A NEW REPORT FROM THE RSPB, Birdcrime 2021, reveals 108 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK, 80 of which were 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 either shot, trapped or poisoned.

All birds of prey are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Scientific papers, intelligence and satellite tagging studies for key species such as hen harrier suggest the annual Birdcrime totals are only the tip of a far larger iceberg, and that many killings go undetected and unreported.

In 2021, over two thirds (71 per cent) of all confirmed incidents of raptor persecution related to land managed for gamebird shooting, where birds of prey are seen by some as a threat to gamebird stocks and are illegally killed.

In England alone there were 80 confirmed incidents, making it the second-worst year on record. One shocking incident was caught on camera by the RSPB, showing a gamekeeper beating buzzards to death in a trap in Nottinghamshire. Another involved a gruesome mass grave of birds of prey concealed down 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 grouse, pheasant and partridge shooting. Data over 10 years 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 crow. Her body was never recovered. However the circumstances are highly suspicious.

Mark Thomas, RSPB head of investigations UK, said: “The data in this report clearly show that raptor persecution remains at a sustained high level, especially in England, with over two thirds of the incidents connected to land managed for gamebird shooting.

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

“The time for reform is now long overdue. Licensing driven grouse moors is the first step in clamping down on those estates engaged in criminal activity at no loss to those operating within the law.”

In December 2021, a UN assessment on UK wildlife crime, requested by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), was published. It contained several recommendations on raptor persecution, including stronger regulation of the shooting industry. The RSPB is urging the Government to take these UN recommendations forward urgently, and to follow Scotland’s example in introducing licensing for driven grouse shooting.

Beccy Speight, RSPB chief executive, said: “The evidence shows that the illegal persecution of birds of prey – which is time and time again linked to gamebird shooting – 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 why there is a need for swift and effective change in our countryside. The United Nations report makes clear what must be done to end these wildlife crimes and we call on the new government in Westminster to act and pave the way towards a sustainable future, respectful of the law.”

The RSPB says strong enforcement partnerships, a robust RSPB Investigations team and a passionate body of supporters are creating a force to be reckoned with against raptor persecution. But only Government action will ensure birds of prey are kept safe from illegal persecution for good.

The RSPB is calling for:

  • An introduction of licences for all driven grouse shooting.
  • Better enforcement of existing regulation and additional regulation for pheasant and partridge shooting.
  • Better, enforceable General Licence conditions.

* Read the Birdcrime 2021 report here.

* Source: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds