“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:
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.
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 email@example.com, or,
We are pleased to announce the publication of our 2020 review. An interesting year, complicated by Covid 19. Highlights include visits to the NERF study area from White-tailed Eagles and a Bearded Vulture. Foreword written by @MarkAvery
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
On Friday 17 April 2020 the Red Kite ‘KK’ joined the long list of raptors that have ‘disappeared’– on a grouse moor.
In June 2019 NERF members, the Friends of Red Kites [FoRK] based in the North East of England, arranged for a Red Kite chick to be fitted with a satellite tracking device. The chick was named ‘KK’ in tribute to one the FoRK volunteers. The bird was also fitted with wing tags bearing the ID number 00, one of which can be seen in the photograph. After the tag was fitted the data it provided was monitored and mapped by the RSPB.
Red Kites are extremely placid birds of prey, a delight to handle as chicks and a beautiful graceful bird to watch gliding across open country. They are largely carrion feeders, scavenging on dead animals, cleaning up the countryside. They do not pose a threat to the shooting industry and yet in some quarters they are vilified for the sole reason that they a member of the raptor family.
During the remainder of 2019 KK toured the North of England as far south as the Peak District before returning to the Derwent Valley, Tyne & Wear.
In common with our extensive experience of other satellite tagged birds, KK’s life followed a pattern that we have seen with all too regularly. The tag worked perfectly and then without the warning signs that we would expect to see from a tag that is nearing its natural end of life the transmission suddenly and inexplicably stopped.
That the last fix, prior to the ‘stop no malfunction’ located the bird on a grouse moor near the Derwent Reservoir, in County Durham. Despite an extensive ground search being carried out by a very experienced team, using sophisticated equipment, the body was not found. These facts will not come as a surprise to those of us who follow these cases closely. Natural England’s Hen Harrier data reveals that satellite tagged birds are 10 times more likely to ‘disappear’ when the tag fails without warning when the bird was on a grouse moor at the time [Murgatroyd et al]. Data already in the public domain indicates that Hen Harrier chicks satellite tagged as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life Project reveal a similar pattern.
This is not the first Red Kite to ‘disappear’ in the Derwent Gorge area and the quote from Harold Dobson, spokesman for the Friends of the Red Kites, tell us all we need to know:
“Since 2010, seven red kites have been found poisoned or shot near the Derwent Gorge and surrounding Durham Moorland. We fear that this may be the tip of the iceberg and that many more persecuted kites are never found.”
David Raw representing NERF member, the Durham Upland Bird Study Group, has commented:-
“The abrupt loss of an otherwise reliable signal from this carefully tracked bird is of great concern. The original Northern Kites release project and later our colleagues in Friends of Red Kites have all worked tirelessly to establish a viable population of these magnificent birds in our region. Local success has brought pleasure, pride and enjoyment within the community but expansion of the breeding range is now overdue. The loss of this bird in suspicious circumstances, in the same area as other known persecution incidents of Red Kites, reflects an appalling situation and is surely indicative of how selfish criminal activity is holding back the population.”
From the moment that the Government announced the Covid – 19 lockdown Raptor Workers have been expressing concern that raptor persecution would increase significantly after we were, for understandable reasons, prevented from surveying and monitoring birds of prey. This is not an unreasonable fear, we saw a similar pattern in 2001 when access to the countryside was banned during the Foot and Mouth outbreak.
Is KK Covid – 19 collateral damage, or was this bird already destined to join the long line of birds that have ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors irrespective of the current pandemic?
The RSPB press release can be seen here [link]
If you have any information about this incident, please contact the Police on 101, quoting the reference number 22042020-0078., or,
Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
Alternatively, if you have information about this case or of other birds of prey being killed or targeted you can call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.
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.
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.
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.
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.