Guest blog by Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer
Goshawk, credit Roy Mangersnes
My job as an investigations officer can take you into some privileged positions. One moment that particularly sticks in my mind, is the time when I arrived with a couple of my colleagues to check on an active goshawk nest in the Peak District that we had been a putting a considerable amount effort into protecting that spring. We were visiting the nest site on a regular basis under an approved license, every time expecting the worst to have happened and the nest to have failed – as has often happened to goshawks breeding in the Peak District.
As we walked down to the nest site, with the female chittering away above us, we were stunned to see a juvenile goshawk sitting on a branch close to the nest tree that would have just left the nest. This was a rare moment of amazing intimacy to see this chick taking its first few steps in life away from the nest, heading into a sadly hostile environment for birds of prey. All was well with the nest and we swiftly left buzzing about the magic moment that we had just witnessed.
Sadly, these uplifting moments are rarely felt in this job. Most of the time, you witness nests failing due to human pressures and incidents of raptor persecution. A goshawk nest that we monitored last year in North Yorkshire tells a familiar tale of humans impacting upon these magnificent birds. The site in question had a history of failures so a covert monitoring camera was installed to try and find out why this might be.
This short video shows what happened at this site near Helmsley, North Yorkshire:
This goshawk nest site should have been safely tucked away in woodland where the public don’t go, yet far too many people were paying unwanted attention to this nest and causing unlicensed illegal disturbance. One evening a figure is seen repeatedly walking behind the nest tree and 11 shots are fired, while the goshawk alarm calls around the nest site. This is a serious cause for concern. The sight of two individuals visiting the nest, commenting ‘she’s on’ and then hitting the nest tree with large sticks is also hugely troubling with regards to their motives.
The nest failed. Four unhatched eggs were found in the nest and taken away for analysis - one had a well-developed chick inside it. This was one bird that would never take its first flight.
North Yorkshire Police have been investigating and need help with regards to the events in the video. Please call 101 if you have any information or call RSPB confidentially on our raptor crime hotline – 0300 999 0101.*
The four cold goshawk eggs, credit Garry Marchant
This appeal also comes ahead of spring and the breeding season and has a wider message. Unfortunately, there are individuals out there who want to harm birds of prey. North Yorkshire is the raptor crime capital of the UK and this incident again underlines the problems faced. A goshawk nest inside the North York Moors National Park should not face such troubles and yet these issues continue to arise inside national parks and other protected areas.
The recent public awareness campaign, Operation Owl, by North Yorkshire Police gives a glimmer of hope for the future and we will also continue to put in efforts to catch the individuals committing this type of crime. Cameras and other methods used by RSPB in a targeted way are a window into a dark world which we would otherwise know nothing about but the public need and want to know about. Nevertheless, both the police and RSPB rely on your vigilance in spring to spot suspicious behaviour and then tell us.
So if you’re out and about this Easter, please keep your eyes and ears open and report any signs of bird of prey persecution or disturbance.
Do you recognise these men? Call North Yorkshire Police on 101.
*The nature of these enquires meant it was decided to release the footage once all other options were exhausted, plus the unexpected number of unlicensed visits to the nest site resulted in three separate police enquiries, inevitably causing a delay. We appreciate this is frustrating, however we know first-hand the excellent work North Yorkshire Police do to tackle to raptor crime.
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