The problems being caused by Raptor Politics in the UK.

The North West Raptor Protection Group (NWRPG) was Britain’s first conservation organisation of its kind established in 1967 specifically created to monitor and protect bird of prey populations in the N W of England. Forty Four years ago because it was estimated only seven breeding pairs of peregrines remained in the North West of England a dedicated group of local experts came together in an attempt to combat any further decline. In the total absence on the ground in those early days of organisations like the RSPB, the few occupied peregrine territories remaining were particularly vulnerable to persecution and robberies.

In this pioneering period licences did not exist and therefore anyone could legally disturb breeding birds of prey at their nest, entering nests without fear of any form of legal retribution or personal vendetta by gamekeepers. When licences were introduced in the mid 1970’s under the auspices of the Nature Conservancy Council in England, rather than providing assistance to the experienced raptor worker and improved security for nesting birds of prey, particularly hen harrier, goshawk and peregrine, persecution by gamekeepers who did not require a licence of these species increased. Additional problems were encountered when unreasonable restrictive licence conditions were enclosed in the licenses issued to a number of independent field workers for example in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire.

One of the most counter productive ongoing problems facing raptor field workers who ring nestling birds of prey at the nest has for many decades been ignored because the rule contained in the BTO members handbook is simple counter productive and harmful to most raptor species. The BTO rule stipulates before a licensed ringer can ring any nestlings at the nest the approval of the landowner must first be obtained. What utter nonsense, just imagine what would happen after asking a landowner who owns a grouse moor for approval to ring for example, hen harrier, peregrine, goshawk or short-eared owl, or golden eagle if in Scotland. In most cases the reply would be no and almost certainly this request would result in the destruction not only of the nest content, but also the eradication of the adult birds as well..  

In 1984 shortly after the RSPB had established a small admin presence in the Forest of Bowland on estates then owned by North West Water, (now United Utilities), the North West Raptor Protection Group received a letter from the RSPB informing group members the Society had decided to disband the group because in their words, “the peregrine was no longer regarded as a threatened species and therefore their protection was no longer a financial priority”. The Licensing Authority then advised the group they were withdrawing disturbance licenses they had previously issued to the NWRPG for use in the Forest of Bowland. It was only after intervention by Dr. Derek Ratcliffe, the Former Chief Scientist at the Nature Conservancy Council licenses were reinstated for use within this region by group members.

Throughout the last twenty-five years the NWRPG have experienced more problems with the Government’s Statutory Wildlife Advisor than with any difficulties caused by estate gamekeepers or their employers in this period. It appeared licenses, particularly the conditions being placed within them, are being manipulated by Natural England to hinder or undermine field work being carried out by the NWRPG on moorland owned by United Utilities in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland.

Natural England’s recent decision to withhold licenses normally issued to the NWRPG for use on moorland owned by United Utilities strongly suggest this was undertaken for political rather than any logical reason, for example to conserve or protect raptors. There is no doubt United Utilities have been embarrassed by recent publicity published on this web site detailing nest failures and the disappearance of both eggs and chicks from several peregrine nests on moorland owned by this water utility company.

Natural England’s decision to withhold licenses normally issued to members of the NWRPG at the request United Utilities, Bowland’s largest landowner’s, has now established a precedent providing the RSPB with a licensed monopoly within this region. Significantly it was pioneering field work undertaken by the NWRPG over 30 years ago which first alerted the RSPB to the widespread persecution of protected raptors taking place in the Forest of Bowland in the first place.

After the death of one Bowland estate owner and subsequent sale of his estate to its present owner in the mid 1980’s, extensive persecution uncovered by the NWRPG resulted in the loss of twelve nesting pairs of hen harriers in less than four years together with the destruction of countless peregrine eyries throughout this single estate. This incriminating detail had been carefully recorded and then submitted to the Licensing Authority within licence returns the NWRPG were required to submit at the end of each season to the Licensing Authority. Following a complaint made by the estate owner to the Licensing Authority regarding trespass on moorland he owned by members of the NWRPG, licenses issued to the NWRPG were amended to include a restrictive covenant preventing their use on this shooting estate covering up the criminal activity taking place. The covenant was only removed from licenses held by members of the NWRPG once the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) became law in September 2004.

A number of years ago a malicious letter of complaint written by two estate gamekeepers was sent to the Licensing Authority falsely alleging one member of the NWRPG had visited a peregrine nest without landowner consent during the breeding season. The following season, the licence normally granted to this particular field worker was withheld without informing him or asking for any explanation between the letters receipt and the following spring. The licence was only reinstated after the intervention by the Labour MP for Workington Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours when the MP had asked a question in the House of Commons on behalf of this particular person.

In June 1991 Paul Stott and Carl Smith two experienced and highly respected members of the NWRPG decided to visit a peregrine territory in a remote region of Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland at which they had never previously observed in their life-time a nest containing live peregrine chicks. The nest in question had a terrible history of peregrine persecution going back as far as 1947 when in that year estate gamekeepers shot two adult nesting peregrines and destroyed a clutch of 4 eggs.

