Blog Post: Another shot hen harrier… how many more?

Posted on - In Sky Dancer
This is not the news I wanted to wake up to. Just weeks after the Crown Office discontinued a high-profile case against a former gamekeeper for the alleged illegal killing of a hen harrier despite clear video evidence, another hen harrier shooting has come to light. Police Scotland issued an appeal this morning, for information relating to the lethal shooting of a hen harrier near Leadhills, South Lanarkshire. You can read the response from RSPB Scotland here . Fortunately and exceptionally, “a number of witnesses” have apparently come forward but whether that’s enough to secure a prosecution remains to be seen. After all, if video evidence , clearly showing a hen harrier being shot out of the sky and its body retrieved by a man with his face in full view of the camera, isn’t enough to secure a conviction or even a court case, it’s hard to know what burden of proof is necessary. The message seems to be that those who wish to illegally kill our protected birds of prey can continue to do so with impunity, knowing that even if their alleged crimes are caught on film, they’re unlikely to be held to account. Still of film footage taken on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire in June 2013, showing a man removing the body of a recently shot hen harrier. Despite this, police are now appealing for CCTV evidence in this latest case. Anyone with any information at all should contact Police Scotland on 101. A hen harrier illegally shot and killed in 2013 and another in 2017... It goes without saying that any hen harrier shot is one too many but with four years between them, could these just be random isolated incidents? Not when you start filling in the blanks... January 2017 – hen harrier Carroll found dead in Northumberland of natural causes having previously survived being shot October 2016 – hen harrier Rowan found shot dead in Cumbria September 2015 – hen harrier Lad found with “injuries consistent with shooting ” in the Cairngorms April 2015 – hen harrier Annie found shot dead near Leadhills, South Lanarkshire June 2013 – video evidence recorded of a hen harrier being shot dead on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire, and a man retrieving the body June 2012  – hen harrier Bowland Betty found shot dead in the Yorkshire Dales Body of a young male hen harrier, Lad, found with "injuries consistent with shooting" just months after fledging. And that’s not to mention the number of satellite tagged hen harriers which have suddenly and unexpectedly disappeared – most notably in relation to recent events,  Chance , who vanished in May 2016, just a few miles from where Annie was found shot and near to where this most recent shooting has been witnessed. These are not isolated incidents. Collectively, they reveal a very clear picture of how protected birds of prey continue to be treated in some areas of our uplands, particularly where there is intensive grouse moor management. As I said in my last blog, our ability to uphold the law is only as good as our ability to enforce it and we are working hard to insist these issues be addressed by the public authorities as a matter of urgency. In the meantime, together with the Raptor Study Groups and wider conservation community, we will continue to monitor and protect our hen harriers wherever possible. Satellite tagging is providing an unprecedented window into this world and through the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, we plan to tag more hen harriers in 2017 than ever before. Whatever happens next, we will be watching. To follow the fortunes of our remaining satellite tagged hen harriers and find out more about our work to protect these stunning skydancers, visit www.rspb.org.uk or follow us @RSPB_Skydancer .    

Comment on Alleged hen harrier shooting case dropped

Posted on - In Sky Dancer
I am absolutely appalled at this decision. Someone in the criminal justice system has decided that the RSPB may not monitor raptor nest sites in Scotland, but if they do and detect criminality, that even viewing of a criminal act that this evidence can not be used in court. I have written to all my MSPs and although I was not able to be reasonable in my screed, I shall persist and if necessary meet each one to get a face to face response.  The organised criminal activity of driven grouse shooting has people in many places prepared to assist those who break the law, and the law needs to be changed to make this loophole closed to the organised criminals and their supporters. I shall draft a proposed change to the law to show how simple this would be. I believe that the RSPB should do the same. I would urge RSPB members in Scotland to contact their MSPs

