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
People have just about had enough of raptor persecution.
With hen harriers down to just a handful of pairs in England, and no peregrines breeding in the Dark Peak in 2017 for the first time since 1984, clearly something needs to be done. Newspapers are catching on; the public are becoming increasingly environmentally astute; the Government is pledging to restore nature in a generation (no mention of raptor persecution in the 25 Year Plan, but still… read more in Martin Harper’s blog) and this fired-up new generation are taking their concerns to Downing Street to discuss the issues facing the wildlife they (we) love and are set to inherit.
We’ve seen how driven grouse shooting contributes to the illegal persecution of raptors (68% of those convicted of raptor persecution are gamekeepers), and that better regulation is needed. The intense management practices, including burning, also damages vital upland peat bogs in protected areas.
As a result of this frustration, a number of petitions are also emerging. And while they don’t guarantee success, they do provide a window into public opinion that can’t be ignored.
Last year, Mark Farrar launched his online plea to extend Scotland’s vicarious liability laws to England and Wales. This would hold landowners accountable for the crimes of their staff, on their land. Meanwhile the hard line, calling for an outright ban, is being pushed by Mark Avery and those who see no other way to end persecution. Most recently, Ed Hutchings launched an online petition calling for driven grouse shooting to be licensed. This too is gathering momentum – and we believe represents a firm but fair way forward.
Licensing is something the RSPB is strongly behind, and so Ed's petition is the one we're backing. Law-abiding estates would have nothing to fear from licensing, but estates found to be illegally killing hen harriers and other birds of prey could have their license removed. We believe licensing could help improve standards, increase accountability, giving our hen harriers, and other birds of prey, a better chance.
We found out from Ed – a writer, birder and RSPB supporter – what prompted his petition...
Ed Hutchings: 'People should sign the petition if they care about the ecology of our uplands'
“Like many people, I’m sick to the back teeth of raptor persecution. Why some individuals feel that these beautiful creatures should continue to be shot, poisoned and trapped in the 21st century is beyond me. The archaic attitudes of the 18th and 19th centuries aren’t tolerated anymore. The wording of Jane Grigg’s petition ‘Don’t ban Grouse Shooting’ [“Killing vermin is a social service which benefits ALL wildlife. Birds of prey are over-protected and are out of balance with natural habitats and species”] shocked me to the core and I decide to take action in the form of a petition.”
We’ve seen evidence linking gamekeepers to bird of prey persecution, and moorlands empty of raptors imply that much more illegal killing goes on undetected. So what needs to change?
“We have, and sadly it’s the tip of the iceberg. How many persecuted birds are not found? The true number would horrify the general public. The pertinent fact is this: if you want to shoot gamebirds for fun (an activity in which I once partook but now abhor), then you need to accept that you are raising unnaturally high levels of them in a natural environment inhabited by predators, including birds of prey. If you lose some, tough. Accept it or stop shooting. They’re not playing by the rules. Why should our natural heritage be decimated by the minority that enjoy shooting for leisure? It’s outrageous.”
The RSPB’s Birdcrime 2016 report revealed that there were no prosecutions for raptor crimes in 2016, despite over 80 confirmed incidents. In response, the RSPB is calling for better enforcement – and for driven grouse shooting estates to be licensed.
“It’s a farce,” Ed agrees. “The Government and courts need to start taking this more seriously and police forces need greater support in tackling these cases. There are laws in place to protect these birds, but these are clearly not working. Furthermore, the law is pitifully lenient on those that are prosecuted. The paltry fines and sentences are no deterrent – a large estate will pay the fine and take a slap on the wrist. I am of the opinion that if your estate is proved to have persecuted raptors, then you lose your right to shoot game. Simple as that. And this is where licensing comes in. We need a powerful message sent out that it won’t be tolerated anymore.
“People should sign the petition if they care about the ecology of our uplands. Important wildlife sites are being destroyed or damaged by the poor management of many driven grouse moors, while raptors continue to be disturbed and persecuted. Self-regulation has failed, so I am asking for a robust licensing system. Those who breach conditions would have their licenses removed. Law-abiding grouse shoots would benefit from improved public confidence. What have shooting estates to fear if they are legal and sustainable? I hope it will lead to some form of licensing in the future. Apart from a ban, I can’t see any other way forward.”
