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Yorkshire Dales National Park is a raptor persecution hot spot

Yorkshire Dales: new report proves it’s a raptor persecution hot spot

The Yorkshire Dales Bird of Prey ‘Partnership’ (YDBPP) recently published a ‘Bird of Prey Evidence Report’ which supposedly documents the status of raptors in the ‘national park’ and provides details of confirmed illegal persecution between 2022-2023.

England’s ‘national parks’ are notorious persecution hotspots, so any truly independent analysis should slam the management of the grouse moors that dominate the Yorkshire Dales NP (and both the Peak District and North York Moors NPs too). However…

This is a long way from being independent, and ‘documenting’ and ‘report’ doesn’t really convey just how light in data the collated work of the ‘Partnership’ really is. Despite the avowed aim on Page 5 of the report that it looks to “publish the 2022 and 2023 data for the YDNP and NNL [Nidderdale National Landscape, formerly Nidderdale AONB], so that the main Steering Group can assess the current status of birds of prey populations and any progress in reducing persecution” the account of raptor species after raptor species begins with the words “There is no coordinated survey during the breeding season”. So how exactly are trends or changes in status supposed to be assessed? Most species accounts end up admitting that they can’t: “There was no systematic monitoring undertaken of breeding populations and so there are insufficient records for any assessment of population status or trends to be determined”.

As if there was any doubt which way this report was headed, while (the very many) Hen Harrier persecution incidents are detailed (more on that later) included in a section titled ‘Persecution Data’ is the ridiculous disclaimer on Page 29 that

“it must be made clear that where the incident data provided are assigned to a geographical location this does not imply or assign blame to the custodians, landowner, land managers or their operatives.”

So don’t blame the gamekeepers or the landowners for any persecution incidents in the Report that take place on land managed and owned by them? Maybe it’s armed cyclists killing raptors or the notorious hard nuts from the Ramblers Association ‘what dun it’…?

a small bird standing in the middle of a field
Photo by Julian Ackroyd on Unsplash

 

National Parks or just an extension of the grouse shooting industry?

What’s going on? Raptor persecution in the uplands is all about Red Grouse – creating the conditions to farm them and making profits killing them. And our so-called ‘national parks’ (especially in the uplands of the north of England) are dominated by grouse moors and ‘managed’ by the grouse shooting industry which is notoriously reluctant to acknowledge raptor persecution even takes place.

Once you know that, the scant details and shrugging away of blame makes sense. Because the members of the ‘Steering Group’ of the YDBPP (who would be expected to make strategic decisions in response to the report) include the shooting lobby group BASC, the landowning lobby group the Country Land and Business Association, the shooting lobby group National Gamekeepers Association, and landowner and shooting lobby group the Moorland Association.

While the highly-respected Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) are members, the RSPB (who whatever their perceived faults might be are experts at data collation) are not: they left the ‘partnership’ in June 2023 after the Moorland Association ‘modified’ a press release to paint a far rosier picture of the status of raptors in the National Park than reflected events on the ground.

 

Hen Harriers – the truth please!

Shooting’s ‘wilfully blind’ lobbyists have form when it comes to ignoring raptor persecution. As we reported last year, the Moorland Association described grouse shooting in a tweet on August 12th (the Inglorious 12th) as ‘sustainable and enjoyable’ and just two days before that the Countryside Alliance’s clown-in-chief Tim Bonner was telling Daily Express readers how it is ‘conservation that underpins the importance of grouse shooting’.

That (and excuse our language) is absolute bollocks.

Grouse shooting – for numerous reasons (see our Substack post ‘There’s nothing ‘glorious’ about killing grouse’ for some of them) – is neither sustainable nor conservation-based. It is – as any thinking person would be able to easily deduce – about making money from shooting dead a wild bird. And it is not what most people think about when they picture a ‘national park’.

The actual ‘shooting dead’ is underpinned by a host of unsavoury practices including raptor persecution. And Hen Harriers, a raptor now almost entirely confined in the UK to breeding in the uplands, is especially targeted.

