Tag Archives: wildlife crime

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

Red Kite found poisoned at Scrampston, North Yorkshire.

On the 16th March 2020 the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, told the public to avoid unnecessary social contact. On the 23rd March the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, told the public to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. The country entered the first round of Covid-19 lockdown.

With the exception of essential workers who were vital to the continued safe running of the country the general public obeyed the Government’s edict and stayed at home, often enduring great hardship. Families were separated for months, schools were closed, weddings were cancelled, holidays were cancelled and thousands of people died as a result Covid-19. Families were unable to participate in funeral ceremonies to say a dignified farewell to loved ones.

All raptor work was suspended and Raptor Workers complied with the Government’s guidance and stayed at home to save lives. Regrettably, though perhaps not unsurprisingly, not everyone stayed at home to save lives. On the contrary wildlife criminals were out in the countryside taking the lives of birds of prey. The Covid-19 lockdown provided the criminals free reign to carry on – business as usual.

In April, during lockdown, a Red Kite was found dying at Scrampston, north-east of Malton in North Yorkshire. The bird did not survive and was submitted to WIIS, the Governments’ Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme, for toxicology tests to be carried out. Scientists at WIIS have confirmed that the bird was poisoned with a combination of Brodifacoum and Bendiocarb at levels higher than would normally be found in the natural environment.

Red Kites are predominantly scavengers and are therefore susceptible to poisoning. North Yorkshire has been the epicentre of raptor persecution for many years. When these two factors collide it is fair to say that across large areas of the North York Moors Birds of Prey are living on borrowed time.

If anyone reading this article is under the impression that this Red Kite was the only Bird of Prey poisoned in North Yorkshire during the first lockdown, or believes that this unfortunate bird was poisoned with the last few particles of Brodifacoum and Bendiocarb in the possession of the poisoner responsible for the death of this Red Kite they should think again. The chances of finding a poisoned bird before the poisoner has an opportunity to pick it up and dispose of it are infinitesimally low. Conversely, the opportunity to poison, and or shoot, high numbers of raptors without the risk of being caught is extremely high.

Whilst this article is specifically commenting upon one poisoned Red Kite in North Yorkshire it is worth reminding readers that poisons set out in the open to kill raptors are indiscriminate and all wildlife and pets in the area are at risk of death. Whilst society abhors the poisoning, and all other forms of indiscriminate killing of wildlife the individuals who lace the countryside with poison baits do not share that view and appear to have little or no conscience and killing predators is a daily event; killing anything else in the process is just a bi-product.

If you have any information to assist this or any other investigation please contact:

Police Wildlife Crime Officer Jez Walmsley at Malton Police Station (Tel: 101) and quote incident reference #12200055801.

Alternatively:
Call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
Or you can contact the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

NERF
25 November 2020

Licences to take wild Peregrine chicks – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NERF

2 May 2020

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