Documenting crimes against wild birds

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I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

Documenting crimes against wild birds

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Today we publish our annual Birdcrime report- the only centralised source of incident data for wild bird crime in the UK.  I am incredibly proud of this document as it reflects the hard work and dedication of volunteers, the RSPB’s Investigations team, the police, the statutory nature conservation agencies and others in tackling wildlife crime.  While impressive, the report remains a sobering read.

Here are this year's headlines.. 2014, the RSPB received 179 reports of shooting and destruction of birds of prey, including the confirmed shooting of 23 buzzards, nine peregrines, three red kites and a hen harrier.

...there have also been 72 reported incidents of wildlife poisoning and pesticide-related offences. Confirmed victims of poisoning include 23 red kites, 9 buzzards and four peregrine falcons.

...these figures are believed to represent only a fraction of the illegal persecution in the UK, with many incidents thought to be going undetected and unreported.

The messages in our latest report are clear...

...bird of prey persecutions still continues in many parts of the UK, and is one reason that is stopping some of our native birds of prey from recovering to their natural levels.  

...despite decades of legal protection, raptor persecution has been persistent over a wide geographical area with negative conservation impacts for several species. This is evidenced by a number of scientific studies and Government reports. As a result, the Government has made raptor persecution a national wildlife crime priority. protect birds of prey we must defend the laws that protect them, in particular the EU Nature Directives. We need a consistent approach and effort across the UK to protect our most threatened birds of prey, such as the hen harrier and golden eagle, from illegal persecution.

To me, each incident illustrated in the report shines a spotlight onto the almost hidden world of wildlife crime. These crimes against our most vulnerable species often occur in the remotest areas of our countryside, away from the public eye. On occasions it seems like a small miracle that any cases get to court at all, depending, as they do, on witnesses not only recognising that a crime has occurred, but knowing how to report it.

Many of these crimes are hard to police and serve as a reminder that tackling wildlife offences requires both effective penalties and suitably resourced enforcing authorities.

I am often asked about the RSPB's position on proposals to strengthen protection for wild birds.  So for the avoidance of doubt, here is a summary of what we believe is needed...

...we support the role of the National Wildlife Crime Unit to aid police dealing with wildlife crime and have urged a rethink of proposed budget cuts which could impact on species protection.

...we want full implementation of the laws which protect those species, including more effective penalties, to enable enforcement and provide a genuine deterrent to those who stand to gain from wildlife crime. For example we think the introduction of a robust system of licensing to govern driven grouse shooting and vicarious liability for wildlife crimes throughout the UK could lead to many improvements. We are disappointed that the Law Commission's review of wildlife law (here) failed to pick up these recommendations 

...we will continue to share knowledge with partner organisations to help in the fight against wildlife crime in the UK and throughout the EU, via our involvement in the European Network against Environmental Crime (ENEC).

Our campaign in defence of the EU Nature Directives has demonstrated (once again) the huge public support for protection of the environment in the UK and throughout Europe. And, the over the past two years we've seen growing public unrest about the ongoing illegal killing of wild birds.  This has expressed itself through the Hen Harrier Days which started in 2014 and protests in the streets which followed the mass poisoning of red kites and buzzards in Scotland.  These represent just a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands who have called for an end to bird of prey persecution.

And, it is clear that many members of the shooting community want an end to illegal persecution and make a significant contribution to conservation.  While we will continue to work with the police to crack down on illegality, we will also continue to work with anyone that wants to see our birds of prey fly free from harm. 

It is only by working together that we can finally consign bird of prey persecution to the history books.

  • That's kind, Rob.  Hopefully one or two others will also step up and share their views.  350-500 words as ever!

  • Martin,

    I would be willing to tackle this one on behalf of the many shooters and conservationists (for they are the same) who wish to curtail and stop wildlife crime. Perhaps more importantly, I would be willing to explain in more detail why it happens - something not generally found in books or talked about.

    Rob Yorke


  • Good challenges, Vanellus - I'll see what I can do!

  • I would be interested to have some numbers on the 'many' shooters who want to stop wildlife crime. Perhaps you could get one of this throng to write a guest blog.