Having walked several miles across moorland to reach the nesting valley both Paul and Carl were surprised but delighted when they discovered the territory was still occupied by nesting peregrines. Content with viewing the nest positioned on a heather covered cliff face almost 300 metres away through binoculars, the two raptor enthusiasts quickly located the occupied eyrie containing two well-developed chicks. Both birds were observed standing on the edge of their eyrie on a small sand stone ledge above a small stream running below the cliff on the far side of the nesting valley. For some curious reason that season the Licensing Officer had not renewed Paul and Carl’s disturbance licenses. Bearing in mind the possibility of causing disturbance to the nesting falcons the two men were prevented from preceding any closer to the nest. Acting responsibly Paul and Carl had waited until almost the end of the breeding season before deciding to visit the nesting valley to ensure their presence caused no harm at that time to the falcons.

As both individuals were just about to leave the valley highly delighted and satisfied at what they had observed in the few minutes observing the two chicks, the adult falcons began to alarm call in the sky above their eyrie as two men appeared on top of the nesting cliff. Clearly the appearance so close to the nest of the two intruding individuals, identified as RSPB wardens, was the cause of the disturbance. To aviod an unnecessary confrontation Paul and Carl decided to leave the valley returning across the moor for a second time to where they had parked their vehicle a few hours earlier.

The day’s excitement was not over by any means, the fire-works were just beginning. Although Paul and Carl had acted sensibly and their actions had been undertaken within the law, the two wardens standing at the top of the nesting cliff then contacted the police, blaming the disturbance they had caused on Paul and Carl. Unbelievably the police were encouraged by the RSPB to mobilise several police vehicles together with half a dozen officers from two local police stations in a mammoth moorland man hunt initiated to apprehend Paul and Carl on their way home.

Cutting a complicated and very fascinating story very short, missing out the police road block set up to apprehend the two reported assumed nest disturbers; the assault by one police officer on Paul at the road block; Paul and Carl’s detention in the Garstang police station without due and correct process until nearly midnight at which point they were allowed to go home without charges being brought. The sudden and untimely death of one police officer involved after suffering a heart attack at the age of 35 years just one month prior to the case against Paul and Carl being heard in court. The tragic death of Paul Stott several years later from a brain tumour many friends believe was the direct result of the stress he endured throughout the four-day court trial.

Several months after being detailed and interviewed at Garstang police station in June, based upon statements the police had been provided by the RSPB wardens, the homes of Paul and Carl were raided in the middle of the night by two groups of police officers armed with sworn search warrants. The police then proceeded to vigorously search both properties removing maps, copies of licence returns which had been submitted to the Licensing Authority over many years (a licence condition). Bird watching diaries were also confiscated containing numerous recorded incidents of raptor persecution collated from shooting estates in the Forest of Bowland over two decades. The police even seized a note book containing poems associated with raptors written by Paul Stott. After several hours of intensive searching both houses, finding nothing incriminating, the police left taking with them the items they had decided to confiscate to justify perhaps their actions.

The police quickly realised their mistake after Dale Campbell-Savours, Labour MP for Workington once again came to the rescue of both group members, speaking up on their behalf. In addition Dr. Derek Ratcliffe provided his support verifying for the credibility of Paul and Carl. Indeed Dr. Ratcliffe pays particular tribute to Paul Stott’s field work within his now legendary book “The Peregrine Falcon”.

In several unsuccessful attempts to protect their future careers the two police officers involved in this case failed to persuade Paul and Carl to accept official cautions to bring the matter to a final conclusion. The police believing initially information they had received from RSPB witnesses eventually were given no other option but to pass the file to the Crown Prosecution Service who then unbelievably instigated criminal proceedings against Paul and Carl.

Most of the 6 charges brought by the CPS were dismissed by the court almost immediately, including a charge of being in possession of prohibited items, the maps, diaries and bird watching notes. A charge of causing the disturbance of four un-hatched peregrine eggs based upon notes taken from Paul’s diary was also dismissed when the solicitor acting for the two raptor workers successfully argued it was an impossibility to disturb an inanimate object such as un-hatched eggs.

As already mentioned above, previous support provided by Mr Dale Campbell-Savours regarding the inappropriate removal of licenses by the Licensing Authority resulted in their reinstatement after the MP had asking a question in the House of Commons. The RSPB determined not make the same mistake a second time contacted a second Labour MP (a BTO ringer) seeking his support to make sure both Paul and Carl were convicted. It appears the Society thought their Member of Parliament could persuaded Dale Campbell-Savours not to provide any additional assistance in the case being brought against Paul and Carl. Dr. Ratcliffe was also contacted by the society prior to the court case to discover if the former Nature Conservancy Council’s Chief Scientist intended to provide his personal support in court on behalf of both group members. After one of the two police officers involved in this case admitted under cross-examination “that in his opinion the case against Paul and Carl had been politically motivated” the case against the two group members was dismissed and costs awarded in their favour.