It’s staggering that after decades of illegally killing Hen Harriers and other birds of prey, the grouse shooting industry still refuses to acknowledge what the evidence unwaveringly points to: that they are responsible for almost all the raptor persecution that takes place in the UK. The fact is that while the shooting industry has been spinning data from ‘brood meddled’ Hen Harrier nests (part of a ridiculous Natural England where chicks are removed from under the boots of gamekeepers and reared in relative safety somewhere else) satellite-tagged bird after satellite-tagged bird keeps ‘disappearing’ without trace (or in the jargon used in the report “Missing Fate Unknown” – which we can take to mean, ‘We all know what happened but you can’t prove it’…)

The number of Hen Harriers which disappeared inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park in just two years is almost unbelievable – except these are grouse moors so actually it’s all too believable. The YDBPP report does at least list them, laying out the confirmed and suspected ongoing incidents of Hen Harrier persecution within the ‘national park’ (so many as Raptor Persecution UK points out in a blog it “led to the police executing a search warrant on an unnamed grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park around the same time this report was published”).

Female Hen Harrier. Image Shutterstock

To save readers the pain of going through the pages themselves, we will tell you that Table 3 “Details of Satellite tagged Hen Harriers that Died of Natural Causes or Were Missing Fate Unknown Where the Last Known Fix was in the Yorkshire Dales National Park or Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 2022 and 2023lists THIRTEEN birds (just ONE of which died of natural causes: Avian Flu), while Table 4 “Details of Satellite tagged Hen Harriers that Died of Natural Causes or Were Missing Fate Unknown Where the Last Known Fix was either Withheld by the Police or not Published as it was near a sensitive nest site, where the site is likely to be in the Yorkshire Dales National Park or Nidderdale National Landscape in 2022 and 2023lists another TWO (with another with known tag failure where the bird is still alive).

FOURTEEN Hen Harriers – red-listed birds with the highest legal protection and supposedly looked after by grouse moors in return for the ridiculous ‘brood meddling’ deal set up by Natural England which is designed to avoid licencing – dead (or ‘Missing’) in ONE ‘national park’ in just two years.

The pages below these tables make grim reading, especially the account on Page 31 of one nest where a video camera suffered a surprising ‘whiteout’ (for the first and only time) and where field workers subsequently discovered the adult female had removed three dead Hen Harrier chicks. The chicks’ bodies were recovered and

post-mortem examinations of the three chicks were subsequently conducted and showed that each suffered with multiple fractured bones including humerus in one chick, both femurs in the second chick, and in the third chick, the humerus and a crushed skull. The fractures were complete and showed a considerable trauma had taken place for each chick

What conclusion is drawn by this clearly deliberate act? In the sort of language that is both infuriating and typical of so much reporting on wildlife crime, it is that:

“The living status of the chicks, followed by a ‘whiteout’ of the nest camera (possibly by a bright lamp, or something placed in front of the camera) – followed by all chicks being lifeless on the next footage – together with the post-mortem results showing broken bones in all the chicks and a crushed skull, suggests human illegal persecution activity[our highlighting].

Earlier this week we posted a look at The Gentleman, a TV programme created by Guy Ritchie, a shooting estate owner, which features former footballer, convicted thug, and fellow shooting obsessive Vinnie Jones as a lovable, animal-friendly gamekeeper. Better casting would have had him play the much more accurate criminal keeper who creeps up to a nest in the middle of the night and stamps three helpless young birds to death.

 

What next?

So what does the YDBPP intend to do about all these deaths and ‘missing’ birds of prey?

