Hot on the heels of details emerging about a shocking incident of hen harrier persecution Wild Moors has fired off a letter to Natural England to ask the wildlife watchdog to back grouse moor licensing.

It comes amid reports of a satellite-tagged hen harrier named ‘Asta’ who was being studied as part of a conservation initiative having her wings cut off on a grouse moor. The satellite tag was then re-attached to a crow in what appears to be a deliberate ploy to fool the authorities into thinking the bird of prey was still alive.

In a letter to Natural England Chairman Tony Juniper, Wild Moors Executive Director Luke Steele said: “As you are aware, one of the biggest challenges facing [hen harriers] is the continued targeting and killing of the birds on some grouse moors. Indeed, despite the best efforts of Natural England to address that, these incidents continue to take place in significant numbers.

“Ongoing persecution not only harms hen harriers but serves to seriously undermine the important work of Natural England’s team and its partners which are working flat out to reverse the poor fortunes of hen harriers.”

Wild Moors notes that since the government launched its Hen Harrier Recovery Plan in 2016, there have been 70 reported incidents of hen harrier persecution on grouse moors in the UK. The actual figure is likely to be much higher because wildlife crime is recognised as being underreported and there have been offences committed against other birds of prey, such as buzzards, goshawk and red kites, too.

Whilst Natural England reported that 119 hen harrier chicks had fledged from nests across northern England this breeding season, conservationists have branded the news ‘bittersweet’ because incidents of illegal persecution continue with alarming frequency.

In a bid to tackle continued wildlife crime in the uplands, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP and the Green Party have all given their support to the introduction of grouse moor licensing to give Natural England fresh powers to tackle shooting estates implicated in bird of prey persecution.

The legislation would give Natural England the power to shut down any grouse moor which is implicated in wildlife crime and ecological damage.