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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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