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Stronger action needed to protect native birds of prey as Birdcrime report reveals illegal killing continues

Last modified: 26 November 2015

Poisoned red kite in Northern Ireland

23 red kites were poisoned in 2014

Image: RSPB - Robert Straughan

The RSPB is calling for better application of the laws that protect UK raptors, as the Birdcrime 2014 report highlights that illegal persecution continues to prevent some of our native birds of prey from recovering to their natural levels. 

In 2014, the RSPB received 179 reports of shooting and destruction of birds of prey, including the confirmed shooting of 23 buzzards, nine peregrines, three red kites and a hen harrier. The report also documents 72 reported incidents of wildlife poisoning and pesticide-related offences. Confirmed victims of poisoning include 23 red kites, 9 buzzards and four peregrine falcons. 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.

Birds of prey continue to suffer unacceptable levels of illegal persecution, which disrupt efforts to restore natural populations of some species throughout the UK. Notable incidents in 2014 included the discovery of 16 red kites and six buzzards found dead near Inverness, of which 12 kites and four buzzards were proved to have been poisoned. 

Furthermore England’s worst ever raptor poisoning case concluded in 2014, when Norfolk gamekeeper Allan Lambert received a suspended prison sentence for a range of offences including the poisoning of ten buzzards and a sparrowhawk. Last week the Stody Estate, where Lambert had worked, was docked €260,000 in farm subsidy payments by the Rural Payments Agency as a result of the poisoning incident.  

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “The problem of illegal persecution has tarnished the UK for decades and continues to do so. Strong action is needed now to deliver the effective protection that our birds of prey so urgently need.”

Encouragingly, progress is being made in Scotland in the fight against wildlife crime. For the first time a person was handed a prison sentence for raptor persecution when Aberdeenshire gamekeeper George Mutch was jailed for four months after trapping goshawks and a buzzard. Also in Scotland, 2014 saw the first ever ‘vicarious liability’ wildlife case when Galloway landowner Ninian Johnson Stewart was found vicariously liable for actions committed by his gamekeeper, including the poisoning of a buzzard. As a result the landowner lost nearly £66,000 of farm subsidy payments.

The RSPB’s annual Birdcrime report is the only centralised source of incident data for wild bird crime in the UK. It illustrates the nature of the raptor persecution problem identified by a number of scientific studies, Government reports and police intelligence. For example, a 2008 study on hen harriers by Natural England concluded that ‘the critically low breeding numbers and patchy distribution of the hen harrier in England is a result of persecution... especially on areas managed for red grouse or with game rearing interests’ [4].The police National Wildlife Crime Unit’s 2013 Strategic Assessment states that ‘intelligence continues to indicate a strong association between raptor persecution and grouse moor management [4]. 

The RSPB supports the licensing of driven grouse moors and the introduction of vicarious liability as these measures could improve enforcement through providing more effective deterrents, which would ensure that no one can profit from wildlife crime. 

Martin Harper added: “To protect our magnificent birds of prey we must defend the laws that protect them, in particular the EU Nature Directives. When applied properly, these laws can help protect our most valuable wildlife and sites. All evidence points to the need for a consistent approach and effort across all four UK countries in protecting our most threatened birds of prey, such as the hen harrier and golden eagle, from illegal persecution. In this context, there is a strong case for fully implementing the EU Nature Directives consistently across the UK to protect wildlife from illegal killing.”

The Nature Directives [5] have driven the recovery of many species, such as the white-tailed eagle and red kite. This year, white-tailed eagles reached the important milestone of 100 breeding pairs; forty years after they were reintroduced in Scotland [6]. Populations of red kites, once restricted to Wales after illegal persecution eradicated them from England and Scotland, continue to go from strength to strength in many parts of the UK after a number of successful reintroduction projects [7]. 

Martin Harper concluded: “There is no place in any society for the unjustified and illegal activity that robs many people of the chance to see these beautiful birds flourish. We applaud the efforts of law enforcement officers across the UK who work with statutory agencies, NGOs and the public to prevent, investigate and prosecute wildlife crimes. However to support this effort, more effective sanctions and penalties are needed that represent a meaningful deterrent to ensure that no one can profit from wildlife crimes.” 

Raptor Persecution is one of the UK Government’s top wildlife crime priorities: 

Chief Inspector Martin Sims, Head of the police National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), said: “Raptor persecution is one of our top wildlife crime priorities and we welcome the publication of the Birdcrime report which helps to shine a light on the continuing problems these wonderful birds face”.

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Birdcrime 2014 (1.8Mb)
Offences against wild bird legislation in 2014

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