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 Upper Derwent Valley in the Peak District National Park was formerly known as THE place to see goshawks in the UK.
Goshawks have been inextricably linked to the valley since they first successfully bred in 1966. In the late 1970’s the Peak District population was nationally significant, constituting a third of the British breeding population. However as the species has increased and spread elsewhere there has been a catastrophic decline specifically in the Dark Peak from 2001, both in terms of range and numbers of territories. This was first noted in the population on the moorlands to the west of Sheffield before becoming significant in the Derwent Valley from 2006, this was documented by RSPB in its publications Peak Malpractice and Peak Malpractice Update.
More up-to date information (2000 - to mid 2015) shows the intensity of confirmed persecution incidents in the Upper Derwent Valley area (22) - see map below.
Over the past decade RSPB Investigations have focused considerable efforts in the valley, resulting in two successful prosecutions relating to goshawk persecution, most recently in 2012 when a gamekeeper was convicted of using a baited cage trap to catch birds of prey. The outcome of this investigation resulting in the sacking of the gamekeeper and more significantly an overhaul of the shooting tenancies leased by the National Trust with the addition of clauses relating to bird of prey success and delivery of the trust's vision. National Trust have been congratulated on their recent action on this issue, when faced with the stark images of an armed man with a hen harrier decoy on their land. We are pleased to have played our part.
So how have the goshawks been doing ? – really badly to be honest. The numbers have been perilously low with typically only a single failed pair in each of the last five years and persecution incidents have continued. However, four breeding attempts in 2016 gives new hope.
In 2013, RSPB Investigations recorded covert footage at an active goshawk nest in the valley. This clearly shows prolonged disturbance to the adult goshawks by masked men who arrived at the nest tree at dusk in really wet weather on May 29th. The footage recorded lengthy conversations between the men, from this we know the men then proceeded to climb the tree and take the two juvenile birds present in the nest. At least two of the men have South Yorkshire accents and they are called David, Shane and Sam. One of the men was clearly younger than the others and referred to one of the older men as Dad. At the time this was passed to Derbyshire Constabulary and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.
In 2015, we again recorded footage at another goshawk nest in the valley which captured a visit by a number of men, this time in pitch darkness, and again on a wet night. At this time the female would have been brooding small youngsters. Following their arrival at the nest tree, a clear whistle can be heard and then four shots are fired, echoing down the valley. Using torches the men then spent a considerable period of time in the area, presumably removing any evidence. Conversations between the men suggested that one was called David and another had a strong Scottish accent. A site visit proved that the nest had failed with no sign of any adult birds. This incident was again passed to Derbyshire Police. It was decided at this time not to go public as the individuals could not be identified and it was hoped there be opportunities to gather more evidence in 2016.
From these two incidents it became clear that, amazingly, persecution was taking place at night. This raises questions about how many years this type of activity may have accounted for the nests we have lost in the valley.
In 2016, RSPB installed multiple 24 hour night vision cameras at four goshawk nests, hoping to catch any similar night-time persecution incidents. The good news is that three of these nests are still active with a total of six recently fledged juveniles. Whether the furore over the recent incident on National Trust land involving the hen harrier decoy and the armed male has perhaps encouraged certain people to lay low this season we do not know. However, it is interesting that what promises to be the first reasonable breeding season for goshawks in this area for a very long time has followed this highly publicised event.
A rare site - a goshawk chick in a nest in the Derwent Valley, May 2016
However, we are not there yet and we believe the birds are still vulnerable so will be running our cameras and monitoring the sites for a considerable period yet - time will tell if these birds are going to be left alone.
If you have information or see anything suspicious please contact the Police (Telephone 101) and RSPB Investigations immediately (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Special thanks to the partners who have made this possible.