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Hen harrier confirmed shot in Yorkshire

11/12/2012 14:14:18

The Hen harrier, that fledged on the Forest of Bowland, was fitted with a GPS transmitter. Photo credit RSPB

Cutting-edge science used to reveal bird of prey persecution

December 2012. The battle to save England's most threatened nesting bird of prey from illegal persecution is going increasingly high-tech as a technique used for the first time in the UK confirms that a female hen harrier which was found dead in the Yorkshire Dales, North Yorkshire, had been shot.

GPS tracking revealed bird has stopped moving
Conservationists were monitoring the bird - which had been fitted with a satellite tag - remotely as it ranged across the uplands of Scotland and northern England earlier this year. Concern for the bird was raised in late June when satellite data indicated the bird was stationary. The bird's body was recovered from a moorland area managed for grouse shooting in the Yorkshire Dales by Stephen Murphy of Natural England on 5 July 2012.

Police investigation
The bird's death is being investigated by North Yorkshire Police. RSPB data and government poisoning data shows the Yorkshire Dales is a national black spot for persecution, with at least 20 birds of prey having been illegally poisoned, shot or trapped between 2007 and 2011.

Raptor persecution in Yorkshire

Between 2007 and 2011 (inclusive), figures compiled by the RSPB confirm the illegal poisoning, shooting or trapping of at least 20 birds of prey in the Yorkshire Dales. These incidents include: 10 poisoned red kites; four poisoned buzzards; two shot red kites; two shot buzzards; a shot kestrel; and a trapped sparrowhawk. In addition there were four incidents involving the discovery of poisoned baits and a number of dogs were also poisoned.

The hen harrier is a rare nesting bird in England with only one pair nesting successfully in 2012. Government studies have shown that the uplands of England could support over 300 pairs and that the principal reason for the bird's perilous state is illegal persecution associated with grouse shooting.

Scientific breakthrough
The post mortem by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) showed the bird had a fractured left leg and would have died as a result of these injuries. An X-ray showed the presence of three tiny metallic fragments at the fracture site, and it was suspected the bird had been shot, but this could not be confirmed. However, using a scientific technique never before deployed in a UK wildlife crime case, scientists from UCL, Stanmore, were able to photograph a cross-section of the leg bone and analyse one of the fragments. This analysis confirmed the particle had entered the leg bone and that it was composed primarily of lead.

Martin Harper is the RSPB's conservation director. Commenting on this case, he said: "Information from a satellite transmitter, a detailed post mortem - supported by cutting-edge scientific analysis - adds weight to our belief that hen harriers continue to be subject to determined effort to eradicate them from our countryside.

"We need the Government, its conservation and enforcement agencies to step up to the challenge of securing the future of hen harriers in England. The problem of persecution is well understood - we need Government to bring solutions to the table via an emergency recovery plan. The first step is for ministers to confirm long-term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit - it is essential that the UK maintains a national centre of expertise in tackling wildlife crime."

Forest of Bowland

A female hen harrier - one of the last individuals from the tiny English population - came from a nest last year in the Forest of Bowland, in Lancashire. The bird - christened ‘Bowland Betty' - had been fitted with a satellite tag to record its movements. Data from the tag revealed that the bird had wandered widely in England and Scotland, before being gunned down in North Yorkshire.

The RSPB's Jude Lane works with hen harriers in the Forest of Bowland. Commenting on the news, she said: "Devastated! That's how I feel about this news. I was privileged to have been present when she had her satellite tag fitted. I also had the honour of placing her back in the nest once the job had been done. As I placed her back in the nest with her siblings that day, I made sure to wish her luck: it's tragic that her luck ran out. I feel privileged to have known Betty in her short life. She must not be allowed to have died in vain."

Bob Elliot, the RSPB's head of investigations, said: "The hen harrier has become so rare that obtaining evidence of persecution has become very difficult, demonstrating the importance of cutting-edge techniques. The person who shot this bird must have realised they would be bringing the hen harrier one step closer to oblivion as a breeding bird in England."

The RSPB is offering a reward of £1000 for anyone with information leading to a conviction. People with information can contact the North Yorkshire police or a confidential hotline: 0845 4663636.

Read the comments about this article and leave your own comment

reasons to ban hunting?

I have never considered campaigning for the banning of shooting game birds because, after all, captive bred birds shot for sport have no wildlife conservation significance but when the sport is directly responsible for the destruction and extinction of our native birds and other wildlife it raises the question should the sport of hunting be banned in the UK? I have no doubt that it is purely the economic argument and the fact that so many wealthy landowners benefit from hunting that keeps it going. But for how long? How long will the British people tolerate the indiscriminate killing of our native wildlife to protect the hunting rights of wealthy landowners?

Posted by: Karen Bradbury | 28 Jan 2013 09:40:08

and still these moronic subhumans try to justify holding gun licenses. no one sees any thing, hears anything, knows no one. ??

Posted by: dee donworth | 15 Dec 2012 16:39:50

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