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A challenge to the shooting community as illegal bird of prey killing continues

Last modified: 30 October 2014

Red kite - poisoned

Red Kite poisoned in Lincolnshire in June 2013

Image: Geri Clarke

Illegal persecution continues to deprive the UK countryside of our native birds of prey and we are challenging leaders in the shooting community to acknowledge this and take real action to stop the killing. 

Birdcrime 2013 reveals 164 reports of shooting and destruction of birds of prey including confirmed shooting of two hen harriers, two marsh harriers, five peregrines and 28 buzzards. It also included 74 reported incidents of wildlife poisoning and pesticide-related offences. 

Confirmed victims of poisoning include 30 buzzards, 20 red kites, a golden eagle and a white-tailed eagle. These figures are believed to represent only a fraction of the illegal persecution in the UK, with many incidents thought to be going undetected and unreported. 

This report marks four years since over 230,000 people signed an RSPB pledge which was handed in to the UK Government, asking for action to put an end to bird of prey persecution. However, in the four years since around 560 birds of prey have been confirmed shot or destroyed. 

Public outrage has continued to grow in response to the recent horror of mass poisoning events, such as the 11 birds of prey poisoned by a gamekeeper in Norfolk in 2013, and the 16 red kites and six buzzards killed in Ross-shire earlier this year. There is no sign to this carnage ending.

"Year after year the Birdcrime report shows that illegal persecution of birds of prey is still a huge problem in the UK"

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “Witnessing a hen harrier’s dramatic skydancing display flight, or seeing the world’s fastest animal in action as a peregrine stoops over the moors is enough to take your breath away. These are sights that we should all be able to enjoy. Unfortunately, we are being robbed of the chance to see these beautiful birds flourish because of illegal persecution.”

Efforts to help birds of prey

We're doing more than ever to help birds of prey, including satellite tracking threatened species, protecting their nests, monitoring and undertaking research, raising awareness among the public of the problems faced by these birds, and working with others to stop persecution. Tackling wildlife crime requires a joint approach but condemnation from organizations representing the shooting community is not resulting in a widespread reduction in illegal persecution.

More action is needed in the uplands of England, where illegal persecution associated with grouse moors suppresses the population of several bird of prey species. Attempts to bring about change through self-regulation have proved ineffective and tough decisions are needed to combat these crimes. 

Public support for better protection

Martin Harper added: “Awareness of illegal persecution is increasing. This year we have seen people taking to the streets to demonstrate against the killing of these birds, and hundreds of people joined rallies in northern England in support of Hen Harrier Day. This shows that public desire for the return of our cherished birds of prey populations is at an all time high and we will continue our efforts to highlight this to the shooting community and DEFRA.

“Illegal persecution has tarnished the beauty of our uplands for decades and continues to do so to this day. The RSPB challenges members of the shooting community to acknowledge that illegal persecution is a problem within the industry and that a change of attitude is needed in order to make a serious and effective effort to finally consign bird of prey persecution to the history books.”

Bill Oddie, well-known naturalists, TV presenter and RSPB vice-president, said: “Year after year the Birdcrime report shows that illegal persecution of birds of prey is still a huge problem in the UK. It is a topic that I have felt incensed by all my life as the killing goes on and on. We’re losing hundreds of our most magnificent birds each year because of the mindless and senseless slaughter by a minority group, and it needs to stop.

“I believe it is up to those senior figures within the shooting industry to help stamp out the killing of birds of prey, once and for all. I have been fighting my whole life to stop this slaughter, and I know I am not alone in this. Until the hen harrier, peregrine, buzzard and our all our other birds of prey are able to live, breed and hunt without being persecuted for it; the fight to stop illegal persecution will continue.”

Time for tougher laws

In the uplands of England, the grouse shooting industry must demonstrate they can operate in harmony with birds of prey and help restore the environmental quality of our hills, which is why the we believe it is time to regulate the industry through the introduction of robust licensing system for driven grouse moor shooting.

Furthermore we believe that tougher legislation is needed to punish employers who turn a blind eye to staff committing wildlife crimes and are calling on the government to introduce the provision of vicarious liability, where employers would be legally responsible for the wildlife crimes committed by their employees.

Martin Harper concluded: “The RSPB supports the licensing of grouse moors and the introduction of vicarious liability as we believe these measures could address the low levels of detection and weak deterrents which currently allow these crimes to continue.

“We will also continue our efforts to work any organisations that represent the shooting community and who actively oppose the illegal persecution of birds of prey. Equally, we urge DEFRA to ensure the promised hen harrier recovery plan is robust and will drive hen harrier recovery by tackling the root cause of its decline: illegal persecution. Effective leadership is needed to end to illegal persecution, but there is little evidence in Birdcrime 2013 to build public confidence that this is happening.”

How you can help

Persecution is still causing the deaths of hundreds of birds of prey every year. A donation to our appeal will help us put these awe-inspiring birds back in the skies where they belong.