The campaign group Birders Against Wildlife Crime has launched a crowdfunding appeal to help support a new project to fit satellite tags to raptors in northern England, set to begin later this year.
Satellite tagging has revolutionised efforts to detect raptor
persecution crimes, and has also helped draw public attention to the
illegal killing of raptors. The power of satellite-tagging was really
first realised in 2009 when a young satellite-tagged golden eagle,
‘Alma’, was found dead on a grouse moor on the Millden Estate in the
Angus Glens. She’d been poisoned. It’s highly unlikely her corpse would
have been detected had she not been fitted with a satellite tag, which
allowed investigators to pinpoint her body as she lay face down in a
vast expanse of heather moorland. The resulting publicity about her
death was phenomenal, and even though nobody was ever prosecuted, this
crime turned the spotlight on to an industry that had escaped scrutiny
for so long.
Since Alma, there have been many other illegally-killed raptors,
including golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, hen harriers, Montagu’s
harriers and red kites whose satellite tags have given the game away.
These days, the raptor killers are wise to the game and now it’s far
more common for a sat-tagged bird to simply ‘disappear’, with all the
evidence (carcass, sat tag) simply destroyed to avoid detection,
although occasionally there won’t be a ‘clean kill’ and the wounded bird
is able to move some distance before succumbing to its injuries and
investigators are able to collect the corpse, conduct a post mortem and
record it as a confirmed persecution crime.
Some within the grouse-shooting industry have recently been trying to
discredit the use of raptor satellite tags, and it’s not hard to see
why. They’ve slurred the professional reputations of highly experienced
and licensed raptor researchers and have used some photographs of a
young golden eagle with what appears to have a ‘slipped’ tag harness as
evidence that the tagging experts don’t know what they’re doing. Now, of
course, it’s possible for a sat tag harness to slip, and it does happen
on occasion, but it’s a rare occurrence. What the accusers don’t
mention is the circumstantial evidence that suggests tagged raptors are
being caught inside crow cage traps, providing an opportunity for the
trap operator to cut one of the harness straps before releasing the
bird, with its tag now dangling and looking like it has been badly
fitted. There is also evidence of at least one tagged hen harrier being
trapped, its harness removed and transferred to a free-ranging corvid,
presumably with the intention of disguising the fact the hen harrier was
Strangely, the grouse shooting industry has not tried to vilify the
satellite tagging of non-raptor species, such as woodcock (GWCT project)
or cuckoos (BTO project); it’s only the tagging of raptors they seem to
object to. Can’t think why.
Here’s a photo (taken by Stephen Murphy) of Bowland Betty, a
sat-tagged hen harrier found dead on a grouse moor on the Swinton Estate
in Yorkshire in 2012. A post mortem revealed she had been shot.
The new raptor satellite-tagging project in northern England is being
undertaken by highly experienced and licensed experts in an independent
research consortium (all voluntary – no salaries are being paid). The
beauty of this independence is that sat tag data will be put in to the
public domain very, very quickly. No more waiting for weeks/months/years
to find out what happened, which will allow timely and targeted
publicity every time one of these raptors ‘disappears’ or is found
shot/trapped/poisoned. Greater public awareness of raptor persecution is
key to bringing it to an end.
The crowdfunding target is to reach £10,000 by mid-March. It’s
ambitious but it’s do-able. If you’d like to make a donation, however
small or large, please visit BAWC’s crowdfunding page HERE