Killing of birds of prey at ‘significantly high level in England’

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  • Protected birds of prey continue to be illegally shot in large numbers, particularly in land managed for game bird shooting
  • Birdcrime report reveals 80 of 108 confirmed incidents happened in England alone: ​​second highest figure for England on record
  • ‘Nothing will change’ without urgent government action

The RSPB’s Birdcrime Report 2021, published today, reveals 108 confirmed incidents of persecution of birds of prey in the UK, including 80 in England.

The total includes 50 buzzards, 16 red kites, seven peregrines and three goshawks. Rare Hen Harriers and White-tailed Eagles continue to be affected. The majority were shot, trapped or poisoned.

All birds of prey are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Scientific studies, intelligence and satellite tagging studies for key species such as the Hen Harrier suggest that annual Birdcrime totals are just the tip of a much larger iceberg, and that many killings go by unnoticed and unreported.

In 2021, more than two-thirds (71%) of all confirmed incidents of raptor persecution were linked to land managed for game bird shooting, where birds of prey are seen by some as a threat to bird stocks. game birds and illegally killed.

In England alone there have been 80 confirmed incidents, making it the second worst year on record. A shocking incident has been filmed by the RSPB, showing a gamekeeper beating buzzards to death in a trap in Nottinghamshire. Another concerned a horrific mass grave of birds of prey concealed in a well in Wiltshire.

Two of the worst counties based on 2021 data – Norfolk (13 incidents) and Dorset (12 incidents) – are lowland areas, dominated by pheasant and partridge shooting. The third worst county was North Yorkshire (10 incidents), which includes the shooting of grouse, pheasants and partridges.

The 10-year data adds Derbyshire and Cumbria to the list of raptor crime ‘hotspots’.

Modern technology in the form of GPS satellite tagging continues to reveal suspicious disappearances of young Hen Harriers, including Asta, whose government-funded tag was later found inexplicably attached to a dead raven. His body has never been found. However, the circumstances are very suspicious.

Mark Thomas, RSPB’s Head of Investigations UK, said: “The data in this report clearly shows that raptor persecution remains at a high and sustained level, particularly in England, with over two-thirds of incidents land-bound managed for game bird shooting.

“Illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey have no place in modern society. In a natural and climate emergency, the deliberate destruction of protected species for financial gain is completely devastating and unacceptable.

“The time for reform is long overdue. Licensing grouse moorland is the first step in suppressing estates engaged in criminal activity without loss to those operating within the law.

In December 2021, a UN assessment of wildlife crime in the UK, commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), was published. It contained several recommendations on the persecution of raptors, including stricter regulation of the shooting industry. The RSPB urges the government to implement these UN recommendations as a matter of urgency and follow Scotland’s lead in introducing driven grouse hunting licences.

Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB, said: “Evidence shows that the illegal persecution of birds of prey – which is repeatedly linked to the shooting of game birds – is holding back the recovery of some key species. This year’s Birdcrime report is another reminder of the appalling methods deployed by some and the need for rapid and effective change in our campaigns. The UN report makes clear what needs to be done to end these wildlife crimes and we call on the new government in Westminster to act and lead the way to a sustainable, law-abiding future.

Strong law enforcement partnerships, a strong RSPB investigations team and a passionate corps of supporters create a force to be reckoned with against raptor persecution. But only government action will ensure that birds of prey are safe from unlawful persecution for good.

The RSPB asks:

  • a permit introduction for all shots of beaten grouse
  • better application of existing regulations and additional regulations for pheasant and partridge hunting
  • best applicable license terms and conditions
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