Thank You- #OpOwlUK

With the first ever #OpOwlUK weekend coming to a close for 2019 I felt it only right and proper to say a massive heartfelt thank you to everyone that made the weekend possible.

My thanks to every Police Wildlife Crime Officer who supported the weekend in both the planning and delivery and to all the amazing partners who gave up their time to support the variety of events that took place. My thanks also to all the `press officers` I spoke to from so many different agencies who helped the awareness raising social media activity.

My thanks to the RSPB Investigations Team for taking the time to help prepare videos, leaflets, beer mats and more. The team also worked across the weekend across the country to attend awareness raising events with the RSPB Skydancer Team.

My thanks to everyone who hosted an #OpOwlUK event across the country, to everyone who attended an event and to everyone who tweeted about it, spoke about it to family and friends and to everyone who has visited OperationOwl.Com to learn more about the issue.

Finally a massive thank you to Sergeant Stu Grainger of the North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force. His tireless commitment to tackling raptor persecution and his administrative coordination of the weekends activities have been outstanding.

To those who remained stubbornly silent on the issue, maybe you can join us next year?

Raptor persecution belongs in the history books, those that kill our birds belong behind bars.

Nick

#OurBirds

#YearOfTheRaptor

Op Owl- Awareness Raising Weekend

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On the day that RSPB release their 2018 `Bird Crime` report I am delighted to announce that across the weekend of 21st & 22nd September there will be a national awareness raising weekend for raptor persecution led by police wildlife crime officers and supported by a variety of partners.

The following police force areas have already committed to completing activity over that weekend, with a final agenda to follow shortly.

1.            North Yorkshire

2.            West Yorkshire

3.            Bedfordshire

4.            Derbyshire

5.            South Yorkshire

6.            All of Police Scotland

7.            Northants

8.            Suffolk

9.            South Wales

10.          Humberside

11.          Durham

12.          Devon and Cornwall

13.          West Mercia

14.          Warwickshire

15.          Norfolk

16.          Gwent

17.          North Wales

18.          Dyfed-Powys

19.          Police Service of Northern Ireland

20.          Cumbria

21.          Northumbria

22.          Lincolnshire

25.          Dorset

26.          BTP

27.          Thames Valley Police

My early thanks to all those involved in making this happen, with special thanks to Sgt Stu Grainger of North Yorkshire Police for tireless energy and support.

Nick

#OpOwl2019

#OpOwlUK

My 1st Year in the Hot Seat….

Almost as quickly as it started, my first year as Chair of the England & Wales Raptor Persecution PDG has arrived and gone. I thought it timely therefore to blog a brief summary of the work I have completed thus far.

Having applied to Chair the group in the summer of 2018 I met the previous retiring Chair at Greater Manchester Police HQ on the 6th September 2018 for a handover. On the 21st September I drafted my first blog which highlighted the work I completed during my first few weeks and set out some key plans for the future. I think I’ve delivered on these so far.

Whilst I spent most of October talking to key group members and other people that reached out and offered support I also commenced planning a `National Raptor Persecution Workshop` for November, aimed at being the foundation and building blocks of the group’s first Tactical Delivery Plan. Despite a protest taking place outside the DEFRA building on the day in question, we made some really useful progress as a group. Later in November I attended my first Wildlife Crime Tactical Tasking & Coordination Group (TTCG) meeting and blogged about this here. December was spent refining the delivery plan and working on some ideas for the later launch of Operation Owl- Year of the Raptor.

2019 commenced with the initial framework being built for the `Operation Owl` website and securing the support of one of my amazing team who did this in her spare time. The 16th January was my first RPPDG meeting as Chair, much was said about this meeting- In the Hot seat. Into February and I completed interviews with The Shooting Times & RSPB Investigations Team, as well as visiting Natural England and attending the Scottish Raptor Study Groups Annual Conference in Battleby, Perth. March came along and saw me visiting North Yorkshire, spending the day on an Estate managed for Grouse Shooting. I blogged a summary of my first six months here and also attended the `All Wales Rural Crime Meeting` whilst continuing to build a website behind the scenes with my youngest daughter.

