March, 2011

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.


Read about our Investigations team, working hard to keep our birds and wildlife safe
  • Illegal killing still a problem

    It's fair to say that most people appreciate and understand the value of species at the top of the food chain and why they're important in a balanced environment. Yet despite nearly 50 years of legal protection, many birds of prey continue to be persecuted across the UK.

    The dedicated work of raptor study groups plays a vital part in local monitoring and conservation of our native birds of prey. As such, many reports of incidents come into the RSPB via these study groups. 

    A new report from the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) has shown that illegal killing of birds of prey remains a major problem for a range of species across the North of England. Populations of some of our best-loved birds, such as peregrineshen harriers and red kites are suppressed by illegal killing, primarily on land managed for driven grouse shooting. 

    The golden eagle may be an iconic bird of Scotland, but historically it bred across much of northern England. The NERF report concludes that unless the spectre of persecution in the Scottish borders and the north of England is removed, they are likely to remain extinct as a nesting bird in England. Only one solitary golden eagle was seen in northern England during 2009. 

    Traditionally, golden eagles could be seen in the forests of Northumberland. However, for the first time in three decades they were absent. 

    Persecution in the south-east of Scotland is limiting the species' population growth in Scotland and preventing re-colonisation of northern England.

    Paul Irving is the chairman of the Northern England Raptor Forum, an organisation created in 2006 to monitor the fortunes of the region's birds of prey. He said: 'With its iconic landscapes, northern England is enormously popular with tourists. However, our monitoring shows that the skies above some of our most important landscapes are largely devoid of the birds of prey which have hunted these areas for thousands of years.

    'The situation with the hen harrier population continues to cause grave concern. Its failure to expand into eminently suitable habitat found throughout the northern uplands is now widely attributed to persecution as a result of the perceived conflict with grouse moor management. 

    'This situation is absolutely intolerable and NERF calls on the authorities to use all of their powers to reverse the situation'.

    Illegal persecution across northern England is affecting the fortunes of a number of the region's birds of prey, including hen harriers, goshawks, peregrines and red kites.

    Copies of the report can be obtained from Steve Downing. E-mail

    Copies cost £12 each including postage and packing.

  • Swan killer turns jailbird

    Hello! This is my first post to the Investigations blog with an update I thought worthy of sharing. 

    Mute swan photo by Steve Round

    I joined the investigations section as an assistant officer in June last year on a secondment from the Wildlife Enquiries team. It soon became clear that as with the wildlife enquiries, this team is also regularly required to provide expert advice on reports relating to our more common wild bird species, not just those of significant conservation concern.  

    The investigation of offences against species that are considered common or with stable populations are mostly led by the national network of Wildlife Crime Officers,  based within the countries' regional police forces. (Read more about how the RSPB works with police and other enforcement agencies

    Anyway, the reason for my post is this. On Thursday 24 February the Merseyside Wildlife Crime Officer called to inform us of the outcome of the latest swan killer case.  

    46-year-old Thomas Bowen appeared that day at Wirral Magistrates Court for sentencing, after an earlier guilty plea for the killing of a juvenile mute swan. He was arrested on Tuesday 23 November 2010 and was initially taken into custody for an offence of cruelty to animals. 

    He had captured a juvenile mute swan and took it to his (now former) girlfriend’s home address, where he killed the bird with a violent blow to the head. He then proceeded to decapitate the animal and cut off its wings. The police were called to the scene and he was arrested, during the course of the arrest he assaulted a police officer by spitting in his face.

    During interview Bowen was said to have defended his actions saying that he had taken his dog for a walk and the dog had attacked the swan. He claimed that he had taken the animal home to care for it but decided to put it out of its misery instead.  He also stated that he was 'probably going to eat it'.  

    Of the four charges brought against him, Bowen received 12 weeks for 'possession' of a wild bird, 12 weeks for 'taking' the bird, 26 weeks for the actual killing and an additional 10 weeks for the assault on a police officer. All these charges are custodial and to run consecutively. The overall sentence was reduced by four weeks in light of Bowen's early guilty pleas. He is therefore to serve a total of 22 weeks in jail. 

    This is the just the fifth prison sentence for killing swans in the past decade. My colleagues and I applaud the work of the officers involved in this case in securing such a good result!