It was very amusing on the last day of the four-day trial held at Clitheroe magistrates, just when the court was about to deliver the verdict, a number of RSPB wardens sitting in the court were observed holding a magnum of champing, presumably which they had intended to use to celebrate a successful conviction in this case. How disappointed they were after Paul and Carl’s justified acquittal.

For the record it is very important to add that the upstanding Member of Parliament relied upon by the RSPB to look after their interests was non other than The Rt. Hon. Elliott Morley, formally the Minister for the Environment in the last Blair Government, the very same disgraced MP who was this week sentenced to sixteen months in prison for expenses fraud. The upstanding RSPB warden who caused all the nonsense in the first place is presently the Chairman of the North of England Raptor Forum, non other than Mr. Paul Irving.

Just in case any readers from abroad are not familiar with why this former disgraced Labour Environment Minister was sent to prison recently and is now doing sixteen months bird in prison, we have enclosed the details below for information.

Morley, a former Labour environment minister, pleaded guilty last month to claiming more than £30,000 in bogus mortgage payments.

He entered two guilty pleas for false accounting relating to his home in Winterton, near Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, between 2004 and 2007.

Morley was sentenced at London’s Southwark Crown Court.

A Labour Party spokesman said: “Elliot Morley had already been suspended from the Labour Party and following his custodial sentence he has now been excluded from the party.”

Morley, who appeared flushed throughout the hearing, showed no emotion as the sentence was delivered.



7 comments to The problems being caused by Raptor Politics in the UK.

  • John Miles

    Having been one of the witnesses in the trial along with other well known conservationists like Geoff Horne in favour of Carl and Paul all those years ago, it is sad that Bowland is still such a heap of poo when looking at the progress since that time. Wildlife is worth more than the shooting with such a big urban population on its door step so why has no one sold the idea like they do in parts of Scotland.

    • TerryPickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

      What the writer of this article has forgotten or does not appear to know, the trial of Paul and Carl was scheduled to take place at Burnley Magistrates court, not at Clitheroe. However using the premature death of PC Smith as an excuse, when the prosecution first appeared to plead their case in front of the magistrates in Burnley they claimed the papers for the prosecution case had been misplaced and therefore the prosecution could not precede at that time. I recall council for the defence making the point that this was most unlikely agreeing with Paul Stott this was a move to ensure the case was transferred to a second court of the prosecutions choice. If the case could be heard perhaps at Lancaster or Clitheroe where magistrates would possibly have a background in shooting and or country pursuits, the prosecution case had a better chance of succeeding. In any case even when the case was finally re-scheduled to be heard at Clitheroe it made little difference as in the end Paul and Carl were found not guilty.

      There was a very curious and unusual twist to this saga which came several months later. After delivering a lecture at the Theatre in the Forest at Grizedale Cumbria about twelve months after the trial, a mature well dressed lady tapped my shoulder asking if she could talk to me. She enquired if the two raptor workers who appeared at Burnley magistrates court the year before were in any way associated or members of the peregrine protection group I hade been talking about during my presentation. Replying yes to her question, the lady then politely informed me she had been one of the three magistrates at Burnley on the day the prosecution requested an adjournment. What she said next came completely out of the blue when she explained that together with her colleagues the panel all considered the prosecution’s request to be very fishy and the whole proceedings didn’t seem just right for some reason.

  • Oh dear, a few people are not going to be to happy with this story, this proves what some people will stoop to when it advances their own ends but as this story shows they get caught in the end, what goes round comes round.
    The NWRPG, of which I am proud to be an honourary member are a fine upstanding group of very experienced people, keep up the good fight lads you will triumph in the end, your love and commitment for the raptors is clear for all to see, being honest is something to be proud of, being dishonest gets you nowhere as Mr. Morley has found out, perhaps a few more of his associates may well soon be joining him if they are not careful.

  • nirofo

    Be assured this behaviour by the RSPB heirarchy is not unique to the NWRPG and has been going on for many years in other locations not associated with Bowland or United Dairies.

    Incidentally, Schedule One licences were first issued by the NERC in 1967 not the early 70’s as stated, I’ve held a licence for various species every year but one since they first came out.


  • sh23363

    Meanwhile back on the moor….Persecution continues. Grouse managers have the upper hand.
    The moor owners rejoice because of the public disputes between conservationists. They can denigrate all parties and use it to portray conservationists as unprofessional and unreliable. They will use every opportunity to their advantage.

    This ‘airing dirty laundry in public’ does severe damage.

    Reading the original post in this case one could be forgiven for thinking these events were recent – but no – the span of time in the narrative is 25 years plus. In that time the plight of raptors has got worse not better and moor owners are more powerful than ever. The two are not unrelated.



  • Coop

    It’s that little key on the left, Mr/Mrs Jones. It’s called CAPS LOCK.