In April I had the pleasure of meeting the team at Rutland Water, learning more about the Osprey project. I also met with the Directors of Wild Justice and chaired my second RPPDG meeting, while preparing for an important meeting with the DEFRA Environment Minister which took place on the 1st May.  During this meeting the Minister, Therese Coffey made a number of commitments to support my work as Chair of the RPPDG, I look forward to these coming to fruition. The month of May continued with me attending my second National Wildlife Crime TTCG, a National PDG Chairs meeting and having a meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service Lead for Wildlife Crime.

In June I launched `Operation Owl` on behalf of the National Police Chiefs Council, which included the `go-live` of the website built to support awareness raising. This was closely followed by a training day for Police Wildlife Crime Officers in raptor persecution investigation techniques with a special focus of those birds that are fitted with sat-tags (See here). A few days later I was chairing a White-tailed Eagle workshop in Hampshire where the foundations for our later `trigger plan` were laid. This will ensure that should anything happen to the birds released on the Isle of Wight we have a really cohesive response ready and waiting. June ended with days working with raptor workers in the Peak and visiting local Bedfordshire Company Opticron for some awesome bins.

July was one of my busiest months so far and a summary can be viewed here. Into August and I was delighted to attend as a guest speakers the `Birds of Prey Day` at RSPB Saltholme, followed later that day by the Northern England Raptor Forum Raptor Persecution Awareness Day before travelling to Derbyshire to Hen Harrier Day on the Sunday. The reception I was given from around 1500 people was amazing!! (Thank You), I was also able to attend Birdfair on the Friday- good job I had my boots on!

August ended with another ‘day off’ visit to the amazing ‘Birds of Poole Harbour‘ team to see the Osprey project. This on the same day as the six White-tailed Eagles were released on the Isle of Wight and four new members officially joined the RPPDG having attended my first few meetings as guests (Wildlife Trusts/ Northern Uplands AONB/ RSPCA & BAWC).

Wow- what an amazing 12 months that was!! Protecting our birds has quickly grown into a real passion for me. I will continue to work across partners and partnerships to consign raptor persecution to the history books- where it firmly belongs.

This first year wouldn’t have been possible without the support of so many amazing people. Thank you to each and every one of you, most importantly my thanks goes to the amazing network of volunteer raptor workers, your work often goes unnoticed but is absolutely vital. I look forward to monitoring winter roost sites with you over the coming months.

I will soon be attending the Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust AGM, to talk and reflect on my first year in the chair. Would be good to meet some of you there, it’s expected to be a sell out, so grab your tickets quickly.

For details, see here.

I will sign off this blog by saying bring on the next 4 years, I look forward to it lots, protecting ‘Our Birds’ for future generations to come.

Best Wishes

Nick

#OurBirds

Photo Credits-

Top- Guy Shurrock (RSPB Investigations)

Middle- Rutland Ospreys

A Busy July….

With June ending locating a missing peregrine chick in Bedfordshire with the RSPB, a visit to local company Opticron and a TV interview with local news broadcaster ITV Anglia on Operation Owl, July looked like being an equally busy month in the fight against raptor persecution.

On the 3rd July I was in York for the latest RPPDG meeting. Lots more progress made against our Delivery Plan and some really useful updates on the nesting success of this year’s Hen Harriers, the White-tailed Sea Eagle release on the Isle of Wight later this summer and the Golden Eagle release in Southern Scotland. The following week I had a meeting with Martin Ball from the Health & Safety Executive to discuss a number of issues with the WIIS scheme. Lots of positive progress made and some good ideas about how we can work together to make better use of WIIS in raptor persecution cases.

I had a long drive to Cardiff Bay to meet with Lesley Griffiths (Welsh Minister for Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs. I was delighted that The Minister offered to become a Species Champion for Raptors in Wales and has offered to Chair a round-table discussion later this year on raptor persecution. While is Wales I took the time to meet with the CEO of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, Ian Evans. A really useful discussion about the conflict that exists between racers and raptors, mainly the Peregrine.   

