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Goshawk is a scarce breeding species in Britain, the numbers of which are severely restricted by illegal persecution. Photo: Peter Cairns (RSPB).
Goshawk is a scarce breeding species in Britain, the numbers of which are severely restricted by illegal persecution. Photo: Peter Cairns (RSPB).Enlarge image

RSPB: government must get tough on raptor killers

Posted on: 12 Feb 2017

Illegal persecution of birds of prey is still happening all too regularly in the British countryside, according to the RSPB’s Birdcrime 2015 report.

The report is published now in a new online interactive format, and the charity is asking governments across the UK to take urgent action now to stop this slaughter. It reveals 196 reports of shooting and destruction of birds of prey including the confirmed shooting of 16 Common Buzzards, 11 Peregrine Falcons, three Red Kites, one Red-footed Falcon and one Hen Harrier.

The report, published online for the first time, also shows 50 reports of wildlife poisoning and pesticide-related offences. Confirmed victims of poisoning include 15 Common Buzzards, four Red Kites and three Peregrine Falcons. These figures represent only a fraction of the illegal persecution in the UK, with many incidents going undetected and unreported.

Derbyshire is one of the worst counties in the country for bird of prey persecution. Birdcrime 2015 reveals that there were five confirmed incidents against raptors in that county including the shooting of a Peregrine Falcon, a Goshawk and a Common Buzzard, while a further two buzzards were poisoned.

Despite raptor persecution being identified as one of the UK government’s top wildlife crime priorities in 2009, the persecution of birds of prey still remains an issue of serious concern with around 590 birds of prey nationally having been confirmed poisoned, shot, trapped or destroyed in the last six years.

In March 2015, a satellite-tagged Hen Harrier named Annie was found shot dead in Scotland, while another tagged bird called Lad was found dead that year on Speyside, having injuries consistent with being shot. In England, another five breeding male Hen Harriers 'disappeared' from nesting sites. Although we will probably never know the fate of these individuals, the evidence shows that illegal killing remains the single biggest factor preventing Hen Harrier recovery.

In November last year, news emerged that another satellite-tagged Hen Harrier named Rowan was also found dead with injuries consistent with being shot, and only three pairs of the species successfully bred in England in 2016, despite there being enough suitable habitat to support over 300 pairs.

Martin Harper, RSPB Director of Conservation, said: “Our uplands are deprived of some amazing wildlife because of ongoing illegal persecution and it has to stop.”

It is not only conservation organisations fighting for the protection of our wildlife. Public anger is growing stronger over the ongoing persecution of our birds of prey and the state of our uplands, and more voices are beginning to call for change.  

Martin Harper said: “The status quo is not an option and we continue to call, throughout the UK, for the introduction of a robust licensing system for driven grouse shooting and an offence of vicarious liability for employers whose staff commit wildlife crime. Change is essential if we are to improve environmental condition of our uplands.”

In January 2015, an Aberdeenshire gamekeeper, George Mutch, received a four month prison sentence for the killing of a Goshawk, the illegal use of two cage traps and the taking of a buzzard and a second Goshawk. The offences came to light during the review of footage captured by RSPB video cameras deployed on the Kildrummy Estate in August 2012, as part of a long-term project monitoring the use of cage traps in Scotland.

Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, said: “This sentence shows that people who continue to break the law and kill protected species face the prospect of prison. The gamebird shooting community needs to demonstrate that its activities are sustainable and don’t rely on the illegal killing of birds of prey. And our governments need to demonstrate a strong commitment to enforcing wildlife laws and to making sporting estates more accountable for what takes place on their land.”

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