Geltsdale: another missing male Hen Harrier

Yesterday the RSPB released the news that there had been a pair of Hen Harriers nesting at their Geltsdale nature reserve in Cumbria, but that the male had gone missing and the nest had consequently failed (see here, here and here).

This followed the news that three male Hen Harriers had gone missing in the Forest of Bowland earlier in the season.

Birds do go missing for a variety of reasons, although in the case of Hen Harriers, four males disappearing in this way is very unusual and highly suspicious. It is overwhelmingly likely that several of these missing males have been illegally killed. It wouldn’t surprise me, nor my companions at dinner last night (somewhere in Scotland), if they all had been killed. And it would be a great surprise to all involved in raptor conservation if the killers were anyone other than gamekeepers acting to protect their Red Grouse stocks. That’s what happens in the lawless uplands of Britain – fully protected wildlife is illegally killed for private profit.

Although many have become used to hearing such news, it is a deeply shocking state of affairs.  The situation is so dire that these four Hen Harrier nests were being protected around the clock from wildlife criminals and yet when the males fly away from the nest, hunting for food, they are in mortal danger.

Our law enforcement agencies seem powerless to stop wildlife crimes in the uplands and that is hardly surprising – how many coppers have you seen up in the hills, at six in the morning, miles from the nearest house? We can’t blame the police very much.

Our government turns a blind eye to this wildlife crime at the moment. Have you heard the chair or chief executive of government agency, Natural England, speaking out on this matter? No, but they used to. Has Liz Truss stirred herself to condemn illegal killing and rule out any prospect of brood meddling while the levels of crime are so high? No, there is no sign that Defra gives a damn about the impending extinction of the Hen Harrier in England.

The good news yesterday was that Sepp Blatta is leaving FIFA. The connection? For years the world has known that corruption is rife in FIFA but people have shaken their heads and thought that nothing could be done about it. For years we have known that wildlife crime is rife in the uplands of Britain but people shake their heads and think that nothing can be done about it.  Not enough has been done about it by the grouse shooting industry itself, by statutory agencies or by government.

Driven grouse shooting is the Augean stables of wildlife conservation. Hercules seems to be absent. We need to ban driven grouse shooting to rid the hills of wildlife crime.

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35 Replies to “Geltsdale: another missing male Hen Harrier”

  1. I noticed that none of the local news channels Border TV & Look North] last night had any thing on this story! 26 years ago when my harriers were killed at Geltsdale it made 'World' news and the papers were full of the story for weeks. So in 26 years despite the efforts of some Hen Harrier deaths are not news.

  2. Love the cockroach reference re FIFA!

    Deeply shocking (if sadly not surprising) news from Geltsdale. Liz Truss may not have stirred herself but she will - i hope - receive an avalanche of letters prodding her into doing something about this dreadful state of affairs.

  3. I see that Geltsdale is in the Penrith & the border constituency who's MP is Rory Stewart: a new DEFRA minster. Maybe he 's got something to say about this?
    The Forest of Bowland seems to fall in 3 constituencies with Tory and Labour MPs.
    Perhaps the local MPs could stir up more debate on this matter?

  4. Can you give me your evidence? And further to that you're unfounded and continued slander may land you in court.

  5. Don't play daft, you have pointed the finger at gamekeepers, I would like to see the evidence you have gathered that allowed you to come to that conclusion.

  6. Absolute ignorance from you, just like your article. You are avoiding the question as you realise you have no foundation for these claims, and your self promoting blog is based on deceit. Or will you give me a reasoned and coherent response?

    1. jon - I'm not going to go into detail with every random comment on this blog. Try starting here though:

      'In the U.K., a full recovery of Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus breeding numbers is prevented by illegal culling by some gamekeepers who fear the species threatens the future of grouse moors. This study’s main purpose was to estimate how many more Hen Harriers there would be in the U.K. if this culling were to cease.' Dr Dick Potts, then the boss of the Game Conservancy Trust, in a paper published in the journal Ibis Vol 140, pp 76-88.


  7. Jon Bissett - are you saying gamekeepers don't kill wildlife - that's marvellous news, but can you prove it?

  8. We need some kind of technology that tracks these birds 24 hrs a day; that's the only way they will ever be safer from this criminal activity. The sooner the better.

  9. That is not specific to the case mentioned in your blog, to secure a conviction you need evidence for a case, you are basing your assumptions on prejudice. I am wholly infuriated by your comments on this being a "random" comment, if you cannot have a reasoned discussion then I am afraid you will continue to fail to engage the users groups of the countryside that matter most in the conservation of the hen harrier.

    1. jon - I'm not attempting to secure a conviction. I have no idea who the individuals who might have been involved might have been. And there were four cases mentioned in the blog, weren't there?

      Clearly I have engaged you. The user groups that matter most on the conservation of the Hen Harrier are the criminals that are killing them. What advice would you give for persuading them to cease?

    2. Yes 'random' would seem appropriate - think you need to catch up on the realities of raptor persecution, the game keeper role and the difficulties of proving wildlife crime, then come back for a reasoned discussion!

