Investigations

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Investigations

Read about our Investigations team, working hard to keep our birds and wildlife safe
  • Eaves dropping

    Following a ‘please help’ call from the Police, my morning’s work suddenly changed!

    I was on the road in five minutes, armed with binoculars, camera, video, map and notebook. Thankfully, this was not a long drive and I arrived at a sleepy country village some forty minutes later.

    As I stepped out of the car, the evidence was all around like some type of training video or TV ‘whodunnit’.

    A Police car was parked outside a house, which appeared to be having external decorations including new fascia boards. The air was full of alarm calling house martins.

    You may have guessed it? - another house martin nest destruction incident.

    I began to take evidential video and photographs. On the front of the house, just under the missing fascia board, were the tell tale outlines of the remains of a house martin nest.

    All the time the adult birds were repeatedly flying to the spot where their nest had been only a matter of an hour before. I always find this situation hard to comprehend both legally and morally. How can a bird that weighs only 8 grams and flies several thousand miles each year to return to exactly the same house, be subjected to this type of unnecessary destruction?

    The remains of the nest are found in a bucket - it’s made of hundreds of small fragments of sun baked mud and lined with soft downy feathers. Its construction is a miracle itself.

    Within the mess are six tiny smashed eggs and gone are the hopes of this nesting attempt. I cannot help wondering exactly what these birds will do; will they have time to build again on a new house and if so, will the householder want them? I really hope so. There just has to be a place for birds like this in our modern world - after all, swallows and martins have lived alongside man for thousands of years.

    I finish off assisting the police, taking notes and photographing the remains of the nest and we then discuss tactics to investigate this further.

    I return to The Lodge with the remains of the nest and its contents securely sealed in Police evidence bags and contemplate the morning’s events.

    Active house martin nests and their contents are, like all wild birds nests, legally protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

    For more details about house martins, please visit: http://www.rspb.org.uk/housemartin

  • Goshawks and sticky squirrels - Peak Malpractice update

    Late one Friday evening in early March, I received a most peculiar message. A local birdwatcher had been wandering along a forest ride in the Derwent Valley in the Peak District National Park when he had come across the body of a squirrel, lying on its back, on top of a wall.

    On closer examination, he saw the animal was lying on a mat of strands of baler twine and that a translucent substance had been applied in obvious broad lines across the body. When he touched this with his gloved hand, he realised it was a very powerful adhesive.

    He was worried that a bird of prey trying to feed on the corpse might get tangled in this sticky mass, so sensibly he decide to hide the carcass nearby and contact the RSPB.

    Unfortunately, in common with much of upland Britain, there have been problems of bird of prey persecution in this area. In 2006, the RSPB produced a hard-hitting report, titled 'Peak Malpractice,' about these issues, and in particular the problems faced by goshawks and peregrines.

    I knew the forest in question was a regular breeding place for the rare and elusive goshawk, and we had evidence of goshawks being illegally killed here in the recent past. In view of this, I dashed across the following day to meet the finder.

    As we made our way through the forest the significance of what had been found became clear. The squirrel was on a forest ride within 100 yards of two large goshawk nests built during previous breeding seasons.

    Whilst I was appropriately licensed to visit the nest sites of rare breeding birds, I was conscious that the breeding season would soon be underway and one of the nests was probably about to be refurbished in preparation for egg laying.

    Sure enough, the squirrel - and the wall where it had lain - had traces of a very sticky, non-setting adhesive. I didn't want to cause any undue disturbance, so quickly took photos and took the squirrel away in an evidence bag.

    The goshawk is an impressive and powerful bird, and squirrels are a popular prey item. I had no doubt this was a deliberate attempt to interfere with the birds. A goshawk fancying an easy meal could have become hopelessly entangled and stuck to the baler twine and this could easily have lead to the death of the bird.

    We quickly left the area, hoping the goshawks would be left in peace. However, this was not to be. In April, a further ball of baler twine and glue was found close to the nest site – had another 'sticky squirrel' trap been laid out? Things then seemed to be improving when the birds started to raise four chicks, but during a 24 hour period in June, the four chicks promptly disappeared.

    There seems little doubt this was human interference and this seems to be another sad chapter in the recent troubled history of goshawks in this area.

    • The RSPB has just published a report about bird of prey persecution in the Dark Peak area. Read about it here
  • Doubting Thomas snapped in the act

    On May 7 2006, two RSPB members noticed their next-door neighbour, Steven Thomas of Haul Y Fryn, Ferwig, Cardigan, destroying an active house martin present under the gable of his house, using a hosepipe and a tall wooden pole.

    The witnesses were able to obtain three photographs of the destruction whilst it was taking place, one of which featured an adult house martin hovering just above the nest site, whilst the pole could be clearly seen positioned under the gable.

    I was contacted at RSPB Investigations and instigated a joint investigation with Dyfed-Powys Police.

    Police Wildlife Crime Officer, PC Arwyn Mason, interviewed the suspect, who claimed the nest was not active, that he was removing it in order to undertake decorating and that the bird on the image was a swallow.

    The case resulted in a one-day trial at Cardigan Magistrates Court on May 18 2007. I supported the prosecution by providing expert evidence in relation to house martin behaviour, whilst the defence employed ex-RSPB Head of Investigations, Peter Robinson, in a similar role. The court heard detailed evidence from all parties, particularly in respect of house martin breeding ecology.

    The court found the two witnesses and myself to be credible witnesses and concluded that the house martin nest was active, as the witness had been watching its construction, which was almost fully completed at the time of the incident.

    Furthermore, the court accepted that it was Steven Thomas who had destroyed the nest and commented that the photographs from the witness were useful in confirming events.

    The court found Steven Thomas guilty and he was fined £400 with £300 costs.

    In July 2007, Steven Thomas appealed against his conviction on the basis that in his opinion, the verdict of guilt did not match with the evidence heard by the court. So on Friday 3 August 2007, we were all back at court, this time at Swansea Crown Court.

    The evidence was all heard again and the Judge of this court once more found Steven Thomas guilty and ordered him to pay an additional £500 costs.

    The RSPB wishes to thank the two witnesses and PC Mason.