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Twenty years of war waged on birds of prey

Last modified: 16 September 2010

Golden eagle on the ground

A magnificent golden eagle as it should be seen: wildife criminals don't want you to see this

2009 was another shocking year for the persecution of birds of prey with incidents of shooting, trapping and poisoning, according to the RSPB’s 20th annual Birdcrime report. With 384 reported persecution incidents against birds of prey in the UK, 2009 was the second worst year for these crimes in the last decade.  Only 2007, with 389 cases, was worse.

Twenty years of reporting in Birdcrime, has revealed that several police force areas suffer higher levels of bird of prey persecution. In England top of the league are: North Yorkshire; West Mercia; Northumbria; Devon & Cornwall; and Cumbria.


In the report, the RSPB has identified 11 recommendations for government action, so that these appalling crimes can be eradicated.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, said: “Wildlife crimes are an abhorrent feature of our countryside. And for the sake of eagles, kites, harriers, buzzards, falcons and ospreys we have to take more action to consign these crimes to history. Over time, egg collecting has diminished, but the killing of birds of prey is as big a threat today as it was two decades ago.

“Earlier this year, the former Wildlife Minister – Huw Irranca-Davies – was one of more than 210,000 people to sign a pledge to protect birds of prey. This is a powerful voice and we will not rest until their cries have been heard by government.”

In 2009, the government announced that bird of prey persecution was one of the top wildlife crime priorities.  In view of the current spending review, the RSPB is concerned that resources to tackle wildlife crime will be seen as a soft option.  The RSPB wants to see: a commitment from the government to tackling these crimes; long-term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit; and a full wildlife crime review in England.

During 2009, there were 384 reported incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK, including: 224 in England; 123 in Scotland; 17 in Wales; and 11 in Northern Ireland. Nine crimes against birds of prey could not be assigned to a country and were recorded at a UK level.

The conflict with land managed for the shooting of game birds remains the main problem for birds of prey, particularly the upland grouse-shooting estates in northern England and Scotland. The main birds of prey affected are: golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, hen harrier, goshawk, peregrine and red kite.

Removing shooting rights

The RSPB is concerned the shooting industry appears unable to self-police and the Society believes new legislation is required to make the managers and employers of those committing these crimes legally accountable.  Options such as vicarious liability – that holds these people accountable for crimes committed by their staff - and removing the shooting rights for individuals and errant estates need to be considered.  These measures would provide a significant deterrent without imposing a burden on legitimate shooting interests.

Although crimes against birds of prey are widespread across the UK, analysis of the figures by the RSPB over the past two decades shows that some constabulary areas are hotspots for wildlife crime.

In England, since 1990, the five police forces with the highest levels of ‘confirmed’ crimes against birds of prey have been:

·         North Yorkshire with 64 confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents;

·         West Mercia with 61 confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents;

·         Northumbria with 58 confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents;

·         Devon and Cornwall with 57 confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents;

·         Cumbria with 47 confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents;

The Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead for wildlife crime is Richard Crompton. In the report’s foreword he states: “The illegal killing or persecution of birds of prey is totally unacceptable, the protection offered to birds of prey by the law is clear and the police will enforce that legislation.”

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Birdcrime 2009 (2.5Mb)
Birdcrime 2009 report

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