  10. Mike of course gamekeepers kill wildlife, vermin are on the general licence for a reason, to help with the conservation of prey species. However in this instance there is not a single shred of even flimsy evidence to suggest that these hen harriers have been killed by keepers, let only killed.

    1. Gamekeepers don't kill foxes, stoats & weasels to conserve wildlife, only birds that they then shoot anyway - and they aren't vermin, but integral parts of the ecosystem. The anti-predator narrative is pathetic and to be honest its pretty boring too.

  11. Mark, I'll see your IBIS quote and raise it with

    "Major Threat(s): Persecution is still severe locally, for example on managed grouse moors of Scotland; in 2013 not a single pair successfully nested in England (Pitches 2013), despite the fact that there is estimated habitat for more than 300 pairs (Fielding et al. 2011)."

    Citation: BirdLife International 2015. Circus cyaneus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.1. . Downloaded on 03 June 2015.

    1. Phil - yes, I was keeping that one (and others) for later. but I think jon sees the science as being 'prejudice'.

      Many thanks.

  12. If you continue to remain ignorant of the majority of gamekeepers good work with regards to conservation you will never be able to engage with this important facet of
    21st century conservation. The role of the keeper has moved on from the 19th century keeper you envisage who traps, snares, shoots and poisons everything other than game. It just doesn't work like that anymore and you need to catch up with this, acknowledge it and engage to aid the future success of hen harrier populations. Currently you are demonising yourself against the largest and most experienced group of bio diversity custodians in Britain.

    1. jon - please supply evidence for the statement 'the majority of gamekeepers' good work with regards to conservation' - are you sure it's not just a few good apples? Or some very good apples? And are you just counting the good work and ignoring the bad?

      No-one, certainly not I, would say that all gamekeepers are bad, nor that any gamekeepers are all bad. How many gamekeepers would you say are all good? You appear to remain ignorant of the bad things done by some gamekeepers and are in danger of alienating the conservation community, and through it the general public, by sanctifying a group of people (gamekeepers) who are responsible for the majority of convictions for offences against birds of prey.

    2. Hi Jon

      I don't know if this list posted on Raptor Persecution Scotland is true or a fabrication, but here goes:

      ''’s a list of 29 gamekeepers convicted of wildlife crimes in the last 5 years alone, many of whom were convicted thanks to the work of the RSPB:

      Feb 2011: Gamekeeper Connor Patterson convicted of causing animal fights between dogs, foxes and badgers.

      May 2011: Gamekeeper Ivan Mark Crane convicted of using an illegal trap.

      May 2011: Gamekeeper Ivan Peter Crane convicted of using an illegal trap.

      May 2011: Gamekeeper Dean Barr convicted of being in possession of a banned poison.

      May 2011: Gamekeeper James Rolfe convicted of being in possession of a dead red kite.

      June 2011: Gamekeeper Glenn Brown convicted of using an illegal trap.

      October 2011: Gamekeeper Craig Barrie convicted of illegal possession & control of a wild bird

      Dec 2011: Gamekeeper Christopher John Carter convicted of causing a fight between two dogs and a fox.

      Dec 2011: Gamekeeper Luke James Byrne convicted of causing three animal fights and possession of three dead wild birds (heron, cormorant, buzzard).

      Jan 2012: Gamekeeper David Whitefield convicted of poisoning 4 buzzards.

      Jan 2012: Gamekeeper Cyril McLachlan convicted of possessing a banned poison.

      April 2012: Gamekeeper Robert Christie convicted of illegal use of a trap.

      June 2012: Gamekeeper Jonathan Smith Graham convicted of illegal use of a trap.

      Sept 2012: Gamekeeper Tom McKellar convicted of possessing a banned poison.

      Nov 2012: Gamekeeper Bill Scobie convicted of possessing and using a banned poison.

      Jan 2013: Gamekeeper Robert Hebblewhite convicted of poisoning buzzards.

      Feb 2013: Gamekeeper Shaun Allanson convicted of illegal use of a trap.

      Feb 2013: Gamekeeper (un-named) cautioned for illegal use of a trap.

      May 2013: Gamekeeper Brian Petrie convicted for trapping offences.

      June 2013: Gamekeeper Peter Bell convicted for poisoning a buzzard.

      July 2013: Gamekeeper Colin Burne convicted for trapping then battering to death 2 buzzards.

      Sept 2013: Gamekeeper Andrew Knights convicted for storing banned poisons.

      Dec 2013: Gamekeeper Wayne Priday convicted for setting an illegal trap.

      Feb 2014 Gamekeeper Ryan Waite convicted for setting an illegal trap.

      May 2014 Gamekeeper Derek Sanderson convicted for storing five banned poisons.

      July 2014 Gamekeeper Mark Stevens convicted for setting illegal traps.

      October 2014 Gamekeeper Allen Lambert convicted for poisoning 11 raptors, illegal storage and use of pesticides & possession of a poisoner’s kit.

      December 2014 Gamekeeper George Mutch convicted for illegal use of traps, illegal killing of a goshawk, illegal taking of a goshawk, illegal taking of a buzzard.