Later that week I hosted Chief Superintendent Gary Cunningham of Police Scotland. Gary has recently taken over the Wildlife Crime Portfolio and as a career detective has a real passion to see those committing raptor persecution offences face their day in Court. I am really excited about the work that Gary and I will be able to do together, with the wider support of the NWCU and Wildlife Crime Officers from across the UK to ensure those responsible are caught.

The week closed with a visit to South Yorkshire Police, where along with Angela Smith MP, Liz Ballard (CEO Wildlife Trust) and Mark Thomas (RSPB Investigations) we met with the Chief Constable to discuss the forces approach to investigating Wildlife Crime.

The 16th July was a long, hot and busy day in London. Having been invited by the Rt. Hon Michael Gove MP, to his Environment Speech at Kew Gardens. It is clear that a number of changes are being planned by the Government to support tackling the ongoing climate emergency. Let’s hope Brexit and the Cabinet reshuffle doesn’t get in the way of meaningful progress.

Later that evening I was a panel member on an RSPB hosted debate in Parliament. The subject matter was `Rethinking Grouse Moor Management` and my message was clear, those within the industry that know who is committing persecution offences need to come forward and start talking. They can contact me directly, contact Crime Stopper, contact the RSPB Raptor Persecution Hotline or contact their local police. It feels like change is happening, and with the support of those `in the know` we can make that change happen a lot quicker.

On the 23rd July I took a day trip to Edinburgh to meet with a prominent land agent to discuss raptor persecution and how he felt the industry could support the work of the RPPDG in tackling the issue. A full, frank and extremely honest conversation about the issues, what drove persecution and some really good thoughts about how to prevent it. I look forward to progressing these.

On the 26th July I was invited to attend `The Game Fair` by the Chief Exec of BASC, Ian Bell. I was delighted to be able to accept his offer and the attend the day in the company of Chief Inspector Lou Hubble (NWCU). The weather didn’t dampen the conversations I was able to have with a number of people, including the National Gamekeepers Organisation and senior members of BASC. A number of firm commitments made by all, that I look forward to working on and talking about more in due course, but rest assured there was an absolute will to stamp out raptor persecution from everyone I spoke to.  

To close the month I will circulating to a number of forces the combined RPPDG & National Wildlife Crime Unit Operational Order and Trigger Plan to the upcoming (White-tailed) Sea Eagle release on the Isle of Wight. This plan, developed with the support of Police WCOs and the Project Team will ensure a robust response is in place should anything happen to the Eagles following their release. Let’s hope we never need to test it.

I complete almost all this work in my own time, making up any hours I miss from my core role with Bedfordshire Police in the evenings or at weekends. Throughout July I have been subjected to some rather unpleasant abuse across social media platforms by a small number of people for the work I am doing in tackling raptor persecution. While isn’t unexpected, it is still disappointing. Unfortunately for those involved, it just makes me stronger and want to work harder to end persecution.

“If they attack you personally, it means they have not a single argument left” – Margaret Thatcher

So as I go into a week of on-call and working some nights with my response officers, before a couple of weeks annual leave, I hope to see some of you at `Birds of Prey Day` on 10th August, `Hen Harrier Day` on 11th August or The Bird Fair on the 16th August.

Best Wishes

Nick

#OurBirds

Photo Credits

Top- Me

Middle- Unknown

A Special Day Sat-Tagging….

A late Sunday evening train to Newcastle and another night away from home and the family, but an important mission awaited me early on Monday morning.  I had a planned early meeting with a number of Natural England’s Hen Harrier Team to travel much further north to sat-tag some young Harrier chicks. While helping the team sat-tagging Harrier chicks is an absolute pleasure and massive privilege in itself, one of these chicks was destined to be extra special. Let me explain why……

On the 11th June 2019 I had the pleasure of meeting an inspiring young boy called Alex Goodwin. On this day Alex captured the hearts of over 100 Police Wildlife Crime Officers and all the partners present at the sat-tag training workshop he opened on our behalf. Alex is a brave boy who is winning a battle against bone cancer. Alex is passionate about all wildlife and especially birds of prey. You can find out more about Alex here. It was on this day that Natural England agreed with me that one of this years tagged chicks would be named after Alex, a Mini-Police Wildlife Crime Officer.