Blog Post: Alleged hen harrier shooting case dropped

Posted on - In Sky Dancer
In case you missed it, RSPB have just published film footage of a former gamekeeper allegedly shooting a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire, in June 2013, retrieving the body, and cleaning up the feathers after himself. After almost four years of waiting, court proceedings were dropped two weeks ago by the Crown Office, who indicated that after considering all of the relevant material, they couldn't use RSPB Scotland video evidence to support the prosecution in court. However, it's only today that the Crown Office has explained the rationale behind this decision. Here' s the official response from RSPB Scotland: We do not agree with the opinion from the Crown Office that we were attempting to gather evidence for a prosecution. We installed a camera to monitor a protected breeding bird’s nest site, core business for a conservation organisation. We did not share the information about the nest site with anyone, as would be the case with any rare and vulnerable breeding bird species. The fact that an individual came and allegedly shot the female harrier, and that this was captured on film, was an incidental consequence of the camera’s deployment, in the same way that it could easily have captured footage of the nest being naturally predated or failing due to bad weather. It is very disappointing that the opportunity for the court to consider the issue of the admissibility or otherwise of this evidence, as has happened in previous cases, has been removed. Until today, we have received no rationale for the decision to drop the case despite the fact that a number of our staff have provided significant time and expertise in supporting the authorities with the prosecution case. Watch the footage for yourself here .  Full details in the original press release here .  We have now written to the Lord Advocate and are seeking urgent meetings with the Crown Office to consider the implications. Clearly the laws that protect our wildlife are only as good as our ability to uphold them.  If video footage of this quality isn't sufficient to secure a prosecution, then the question remains... what is?

Blog Post: Skydancer from Russia with love

Posted on - In Sky Dancer
The RSPB's Bowland Project Officer James Bray gives the lowdown on Bowland's special new visitor. RSPB staff and volunteers on the United Utilities estate in Bowland are out in the hills monitoring and protecting birds of prey every day of the week in all types of weather. We have been spending much of our time looking for returning hen harriers over the past few weeks in some rather un-spring-like weather so yesterday I was elated when I looked up and saw a mature male harrier skydancing low over my head. The bird disappeared out of sight down a gulley very quickly so I headed to a different position for a different view, happy that another male hen harrier was back on the estate. Over the next few hours the harrier was skydancing and hunting the slopes, mostly at very long range in a welcome bit of heat haze. I gradually got better and better views, and as the sun dropped a bit I began to strongly suspect that it was actually a pallid harrier. I called a good friend who was nearby and as we returned to the site the harrier flew low along the opposite hill giving superb views for the first time, allowing us to confirm that it was a mature male pallid harrier . Pallid harriers are rare visitors to the UK, most recently juvenile birds in the autumn. Adult males are exceptionally rare in the UK but one was seen near Hornsea in East Yorkshire early last Sunday morning and this is likely to be the same bird. Thanks must go to Mark Breaks for the photographs of this stunning bird. It’s not a hen harrier (the focus of my work), but I didn’t allow that to temper my excitement at having found a very beautiful and rare bird. We would like other birders to see this bird but must ask that people strictly follow the access arrangements as detailed below.   Access arrangements Please be aware that the pallid harrier is in a valley that is a four km walk from the nearest public parking. The walk is on a private road and vehicle access is only permitted for estate workers and the tenants that live and work here. BIRDERS MUST NOT  drive along this road, and will be asked to leave if they do.     Cars must only be parked in the pay and display car park in Dunsop Village at SD662502. The road to walk on is then accessed by walking west through the village (toward Lancaster and the Trough) over the river and take the first right. Follow this road north for approximately 3.5 kms up the Dunsop Valley until the road splits. Take the right hand split and walk for another 500 metres. The harrier has been hunting the slopes below the cairn on the hill on the other side of the river. Best views have been had from around the first cattle grid that you reach on this road after the split (approximately SD659543).   There are schedule 1 species nesting on the estate so it is vital that people coming to watch the harrier stick to the tracks so as not to cause disturbance at what is a really sensitive time in the breeding season. Please feel free to ask anyone that you see off the road to stick to the road!   We must also respect the goodwill of United Utilities, the land owner, as well as their tenants, who are incredibly supportive of our work so please stick rigorously to these access arrangements. There is a very nice cafe in Dunsop Village (Puddleducks) and there are toilets by the pay and display car park. Thank you, and good birding!