On 11 September 2018 a local runner witnessed a short-eared owl flying overhead, followed by what sounded like gunshots. The following morning she returned to the spot, near Wessenden Head, in the northern Peak District, on land owned by the National Trust. She found the bird on the ground, still alive. It was taken to a vet but had to be euthanized due to its injuries, which included a shattered wing.
Then on 1 October the dead body of a tawny owl was discovered close to where the short-eared owl was found (off National Trust Land).
Post-mortems revealed the tawny owl had been illegally shot, and that the short-eared owl’s injuries were also consistent with shooting. The incidents were reported to the RSPB, who informed the police, and an investigation was launched.
All birds of prey and owls are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.
The runner who saw the short-eared owl said: “I had just got back to my car when I suddenly saw a short-eared owl fly over my head – it’s always fantastic to see one of these gorgeous birds. This however was followed by the sound of a gunshots, coming from the direction of a dark-coloured pickup. I really hoped this wasn’t aimed at the owl I’d just seen.
“The next morning I returned to the same spot and, there on the ground, was a short-eared owl, still alive but clearly wounded. I was so upset but also furious to think that someone had done this on purpose.”
Short-eared owls are in long-term decline in the UK and on the ‘amber’ list of conservation concern. They breed primarily in Northern England and Scotland.
Jenny Shelton, RSPB Investigations Liaison Officer, said: “It’s very disturbing that owls are being illegally shot in our oldest National Park. Short-eared owls are beautiful birds and should be a celebrated, not persecuted. They are part of a healthy ecosystem and part of our national heritage. I would urge everyone who uses the countryside to be vigilant of bird of prey persecution, and to report anything suspicious to the police immediately.”
Craig Best, Countryside Manager for the National Trust in West Yorkshire, said: “It’s really frustrating to hear that this has happened on our land at Marsden Moor. It’s been a difficult year for moorland across the North of England, not least the considerable fire damage in the summer which destroyed precious habitats for species like the short-eared owl. These mindless acts are cruel and unnecessary. Our volunteers and staff are keeping a close watch out and we’d urge anyone with information about this incident to report it to the police.”
The northern ‘Dark Peak’ is a known black spot for raptor persecution, with many incidents having been reported to the police and the RSPB in recent years.
In September 2018 a climber witnessed a red kite being shot out of the sky near Saddleworth Moor. And a scientific paper published in May 2018 recently confirmed the connection between bird of prey persecution and driven grouse shooting in the Peak District National Park. This showed that the populations of two raptor species – goshawks and peregrines – were declining in the northern Peak District where driven grouse shooting was most intensive, but increasing in the southern Peak District where there was very little driven grouse shooting.
West Yorkshire Police have made extensive local enquiries and patrols in the area in an attempt to identify the vehicle and any individuals involved.
If you have any information relating to this incident, call West Yorkshire Police on 101 quoting police log number 1742 11/09/2018.
If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form
To share information about raptor persecution in your community in confidence, please call the Raptor Crime Hotline: 0300 999 0101.
Last Updated: Monday 31 May 2021