The RSPB’s annual Birdcrime report details the illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of protected birds of prey, including Buzzards, Red Kites, Hen Harriers and White-tailed Eagles.
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The killing continues
Birdcrime 2022 shows that these crimes show no signs of stopping. In 2022, there were 61 confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents, and at least 64% of these were linked to land used for gamebird shooting. These figures only show the confirmed incidents – the actual figures are likely to be much higher– as crimes often take place in remote areas where the perpetrators can easily conceal these activities.
39 Hen Harriers have been confirmed killed or vanished since January 2022
The report shows that Hen Harriers are being targeted relentlessly, particularly in areas dominated by driven grouse moors. Between January 2022 and October 2023, data from the RSPB and Natural England shows that 39 Hen Harriers have been confirmed killed, or ‘suspiciously disappeared’ across the UK. A recent peer-reviewed study published by RSPB Centre for Conservation Science and using a large dataset showed that the survival of tagged Hen Harriers in the UK is very low, and as much as 75% of annual mortality of tagged birds is due to illegal killing associated with grouse moor management (Ewing et al., 2023).
White-tailed Eagle poisoned
Birdcrime 2022 also highlights the case of a young White-tailed Eagle, which was from a UK-government licenced re-introduction scheme from the Isle of Wight. It was confirmed poisoned on a shooting estate in West Sussex: the first case of a White-tailed Eagle being illegally killed in England since their extinction due to persecution in the 18th century.
There were two successful convictions for raptor persecution crimes in 2022, and both individuals were gamekeepers. However, the outcomes are disappointing: in one case, involving the shooting and poisoning of multiple birds of prey, the gamekeeper received a 200-hour community order and was ordered to pay just £1,200 in fines, costs and compensation.
Sadly, existing laws are failing to protect birds of prey, acting neither as a deterrent nor as a punishment in the rare events where successful convictions occur.
Close links between raptor persecution and gamebird shooting
This latest report, and previous reports, shows that raptor persecution is frequently associated with land managed for gamebird shooting. Evidence shows that, on some shooting estates, birds of prey are deliberately targeted, to preserve the gamebird stocks. This is unacceptable.
The RSPB will continue to call for the introduction of grouse moor licensing legislation across the UK and is currently being considered by the Scottish Government, and which we hope will shortly become law.
RSPB Chief Executive comments:
There’s nothing more thrilling than watching a bird of prey soaring overhead but in some areas of the UK, because of illegal persecution, these encounters are sadly rare. This year’s Birdcrime report emphasises the brutality and seriousness of the issue of raptor persecution and the scale of the problem facing Hen Harriers in particular. The RSPB Investigations Team and their effective partnership working has helped uncover many of these incidents with a few resulting in successful convictions. We need to put an end to the unrelenting killing of birds of prey now, before it’s too late.
Call to action
The RSPB continues to call for the licensing of driven grouse moors as this is key to effectively tackling soaring crimes against birds of prey. As the report highlights legislation to license grouse moors is currently being considered in Scotland under the Wildlife and Muirburn Bill. In addition to this, the report asks for more appropriate sentencing when raptor persecution cases go to court. The RSPB is calling on Magistrates to give those that commit these crimes, sentences which reflect the severity of the crime. By doing so this may effectively deter others from committing these illegal acts. In addition to these requests, the RSPB asks for the introduction of additional regulation for pheasant and partridge shooting and improvements to testing procedures associated with HPAI.
Visit the Raptor Persecution Map Hub
The Raptor Persecution Map Hub is the most complete set of known raptor persecution incidents in the UK. Use it to quickly and easily see where crimes have taken place and find out more about them. You can search by year or location.