makes clear that for a FCS to be achieved in England a significant growth in the northern upland population is now required and these illicit practices must cease.

Natural England have thus defined the underlying problem, which in itself is hardly news to many raptor fieldworkers.  However the FCS report does set an aspirational target for the future which is to be welcomed.  So far so good, the explicit acknowledgement that illegal activities are limiting upland populations is a positive step forward. The FCS has achieved its initial objective but the purpose of the report is inherently limited to just this so action plans with timelines are now needed urgently to deliver the stated goals. We now hope and trust Natural England will lead the way** with a renewed determination.

**Defra defines a key role of Natural England as:- “… delivering the environmental priorities of central government. Its general purpose is to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations    

NERF   January 11th 2021                                                                                                    

References

Amar, A., Court, I.R., Davison, M., Downing, S., Grimshaw, Pickford, T., & Raw, D. 2012. Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations. Biological Conservation. 145:86-94

Melling, T., Thomas, M., Price, M. & Roos, Staffan. 2018. Raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park. British Birds 111:275-29

Wilson, M. W., Balmer D. E., Jones, K., King, V. A., Raw, D., Rollie, C. J., Rooney, E., Ruddock, M., Smith, G. D., Stevenson, A., Stirling-Aird, P. K., Wernham, C. V., Weston, J. M. & Noble, D. G. 2018. The breeding population of Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and Channel Islands in 2014. Bird Study

Hen Harrier Fund Raiser

The Nidderdale Raptor Study Group in collaboration with the Northern England Raptor Forum are proud to bring you this exciting fund raising opportunity to raise money for the RSPB Investigations Team to purchase satellite tags to be fitted to Hen Harriers.

Hen Harrier Tag Fitted

The Hen Harrier, Circus cyaneus, is the UK’s most persecuted Bird of Prey. Previously driven to extinction as a breeding species in England the population is struggling to make a widespread come-back. The population remains perilously small and persecution on land managed for driven grouse shooting continues to be the primary factor limiting both population growth and expansion.

In a scientific paper published by Murgatroyd et al, using data from Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project, the authors revealed that the likelihood of Hen Harriers dying, or disappearing, was ten times higher within landscapes predominantly covered by grouse moor, compared to areas with no grouse moor. The study also revealed that 72% of tagged harriers were either confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed.

Satellite Tag with harness

For the past 10 years the RSPB has been monitoring Hen Harriers, firstly within the Skydancer Project and latterly as part of the Hen Harrier Life Plus Project. In both projects satellite tags were fitted to nestlings during the breeding season by highly trained specialists. The solar powered tags, weighing 9.5 grams, are fitted to the birds by a harness that resembles a backpack. Once activated the tags are exceptionally reliable and provide data that allows the RSPB Investigations Team to accurately track the bird’s                                                                                                                movements daily.

The satellite tag also provides the ornithologists with data about how much solar generated voltage the tag has available and also information regarding the bird’s mobility and temperature. When analysed in conjunction with one another it can tell us whether the bird is dead or alive.

By carefully analysing all the data it is possible to determine the most probable reason why an individual bird appears to have stopped moving. Obviously, the bird may have died of natural causes or been predated. In the event that the tag suddenly and without prior warning fails to communicate with the satellites overhead, within a predicted time frame, a situation frequently referred to as ‘stop no malfunction’ , the most likely reason is that the bird has been killed.

In both scenarios a thorough ground search is conducted by the RSPB Investigations Team in the area of the last known location of the bird using very sophisticated equipment. In cases where the satellite data indicates that the bird probably died of natural causes the dead bird is invariably located. In contrast when the tag inexplicably ‘stops no malfunction’ the dead birds are rarely located, a further indication that the bird was illegally killed and the tag destroyed.

Whilst the RSPB data has yet to be published [the scientific papers are being completed at the moment] by reading the high volume of press statements released by the RSPB over the life time of both projects, it is not unreasonable to assume that analysis of the satellite data will provide another damning indictment of the grouse shooting industry.

In addition to highlighting regions of high levels of persecution the satellite date also identifies previously unknown winter roosting areas. There is a saying amongst Hen Harrier workers – ‘Harriers bring Harriers’. By following the satellite tagged Harriers we are able to count the untagged birds that are also using the winter roosts, some of which were previously unknown prior to the development of satellite tags. That in turn allows researchers to better understand how Hen Harriers occupy the landscape across the northern uplands over winter. Using all of this data the statisticians are able to model the autumn / winter population more accurately.

Using the modelled winter population data and comparing it with the known breeding population gives us a better understanding of how the population is prospering overall year on year. This information can be used by the RSPB and other conservation NGOs to lobby Government to change legislation to better protect this extremely vulnerable species from disturbance during the autumn / winter roosting season.

