Male hen harrier in flight, dive bombing intruder at nest. Sutherland, Scotland

A day in the life of David Hunt

Here's an insight into David Hunt's life as an RSPB Investigations Officer in the north of England.

A day in my life...

'I'm responsible for monitoring hen harriers and acting on anything that looks suspicious relating to birds of prey. On this day I'd received reports of a hen harrier in the Peak District. I drove to the area, and started hiking up a hill.

Halfway up, I got a call about an email from a member of the public. They had reported three illegal pole traps on a moor in the Yorkshire Dales, in an area known for hen harriers.

Pole traps

Pole traps are nasty things. They have been illegal to use for over 100 years and are almost certainly intended for birds of prey. The spring-loaded traps are legal when properly covered over, but the use of them exposed on a pole is illegal. When a bird lands on the trap base plate, the trap snaps shut, causing the bird to be killed or very seriously injured.

We responded to the member of the public to see if they had any further evidence. Further photos were sent to us and then we were positive they were pole traps.

Our next step was to go out and investigate. The pole traps were in the middle of a moor in Yorkshire, and I was out in the Peak District, an hour from my car. The moor was about 2 1/2 hours drive away. It was a Friday, at around 3.30 pm. I called my wife and told her I wouldn’t be home for tea.

What did we do?

In this kind of situation we have to drop everything. I met my team and we made a plan on the way. The pole traps were on a driven grouse moor, in a remote location. We figured it was around 45 minutes walk from where we'd park the car – and we'd need to get there without being seen.

By now it was 7 pm, so we needed to take the quickest route across the moor, without being seen by gamekeepers or estate workers. We crossed a few tracks that these people use, but luckily, no one saw us.

Finally, we came across the three pole traps. Two had been made safe by the finder, but one was still set to catch, so we made it safe. Then, we had to take detailed measurements of the traps, so they could be used as evidence. We needed intricate details including measurements and photographs, so we could identify that exact trap again if necessary.

We then set up two covert video cameras in order to obtain an accurate identification of the perpetrator. After leaving the cameras to record, we headed back to the car. I got home around 1 am.

After the weekend

We left the traps over the weekend, and arranged to return on Monday evening. This time, we were dropped off, so that our car wasn't seen twice in the same location.

Three of us walked across the moor, hoping most of the estate workers had gone home. At the site we found all three pole traps had been reset. It was clear the perpetrator had returned.

We went to the cameras and reviewed the footage, which showed a man resetting the traps. This gave us all the evidence we needed, so we made the traps safe again, and started to leave.

It was around 9 pm. Suddenly, in the darkness, I thought I saw something. Looking again, a vehicle was slowly driving along a track below us, with no lights on.

We shrunk away and hid on the ground for the next hour, until the driver left.

The next day we presented all the evidence to the police, who accompanied us to the site – now a crime scene. The police seized the three traps and viewed the video evidence. We were highly encouraged by the efforts of the police on the ground. The case was now in their hands.

What happened?

He got away with a caution, which was frustrating given the severe nature of the crime and the continuing targeting of raptors in our uplands. Our best eyes and ears are members of the public, so part of my job is also to educate people about what to look out for when they're out and about.

The job is fantastic, rewarding, and frustrating, but if we weren't doing it, then no one would be doing it and many more birds of prey would die. You never know what's going to happen – things just come out of the blue, then we have to drop everything.

I love it.'

- David Hunt, RSPB Investigations Officer

How you can help

Hen harrier adult male in flight, carrying heather twigs to nest, Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve

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