Questions 1

Friday was quite a busy day, with news about crimes against birds of prey tumbling out early in the day. This was a bit inconvenient for me as I had other things planned. But it means that we’ve all had the weekend to mull over the news.

What was the news?:

  • The RSPB published a report which showed that there was a lot of crime against protected birds in 2015
  • the RSPB posted a blog which announced that a female Hen Harrier, named Carroll after the late Mick Carroll, had died of a parasite infection but that the post mortem had also revealed that she had two shotgun pellets in her body (see Raptor Persecution UK blog on the subject)
  • the same RSPB blog published the X-ray of the dead male Hen Harrier, Rowan, about which there had been months of speculation about the cause of death, showing that Rowan had been shot and had a shattered leg (see here).

The Birdcrime report involves a lot of work and we are all grateful for the work that the RSPB does in pulling this information together and being the source of a lot of the information. It says something about the lack of interest in the subject that a wildlife charity is putting this together every year and not the statutory agencies and government departments who are supposed to be treating wildlife crime as a high priority.  I notice that NE doesn’t even get an acknowledgement at the back of the report (although SNH does).

It is perhaps just as well that NE doesn’t take responsibility for providing the public with information on wildlife crime or else we might know even less about what is going on. Remember that NE has been studying Hen Harriers for years and years and has published precious little analysis of their study – which has, at long last, prompted the RSPB to state that these data ought to be analysed. Well, the RSPB ought to ask for them (see here).

As well as keeping the results of their own research secret, NE did not ensure that the cause of death of Rowan was made public – in fact there are reasons for believing that they were involved in muddying the waters of this subject. The autopsy was completed on 26 October and a press release issued on 28 October (which did not mention the cause of death although it was known). On 3 November Cumbria Police drafted a press release which said that Rowan had been shot but after discussions between the Hawk and Owl Trust and Natural England, and probably others, this was changed to the public version which emerged on 7 November of ‘likely to have been shot’ and the X-ray was not released until last Friday, 3 February (by the RSPB for some strange reason, not NE and not the Hawk and Owl Trust).  If it were up to NE, public servants all, then we would probably still be waiting for ‘likely to have been shot’ to be changed to ‘shot’.

Photo: Zoological Society of London

This is all very strange.  When I phoned the Natural England press office on 9 November and asked them what they could tell me about Rowan’s death I was told (in an email):

This is our line…

“The body of a juvenile, male hen harrier – named Rowan – was recovered in Cumbria on 22nd October. He was satellite tagged at the Langholm project in the Scottish borders, as part of a joint venture between Natural England and the Hawk and Owl Trust. Following an autopsy, Natural England has passed details to the police for investigation.”

We are unable to make further comments or enter into discussion at this time as this may be prejudicial to ongoing investigations

But we now know, thanks to Raptor Persecution UK, that Cumbria Police were happy, on 3 November, to tell the world that Rowan had been shot.

Why did NE behave as though it wanted to keep the cause of Rowan’s death hidden from the public over the period of the Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting, when a press release was issued in November and, apparently, ever since? If there is a more charitable explanation for their behaviour that can be backed up by documents being released into the public domain then let’s see them, please (but presumably they ought to have been released to RPUK when complying with an FoI). In fact, NE refused RPUK sight of the X-ray of Rowan’s shattered leg when it was, I gather, requested under a FoI request which certainly supports the ‘conspiracy theory’ view of events.  This is the same X-ray which has now appeared via the RSPB blog.  Senior NE staff need to come clean on what really happened in this case if they are to stand any chance of retaining a few shreds of public support and confidence for their role in this affair and in combatting wildlife crime in general.

NE is welcome to a Guest Blog here to tell the world their side of the story.





PS I wonder how much of this will get into NE’s daily media summary this morning?



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5 Replies to “Questions 1”

  1. Defra(NE) dont work for the public nor the natural environment, they work for the government. Everything they do is led by their minister, especially when it comes to politically sensitive issues.
    We would need to know what communications there were between the NE boss and the ministerial team. its the way the system works. I would imagine that they would be very coy about putting such discussions in emails etc.... probably just a quiet phone call..... but sometimes they slip up so you never know there might be a paper trail?

  2. It would be interesting if Mark carried out one of his little surveys, to see who thinks Natural England are a competent conservation body? The survey would also need to poll a respondent's affiliations, but I rather suspect that many conservationists, like myself have largely lost faith in NE's ability to put wildlife first (cf: Licences to kill buzzards to protect pheasants.) And Mark is 100% right to criticise the fact that it is left to NGOs to compile reports -- it wouldn't be quite so bad if NE/DEFRA were to fund it. But that would probably lead to criticism from the hunting lobby....And that was only BirdCrime -- what about all the rest? There's a fair amount of BatCrime, NewtCrime etc.


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