Two Hen Harrier arrests

Raptor Persecution UK does a fantastic job of keeping us all informed about raptor persecution, and their Twitter profile‘s words of ‘Think illegal raptor persecution is a thing of the past? Think again!‘ are just spot on.

Last week and last night RPUK brought us all news of two alleged observed shootings of ‘protected’ Hen Harriers in North Yorkshire, both on grouse moors, and both leading to arrests. The first of these cases was in the Forest of Bowland AONB, whose logo is a Hen Harrier, back in October and the second in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in January. Read the RPUK account for details.

I’ll just add or expand on five points here.

First, brood meddling of Hen Harriers, whose legality we were challenging in the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday (see here, here and here) wouldn’t, indeed didn’t, save these birds. The level of wildlife crime is massive and that is what needs to be tackled by Natural England, DEFRA, the police and others. It looks as though North Yorkshire Police are taking these issues seriously, even if they are a bit slow at telling the world what they are doing. Still, they are certainly doing something and that is to be applauded.

Second, this wildlife crime against a so-called protected species occurs in our so-called protected landscapes. These protections are a joke – a sick joke. Fully protected birds brought to the edge of extinction as an English breeding bird by widespread illegality which Natural England’s own data has demonstrated (see here). And what sort of protected landscape has as its logo a protected bird whose breeding population is systematically wiped out? And what sort of review of protected areas dodges this issue almost completely? Only in England is wilful blindness such a common sight impediment.

And third, as Ruth and RPUK point out, the second Hen Harrier shooting, witnessed by two members of the public apparently, was on Threshfield Moor which is believed to be owned by ‘Herbie’ and Heather Hancock. Mrs Hancock has featured on this blog on several occasions and I’m sure she must be very concerned at the report of the gunning down of a Hen Harrier on her local patch. Heather Hancock is a former Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (a wildlife crime hotspot), wrote a report on the BBC’s coverage of rural affairs which seemed to think that nature conservation got too much of a mention on the airwaves compared with real country people, was Chair of the Food Standards Agency during the time when it failed, in my view, to do enough to highlight and publicise the health impacts of lead shot in game meat, and will soon be taking up her post as Master of her old Cambridge college, St John’s. And now a second Hen Harrier has disappeared on or very near her land. Isn’t it odd how some names keep coming up? We can be quite sure that Mrs Hancock will be using her privileged position embedded in the establishment to bring the issue of wildlife crime on grouse moors to everyone’s attention.

Fourth, although these events happened in England, they absolutely mirror what is happening in Scotland and we have to hope that, unlike DEFRA and Natural England, the Scottish government acts soon to clamp down further on the ills of driven grouse shooting. A rapid introduction of licensing for grouse shooting would be a good start.

And lastly, I hope coronavirus impacts don’t delay a debate on banning driven grouse shooting too long – there is much to talk about as the evidence for the need for a ban grows all the time.


3 Replies to “Two Hen Harrier arrests”

  1. This is quite remarkable – is it a bit of a fluke or a result of more observant people in the right place at the right time with greater knowledge, confidence and commitment to identify and report illegal activity? I suspect the latter and therefore it’s no wonder why the estates often do their best to make the public unwelcome on ‘their’ moors and even state that it’s the increased recreational activity (well the form that doesn’t involve killing things for fun anyway) that’s really driving away raptors. The more non estate eyes and ears on the hills the better for our wildlife with less chance an illegally trapped harrier or legally killed mountain hares will escape notice.

    A friend of mine who works for an outdoor organisation was invited to one of those govt thingies to celebrate the countryside and its workers. She found herself at the same table as a very senior member of the Scottish Gamekeepers (sic) Organisation. When she introduced herself and what she did the SGA person (oink, oink) became rather effusive in their praise of the people who visit the hills because they were often very usual eyes and ears for the estate office. Fences and gates down, livestock in trouble, waste been fly tipped – these are frequently reported by walkers and ramblers on moors and this must save a fair bit of hassle and money. Strangely this private enthusiasm wasn’t repeated in at least one blog written by the same individual which did its best to rubbish those visiting the hills – people he hadn’t met – as Munro baggers who probably didn’t appreciate their wildlife.

    The discrepancy is almost certainly because those conscientious souls who visit the estates and help in its legitimate activities are equally capable of reporting their illegitimate ones. So on balance given the range and amount of dodgy stuff probably better for estates to rubbish ramblers and walkers than give them a public pat on the back and a thank you. These two incidents underline why.

  2. I think a bit of good fortune was involved in the observation of these incidents, along with arrogance and stupidity on the side of the perpetrators.
    However, I agree with Les, the public are more aware of what may be
    happening in these areas now, especially since the attempted decoying of a harrier on the Snake a few years ago.
    Obviously these were attempts to nail the cock birds before they could settle, and become more noticeable, displaying etc, from this you would assume the estates involved have not put their names forward for brood management.

  3. I think that these two witnessed crimes and the subsequent arrests are probably fortuitous yes, but it is also down to publicity and making the public aware of Hen Harriers, the wildlife crime that hopes and has nearly succeeded in driving them to extinction. Its blogs like this and RPUK, the efforts of Mark, Ruth, Chris and others in getting the message out there with Hen Harrier days and in the press, its pissed off locals encouraging local publicity campaigns in the YDNP and Nidderdale AONB and North Yorkshire Police with high profile campaigns like Operation Owl, RSPB with the Harrier Life project going into schools etc. It makes those who are not birders or raptophiles aware and gives them the confidence to report what they see and immediately. That alone is symptomatic of the fact that we are winning against this dreadful ingrained criminality that says we say what lives or dies in our uplands and we don’t want harriers. I can well remember a keeper saying more years ago than I care to remember ” we make the law up here.” This is finally an emphatic answer to that of “No you bloody don’t.”
    It will not go unnoticed the homes and halls of the grouse lobby and there will undoubtedly be pressure to discourage the public on moorland especially in the run up to and during the breeding season.
    All the guff and yes I’ve heard it too, have even been subjected to it about its walkers and birders who drive these birds away is just that, guff to try to keep you off. As somebody who has walked moors since at teen often through heather trespassing before access was reluctantly granted even since then the number of recreational folk off paths and “heather bashing” I’ve seen can be counted on my fingers.
    This is the beginning of the outcome we have campaigned for, I would encourage all who can go watch your local moors enjoy what you find and report ANYTHING suspicious. THIS is simply brilliant well done who ever you are for reporting, well done NY Police for following it up.

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