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
Back in March I provided an update on events in Cyprus, outlining the use of covert cameras by RSPB Investigations unit and Sovereign Base Area (SBA) police in autumn 2016 to catch bird trappers.
Myself and a colleague installed covert cameras at seven locations with the Eastern Sovereign Base Area (ESBA) which showed 19 individuals removing struggling birds from mist nets, then killing them with knives before tossing the bodies into bags. These nets were set in areas planted with non-native acacia and used electronic calling devices playing birdsong to lure the migrant birds into the nets.
During 2017 the legal proceeding against these individuals have taken shape. In April, I attended a meeting with senior officials and the prosecutor in Cyprus and it was clear how much effort was being made to try to ensure these cases were well presented to the court.
Faced with the damning footage it is not surprising that several of the trappers entered guilty pleas. During this week eight men from three of the operations, code named ‘Jar’, ‘Jasmin’ and ‘Jumbo’, pleaded guilty at the court which covers this British military base. The graphic footage had shown them catching and killing over eighty birds and it was clear from the footage that many more birds were caught in other mists nets being operated nearby but out of view of the covert camera.
Operation Jar - trapper caught killing a bird with a knife and throwing it to the floor
On Monday 12 June 2017, in relation to operations ‘Jar’ and ‘Jasmin’, six men appeared at the Dhekelia Court within the ESBA for sentencing following earlier guilty pleas to a number of offences. The three men from Operation Jar were each fined a substantial 2500 Euros: well above the average fine for these offences. The footage showed them beating the bushes with long poles in order to flush migrant birds into the mist nets. Over 25 birds were caught and killed from the main net over three days, with other nets also in use. The three males from Operation Jasmin were fined 1540 (two men) and 820 Euros. The footage related to two mist nets and showed over 40 birds being caught and killed over two days.
VIDEO: Operation Jasmin - two of the trappers caught extracting and killing birds
I believe these fines were something of a shock to the local trapping community. While it is hoped this may start to act as a more meaningful deterrent it may also bring additional problems. There have already been significant demonstrations on the ESBA by the local pro-trapping community to prevent work to clear the non-native acacia. In the long term it is essential these killing fields are removed from the ESBA to tackle the high levels of illegal trapping that remain in this area. Following the cases on Monday, at around 3am on Tuesday morning an explosive device was thrown into the SBA police compound from a passing motorcycle. One officer received some minor injuries and fortunately nobody was more seriously hurt. Whether this was as a direct result of the events in the court the previous day is unknown, but it clearly demonstrates some of the tensions that exist on Cyprus and the difficult, and sometimes dangerous, work which the SBA police have to undertake.
The final case was dealt with earlier today (16 June), and the two men Operation Jumbo were fined 1200 Euros and interestingly also received a four month sentence suspended for three years. This now puts both men in a very serious position if they intend to carry on bird trapping.
There are still several cases to deal with and we will report on these in due course. On a personal note I would like to thank the work of the SBA police and the prosecutor who presented the evidence to the court. The project was run with the support of BirdLife Cyprus and with funding provided by the Oak Foundation.
Reaching new heights for conservation - guest post by Mark Thomas, RSPB Investigations
Yesterday the sight of a scruffy, fluffy peregrine chick gulping down a beakful of meat had a fair few of us punching the air. High atop Salisbury Cathedral’s tower (the highest in the country, as it turns out!), huddled around TV monitors, we watched as the cathedral’s nesting peregrine fed her new foster chick for the first time – signalling that the chick had been accepted into the nest. A few hours later, the footage went out to millions on Springwatch, and the whole country was able to share in our joy in this success story.
This morning, we tuned into the live webcam and watched the new family snoozing together, huddled in an indistinguishable mass of feathers. The original chick seems happy with its new sibling, and both birds are being fed by the adults.
Meanwhile, the other two orphan chicks have been successfully placed in a new nest in the Midlands. A job well done all round!
VIDEO: Go behind the scenes with Mark Thomas as he describes his day. Turns out that getting the chick up the tower was only half the problem... Watch the video
However the question of how the parent birds were killed still remains – this is now being investigated by police and we hope that someone will come forward with information.
Springwatch presenter Iolo Williams got in touch after last night's show to express his concern that birds like peregrines are being taken from our skies:
“I cannot believe we are still dealing with incidents like this in the 21st century. The peregrine falcon is an iconic species; it's tragic that a few mindless idiots have robbed the people of Clee of one of its most spectacular birds.”
