GUEST BLOG: Jude Lane on the death of a hen harrier

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GUEST BLOG: Jude Lane on the death of a hen harrier

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I have asked our Bowland Project Officer, Jude Lane (pictured), to offer her personal perspective on the death of a hen harrier known as Bowland Betty.  The hen harrier was recovered from a moorland area managed for grouse shooting in the Yorkshire Dales by Stephen Murphy of Natural England on 5 July 2012.  The bird’s death is being investigated by North Yorkshire Police.  Information from a satellite transmitter, a detailed post mortem carried out by the Zoological Society of London helped to prove that the bird had been shot.  Yet more evidence that hen harriers continue to be subject to determined effort to eradicate them from our countryside.  Enough is enough.  We need action now.  Read Jude's personal account and please do support her calls for urgent action by the Government.

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Those of you who followed the Skydancer blog over the spring/summer this year will have been familiar with hearing about the exploits of the female hen harrier 74843 or Bowland Betty as she was known to us locally.

The reason I've been unable to provide you with regular updates since my last post in June is because in July, Betty was found dead in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. She was recovered by the North Yorkshire Police and Natural England after fixes from her tag indicated that something was wrong and since then the Zoological Society London have been undertaking state of the art tests to determine the cause of her death.

We've just received the results, which confirm that she was shot and that the resulting injury was directly responsible for her death.

Gutted. That's how I feel at this news. I was privileged enough to have been present when she had her sat tag fitted. I also had, what I felt to be, 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; silly as it may sound it's something I always do. The natural world is a harsh place for young harriers, even without any threat from illegal persecution. So, superstitious as I may be, in my mind they need all the luck they can get.

Betty was the first harrier I had 'known' to have had a satellite transmitter fitted. I, like so many others had watched her grow from a little (kind of ugly if I'm honest!) vulnerable white ball of down to a fine young female via video footage recorded at her nest in 2011. The prospect of being able to follow her progress for the next few years and learn a little more about hen harrier behaviour from a bird I had actually held was incredibly exciting. 

Normally I never know whether the young birds that have fledged from nests I have monitored survive or not, so knowing she had made it through the winter was fantastic and had me hoping that she would go on to fledge broods of harriers herself, maybe even on the United Utilities estate this year.

In my mind, Betty was England's symbol of hope for hen harriers. She had become quite the celebrity here in Bowland and indeed across northern England, with almost everyone I came in contact with asking what she was up to. No satellite tagged females have ever proved so mobile, especially during the breeding season, so the information she was providing us with was not only entertaining but incredibly valuable. It angers me that someone has taken the life of this beautiful creature and with it our ability to understand more about the behaviours of these incredible birds.

I want the death of Betty, the young bird I was privileged enough to hold in my hands, to have significance. It already has by proving that hen harrier persecution is still occurring - we need Government and its agencies to use this knowledge to redouble efforts to protect and ensure the recovery of this species.

If Betty's death is to have a silver lining, it must be in persuading the Government to take illegal persecution seriously and to act to bring this intolerable Victorian practice to an end. We urgently need Government to implement an emergency recovery plan to bring the hen harrier back from the brink, as extinction in England for a second time beckons. A vital first step is to ensure that the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which works to ensure the laws protecting birds of prey are enforced, has a future beyond this March.

Like so many people, I feel privileged to have known betty in her short life. Her sad, untimely death may not be in vain if it means other young hen harriers avoid a similar fate.

  • The government are, it seems, actually doing something. I wrote to my MP on this issue and his reply included details of and Early Day Motion which he had signed, details of which can be seen here www.parliament.uk/.../603. If this runs its course without being watered down it could do some good, but predictably there is as yet no mention anywhere of the prosecution of land owners for ordering the persecution in the first place (as hard as that would be to prove...).

  • The government are, it seems, actually doing something. I wrote to my MP on this issue and his reply included details of and Early Day Motion which he had signed, details of which can be seen here www.parliament.uk/.../603. If this runs its course without being watered down it could do some good, but predictably there is as yet no mention anywhere of the prosecution of land owners for ordering the persecution in the first place (as hard as that would be to prove...).

  • As this bird was found in the recording area of our small local club some of us feel very angry and helpless over this case.Having watched these moors for more years than I care to remember I do not think this is the first case of raptor persecution in this  area.The local police and others have an almost hopeless task in trying to find a culprit for this and others,in fact if the bird had not been tagged the body may never have been found as the area is little walked.

  • I sympathise deeply with Jude Lane and remain outraged that the 'hobby' of a rich few can result in the imminent extinction of the Hen Harrier in England. It's going to take a mammoth effort by all concerned to change this culture - until we take the rich to task for their shenanigans, nothing will change. By this I mean a fundamental change in the way the world works, as in George Monbiot's book 'The Age of Consent - a Manifesto for a New World Order'. Printed in 2003, I recommend everyone read this tome - if nothing else, it could generate new ways of thinking in the conservation movement.

  • Richmondbirder firstly there are no more in the countryside who consider it their right to shoot these birds than there are in towns,it is in general a small number of gamekeepers doing this some of whom come from towns but are doing the deed on behalf of rich estate owners almost always brought up in towns.

    Think the police report just states that a particle of lead recovered from leg bone.The fact is that almost certainly other lead shot did the killing and it was shot in that area.

    Fact is although V L would not solve this problem it would certainly help and you never get the answer in one big step you have to do it in small steps and V L  would help pave the way for further steps.

    As a country dweller your comment is almost abusive where you state incorrectly"The countryside is full etc etc".If you had put other words there like black and lots of other words it would be regarded as racist.

  • Sooty, from the police report, it appears Betty died as a result of a broken leg. She could have flown many, many miles before dying miserably of pain and starvation. Therein lies the problem with enforcement of existing legislation. Unless the crime was witnessed by someone prepared to talk, there can be no successful prosecution, particularly without vicarious liability.  The only real solution to this problem that I can see is education and vilification. The countryside is full of people who have been brought up to regard the shooting of 'vermin' as normal, essential, even a right. Until that is changed there is little hope in a reduction of these incidents.

  • It is all very sad and represents a big blot on this country. It is disgraceful that Governments should not take decisive action to stamp out this illegal persecution once and for all. (Again it reflects badly on our politicians like so many other cases). As you say Martin action is urgently needed and I know the RSPB wil be doing everything it can. Having said that, an overall strategy is need to bring the Hen Harrier back to England. I wonder as part of that strategy a reintroduction programme (similar to the Ospreys at Rutland Water) would be worth considering, to places like the New Forest, and the Dorset Heathlands, where shooting is presumably much less intense if at all. Although the Hen Harrier is naturally thought of as a northern gouse moor species this may not necessarily be have been the case in the distant past. It may have occured quite widely over much of the heathlands of southern England. (What is the information on that point?). Such a reintroduction programme would, in no way, be a substitute for riding the hen harrier of its current persecution on northern grouse moors but merely a further branch of the overall recovery strategy of this iconic bird.

  • It is also worth pointing out that this incident completes a tragic hat-trick by being the third confirmed hen harrier shooting in just 5 months - one each for England, Scotland and Ireland.

  • Just shows the contempt for,Hen Harriers,Bird Organisations,Police and the law these people have.They must have been within a few yards of the bird to kill it I feel sure and did not bother removing bird or tag so sure were they of carrying on their killing without prosecution.