Tag Archives: Raptor Persecution

Yorkshire Dales N.P.A. Bird of Prey Working Group.

The aim of the Working Group is to:

“Work with moorland managers and other key stakeholders to devise and implement a local approach to end illegal persecution of raptors, including independent and scientifically robust monitoring, and co-ordinated Hen Harrier nest and winter roost site protection”

NERF is represented on the group and works tirelessly for the benefit of birds of prey within the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Further information about the Working Group can be found here:

NERF

5 August 2022

The shadow of raptor persecution still hangs over the Dark Peak

Earlier this year NERF published this statement in response to two reports of raptor persecution.

“Another dark day in the Dark Peak

On the 25th February we learnt that the RSPB Investigations Team were concerned about the fate of a satellite tagged Hen Harrier that had joined the ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District near to Stocksbridge. The matter has been reported to South Yorkshire Police for investigation and we will have more to say about that case when further details are made public.

Today [5th March] we learnt that in March 2021 a member of the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group [PDRMG], a NERF partner, found a dead Buzzard in woodland close to the Flouch near Langsett. Coincidentally, perhaps, as you can see from the Google earth image the Flouch is less than 5 miles from Stocksbridge where the latest Hen harrier went missing. The finder reported the incident to the Police and we now know that the bird was shot to death by someone using a shotgun.”

Anyone thinking, hoping, that this would be the end of persecution in the Dark Peak will have been saddened; but not surprised, to read that two adult, breeding males have joined the ranks of the ‘disappeared’ in the Upper Derwent Valley. Without the support of their male partner females are unable to incubate their eggs and hunt; and inevitably they have to abandon their eggs. That is exactly what happened in these latest cases. Each female abandoned 5 eggs.

It should not be underestimated how hard it is for a fledgling Hen Harrier to reach adulthood and go on to find a female in what remains a tiny population and breed. You don’t have to be a geneticist to recognise that adult breeding males are a valuable asset to the Hen Harrier population and had they continued to survive they could have each fathered a further two dozen chicks. The ‘disappearance’ of these two males needs to be seen in that context. It is not just the loss of two of these iconic birds it is the potential loss of 50 plus chicks. Many of those chicks would have gone on to breed and produce young of their own and that is what we should focus on. Calling the disappearance of these two adult males a tragic loss doesn’t really do it justice.

How ironic that on the same day that the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group reported the ‘disappearance’ of the two male Hen Harriers the Moorland Association published an article extolling the virtue of the Hen Harrier brood management scheme.

The press release contains nothing new; it is simply a rehash of the number of chicks that fledge each year and how the numbers have increased in recent years. It is correct that the numbers have increased; however to claim that the number of chicks fledging, 84 from 24 nests, represents an increase of over 800% is disingenuous to say the least without also pointing out that if 84 represents an 800% plus increase it had to have increased from 0.

The number of chicks fledging is not the matrix that should be used to judge the success of the brood management scheme. What we need to see is a massive increase in the geographical spread of breeding Harriers away from the core areas of Northumberland and the Forest of Bowland; not just the occasional satellite tagged bird breeding on a grouse moor. We also need to witness an increase in survivability of fledglings that we know have a 72% risk of being killed on, or adjacent to a grouse moor. We know that because Natural England used its own data to come to that conclusion.

Perhaps the Moorland Association’s press release could also have pointed out that:

  • 24 nests represents c7% of the 330 nests that academics calculate is the actual number of nests we should have in England
  • 84 chicks from 24 nest gives an average of 3.5 chicks per nest
  • 330 nests would produce 1155 chicks per year

That may be an ambiguous target, non-the-less it should remain at the forefront of everyone’s mind when deciding what success looks like. The interim stage needs to be consistently achieving the number of breeding pairs designated for the North Pennines SPA, 11 pairs, and the Forest of Bowland, 12 pairs. We are a long way from that situation and that is the inconvenient truth.

Three Hen Harriers have joined the ‘disappeared’ in the Dark Peak since the 25th February this year; one every 3 weeks and the breeding season has only just got underway. The press release also reminded readers that 5 nests have been subjected to brood management and 7 chicks, 1.4 per nest, have also joined the ‘disappeared’. That’s another inconvenient truth.

In the Moorland Association’s press release John Holmes, Chair of the Brood Management Project Board, Natural England is quoted:

‘…………………..monitoring [Hen Harriers] and improving intelligence to detect and prevent persecution……..’

How is the prevention of Hen Harrier persecution part of the plan going Mr Holmes?

No matter how the 2021 breeding figures are presented by The Moorland Association et al, or how much they want us to believe that that everything is working perfectly and Hen Harriers are prospering on grouse moors, the reality is that the future of Hen Harriers in England remains in a perilous position. The primary cause, identified by Natural England, is persecution on land connected with the grouse shooting industry.

NERF

11 May 2022

Another dark day in the Dark Peak

On the 25th February we learnt that the RSPB Investigations Team were concerned about the fate of a satellite tagged Hen Harrier that had joined the ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District near to Stocksbridge. The matter has been reported to South Yorkshire Police for investigation and we will have more to say about that when further details are made public.

Today we learn that in March 2021 a member of the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group [PDRMG], a NERF partner, found a dead Buzzard in woodland close to the Flouch near Langsett. Coincidentally, perhaps, as you can see from the Google earth image the Flouch is less than 5 miles from Stocksbridge where the latest Hen harrier went missing. The finder reported the incident to the Police and we now know that the bird was shot to death by someone using a shotgun.

Dead Buzzard found nr Flouch, Langsett. Post-Mortem confirmed the bird had been shot with a shotgun.

