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
Today (31 May 2017) the Scottish Government published a long-awaited report on the role of satellite tagging technology in monitoring the movements of birds of prey – and it’s a watershed moment in the battle against raptor persecution.
The report concluded that: ‘satellite tagging of young golden eagles has revealed that many young birds have probably been illegally killed in some parts of Scotland between 2004 and 2016: largely in the central and eastern Highlands.’
The report was commissioned in August 2016 after eight satellite-tagged golden eagles went missing in the Monadhliath mountains, Scotland. It was carried out by independent scientists and subsequently peer-reviewed, and submitted it to Scottish Natural Heritage.
It revealed that, of the 131 young eagles tracked over 12 years, a third (41) have disappeared – presumably died – under suspicious circumstances significantly connected with contemporaneous records of illegal persecution. These disappearances occurred mainly in six areas of the Highlands, and the majority of cases were over land intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.
The report found no link between the fitting of tags and the disappearance of the birds wearing them, ruling out any connection with wind turbines and undermining suggestions that the failure of the tags (due to loss of signal or breakage) was responsible for the tagged birds disappearing.
In response to the report, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has drawn up new measures designed to give added protection to birds of prey and the wider Scottish environment. These include:
• Set up an independently-led group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls, and to recommend options for regulation including licensing and other measures which could be put in place without new primary legislation • Immediately review all available legal measures which could be used to target geographical areas of concern • Increase resources for the detection and investigation of wildlife crime and work with Police Scotland to pilot the use of special constables in the Cairngorms National Park • Rule out giving the Scottish SPCA more investigative powers, in light of legal advice • Examine how best to protect the valuable role of gamekeepers in rural Scotland • Commission research into the costs and benefits of large shooting estates to Scotland’s economy and biodiversity
Ms Cunningham said: “The findings of this research are deeply concerning and will give rise to legitimate concerns that high numbers of golden eagles, and other birds of prey, continue to be killed in Scotland each year. There is every reason to believe that similar levels of persecution affect untagged golden eagles, as well as those we are able to track via satellite tags.”
Director of RSPB Scotland, Anne McCall, said: “We commend the authors of this report for producing a comprehensive, robust and forensic examination of the issues regarding the disappearance of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland. By commissioning such a review the Cabinet Secretary and the Scottish Government have shown decisive leadership, and provided a clear, factual, if very worrying picture, of the scale of illegal persecution in Scotland.
"The conclusions reached by the review support the concerns that RSPB Scotland has been expressing for decades: that Scotland’s protected birds of prey continue to be illegally and systematically killed, in significant numbers, and primarily in areas where intensive grouse moor management dominates the landscape.
“These announcements are a clear notice of intent from the Scottish Government that it is prepared to take significant steps to target those areas that are destroying our natural heritage and are a stain on our country’s reputation.”
RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson, said: "When you add to this the disappearances of satellite-tagged white tailed eagles, red kites, goshawks, peregrines and hen harriers, not included this review, and consider that satellite-tagged birds form a very small proportion of the populations of these species, the overall numbers of eagles and other protected raptors that are actually being killed must be staggering.
“It is long overdue that representatives of the shooting industry stood up and publicly acknowledged the level of crime that is taking place. This report completely bankrupts the myth that raptor persecution is in long term decline and we hope that its publication and today’s announcements represents a watershed moment for the future conservation of our birds of prey.”
Usually I’m proud to be a Yorkshire lass. The land of tea and the Tour de Yorkshire, we brought home 14 of GB's 67 medals at Rio 2016. We gave the world Captain Cook, James Herriot and the Brontes. And Yorkshire puddings? You’re welcome.
But behind the rugged beauty of our sheep-dotted hills lies a far uglier claim to fame. North Yorkshire in particular is becoming tarnished by a reputation for ruthless, relentless bird of prey persecution, as this latest news confirms.
This week, North Yorkshire Police have launched an appeal after a buzzard was found dead near Malham – the latest in a sad succession of shootings.
A farmer found the body in a field close to Gordale on 16 May. The bird was taken to Abbey House vets in Leeds where an X-ray revealed a shotgun pellet lodged in the bird’s head. Further examinations are ongoing.
X-ray showing the pellet (bright white) in the bird's skull
Buzzards are fully protected by UK law, making it illegal to intentionally injure or kill one. Anyone found doing so could face a fine and up to six months in jail. Still, episodes like this are becoming worryingly commonplace.
On 10 May another buzzard was found injured at Norton Malton. This bird was found alive but with multiple lacerations to its head and both feet. We're unsure as to what caused these, but the injuries had clearly caused the bird a great deal of distress. On being X-rayed, an historic shot gun pellet was discovered in its leg, revealing that the bird had been shot at an earlier point in its life. The bird was cared for at a local specialist centre and released back into the wild over the weekend.
The illegal shooting of birds of prey is an ongoing problem in the UK, but North Yorkshire is consistently the worst county in England for these kinds of crimes. In March I wrote about two local businessmen who offered their own money to help police find out who has been killing red kites in Nidderdale. They, like many locals, were maddened by the criminal activity tarnishing their community and destroying their wildlife.
Likewise, Yorkshire Dales National Park authorities are speaking out against wildlife crime, which is not only cruel in itself but damaging to local tourism and detracting from one of England's most beautiful wild places.
Carl Lis, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authorities Chairman, said: “The shooting of this buzzard was a mindless and barbaric act. The fact that it only extends a long list of recent incidents makes it no less upsetting. I urge anyone who may have information to contact police.”
He added: “The person who shot this bird needs to know that their criminality risks hitting local businesses in the pocket. Birds of prey are a big attraction to visitors that come each year to the National Park. This buzzard was shot a short distance from Malham Cove, where nesting peregrines attract thousands of tourists.”
Despite its shocking condition, this buzzard recovered
There’s no doubt that cases like these are increasingly stirring up public anger, and rightly so. Over 70 birds of prey have been shot, trapped or poisoned in North Yorkshire alone in the last decade - and they're only the ones we know about. That’s hardly a reputation to be proud of.
If you have any information relating to this incident, call North Yorkshire police on 101.
If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact police and RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx