Tag Archives: Raptor Workers

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.

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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

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



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

This picture shows Ada having been satellite tagged as part of the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project. It was taken just prior to her being returned to her nest. She was on the point of fledging, on the point of leading a long and productive life, adding generations of Hen Harriers wild and flying free in the North of England, or anywhere else she chose. That was her promise to her species; a promise that she would never live long enough to fulfill.

Whilst Ada’s nest was in southern Scotland, just over the Northumberland / Scottish Border, she was monitored and satellite tagged by NERF members working in partnership with the RSPB Life Project staff. We were heavily invested in Ada’s well-being and future potential. Her ‘disappearance’ without trace after a short life of 130 days, 2,790 days less than her expected lifespan, is not just an unfortunate tragic statistic to be accepted by the people involved. NERF takes the loss of Ada, and all of the other ‘disappeared’ Hen Harriers, tagged or not, personally and we are sick of it! Society is sick of it! Be under no illusion, the killing of Hen Harriers is not a random isolated act of brutality; it is a function of organised crime pervading grouse moors across our uplands, often sustaining their profitability. Anyone with a modicum of humanity cannot avoid being emotionally affected by the never-ending pointless slaughter. It is not just an insult to Hen Harriers, or the people that commit their lives to protecting them, it is an insult to the very fabric of civilization.

The pattern repeats itself

The sudden and inexplicable catastrophic failure, or ‘stopped no malfunction’ of Ada’s tag followed an all too predictable pattern:

  • Ada was tagged on 28 June
  • the tags used by the RSPB are known to be 94% reliable
  • the tag provided excellent data for 105 days
  • prior to failure there was no indication that there were technical issues with the tag
  • the tag inexplicably ‘stopped no malfunction’ on 10 October
  • her last transmission placed her on a grouse moor, east of Allendale, Northumberland
  • a ground search conducted by very experienced RSPB staff using sophisticated tracking equipment failed to locate her
  • despite long periods of settled, sunny weather there has been no contact with Ada’s solar powered tag in the last 6 weeks
  • Police enquiries have proved unsuccessful

The pattern surrounding ‘disappeared’ Hen Harriers repeated itself, again, and Ada was the latest victim.

Unless the body of Ada is recovered we will never know what actually happened to her. However, our previous experience gives a very credible working hypothesis. The bodies of Hen Harriers that die naturally are invariably recovered and post-mortem examinations pronounce the cause of death as natural, even though some were revealed to have been previously shot although the injuries had not been fatal. The opposite is also true. Birds with satellite tags that ‘stop no malfunction’ when the last transmission was from a grouse moor are invariably not recovered. Why is that? This scenario was eloquently described in a recent paper, ‘Patterns of satellite tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors‘ Murgatroyd et al, March 2019, using Natural England’s data. The data revealed that 72% of the satellite tagged Hen Harriers in their study were killed, or very likely to have been killed, on British grouse moors.

In short – the combination of live Hen Harrier plus grouse moor equals killed Hen Harrier, 72 times out of 100.

Ada was a Scottish Hen Harrier. She joined the ‘disappeared’ on an English grouse moor. What will SNH have to say about that? What will the Scottish Government have to say about that? Will there be harsh, angry communications between Scotland and England or will it all be swept under the heather?

Where does Ada’s ‘disappearance’ leave the Defra / Natural England failed Hen Harrier Recovery Plan now? Will it be business as usual, throwing huge amounts of tax-payers money, our money, at the ill-conceived Brood Management Plan and the ludicrous Southern Re-introduction Scheme? Or will the senior managers in Defra and Natural England take a spoonful of humility, a dose of reality and make a public announcement that these schemes are not fit for purpose until persecution ends and the northern Hen Harrier breeding population reaches the minimum number set out in Natural England’s SPA designations?

A change of policy by the senior managers at either Defra or Natural England is highly unlikely, so it remains business as usual and Hen Harriers will continue to ‘disappear’, presumed killed, on grouse moors across the northern uplands. It is widely accepted that past performance predicts future behaviour. Facing that inevitability, under the current circumstances we must continue to collectively apply pressure to the decision makers to do the right thing. The ‘right thing’ in this case would include introducing a system of licensing driven grouse moors, introducing vicarious liability for owners and managers of grouse moors, take a harder line by withholding financial support under the farm payment scheme where appropriate and suspending the use of General Licences.

In the meantime we await the next inevitable, depressing, press release from the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project that another bird has ‘disappeared presumed dead’.

NERF

28 November 2019

The Hen Harrier Brood Management Plan – what should happen next?

“It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. – Terry Pratchett – Men at Arms.

NERF has been opposed to the Natural England / Defra Hen Harrier Brood Management Plan from the moment it was announced. The plan was terminally flawed from the outset, it placed far too much trust in the claim made by the grouse shooting representatives, that they can deliver their part of the process and end Hen Harrier persecution. To say that such a belief was naive would qualify as one of the all-time understatements in the world of bird of prey protection.

The Brood Management Plan was introduced to placate the grouse moor owners and it is pointless to pretend otherwise. In return we were promised that once grouse moor owners had a ‘safety net’, allowing Hen Harrier chicks to be removed from grouse moors if two or more pairs attempted to breed within a predetermined area, then persecution would end.

2019 saw the implementation of this plan, followed shortly thereafter by the abject failure of the plan within a few short months.

Recent press releases detail the disappearance of three of the five Hen Harrier chicks, satellite tagged as part of the Hen Harrier Brood Management Plan and indicate that police investigations are being undertaken in all three cases.

This is the first year that the Brood Management Plan has been implemented and to date 60% of the chicks have ‘disappeared’, believed to have been illegally killed. However, if we take in to account the fact that the two remaining chicks from the ‘managed’ brood are reported to have migrated to France, then 100% of the brood managed birds that remained on grouse moors in the North of England, the most dangerous area for raptors in the UK, are in all probability dead. And in all probability, likely killed by members of the industry that asked us to trust them not to do so. How ironic!

The fact that these three young Hen Harriers have ‘disappeared’ will not have come as a surprise to anyone, nor will the fact that they all disappeared on grouse moors in the North of England; one in County Durham and two in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. According to Natural England’s own published data 72% of Hen Harrier chicks that were satellite tagged as part of their research ‘disappeared’ in similar circumstances over the last ten years.

These three birds join the list of many other Hen Harriers satellite tagged by Natural England and the RSPB which are now listed as ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances.

At some point Natural England will have to publicly acknowledge that the representatives of the shooting industry (in particular, the Moorland Association) are lobbying groups, not delivery groups. They are unable to either compel or ensure that their members will comply with any of the promises they make. Those of us who have sat around a negotiating table with them for over two decades realised this a long time ago. It would be helpful if this acknowledgment by Natural England came sooner rather than later and an alternative plan, a plan which is fit for purpose, is prepared for implementation before the 2020 breeding season arrives.

It is not only NERF members who believe that the Brood Management Plan should never have been implemented. Mark Avery and the RSPB both independently lodged legal challenges against the legality of the scheme. Whilst both legal challenges initially failed in court, they are now subject to the appeals process. Hopefully these legal challenges will be successful early next year, and the brood management plan can be consigned to the history book of catastrophic failed conservation measures.

Many independent raptor workers and other conservationists across the country have also denounced the scheme and will no doubt continue to do so if the plan is implemented in future years. It is also true that some of the Brood Management Board have expressed doubts about the plan, they should be listened to.

Following information that ‘Rosie’, another Natural England tagged bird, recently came back online, it is likely that there will be cries of foul from the grouse shooting industry claiming that the three ‘disappeared’ missing brood managed birds were also fitted with faulty tags. However, the circumstances of their disappearance, when the three tags ‘stopped no malfunction’, coupled with the fact that years of scientific research reveals that only 6% of satellites fail then any such claim would be misplaced.

What should happen next?

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” – Albert Einstein et al.

There is little point continuing to rehash the events of 2019. Brood management was tried and despite the hard work of the Fieldworkers involved it has failed spectacularly within months. The project licence expires before the 2020 breeding season and NERF is firmly of the opinion that it should not be renewed. Natural England / Defra gave the benefit of the doubt to the grouse shooting industry, the Government tried and failed. It is now time to move on and abandon their Brood Management Plan.

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

This statement, or a version of it, is frequently attributed to the British economist John Maynard Keynes. The statement actually referred to macroeconomics but it is equally applicable to many aspects of daily life and is very relevant in relation to the failed Brood Management Plan.

So what will you do now Natural England? Fail to heed Einstein’s warning and plough on regardless of the facts, or follow Keynes’ philosophy and change direction?

NERF

26 October 2019

 

RSPB Birdcrime Report 2018

The RSPB has today published the annual Birdcrime Report.

87 confirmed incidents of Raptor Persecution. As we well know the number of incidents that are discovered/recorded are just the tip of the iceberg as previous highlighted by the BASC Director of Communications Christopher Graffius in this publication from December 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

As well as the year that NERF Members in the Peak District were involved in a study of the catalogue of Raptor Persecution Incidents recorded in the Dark Peak alongside the disparity between breeding success of both Goshawk and Peregrine Falcon in the Dark Peak compared to the White Peak areas of the Peak District National Park. The report from the study can be read here

Natural England’s answer to the issue of illegal raptor persecution in our uplands was to implement their flawed policy of Hen Harrier brood management on the basis that it is essential for Hen Harrier conservation and will lead to an increase in the English population. That second assertion may be true during the breeding season, but it totally ignores the fact that all of the evidence reveals that persecution is more problematic after the chicks disperse from their breeding grounds and that it affects many more raptor species.

The Head of RSPB Investigations Mark Thomas speaking about the ongoing issues of raptor persecution can be found below

NERF Conference – advance notice

Northern England Raptor Forum Annual Conference

Binks Building, Chester University, CH1 4AR

This year the annual Northern England Raptor Forum Conference is being held on Saturday 23 November 2019, hosted by the Cheshire Raptor Study Group. Once again we have an excellent series of lectures delivered by bird of prey experts.

Subjects include:

  • Birds of Prey and Owls of Cheshire
  • Golden Eagles
  • Red Kites of Shropshire
  • Kestrels
  • Wintering Raptors on the Cheshire and Wirral estuaries

We will also have presentations from Cathleen Thomas, RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project Manager and Police Superintendent Nick Lyall, Chairman of the Police led Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group.

This your annual opportunity to learn something new about the birds we love. It is also a great opportunity to get together with old friends and make new ones in the field of bird of prey monitoring.

Delegate booking forms will be available from 1 September.

NERF

12 August 2019

Hen Harrier Brood Management

In a few months time the outcome of the 2019 Hen Harrier breeding season will be announced. Some people will claim that it has been a good year and others will trumpet the outcome as a great year for Hen Harriers in England. Neither of these claims will be true, nor will they accurately reflect the fact that whatever the actual number of fledglings is this year, the population will remain perilously low for years to come despite the fact that there is sufficient space for c 300 pairs in the northern uplands.

If brood management goes ahead as planned 2019 will not be remembered as a good year for the English Hen Harrier population. It will be remembered, by leading conservation groups, including NERF, and Raptor Workers across the country as the year that Natural England (the English Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation) betrayed Hen Harriers to placate the grouse shooting industry. An industry that is, according to Natural England’s own data, largely responsible for the unexplained demise of 72% of Hen Harriers satellite tagged by their own staff. With that knowledge it is not unreasonable to assume that a similar percentage of un-tagged birds ‘disappeared’ under identical circumstances over the same period. It is also clear from press releases issued by RSPB that many of the birds satellite tagged as part of their Hen Harrier Life Project have also suffered the same fate on land managed for grouse shooting.

Natural England’s answer to those facts is the implementation of their flawed policy of Hen Harrier brood management on the basis that it is essential for Hen Harrier conservation and will lead to an increase in the English population. That second assertion may be true during the breeding season but it totally ignores the fact that all of the evidence reveals that persecution is more problematic after the chicks disperse from their breeding grounds. Brood management will do nothing to prevent persecution despite claims to the contrary. Anyone who believes that the entire grouse shooting industry will wholeheartedly welcome an increase in the Hen Harrier population is at best delusional. There are members of the industry who won’t even tolerate the small number of birds that already reside in, or transit through, the uplands at the present time let alone an increased number.

Following the confirmation that brood management has taken place this year, NERF fully expects an announcement in due course from Natural England stating how many eggs, or chicks were taken in to the scheme .What the hatching rates were from each clutch.  What the fledging rates were and confirmation that the birds were released back onto the moors from which they were removed. The project calls for all of the chicks to be satellite tagged prior to release back to the wild, in the interest of transparency NERF expects to read a prompt press release when the birds either die naturally or ‘disappear’ in circumstances that suggest persecution was the probable cause. The press release should include the location of the last known fix from the satellite tag.

Natural England has the legal right to undertake brood management, because they licensed themselves to do it. However, there is no right way to do the wrong thing and there is, in NERF’s opinion no justification for pursuing the brood management of Hen Harriers. We often hear the Police say that they cannot arrest their way out of the Hen Harrier persecution problem and in part that may be true. However, it is also true that Government policy should not be influenced by individuals or organisations that rely on criminality for their industry to prosper.

Additionally we need to know how much of the significant cost of brood management is being borne, not by the industry which has created the problem through illegal persecution, but by the British taxpayer.

Despite the hype that we can expect at the end of the breeding season, 2019 will not be a good year for Hen Harriers in England.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NERF

June 2019