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Stronger action required to protect native birds of prey as Birdcrime report reveals illegal killing in Lancashire continues

Last modified: 26 November 2015

Adult goshawk

Image: Mark Hamblin

Better application of EU Nature Directives needed to protect UK raptors, says RSPB report. 

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 15 reports of bird of prey incidents in Lancashire. 

Nationally, the nature conservation organisation received 179 reports of shooting and destruction of birds of prey, including the confirmed shooting of 34 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, nine 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 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.   

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.

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. 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. 

Martin Harper added: “To protect our magnificent birds of prey we must defend for the laws that protect them, including 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  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. 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. Although there are concerns that populations are held back in some areas because of illegal persecution. 
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.” 

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

A copy of the Birdcrime 2014 report can be viewed here.

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