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
It’s October, and by now the fledglings of spring will be on the wing, making their own way in the world and ready to face their first winter.
But one of the class of 2017 has hit a worrying bump in the road to adulthood.
Last month (September), a juvenile peregrine falcon was discovered by a member of the public on the outskirts of Cambridge. It appeared the bird had been grounded for several days. The peregrine was taken to the Raptor Foundation nearby, who contacted police and the RSPB.
When the bird was x-rayed, it was clear what had happened. The bright white shape of an air rifle pellet could be seen lodged in the peregrine’s shoulder: this bird had been shot. There was also a fragment of metal in its wing, preventing the bird from flying. Vets believe the bird could have been shot up to two weeks before it was reported, living with the pellet lodged in its body. It is now being looked after at the centre, and receiving physiotherapy.
Says Simon Dudhill of the Raptor Foundation: “We had hoped to be able to release the bird back to the wild, but early indications are proving to be less than positive. The wing is not mending as quickly as we'd like, despite extensive treatment. We really want to see this beautiful bird back in the skies again – fingers crossed.”
From the ring on its leg the bird was identified as one of three that fledged from a nest on the outskirts of Cambridge earlier this year.
Like all birds of prey, peregrines are protected by UK law. Anyone found guilty of killing or harming a peregrine could face an unlimited fine and, or, six months in jail.
Peregrine falcons are the fastest birds in the world, still no peregrine is a match for a gun. Usually it's a joy when magnificent raptors like these make a home in our cities - they bring an exciting flash of wilderness to our domestic routines and there's no reason why humans and peregrines can't live shoulder to shoulder. Still, someone has clearly, deliberately shot this bird.
We urge anyone with information to come forward – it’s information from people like you that can (a) alert us to grounded birds of prey and (b) help police find out who’s responsible.
"This was a senseless act, causing injury and distress to a protected bird,” said PC Alun Bradshaw. "I'd encourage anyone who has information about this incident to contact the police and the RSPB. Doing so might prevent other wildlife from being harmed in the same way."
If you have any information relating to this incident, call Cambridgeshire Police on 101 using the reference number CF0539270917.
If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB Investigations on 01767 680551, email firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in the online form.
Back in June I blogged about the work RSPB Investigations undertook in Cyprus last year with the Sovereign Base Area (SBA) police. This involved installing covert cameras to catch bird trappers on the British Military base.
Myself and a colleague installed covert cameras at seven locations within the Eastern Sovereign Base Area (ESBA) at Dhekelia which caught 19 individuals. There was grisly footage of trappers 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. In addition to the three successful cases mentioned in June, we have recently learned of a further three cases resulting in the conviction of another six individuals. In total, six of the seven cases have now resulted in the conviction of all 14 bird trappers who were caught on camera - really excellent work by the police and prosecutors. The table below shows the case outcomes in more detail.
Operation Ice - illegally killed birds being tipped into a bag. All three trappers received a fine and a six month jail sentence suspended for three years. See the video clip here
Just one case involving a further five individuals has yet to be dealt with. What has been most encouraging is how seriously the court is taking this graphic video evidence - six of the trappers have received jail sentences of between three and six months, suspended for three years. These individuals are now on clear notice. If they are caught again within the next three years, they will be sent to jail plus whatever sentence is given for the new offences. Hopefully, this will focus their minds very carefully before they think about coming on to the Sovereign Base Area to set their nets.
Operation Jarvis - trappers checking their net, both were fined and one received a four month jail sentence suspended for three years. See the video clip here
It is clear the SBA Police are currently stepping up their enforcement efforts - and sent a very strong message to the trapping community in August. Hopefully this will be reflected in a reduction in trapping levels on the base this autumn. However, one major problem that does remain is the large areas on the base still planted with non-native acacia groves. These killing fields are where the trappers set their deadly nets. Some clearance of this has been undertaken by the SBA authorities, but this appears to have stalled due to local protests. Much more needs to be done. Please read Martin Harper's blog from earlier today outlining how you can help.
Over the past year Sally has been the ‘poster girl’ for Montagu’s harrier conservation, especially after being filmed by the BBC Autumnwatch programme having a satellite-tag fitted.
Sally being released by Martin Hughes Games from BBC Autumnwatch
She was paired with Roger another satellite tagged male Montagu’s harrier and has bred successfully in Norfolk for the past two seasons, raising a total of five juveniles. They are rare birds, in fact the only pair of Montagu’s harriers left in eastern England and one of only four pairs in the UK.
Sally amazed everyone last winter by travelling the furthest south any tagged Montagu’s harrier has ever gone and wintered in Ghana. This year she timed her return migration to perfection, arriving back in Norfolk at the exact time as Roger and they met up once more over last year’s breeding field – we blogged about this and it featured on a BBC Radio 4 Farming Today broadcast.
This year they successfully reared three juveniles, from a nest that was fenced from ground predators by the RSPB with landowner co-operation. This species is highly dependent on landowner support as they nest on the ground often in arable crops.The three juveniles were fitted with uniquely identifiable colour ringed and started moving away from the nest area two weeks ago. Data from the satellite tags told us that Sally and Roger remained in the wider nest area until last Sunday, when Sally went missing.
Her satellite tag has been very reliable giving us a daily window into her life. Crossing the Mediterranean, facing inhospitable deserts for days on end and finally reaching her breeding home in Norfolk. So many times we have cheered for Sally when all the odds seemed against her.
We know she roosted just North of Bircham Tofts, Norfolk on Saturday (5th August 2017) as we have several precise data points during the evening. She was then reliably seen by birdwatcher at mid-day on Sunday (6th August 2017) near her nest site. Finally we received data at 5.25hrs on Sunday (6th August 2017) telling us the tag had good voltage but this reading did not give an accurate location. The programming of her tag meant that we would have expected transmissions into that evening but we received nothing further despite a number of satellites passing overhead.
Since then we have had no more transmissions and she hasn’t been seen despite searching. Roger has been at the nest site, alone.
Satellite tags are highly reliable and will continue transmitting signals even when a bird is dead, so long as the tag is in daylight; this enables you to locate the body and tag. In fact, the Dutch Montagu’s’ Harrier Foundation recently located a tag on a dead Montagu’s harrier in Senegal, Africa over a year after the bird died, as the tag had reliably been transmitting a signal every day.
Almut Schlaich of the Dutch Montagu's Harrier Foundation showing the recovered tag around a village in Senegal
Even if a tag is face down when a bird dies it will transmit a signal for several days until the battery runs down. We have checked the predicted satellite passes and we should have had quite a few over the proceeding days even if she had died naturally - we have had nothing from Sally. Scientist Raymond Klaassen who has been involved with satellite-tagging of Montagu’s harriers wrote the following blog explaining the excellent reliability of the tags.
Sally has become a ‘catastrophic failure’ statistic and Norfolk Police have been informed.
In 2014, we lost another satellite-tagged female Montagu’s harrier known as ‘Mo’ near Bircham Common and only two days apart from Sally
We are obviously very concerned about what has happened to Sally especially in light of the findings of the recent Scottish Government review of the fates of Scottish satellite-tagged Golden eagles
This is a major blow for this species in the UK and we are gutted.
Sally was fitted with a colour ring with the initials 'CP' after Chris Packham
Sally - you were a remarkable harrier and have given us a clear insight in to the ecology and problems faced by this species.
Anyone with any information is urged to call Norfolk Police on 101 quoting ref 12815082017.