Peregrine chick waiting to meet its new foster family at Salisbury Cathedral
Over the weekend, we blogged about three peregrine chicks which were rescued from a nest in Shropshire after the parent birds were found illegally killed. The rescue went swimmingly – you can watch the video here! – but this left us with three fluffy, noisy peregrine chicks in need of a home.
The decision was reached to foster the orphaned chicks into carefully-selected nests in the wild. A suitable nest was identified in the Midlands, and the third chick, the smaller male, would be fostered in the Salisbury Cathedral nest, as featured on Springwatch. Tune in on Wednesday night, BBC2, to see how the chick is getting on with his new family.
Fostering has been done before, always with success, and was the only option in these extreme circumstances (keeping the chicks in captivity would have greatly limited their chance of success). Choosing the right foster nests, however, was crucial. We wanted families with no more than one or two chicks, of a similar age to our orphan chicks. Peregrine parents usually raise 2-4 young, and should accept a newcomer and raise it as its own. We also needed nests which were easy to access, so as to cause minimal disturbance. Better still, because the Salisbury Cathedral nest has a camera on it, we will be able to watch the chick’s progress!
You can view the live webcam here
“This has been an incredible conservation rescue mission,” said Mark Thomas, RSPB Principal Specialist. “Passionate people have worked together and gone above and beyond to save these birds – without everyone’s help this could not have succeeded.”
With thanks to:
Shropshire Peregrine Group South Peak Raptor Group Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) Natural England Salisbury Cathedral Adventures Are Us West Mercia Police
Peregrine chicks rescued after adults found dead in Shropshire - guest post by Tim Jones of RSPB Investigations. Last Wednesday was shaping up to be a rather uninspiring office day at work, but as I’ve come to learn from this job, days can change in the blink of an eye.
I got a call informing me that a peregrine falcon had been found dead at Clee Hill in Shropshire. There was no sign of the other adult and this left a nest of young chicks dependent and vulnerable. I quickly got my stuff together and set off, stopping to pick up Darren Thomas from Adventures Are Us who had hastily been recruited to do the climbing to rescue the chicks. As we were driving I was aware that, behind the scenes, frantic back-up calls were being made simultaneously by several staff at RSPB's UK Head Office in Sandy to inform the Police, Natural England, a vet and a raptor rehabilitation centre, amongst others.
We arrived and met the local raptor workers – part of the Shropshire Peregrine Group who do a fantastic job looking after peregrines. Driving round to view the crag where the nest was, we saw the dead adult peregrine – an extremely sad sight lying on its back on the grass. Continuing on just a little further and I found the body of the other adult peregrine lying close to the original bird. A truly harrowing sight to see two of the fastest birds in the world lifeless on the ground. But there was still a chance to save the chicks. Liaising with quarry staff, Darren set up his ropes and then, naturally, it started raining! Knowing that the chicks were quite young (still fluffy and unable to protect themselves from the weather) it really was a race against time. While Darren descended towards the nest, I collected the bodies of the adult birds: these would be sent off for testing to determine the cause of death. I also fielded calls from Sandy HQ and kept them up to date with the situation.
Before long, after a tense descent in unfavourable weather, Darren was safely back on the ground with three fluffy peregrine chicks. All three seemed healthy (if a little hungry) and they certainly let us know with lots of loud calling!
As required to legally possess wild birds in these situations, we got the noisy chicks straight off to local vets for a check-up. After an 'all clear' from the vet, we gave the chicks their first feed in at least 24 hours. Needless to say they were very hungry and scoffed down all the food offered! With the chicks now settled and content we had the heads up that Jean Thorpe who runs a brilliant rehabilitation centre near York had agreed to take the birds. The birds arrived at Jean's in good condition and enjoyed another feed! It was clear they each had their own characteristics: the two larger females were very noisy and the little male quiet but clearly very eager to eat as much as he could to catch up with his sisters! Clee Hill has a history of Peregrine persecution and at this time it is strongly suspected that the dead birds have been deliberately and illegally poisoned. West Mercia Police Wildlife Crime Officer PC David Walton said: "We urge anyone with information about the death of these magnificent birds to come forward, quoting incident ref 0676 S 30/5/17. "I believe that, had it not been for the fast action of all parties working together, we would have certainly lost the chicks as well as the adults, which look to have been poisoned." A rewarding but sadly typical day fighting raptor persecution for the RSPB. Next, we hope to place the chicks into foster nests early next week - watch this space!