Map showing Apollo’s’ journey

Raptor workers have long suspected / known that the UK hosts Hen Harriers from Scotland and the near continent during the autumn and winter. The use of satellite tags has now confirmed that ‘English Hen Harriers’ also travel vast distances to over winter hundreds of miles from their breeding sites. This satellite track indicates the movements of a bird that was originally tagged in the Forest of Bowland in 2019. The bird returned to Bowland earlier this year and is now back in Spain. Sharing this data with our European partners enables them to monitor the bird over-winter on our behalf and to potentially locate unknown local roosts, in much the same way that the RSPB Investigations Teams do in the UK.

The use of satellite tags has already delivered a tremendous amount of new data confirming the continuing high level of persecution on land managed for driven grouse shooting. Additionally the data has highlighted the remarkable mobility of Hen Harriers outside of the breeding season. However, there is still much to learn about these magnificent birds and the continued deployment of satellite tags is vital to achieving this goal.

Artist Dan Evans

Dan Evans, a Yorkshire-based artist, has kindly chosen to create an A2-sized oil painting of a male Hen Harrier, which has been donated to the Nidderdale Raptor Study Group for an online auction; all proceeds will go to RSPB Investigations to fund satellite tags for Hen Harriers. The painting was inspired after Dan had spent time with members of the Raptor Study Group monitoring Hen Harriers locally. This is a unique opportunity to acquire the original spectacular painting. To place your bid for the painting please click this link to the auction.

https://danevans.art/hen-harrier

Hen Harrier Oil Painting
Click the links to bid on the original or to purchase prints

In addition to the auction, a limited number of signed prints will be available. The price of these are £50+p+p (A3) and £80+p+p (A2). Click here for details:

https://danevans.art/shop/p/l5wlw125yctk1qr7k99vvjl9tqs5i9

 

 

 

Once again all profits from the prints will go to fund satellite tags through the RSPB Investigations Team.

We appreciate that these are extraordinarily challenging times and not everyone who would like to buy a print will be in a position to do so but still want to support the project. To ensure that you have the opportunity to contribute to this invaluable scheme, on any level, we have created a ‘Justgiving’ fundraising webpage. If you would like to help us donate satellite tags to the RSPB Investigations Team please visit:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/hen-harrier-sat-tags

We would like to thank you in advance for supporting this scheme; a scheme that will be of tremendous benefit to Hen Harriers by increasing their level of protection and also by revealing invaluable data about how they move through, and use, their natural environment throughout the year. We would be grateful if you could circulate the details of the project as far and wide as possible.

In the meantime we would like to wish you and your families a Happy Christmas and a peaceful and fulfilling New Year.

Stay well and stay safe.

NERF

1 December 2020.

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

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

Lockdown, the ‘New Normal’ and raptor crime

Poisoned Buzzard featured in the Channel 4 news item on raptor persecution

During the last three months the way that we live our lives has changed enormously and the phrase ‘New Normal’ is widely used by politicians, the media and the public when discussing the impact of the Covid – 19 pandemic. This ‘New Normal’ is how our lives will be affected for the foreseeable future. Regrettably if you were a bird of prey then for you lockdown could be described as ‘New Normal – Plus’.

We have witnessed high levels of raptor persecution, often associated with the game shooting industry, for decades and at times many of us believed that it couldn’t get any worse. How wrong we were. At the start of the Covid – 19 lockdown, which NERF supported, we warned that the level of bird of prey crime was likely to increase exponentially. It brings no comfort to realise that we were correct when making that prediction; not that it was difficult to predict an increase in persecution because we had seen a similar outcome during the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2001.

The seriousness of the problem was highlighted in a Channel 4 broadcast https://www.channel4.com/news/birds-of-prey-become-victims-of-crime

Five dead buzzards are pulled from a hole where they’d been hidden on a grouse shooting estate in Bransdale, North York Moors National Park

During the program Matt Hagen, Head of the North Yorkshire Police Rural Crime Team said, “All the shooting investigations that we’ve got going on at the moment are involving gamekeepers on grouse moors.”

The BBC’s flagship rural affairs programme ‘Countryfile’ also highlighted the increase in raptor persecution during lockdown https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000jrxz/countryfile-johns-home-patch

The subject was raised again on the BBC local news program ‘Look Northwest’ (unfortunately the BBC Look Northwest links only last 24 hours so we can’t share this with you). During the program Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said “Lockdown has kind of emboldened the criminals out there who want to kill birds of prey so they think with the restrictions that have been imposed there’ll be less people out in the countryside and there’s less chance of being caught”. He added, “In two thirds of the prosecutions that have ended up in court for bird of prey persecution since 1990, two thirds of those have been gamekeepers”.

If you are reading this article and were previously unaware of the level of bird of prey persecution these two statements, by very experienced investigators, tells you all you need to know about the criminality involved. It’s serious and organised crime in any meaning of the phrase.