      May 2015 Gamekeeper James O’Reilly convicted for illegal use of leg-hold traps and illegal use of snares.''

  13. Jack, if you have a better system I would like to hear it. Very few look after the bottom of the food chain. If it continues whereby rspb and other conservation bodies only want to look after the likes of otters, birds of prey and pine martins because that's good advertising material to generate revenue then the bottom of the chain will collapse and all species will suffer. It really shows how ignorant of the ecosystem some "animal lovers" are. If they are so integral to the ecosystem why are the RSPB now fencing off the Badgers food source at Minsmere??????????

    1. jon - you seem to have a very odd view of what everyone else is doing. You are impugning the motives of 'conservation bodies' - which ones do you mean and what is your evidence for this being their motivation? I'm a bit worried they might sue you and me for that comment. Can you please back it up with some facts? And please avoid such statements in future.

    2. Dear Jon,

      A better system? Er, how about a national park system which actually protected wildlife and established properly functioning ecosystems, rather than one which principally cultured sheep and unnatural numbers of birds to be shot for fun? Of course you are probably right and I bow down to your superior "country knowledge". No doubt as you say, if we just let predators run/fly around uncontrolled then food chains would soon collapse and all species would suffer. I've heard that's what's happening in Yellowstone and the Serengeti. Perhaps an emergency delegation of gamekeepers could be mustered to help with the predator problems there?

    3. "If it continues whereby rspb and other conservation bodies only want to look after the likes of otters, birds of prey and pine martins because that's good advertising material"

      I thought you were against unfounded slander, Jon. Even the laziest, most ignorant observers can readily find out for themselves that the rspb's work is very wide ranging and benefits all sorts of birds - as well as other animals and plants - at all trophic levels. Why don't you take a look?

      It is absolutely justified and correct that a significant part of the rspb's work should be aimed at the conservation of birds of prey because they include some of our most threatened species (the hen harrier being a particular case in point) but this work is not at the expense of other equally important work on all sorts of other species and habitats.

      Your suggestion that only hunting, shooting and fishing bring income into rural communities is also wide of the mark. Huge numbers of people enjoy the countryside in other ways whether it be watching birds and other wildlife, walking or just pottering about. These people spend their money when they come (and who are you or I to sneer if they chose to spend it on a luminous parka, a tea towel or a box of National Trust fudge?). The rspb and other conservation bodies invest huge sums of money in managing land for wildlife and there can be little doubt that a significant proportion of this spending trickles through into the rural economy.

      Your sneer below, in response to Hugh Webster, that conservationists expect other people to fund their work is also wholly unjustified. They send money provided by their members for exactly that purpose. It is true that conservation bodies seek and receive grant aid for projects they carry out but if you are going to suggest that other sectors of the rural economy get by without receiving hand-outs of public money you are living in cloud cuckoo land. In particular, the generous souls who you imply are holding up the rural economy through their investment in shooting estates, have been the recipients of very large amounts of stewardship money and we, the taxpayers who pay for this, have every right to demand that in return they should allow the hen harrier and other birds of prey to thrive on the moorlands.

  14. If Jon Bissett would like to offer his view of why there are so few Hen Harriers in England, we should give him a chance to do so. He sounds so knowledgeable that presumably he has the answer. Over to you Jon.

  15. And how would you propose to pay for more national parks, another cafe? Sell a few more luminous parkas? Pie in the sky thinking from idealists. I'm sorry to bring it all crashing down round your ears but stalking, shooting and fishing bring real money to rural economies and that's the way we like it. I would be happy with a middle ground but your extremist views of wanting to ban everything is getting you nowhere, winning you no friends that actually matter. So until you start putting your own money into rural economies and land purchases that you believe you can fund (or most likely you expect somebody else to fund) you're idealist views are null and void.

    1. jon - are you talking to me? It's not clear.

      Are you going to answer any of the questions you have been asked? If not, it's a bit rich asking them of others.

      Btw - we are all paying for National Parks and land management through taxes.

  16. I find it quite remarkable that so many gamekeepers are actually caught since, if you think about it, the odds are heavily stacked in their favour. They known their patch intimately, by their nature the public tend to be excluded from shooting estates, they have a range of discrete methods available to dispose both of unwanted raptors and any evidence, they pretty much have to be caught 'red-handed' to be prosecuted and there's good circumstantial evidence to suggest many of those who are caught had been "at it" for years without being detected. There are well known instances where experienced, long serving gamekeepers on supposedly 'well run' estates have been caught killing birds (some with a 'poisoner's kit' often including pesticides banned for decades). Is it reasonable to suppose that they've suffered a sudden entirely atypical aberration in behaviour so late in their career? Or is it far more likely that they got sloppy or unlucky and were caught for once? For four male Hen Harriers to suddenly go AWOL just at the point where they are wandering into areas where they are not closely monitored is extraordinary. When those areas have an historical record for intolerance of such raptors then it would be unreasonable not to suspect that 'traditional attitudes' have trumped modern legislation.


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