On the 16th March 2020 the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, told the public to avoid unnecessary social contact. On the 23rd March the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, told the public to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. The country entered the first round of Covid-19 lockdown.
With the exception of essential workers who were vital to the continued safe running of the country the general public obeyed the Government’s edict and stayed at home, often enduring great hardship. Families were separated for months, schools were closed, weddings were cancelled, holidays were cancelled and thousands of people died as a result Covid-19. Families were unable to participate in funeral ceremonies to say a dignified farewell to loved ones.
All raptor work was suspended and Raptor Workers complied with the Government’s guidance and stayed at home to save lives. Regrettably, though perhaps not unsurprisingly, not everyone stayed at home to save lives. On the contrary wildlife criminals were out in the countryside taking the lives of birds of prey. The Covid-19 lockdown provided the criminals free reign to carry on – business as usual.
In April, during lockdown, a Red Kite was found dying at Scrampston, north-east of Malton in North Yorkshire. The bird did not survive and was submitted to WIIS, the Governments’ Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme, for toxicology tests to be carried out. Scientists at WIIS have confirmed that the bird was poisoned with a combination of Brodifacoum and Bendiocarb at levels higher than would normally be found in the natural environment.
Red Kites are predominantly scavengers and are therefore susceptible to poisoning. North Yorkshire has been the epicentre of raptor persecution for many years. When these two factors collide it is fair to say that across large areas of the North York Moors Birds of Prey are living on borrowed time.
If anyone reading this article is under the impression that this Red Kite was the only Bird of Prey poisoned in North Yorkshire during the first lockdown, or believes that this unfortunate bird was poisoned with the last few particles of Brodifacoum and Bendiocarb in the possession of the poisoner responsible for the death of this Red Kite they should think again. The chances of finding a poisoned bird before the poisoner has an opportunity to pick it up and dispose of it are infinitesimally low. Conversely, the opportunity to poison, and or shoot, high numbers of raptors without the risk of being caught is extremely high.
Whilst this article is specifically commenting upon one poisoned Red Kite in North Yorkshire it is worth reminding readers that poisons set out in the open to kill raptors are indiscriminate and all wildlife and pets in the area are at risk of death. Whilst society abhors the poisoning, and all other forms of indiscriminate killing of wildlife the individuals who lace the countryside with poison baits do not share that view and appear to have little or no conscience and killing predators is a daily event; killing anything else in the process is just a bi-product.
If you have any information to assist this or any other investigation please contact:
Police Wildlife Crime Officer Jez Walmsley at Malton Police Station (Tel: 101) and quote incident reference #12200055801.
Call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
Or you can contact the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.
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.
In March 2019 a member of the public found a dead Red Kite below a tree in Blazefield, adjacent to a caravan site, on the outskirts of Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire. Regrettably the report of a dead bird of prey illegally killed in the county, is not ground breaking news. It is just another tragic case of bird of prey persecution in North Yorkshire; the heart of raptor persecution in England. Whilst this latest killing is a shocking incident few people who monitor events such as this will have been surprised by it.
The long history of bird of prey persecution in the Nidderdale ANOB has been documented by the RSPB Investigations Team. The data shows that between 1987 and 2017 43 birds of prey were confirmed as victims of persecution. Of those 43 no less than 24 were Red Kites.
The victim in this latest crime apparently wasn’t ringed and therefore we will never know where it came from. However, it is likely to have originated from either the Yorkshire Kites Project or the Gateshead based Red Kite Project, both of which are managed by NERF member groups.
Red Kites are scavengers and carrion forms a large part of their diet. This makes them very vulnerable to being poisoned by individuals or organisations that are determined to wilfully kill them. Red Kites are huge with a 1.5 metre wingspan but they are usually incapable of defending a prey item on the ground from more powerful avian predators such as Buzzards. In an attempt to overcome the potential of losing their food they usually carry it into a nearby tree before beginning to eat it. It is this behaviour that explains why poisoned Red Kites are frequently found dead under trees.
