Back on 1 October I asked NE some questions. They asked for extra time to answer them and I had a response yesterday afternoon.
The questions related to an excellent NE publication of 2008 entitled ‘A future for hen harriers in England?’ which it is well worth having a good look at, and asking yourself whether you have seen any similar publication from NE on their continuing study in the last 9 years (hint – you haven’t!).
Here is the response.
Questions 1 and 2: Natural England admit that they can’t be sure whether or not they reported three illegal acts of heather burning and two cases of nests with eggs being ‘removed’ (sounds illegal to me!) to the Police. That’s inept of them to say the least.
Question 3: this was the case of six Hen Harriers disappearing at an autumn roost. We now learn that this was on a Yorkshire grouse moor, as I rather suspected it was – in fact I reckon I know exactly where it was (I’d put my money on it being west of the A1 for a start!). We also learn that three of the birds were radio-tagged by NE. NE supply three tag ids for these birds and we can check them against the skeletal information released, under pressure, by NE in September this year.
Tags 632, 514 and 370 were all fitted in Bowland in June 2003 and ceased transmitting on 5 September 2003, 16 September 2003 and 8 October 2003 respectively. These tags are all listed in the September 2017 data ‘release’ as ‘Missing Fate Unknown’ but we now know that NE were told that they had been bumped off, along with three other birds apparently, at an autumn roost over a period of just over a month.
Question 4: this was a question about six satellite-tagged Hen Harriers from Bowland into parts of the North Pennines which were managed primarily for grouse shooting. In the 2008 report these were all mentioned in a section on suspected persecution incidents.
The tag id 73586 is, according to the data ‘release’ of September this year, a tag that was fitted in Cumbria, not Bowland. Whilst it is possible that the tag was fitted in Cumbria and then the bird passed through Bowland on its way to its demise in Yorkshire this would be a strange way to describe the bird. I’ll ask NE why there is this apparent contradiction between the only two versions of the data that are in the public domain.
There’s something odd about tag id 73591 too. This bird was tagged in Bowland in June 2008 and ceased transmission in Bowland in September 2008. Bowland is not in the North Pennines and so it is difficult to see how this bird got into this list. I’ll ask NE to clarify.
And there’s something very odd about tag id 73588 which certainly didn’t travel far as it was tagged in Bowland on 7 July 2008 and ceased transmitting in Bowland on that very day according to the data ‘release’ of September this year. I’ll ask NE to clarify.
That leaves three other birds, all tagged in Bowland (at least we are told they were) in 2008 and ceasing transmission on grouse moors in Co Durham (tag 73582 – October 2007), Cumbria (tag 73589 – September 2007) and Sheffield (presumably the Peak District, tag 73590 – October 2007).
So what should we take from the NE response?
- Natural England doesn’t want to answer questions of this type about our data (we paid for its collection) and have done the least possible to answer these questions. Whether that is because they got out of bed on the wrong side, whether it is because they are extremely sensitive about how little this study has produced over such a long period of time, whether it is because there is lots of interesting information that NE don’t want anyone to know, or whether it’s because the dataset is in a complete mess is difficult to know. Other explanations are also possible.
- There are numerous apparent contradictions between the data released to me and the data published in September 2017. I#m concerned that this will reduce the credibility of NE’s data curation and will open it up to attack whatever the data are said to show, if they are ever properly analysed and published.
- Natural England, the statutory nature conservation organisation for England, doesn’t know whether it reported wildlife crimes to the Police. This is shocking and inept. I’ll be asking NE for more details of these alleged offences so that I can take them up with the relevant police forces.
- All the Hen Harriers which had been tagged by NE and described by them in their 2008 report as known or suspected persecution incidents are listed in their September 2017 data ‘release’ as ‘Missing Fate Unknown’. This might well mean that NE has strong suspicions or evidence on the fate of other satellite-tagged Hen Harriers that are in the ‘Missing Fate unknown’ category.
I’d love to know where the grouse moor in Yorkshire is where NE believe that six Hen Harriers disappeared at an autumn roost in 2003. I’d love to know what has been NE’s relationship with that grouse moor since that time and how much public money has been paid to that estate. I’d love to know whether the owners of that grouse moor are members of the Moorland Association, whether they are involved with any National Parks or AONBs in the area, whether their keepers are members of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation and a whole bunch of other information.
But I do know that Natural England is not fit for purpose.