Tag Archives: Yorkshire

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 poisoned in the Nidderdale AONB

Red Kite – Tim Melling

‘Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless, is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives’.

Albert Schweitzer

The ink was hardly dry on the NERF article about the mysterious ‘disappearance’ of the RSPB satellite tagged Hen Harrier named Ada when news of this latest unlawful killing of a bird of prey was made public.

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 bird or 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.

NERF

1 December 2019