There is ample evidence, reams of evidence, that some members of the game shooting industry form an ever present threat to birds of prey and yet the representatives of the industry continue to trot out endless statements of denial. During the Look Northwest exposé Duncan Thomas, the Northwest Director of BASC, said: “I really dispute these figures [number of raptors killed]. I would love to have a proper investigation in to exactly where they’re coming from. The RSPB are using birds of prey as a cash cow. It’s not proportionate, effective investigation, we must let the police get on with their job. We will expel anybody who is convicted of a wildlife crime of this nature”.

This is an outrageous statement from a Director of BASC, an organisation that is a member of the Police led Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG]. Rather than supporting the RSPB, the organisation which ironically is cleaning up the shooting industry, something that the industry is failing to do, by revealing the organised crime involved in some sections of the business, the industry continues to attack the hard working, dedicated and highly skilled RSPB Investigations Team.

Is the claim that the RSPB is “using birds of prey as a cash cow” BASC policy? Is it what the majority of their law-abiding members believe or has Mr Thomas gone rogue? The name RSPB spells out very clearly what its purpose is, i.e. to protect birds and that includes investigating the unlawful killing of birds. Would Mr Thomas, or BASC, make the same ridiculous statement about Victim Support, a charity set up to protect the human victims of crime? The ‘cash cow’ statement is ludicrous and will be seen as such by the general public, including, no doubt, many BASC members.

Interestingly on the BASC website Gary Doolan, Deputy Director of Communications and Public Affairs makes the following comment “For both programmes [Channel 4 and Look Northwest], BASC worked with other organisations in the background to ensure the messages we deliver to the audiences of those programmes are balanced and best represent the broad sweep of opinions within those organisations”.

There is a second comment on the BASC website that refers to the same subject “……………that hen harriers are being weaponised as a ‘cash cow’.

Perhaps the comment, made by Mr Thomas, that “The RSPB are using birds of prey as a cash cow” is BASC’s position statement after all.

Not content with attacking the integrity of the RSPB, some representatives of the shooting industry have previously launched despicable personal attacks on Chief Inspector Louise Hubble, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Superintendent Nick Lyall, the dynamic head of the RPPDG.

Attacks on Nick’s integrity are not new. The shooting industry representatives collectively walked out en masse when Nick brought additional conservation organisations in to the RPPDG. If the RPPDG is so bad, why did they all re-join? Perhaps the more pertinent question is, why were they allowed to return to the table? Constructive criticism is always welcome; however the constant attempt to undermine the RPPDG is intolerable.

NERF

8 June 2020

Licences to take wild Peregrine chicks – Part 2

On the 15th April 2020 Dave Slater, Director for wildlife licensing confirmed that Natural England had licenced the removal of 6 Peregrine chicks from the wild, by three individuals, over the next 2 years. [see here]

Understandably both Raptor Workers, who are committed to monitoring and protecting these magnificent birds, and members of the public who delight in seeing the masters of the skies in both wild places and our cities. NERF was dismayed by this decision and posted this response on the NERF website.

On the 20th April 2020 NERF wrote to Lord Goldsmith of Richmond, the Minister of State for the Pacific and the Environment. His portfolio includes the UK environment and conservation. In the letter we reminded him that the country was currently in lockdown as a result of the Covid – 19 pandemic and that the BTO has, understandably, suspended all Wildlife and Countryside licences and ringing permits for the foreseeable future. These restrictions apply to England’s rarest and most endangered species. At the same time Natural England has licenced the removal of 6 Peregrine chicks from the wild. It is NERF’s opinion that this is both unreasonable and irresponsible at the present time. The removal of these chicks cannot be classed as ‘front-line work’ and the multiple journeys to and from the nests cannot be classed as ‘essential’ under the Corona Virus Regulations.

Accessing Peregrine nests is a dangerous activity and an accident and subsequent rescue would put unnecessary stress on both the rescue and medical services. The British Mountaineering Council [BMC] has warned climbers and hill walkers to curtail their activities during the pandemic and that the Mountain Rescue Teams are also in lockdown and unavailable in case of an accident.

NERF has called on Lord Goldsmith to suspend the licences during 2020. The full text of the letter can be read [here]

Similarly we wrote to Tony Juniper, Chairman of natural England. The full text of the letter can be read [here]

Twelve days later neither Lord Goldsmith nor Mr Juniper have responded to our letters. Time is pressing and we await their responses.

NERF

2 May 2020

NERF awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from the Chairman of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group

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.

Click to download full size pdf
Click to see full size

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.

NERF

21 December 2019

Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group – NERF Activity Report Summer 2019

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.

NERF has been a member of the RPPDG since the Group’s inception in 2009. As a result of our commitment to the RPPDG NERF was presented with the PAW Partner of the Year Award in 2014.

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.

NERF

5 October 2019

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