In this case the incident was reported to the authorities and the North Yorkshire Police submitted the bird for analysis under the Government’s Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme [WIIS]. The result of the analysis was that the bird had been killed with the highly toxic poisons bendiocarb and isofenphos. Not-withstanding the fact that the chemical analysis will have taken some time to complete and that the Police may also have needed additional time to conclude their investigation it is non-the-less regrettable that there was an eight month delay before the Police issued a press statement advising the public of the potential threat to wildlife, pets and people in the Pateley Bridge area.
Bendiocarb is one of the poisons of choice for anyone intent on killing birds of prey. However, it is also highly toxic and lethal to mammals, including humans. Placing a poisoned bait in the open countryside is an indiscriminate senseless act of criminality. Once the bait has been deployed the poisoner has no control what-so-ever over what may be killed by it. Wild animals, pets and people are all vulnerable and the person(s) responsible clearly had no regard for the life of anything or anyone who came into contact with it. Anyone using bendiocarb to indiscriminately kill wildlife has decided, de facto, that he, and it is most probably a he, has a self-declared ‘right’ to kill anything and everything he wants to kill, regardless of the consequences.
The Police press release states that extensive enquiries have failed to trace the source of the poisons or the person(s) responsible for deploying it in the countryside. No doubt their investigation would have focused on identifying those who would profit from killing the Red Kite and who had the motive, opportunity and capacity to carry out this crime. The list of potential suspects is in all probability relatively short.
At the end of the NERF article about the ‘disappearance’ of the Hen Harrier called Ada in suspicious circumstance we reminded the senior managers at both Natural England and Defra that the persecution of birds of prey is rampant across the North of England and we called on them to ‘do the right thing’ to protect our birds of prey. Two weeks from now we will have a new Government and a new Minister of the Environment and we call upon the incoming Minister to also ‘do the right thing’ and bolster protection of our birds of prey.
It is NERF’s opinion that this includes:
introducing vicarious liability for owners and managers of shooting estates,
taking a harder line by withholding financial support under the farm payment scheme where appropriate, and,
suspending the use of General Licences
In the meantime we await the next inevitable, depressing, press releases from the Police and RSPB that another raptor has been killed on or near a game shooting estate, in all probability in North Yorkshire.
The population of Pateley Bridge and surrounding area is less than 3,000 people. Whoever put the poisoned bait out in the open countryside and killed the Red Kite is most likely to live locally, shop locally, use the local pub and may have children or grand-children in the local school. In short if you live in the Pateley Bridge area the person indiscriminately putting poisoned baits out in your countryside, putting your life, the life of your pets and local wildlife at risk is your neighbour.
In addition to the physical threats posed by the use of dangerous poison there is also the reputational damage caused to this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and local businesses. This potential reputational damage was recognised by Pateley Bridge businessman Keith Tordoff in 2017 when he and a fellow businessman, jointly offered a reward for information following the unlawful killing of another Red Kite. On that occasion the bird was shot near Greenhow.
It is in the interest of the community to put an end to the cycle of raptor persecution that pervades Nidderdale. If you have any information that would aid the Police investigation please contact the authorities. There are several ways to pass on information; you can contact:
The Police on 101
Crimestoppers on 0800 555111
RSPB Investigation Team on 01767 680551
RSPB hotline on 0300 999 0101
Warning – if you find a dead bird of prey in suspicious circumstances, or what may be a poisoned bait please note your location, take photographs and if it is possible cover the bird or bait with vegetation safely. The most virulent poisons can kill on contact with the skin; do not take risks. The default position must be that it is a poisoned bait or the bird has been poisoned. Do not handle the birdor the suspected bait. Ring the Police and get professional help to recover the body for analysis. Ensure that you get an incident number from the Police contact centre.
Many Police Forces use the ‘What3Words’ app to identify specific locations. The app can be downloaded to a smartphone for free.
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.
Birds of Prey and Owls of Cheshire
Red Kites of Shropshire
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.