The Law and using decoys to shoot birds (even in the Yorkshire Dales)

Brazen. Some criminals just don’t care who sees them. That’s perhaps hardly surprising given how incredibly difficult it is to get a conviction in court. But in yet another tale of everyday wildlife criminals working in one of our so-called ‘national parks’ (many of which are actually essentially privately-owned grouse shooting moors, you know those things you can visit under a generous Rule of Six ‘exemption’ the government gave to its donors) a ‘man’ was filmed using a tethered bird as a decoy – which is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act Section 5 (d), despite what some would like to claim on social media.

Before we highlight the law here’s an excerpt from the Yorkshire Post, whose journalists must be getting really exasperated to be reporting yet another case of raptor persecution in one of the county’s wildlife crime hot spots, the Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNP). Oh, and once again Natural England is not exactly covering themselves with glory, eh…

 

A man has allegedly been filmed using a live eagle owl as a decoy to try to lure hen harriers from a nest on a shooting estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

A Natural England employee was monitoring nesting sites on the Whernside estate, on the Cumbrian border, earlier this summer when he saw the man, who was armed with a shotgun, behaving suspiciously.

The RSPB have now released details of the incident after police concluded there was not enough evidence to prosecute the offender.

The incident comes just two years after a former gamekeeper on the estate [Tim Cowin] was convicted of shooting [then stamping on] two short-eared owls. The moor is privately owned and used by family and friends of the owners for grouse shooting, but is not believed to be leased on a commercial basis.

The RSPB have now challenged Natural England to release the video footage, yet the government agency has declined to do so, claiming that the film is still classed as police evidence.

“The RSPB has this last week spent a considerable period of time encouraging Natural England to go public, which they have declined to do. As the police investigation was closed over a month ago, we are surprised that this information, which is clearly of significant public interest given its location and wider context, has not been openly reported.

“Once again, this incident shows how vulnerable hen harriers and other raptors remain in the quiet parts of our uplands. We need Natural England to give more voice to bird of prey persecution in England and the government to bring meaningful accountability for those who manage the land where these crimes continue to take place, otherwise the blight of human killing will continue unabated and remain the most significant threat to the hen harrier population regardless of fledging success.”

A spokesperson for Natural England said: “Raptor persecution, including of hen harriers, is a national wildlife crime priority and there are strong penalties in place for offences committed against birds of prey. We would urge anyone witnessing or suspecting persecution to contact the police.” [EDIT: LOL, oh the irony etc etc]

Using a live bird as bait to lure in others is illegal.

Yorkshire Post, Natural England employee witnesses ‘suspicious’ activity on Yorkshire Dales grouse moor, 16 Sept 2020

 

Anyway, the Yorkshire Post has got it absolutely right: “Using a live bird as bait to lure in others is illegal”. Remarkably, though, there seems to be some confusion amongst the more ‘wilfully ignorant’ that it’s fine to use a tethered bird (in this case an Eagle Owl) as a decoy – in other words, deliberately tethering a large bird of prey alongside the territory of another bird of prey (a Hen Harrier), knowing damn well the harrier will fly in to investigate the owl and inadvertently come within range of, for example, a heavily-armed gamekeeper.

Well, we’re always pleased to help (us and Google anyway), so in case this issue crops up again, here’s what the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 says (and we’ve even bolded the relevant text for people who are just too busy killing foxes, weasels, or birds of prey to read the whole page):

 

5 Prohibition of certain methods of killing or taking wild birds

(1)Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person—

(a)sets in position any of the following articles, being an article which is of such a nature and is so placed as to be calculated to cause bodily injury to any wild bird coming into contact therewith, that is to say, any springe, trap, gin, snare, hook and line, any electrical device for killing, stunning or frightening or any poisonous, poisoned or stupefying substance ;

(b)uses for the purpose of killing or taking any wild bird any such article as aforesaid, whether or not of such a nature and so placed as aforesaid, or any net, baited board, bird-lime or substance of a like nature to birdlime ;

(c)uses for the purpose of killing or taking any wild bird—

(i)any bow or crossbow ;

(ii)any explosive other than ammunition for a firearm;

(iii)any automatic or semi-automatic weapon ;

(iv)any shot-gun of which the barrel has an internal diameter at the muzzle of more than one and three-quarter inches;

(v)any device for illuminating a target or any sighting device for night shooting;

(vi)any form of artificial lighting or any mirror or other dazzling device;

(vii)any gas or smoke not falling within paragraphs (a) and (b); or

(viii)any chemical wetting agent;

(d)uses as a decoy, for the purpose of killing or taking any wild bird, any sound recording or any live bird or other animal whatever which is tethered, or which is secured by means of braces or other similar appliances, or which is blind, maimed or injured; or

(e)uses any mechanically propelled vehicle in immediate pursuit of a wild bird for the purpose of killing or taking that bird,

he shall be guilty of an offence and be liable to a special penalty.

 

Now, to us, that doesn’t seem all that hard to understand. And there doesn’t seem to be a clause saying ‘except in the Yorkshire Dales National Park’ that we can see (we checked, you can thank us later)…

Mind you, public services aside, we’ve got to say that no matter how apparently stuffed the YDNP is with criminals, given that the WCA is nearly forty years old now, it’s not unreasonable to expect that – for example – someone with a shotgun licence whose job it is to kill wildlife on a grouse moor, should really have come across the information before.

But then again, when it comes to some of those employees wrecking the reputation of the North Yorks ‘parks’, knowing the law and adhering to the law seem to be two very different things indeed…