Your guess is as good as ours, because once the lobbyists on the Steering Committee have signed off on laughable sentences like (these are all direct quotes and we’re repeating the first in the light of FOURTEEN Hen Harriers being ‘lost’ to the ‘national park’ in two breeding seasons)…

  • It must be made clear that where the incident data provided are assigned to a geographical location this does not imply or assign blame to the custodians, landowner, land managers or their operatives
  • and you’ve admitted the lack of cooperation between members (and interest) with the line “the persecution of birds of prey can take place in remote locations, where detection and the probability of coming across evidence of a crime are very low
  • and sunk brandies over a deal to ensure that “there is no consistent effort undertaken annually to try and locate any potential incidents

…there really is nowhere else to go. Not without a serious shake-up of members (which won’t happen while the government looks the other way) and commitment to actually respecting the law and protecting wildlife.

It’s shameful. Search each page and there are no plans to rectify this appalling situation. In its defence YDBPP may see ‘evidence gathering’ as a first step – but how many first steps and how many years worth of data and of stating the bleeding obvious (there really is nothing startlingly new here) will it take to acknowledge that it is the grouse shooting industry that is not only persecuting birds of prey but committing really foul and violent acts against them?

 

Time for change – whether they want it or not

With so many lobby groups nestling safely within the YDBPP complacency appears to rule.

But for how much longer…?

The Yorkshire Dales are of course incredibly popular: in 2022 alone the Yorkshire Dales National Park received a total of 6.63 million visitor days, who (allegedly) contributed £427 million to the local economy. TV and film producers are repeatedly drawn to the area for its supposed ‘natural landscapes’ (much of which is actually sheep farms – the park logo is a Swaledale ram – or heavily shot over grouse moors) which in turn promotes the area to potential visitors. Entrenched lobby groups have the ear of Natural England, national media and politicians (the current Tory government barely moves without consulting BASC and the incoming Labour government – presumably looking for the ‘countryside vote’ – has pledged not to interfere with ‘sustainable’ shooting, a meaningless term for most of us, but one repeatedly parroted by anyone with a gun who likes to kill wildlife).

But that doesn’t mean that the ‘grousers’ are immune. There may not be a ‘big bang’ moment of change, more a steady drip – but change is coming.

The shooting groups and landowners that put their names to this ‘report’ may feel that they’ve done enough by just publishing the ‘evidence’ (and ‘cleverly’ distancing themselves from any responsibility for the fact that our national parks include the most notorious raptor persecution hot spots anywhere in the country), but there is a building public resentment that they are still trying to get away with the killing, the destruction, the burning, the noise, and the sheer waste of space.

More and more people are seeing the UK’s ‘national parks’ through more informed eyes. More of us are seeing through the spin and propaganda of lobbyists. More and more of us are demanding that ‘national parks’ should stand for something better than vast shooting ranges in the most spectacular of UK landscapes. More and more of us want wildlife to be protected, and if the land has to be managed then it should be managed for biodiversity – which includes a full suite of the predators (from raptors to foxes and mustelids) that indicate a healthy ecosystem. Crucially, the climate crisis is here, right now (years earlier than most of us expected) and areas like the Yorkshire Dales will only become more important – not just to wildlife, but to us too.

  • The days of the shooting industry running national parks (and running them into the ground) are limited, and even though they won’t admit it on paper they know it.

(Still not convinced about the state of our ‘national parks’? It’s well worth reading the excellent ‘Health Check’ report from Campaign for National Parks for the reality).

 


Peak District National Park Campaign

While this article focuses on the Yorkshire Dales National Park, it’s not the only one of England’s ‘crown jewels’ to be scarred by shooting and wildlife crime. Much of the Peak District National Park – another raptor persecution hot spot – is owned, managed, burnt, and shot over by wealthy landowners like the Duke of Rutland and Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland (the latter lives in a stately home near Peterborough and runs the Fitzwilliam Hunt).

Protect the Wild is determined to highlight the state of the Peak District National Park and support protest movements like ‘Rewild Our Moors’. We will be launching a new campaign this summer with a focus on grouse shooting, raptor persecution, moorland burning, trapping and snaring, and the staggeringly depleted biodiversity on the shooting estates that make up so much of this ‘national park’.

We are pulling our plans together at the moment and will be writing more in the months to come.