So back to today…

After an early start and a drive further north we arrived at our destination. With the truck parked up and our bags loaded it was time for the long off-road hike to the nest site. The nest contained 4 chicks (3 female and 1 male) and with mum and dad keeping a watchful eye we (Stephen) got to work fitting the tags. Sat-tags have proved invaluable in tracking the movements of so many birds of prey, but particularly Hen Harriers as seen in the recent Nature publication  where they have shone a light into the dark hole of the ongoing disappearance of our birds.

With the tags fitted we left the nest area and watched from a distance as mum quickly returned to her young to check they were all ok. After some time watching these amazing birds it was time to hit the road and commence the long long journey south (via a late and delayed train).

A truly inspiring day and one I will never forget.

Natural England and I would like you to meet Alex (Top Female) and her sister Rosie (Bottom Female)…….

We all wish her every success and I look forward to tracking her movements and providing you all with regular updates.

Safe travels Alex, Rosie and all the other raptor chicks that are in their early days…..

My thanks to the Natural England Team, Stephen and Pat and to Martin from the Forestry Commission.

Nick

Photo Credits-

  • Top- Me
  • Bottom- Me

The Game Fair & BirdFair 2019

As Chair of the RPPDG I have stated from the day I took the role that I truly believed that long lasting success in tacking raptor persecution would only be achieved by working in partnership.

I am therefore delighted to accept an offer from RPPDG partners BASC to attend this years Game Fair on 26th July, representing the RPPDG. I will be in and around the BASC stand for the morning before exploring the event during the early afternoon.

I will also be attending Birdfair on Friday 16th August. I will be joining RPPDG Partner, the RSPB for the morning from around 10:00-12:30 and then with PAW from 13:30-15:30.

I might even bring the infamous orange coat for photos if the great British weather is true to form. 🙂

Please do come and say hello, I look forward to discussing all aspects of raptor persecution with you…..

Best Wishes

Nick

#YearOfTheRaptor

#OurBirds

A busy 7 days…

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Last week started with the launch of the Operation Owl website which also signified the operation becoming our nationwide approach to raising awareness of raptor persecution. The site  had over 1000 hits within the first few days of launch and I hope it goes a long way to helping us all raise the profile of the persecution that takes place.

While pressing `publish` on the website I was getting on a train to the far north of England to spend a day off (Annual Leave) from Beds Police on nest watch with one of Natural England’s finest, Pat. We travelled so far north I almost needed to swap my money at a `bureau de change` but the long trip was worth it as we spent the day in the middle of nowhere in the fresh air and brief sunshine watching some amazing birds. During the day we were lucky enough to see buzzard, peregrine, raven and also managed to see a number of hen harriers and to top the afternoon off a glorious food pass between male & female.

Late on Monday night I started the journey south to Northallerton ready for the Raptor Persecution Investigation Workshop on the Tuesday. Importantly this was the first of its kind to include specific information for Police Wildlife Crime Officers on Sat-Tag data. The RSPB beat me to writing a blog about it and probably did a better job than me anyway, so you can read about it here. Thank you to everyone that made the session possible and for everyone who took the time to attend.

Anther long journey on Thursday, this time to Hampshire. With the great support of Hampshire Police, NWCU and Dr Tim Mackrill we were able to host a really informative session on the forthcoming White Tailed Sea Eagle reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight. There was fantastic attendance from all of the local Police Forces WCOs, The Forestry Commission, Natural England and other partners as we all look to work together with the project to ensure it is a real success.

Another day off today (17th June 2019) and another long drive. This time to the Peak District to spend time with Mike Price of the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group and Steve Downing (NERF) to monitor hen harrier and goshawk. It was an absolute privilege to be able to be involved in the ringing of two hen harrier chicks and something which has made my drive and passion for ending #RaptorPersecution even stronger.

As I sit here typing this blog watching my local red kite in and out of their normal tree rearing young, I am delighted to be leading this work on all our behalves. Together we are stronger and together we will succeed.

Nick

#OurBirds

#YearOfTheRaptor

Photo Credit – Debby Thorne