Our recent article Brink of Extinction: Harrier Numbers in England Crash drew scathing comment on claims made by Lancashire’s Police Wildlife Crime Officer, Duncan Thomas, from one of Britain’s most respected Hen Harrier Scientists, Brian Etheridge.
Mr. Etheridge wrote:
“I find it incredulous that a police officer, so firmly entrenched in game shooting world, should be employed as a WCO in a region notorious for raptor persecution. That he is now suggesting in the Shooting press that it is food supply or other natural factors that is responsible for the poor Hen Harrier breeding results of 2009 is farcical!
All of the research that has been carried out (or is currently underway) on raptor populations in Scotland (Golden Eagle, Red Kite, Hen Harrier, Peregrine) single out persecution on driven grouse-moors as the single most important limiting factor. This management regime for red grouse thrives only when keepers kill all animals and birds that can faintly be implicated in the predation of grouse – if it has claws or a hooked beak, it dies! The question that needs to be asked is should we allow a management regime to thrive and dominate vast areas of heather moorland in Britain when it is only viable through the illegal destruction of scarce and protected species and their nests? The fact that many of the estates involved in this criminal activity or employing the criminal gamekeepers carrying it out, are also in receipt of huge financial grants from the public purse in support of their forestry and farming activities, needs further to be questioned. If we think it is bad now, it is going to get a lot worse when Cameron gets in! “
Further evidence of the Wildlife Crime Officer’s preoccupation with unsupported and misleading claims were published by the Shooting Times in June 2007 when PC.Thomas wrote:
“I would love to detail the many success stories and to name the gamekeepers and estates that “constantly” produce “quality” numbers of Hen Harriers and other sensitive species.”
PC Thomas has now been challenged to provide evidence of his erroneous claim that estates in Bowland constantly produce quality numbers of Hen Harriers. We will even provide maximum latitude by extending our request outside the Forest of Bowland to include the whole of England, providing PC Thomas with room for maneuver.We doubt that even Harry Houdini himself could bring to life “Hen Harriers” that have never existed.
In Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland this year there were 10 confirmed breeding attempts made by Hen Harriers, but only 4 nests were successful, fledging a total of just 10 chicks. This represents an average of just a single chick per nesting attempt. It has already been reported on this web site that one nest containing the corpses of 3 chicks was recorded as natural predation by a fox according to PC Thomas. Curiously instead of interviewing and taking witness statements from two of Northern England’s foremost Hen Harrier experts, who had each been monitoring the progress of this nest for several weeks, PC Thomas conveniently decided to close his investigation without making contact with the two conservationists.
If further evidence was needed we have also reported on this web site the fact that PC.Thomas was far too pre-ocupied in 2008 and this year to investigate the failure of several peregrine nests on Grouse moors in Bowland which had been reported to him. If incidents being reported are never investigated by the police, they would understandably not show up in any crime related statistics.
On one moorland area in Bowland this year, just 4 peregrine chicks fledged from 4 ground nesting territories. The four nests containing between them 14 eggs. At one of the sites, just as the clutch of eggs were hatching, a helicopter was used by the estate to air-lift tons of fencing materials onto the moor close to where the ground nest had been established. Curiously, the largest consignment of fencing poles and wire fencing was deposited just 40 metres away from the nest. Had the work not been stopped following the intervention of the local raptor group, instead of two eggs being blown out of the nest by the down-wash from the helicopter blades, there was a reasonable chance all 4 chicks would have died instead of just 2. On this occasion PC. Thomas did visit the site to make his own expert assessment and having reviewed all the facts the officer concluded nothing suspicious had taken place. As expected the case was closed. Perhaps the decision taken had more to do with saving face and protecting the interests of the shooting landowner.
We in the North West of England are no longer surprised by anything this officer says or does, or – in the case of investigating raptor persecution – doesn’t do. We weren’t surprised when the pair of Eagle Owls deserted their nest when he insisted on marking their eggs against the best advice of genuine conservation workers, nor were we surprised when he failed to interview crucial witnesses after the recent Hen Harrier fiasco on United Utilities land before closing down that case also.
“Such is our lack of confidence in Officer Thomas that regrettably we won’t be surprised when the next case of raptor persecution is reported to him he fails to investigate that one professionally too.”