Commenting on this latest incident Steve Davies of the PDRMG said: “Here is yet another case of illegal raptor persecution tainting the image of the Peak District National Park. Wildlife Crime enforcement needs more teeth to enable it to be a successful deterrent. Licencing of shooting estates and the introduction and effective implementation of vicarious liability legislation, including suspension and clawback of any associated agricultural subsidies, would directly impact on the shooting estate landowners or shooting tenants and estate managers who are ultimately responsible and benefit directly from game shooting.”

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn about either of these incidents. Regrettably the adjacent Peak District National Park has a long history of raptor persecution. In 2018 in a paper co-authored by Mike Price [PDRMG] and the RSPB, published in British Birds, https://britishbirds.co.uk/content/raptor-persecution-peak-district-national-park the researchers identified that heather burning practices on land managed for driven grouse shooting within the Peak District National Park had a statistically significant relationship with raptor persecution. This paper together with population studies undertaken over many years by members of the PDRMG and intelligence gathered by the Police leaves us in no doubt that raptor persecution, one of the wildlife crime priorities for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, is thriving in the region.

Although 12 months has passed since the incident was reported to the Police NERF has, in confidence, been aware of the timeline associated with this case and we are reassured that the delay was not caused by the Police who were not made aware that the bird had been shot until December last year.

We pride ourselves on being a country of animal lovers. However, if you were a bird of prey living in many parts of Northern England, where death by trap, cosh, poison or shotgun awaits, you may take a different view. In this land of animal lovers there is a parcel of rogues at large apparently killing raptors with impunity.

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, please:

  • contact the Police on 101,
  • email RSPB Investigations at crime@rspb.org.uk, or,
  • fill in the RSPB online form:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx

  • you can also contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 anonymously

NERF

5 March 2022

John Orrey, a gamekeeper, of Kneeton, Nottinghamshire receives a suspended prison sentence for killing Buzzards and firearms offences

‘My role is to protect game – buzzards presented a risk to those birds’.

That was a statement offered by the Defence on behalf of Mr Orrey in mitigation at the sentencing hearing.

Incredibly it appears to be an attempt at justification rather than mitigation. He could just as easily said ‘OK I killed a couple of Buzzards; I’m a gamekeeper, it’s my job. What’s the problem with that?’

The problem with that of course is that killing Buzzards is illegal and has been illegal for decades. Yet here we have a professional gamekeeper who appears to believe that killing birds, caught in one of his cage traps, is part of his job description. He also appears to believe that he has a duty of care to the game birds under his control to protect them by killing Buzzards until the day that the pheasants are shot for profit, for pleasure or for both.

Mr Orrey killing a Buzzard; exercising his version of due diligence, protecting his game birds.

This case came to light thanks to the quick thinking of two members of the public who, when out walking, happened upon a crow cage trap containing a Buzzard and recorded the fact in a short video. They then reported the incident to the RSPB Investigations Team and one of the Team attended the location the following day and also found a Buzzard in the trap along with various items of bait. This Buzzard was safely released and a covert camera was installed to monitor the trap. Interestingly; when images of the Buzzard released by the RSPB were compared to images of the original bird taken by the witnesses it was clear that these were two different birds.

What happened to the original bird? We simply don’t know. By law it should have been released unharmed by the person managing the trap; but was it?

The covert camera, installed by the RSPB to monitor the cage trap, recorded Mr Orrey visiting the trap twice and on each occasion he beat a Buzzard to death with a billhook.

The video can be viewed at https://rspb.org.uk/our-work/rspb-news/rspb-news-stories/man-convicted-for-killing-two-buzzards

On one hand the footage is shocking in that Mr Orrey showed not an ounce of compassion as he bludgeoned the defenceless birds to death. On the other hand we should hardly be surprised because we have seen similar behaviour before when gamekeepers were covertly filmed by the RSPB Investigations Team doing exactly the same thing. Killing protected species caught in crow cage traps on land managed for game shooting is not as rare as the shooting industry would have us believe.

In an earlier hearing Mr Orrey had pleaded guilty to four firearms offences with regards to the storage of his firearms and possession of ammunition. He also pleaded guilty to Wildlife and Countryside Act offences in relation to the unlawful use of a cage trap, possession of the billhook, the killing of two Buzzards and the possession of two Stock Doves. On 28 January he was sentenced to a total of 20 weeks imprisonment suspended for 12months and ordered to pay a total of £1880 in fines, victim surcharge and compensation to the Wildlife Forensic Working Group. He has also had his firearms and ammunition confiscated and his firearms licence revoked by Nottinghamshire Police.

We know from many, many previous cases involving the killing of birds of prey on land managed for game shooting that this is not an isolated incident. We also know from past experience that Mr Orrey will be described by the shooting industry as ‘another bad apple gone rogue, unrepresentative of the industry at large, and repeat the mantra of having zero tolerance of bird of prey persecution, etc.’ In the event that they comment at all of course. Statements such as that are meaningless, simply another example of Hobson’s Choice at work and proof, if proof was needed, that the shooting industry representatives on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery have zero influence on the activities of members of the industry that they represent.

In this case the ‘bad apple’ is an insider who appears to think that it’s all in a day’s work to kill protected species to protect gamebirds and was prepared to say so in court. His actions and that statement by the Defence shine a very bright spotlight on a very dark industry.

Our heartfelt thanks go to the witnesses who reported the original incident to the RSPB. The follow up by the RSPB is another example of outstanding, professional, dedicated casework by the Investigations Team.

NERF

31 January 2022

“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

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