The RSPB Investigations team assists the statutory agencies to investigate crimes against wild birds in the UK.
Staff are based at the UK headquarters, Scottish headquarters and the Northern England Regional Office.
This blog will be used to keep you informed on key issues and court case results on a regular basis, but for legal reasons, we may only be able to report on certain aspects of our work.
If you witness a crime against a wild bird and wish to report this to the RSPB, please e-mail: email@example.com or use the online form at: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reportacrime
The other morning I was very pleased to hear the dulcet tones of a Radio 4 Today presenter interviewing Prof Des Thomson from Scottish Natural Heritage. The long-awaited commissioned report regarding the conservation of golden eagles in Scotland had been published (read RSPB reaction to it here).
Working as I do with the nastier end of wildlife conservation issues in Scotland, it came as no surprise to hear that illegal persecution was the main factor in limiting expansion into (what should be) core areas for the species. The golden eagle poisoned in the Scottish borders in 2007 was such a shocking event - it really highlighted the species' plight and demonstrated how things can change negatively for this long-lived, slow to reproduce species - a point that RSPB Scotland and others have repeatedly made over the years.
Particularly striking is the point in the report made by the authors (Whitfield, Fielding, McLeod and Haworth) that only three of 16 regions in Scotland where eagles have occupied territories since 1982 were considered to be in favourable conservation status, and these were all in western areas. I noted that in both of our stunning Scottish National Parks, golden eagles are failing to occupy territories as they should.
I remember visiting my first ever eagle eyrie with the late great eagle expert, Jeff Watson. The site was on a craggy cliff in a remote location in the Highlands and one of Jeff's core nests that he monitored under licence for many years. To see a golden eagle soaring over a ridge in a remote glen is such a fantastic experience. I never forgot the experience, and I must admit it was a lump in my throat when I read Jeff's forward in the report (written shortly before he passed away). He describes the report as:
'a penetrating analysis of data from all golden eagle territories in Scotland has yielded a clear picture of the constraints of this bird'.
He ends with:
'Undoubtedly the highest priority of all is the need to address the illegal persecution which continues to affect golden eagle populations in the eastern and southern parts of the species range. There can be no more urgent task than to eliminate this blight on the population of this majestic bird which perhaps more than any other creature, is valued as a symbol of wild Scotland'.
My team prepares an annual Persecution Report (and the RSPB has done so for many years), these reports make sobering reading. The maps we include every year illustrate the pattern of persecution incidents displayed as dots on a map of Scotland. We recently overlaid a map of the breeding locations of breeding eagles onto this map and we can see clearly why the species is largely absent from the managed heather grouse moors of the upland areas.
Essentially, any pioneering young birds are moving east and south looking for territories with good future breeding potential, lots of food and no other eagles. They find these conditions, but are not being allowed to breed due to illegal killing.
One hopes that reports such as this are used by senior police officers, land owners and managers to guide policy and decision making in the countryside. The uplands are not truly wild without these iconic species.
We shall certainly continue to assist the police and others when we next receive that dreadful message that yet another eagle, buzzard, hen harrier or goshawk has been killed, or nesting attempt disrupted, due to criminal behaviour.
Please add your voice to our campaign to stop illegal killing of birds of prey - signing our online petition is quick and easy
Orphan peregrine (right) meets its new family
In June my colleague James Leonard reported on a long and dramatic day we had placing two young peregrine chicks into foster nests (see previous blog). This followed the horrific incident at a peregrine breeding site in Staffordshire where an adult male peregrine was caught by an illegally placed metal spring-trap. This bird had to be euthanized. The female had also disappeared and was suspected to have been killed. This had left us with two orphaned peregrine chicks. The charity Raptor Rescue had kindly looked after these birds whilst we frantically tried to locate suitable wild nest sites which could potential foster these birds.
Thanks to the help of a number of people we were able to put each chick into a wild nest site, both only containing two chicks. To our delight and relief the new arrivals were immediately accepted by their foster family. The parent peregrines, who clearly cannot count, quickly set about feeding an extra hungry mouth. The sites were monitored by volunteers, who kept us updated with progress. We recently received the fantastic news that both of the orphaned chicks had successfully fledged along with their adopted brothers and sisters. So despite the initial tragedy, there was at least some consolation with the happy ending for these two chicks.
This incident, and related events, have attracted considerable media attention in the West Midlands with a reward offered for information leading to the conviction of any of those responsible. The RSPB has been working with the West Midlands and Staffordshire Police to try to prosecute those responsible. Myself and my colleagues recently helped the police raid a number of addresses to look for evidence. These enquiries are still continuing and we can only hope that during the next breeding season there will be no more of these tragic events.
Birds of prey continue to need protection and support and I would ask people to sign the RSPB pledge at http://www.rspb.org.uk/birdsofprey