You can sign the petition here. It runs until June.
Back in August we reported on disturbing events at a marsh harrier nesting site on Denton Moor in North Yorkshire where a series of visits resulted in shots being fired, eggs being removed and the breeding attempt not surprisingly being unsuccessful. Some of those events can be viewed here.
Two armed men leaving the marsh harrier nest, male on the right believed to be carrying at least one marsh harrier egg.
North Yorkshire Police took the matter very seriously made a number of local enquiries to speak with landowners and land users, interviewed two men and made a public appeal for information. Since then the force have made further enquiries to assess whether any forensic voice analysis could be undertaken on the conversation recorded by the RSPB’s covert video camera. It was hoped that it may be possible to compare this recording with the voices of potential suspects obtained during interview.
Unfortunately, the technical assessment ruled the quality of sound on the covert recording, on this occasion, would not be sufficient to allow a meaningful comparison to be made. RSPB would like to thank the North Yorkshire Police for their continued efforts to progress this investigation. Anyone with any further information should contact the police on 101 or contact the RSPB Investigations Section email@example.com.
The problem with illegal bird trapping on Cyprus has been well documented with a long term involvement in this issue by RSPB, BirdLife Cyprus and the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS). In the last few years there has been further profile raising by Chris Packham and recent 'Conservation hero of the Year' Ruth Peacey.
I have blogged previously about the use of covert cameras by RSPB Investigations and Sovereign Base Area (SBA) police which started in autumn 2016 to catch bird trappers – see here and here.
During 2016, 19 men were caught on camera at seven locations within the Eastern Sovereign Base Area (ESBA) in south east Cyprus and all, eventually, pleaded guilty. The final five from Operation Image were sentenced in court on Wednesday this week, and the two main culprits, a father and son, received really strong sentences. One received a 3200 Euro fine plus 20 months imprisonment, suspended for three years – so any offending in the next three years will result in a lengthy jail sentence. The other received an eye-watering 6600 Euro fine.
A cloud of feathers as a trapper cuts the throat of a blackcap - see the video footage here
The remaining three trappers, who had far less involvement, still received substantial fines between 800 and 1700 Euros. What was also very encouraging was that all five men received an exclusion order preventing them from entering parts of the ESBA for 12 months. This is a new initiative and a good example of the work being done by the SBA authorities to bring more pressure on the trapping community.
This was the first location where we installed the covert cameras in 2016, and I remember one of the SBA police officers telling me that he had been trying to catch these men for over ten years. So a few days later, when we revealed what was recorded on the first run from our covert camera, he was rather pleased to say the least. Because this process was new to everybody and setting other filming sites was more time-consuming than anticipated, we ended up running the camera at this first location for just over a week and filming trapping on seven days. The cumulative effect of all this evidence was instrumental in the punishments handed out at court.
One of the 19 trappers caught on covert camera during 2016 and later prosecuted
The fact that all 19 individuals were identified and successfully prosecuted is testament to the good work by the SBA police and prosecutors. The results of all the cases are detailed in the table below.
Details of court outcomes for all 19 trappers caught in 2016
As mentioned in my previous blog, catching trappers in autumn 2017 was, not surprisingly, rather more challenging. However, two men have already pleaded guilty and been fined a total of 1800 Euros. A more significant case involving another three individuals is yet to come to court. The bird trapping problem in the ESBA and large parts of Cyprus continues to be driven by the demand from the restaurant trade. Meaningful enforcement action by the Cypriot authorities on this issue has been almost non-existent in the last few years and far more needs to be done.
Whilst the SBA authorities are clearly committed to improving the deterrent impact of the enforcement work, the long-term goal has to be removal the many patches of non-native acacia in the ESBA. In late 2014, removal of these acacia plots began but ground to a halt in 2016 following large scale protests from the local trapping community. Completion of this work is badly needed to secure a permanent reduction on trapping levels within the ESBA. The RSPB has recently undertaken an assessment of how much of the trapping acacia still exists within the core range area and have made a number of recommendations to the SBA authorities.
In the next couple of months we will get the results of the annual BirdLife Cyprus trapping survey: hopefully this will show a significant reduction in trapping within the ESBA. Watch this space...