Raptor persecution is a national disgrace: Birdcrime 2016 reveals the reality facing our birds of prey

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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

Raptor persecution is a national disgrace: Birdcrime 2016 reveals the reality facing our birds of prey

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Every year, the RSPB publishes Bird Crime - the only centralised source of incident data for wild bird crime in the UK.  The latest report published today 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 (brilliantly presented online this year) the report is a sobering read.  Below, Bob Elliot, Head of RSPB Investigations, gives an overview of this year's data, highlights action needed by governments across the UK and concludes by saying what you can do to help stop the llegal killing of birds of prey. 

Image courtesy of Tim Jones

Guest blog by Bob Elliot, Head of RSPB Investigations

Seeing a peregrine falcon, red kite or even (if you’re very lucky) a golden eagle gliding overhead is one of the great joys of the British natural world. Birds of prey are graceful, deadly and bewitching; catching the eye of a buzzard perched high in a tree by a roadside creates a thrilling link between our world and the wild: a connection that’s in danger of being lost amidst our busy, modern lives.

As well as bringing joy and even boosting tourism, birds of prey are indicators of a healthy ecosystem. But our birds of prey are in trouble. Despite full legal protection, these birds are being relentlessly persecuted, as the RSPB’s latest Birdcrime report confirms.

Birdcrime 2016 came out on 1 November 2017, revealing an insight into the reality of bird of prey persecution in the UK. The report, published annually, documents the offences against wild birds that are reported to the RSPB’s investigations team each year. These latest figures show 81 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in 2016, including trapping, poisoning and shooting. This is having a severe impact on the conservation status of some species, as well as robbing us of the right to enjoy these birds in the wild.

Of particular concern are the incidents taking place in our uplands, over land managed for driven grouse shooting. We know from population studies, and from data collected by satellite-tagging birds, that raptors are ‘disappearing’ and failing to breed on grouse moors – and that illegal persecution is largely behind this.

Image courtesy of PC Sykes

Some offences, like the nesting hen harrier which was shot on a grouse moor in Scotland, were even caught on camera. But incredibly, despite 81 confirmed incidents, there was not one prosecution for raptor persecution offences in 2016. This clearly isn’t right.

Birdcrime 2016 also puts North Yorkshire grimly in the spotlight as it has, once again, emerged as the county with the highest number of these kind of crimes. In the last five years, North Yorkshire has seen double the number of confirmed incidents than the second-highest county. So much so that locals recently raised it as an issue at a Yorkshire Dales National Park public consultation.

Worse still, we know that these incidents are just the tip of a much larger iceberg, and that far more raptor persecution incidents must go unreported and undetected in remote countryside areas. Illegal killing has been identified, by independent reports, as one of the key drivers in the decline of some bird of prey populations. Only three hen harrier nests fledged young in England this year, despite habitat for over 300 pairs. This makes their survival as a breeding bird in England very precarious indeed.

Image courtesy of Guy Shorrock

What can be done?

The long-term picture shows that, while the number of incidents fluctuates year on year, we are seeing no significant reduction in bird of prey persecution in the UK. There are laws in place to protect these birds, but these are clearly not working. The RSPB is calling for improved law enforcement as well as the introduction of a licensing system for driven grouse shooting. This would encourage estates to operate within the law at the risk of losing their license to shoot.

We strongly hope that, when this report drops into the inboxes of MPs and decision makers, it will persuade them to do more to protect our UK wildlife. Raptor persecution is a national disgrace, and the more of you that talk about it, share your outrage on social media and write to your local MPs, the more chance we have of changing attitudes and saving our birds of prey.

To read the report, go to: www.rspb.org.uk/birdcrime.


  • Thanks for your comments Mike, how refreshing to have an attitude like yours.

  • Thanks Mike - I agree.  The BASC statement was a welcome sign of leadership from within the shooting community - unequivocal and clear.  Now the deeds must follow.

  • Well done the BASC and Christopher Graffius in particular. Never thought I would say that! Clearly the excellent work done by the RSPB in producing and publicising the Birdcrime 2017 report has galvanized opinion and produced results.

    In the last 48 hours I have seen Guy Shorrock's excellent piece on the BBC, I have read today's critical article in the Times, I have read the clear statement from the Chair of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, I have read Mr Graffius article to the membership of the BASC (see extract below) and I have even viewed a clip re persecution of raptors on the New Scientist website. All very clear and very critical.

    "Christopher Graffius, acting chief executive of the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC), said that killing the birds to protect pheasants and grouse was a fool’s bargain that his members had to stop or risk their sport being banned.(banned not licenced!).In a letter to his organisation’s 150,000 members he said that there were criminals among us who risked wrecking shooting for the majority.All of us need to realise that the killing of raptors is doing us no favours. It risks terminal damage to the sport we love“.

    The times they are a changing.

  • I'm really pleased to see that the report does not pull any punches. Well done.

  • Martin

    60 years ago the National Trust sanctioned killing sparrowhawks on its land  - time and culture have moved on and the govt needs to take a stronger lead on this and cultivate a climate of trust. Without stronger leadership, there is spiral of deepening distrust with collateral damage on both wildlife and livelihoods - just look at Malta.

    Social media does not help. Too often a raptor dies of unknown cause - speculation reverts to knee jerk, vitriol flows, fingers are pointed and defensive reactions destroy chances of working together. Months later the results are negative but the judgement damage and feelings entrenched. Seeking to understand why the issue of raptor persecution - from both shooting interests, racing pigeon fanciers and others - is key while govt enforces the law.

    The subject of my blog for you on this same subject last year www.rspb.org.uk/.../bird-crime-a-shooters-view-draft-27-1-guest-blog-for-martin-harper.aspx


  • We still have to contend with attitudes as expressed in this GWCT blog on the Westminster debate on Oct. 17th about protection of curlews. Read also the comments to see what we're up against.


  • Well done RSPB for this bird crime report and I thought Mark Thomas of the RSPB was excellent when talking about it on the BBC progemme Farming Today this morning. The failure of the authorities, government and police, to pursue any prosecutions in 2016 is a national disgrace. It boarders on corruption. The vested interests of shooting and the money that goes with it are once again “getting away with it “, depriving the ordinary person of seeng the wonders of Golden Eagles, Perigrine Falcons, and Hen Harriers and much other wildlife.

    This whole deplorable situation of continuing crimes of raptor persecution in this country is a reflection of the third and fourth rate standards of many individuals in Government and other authorities, demonstrating all the time, what is expedient to them instead of what is the right action to take.