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Illegal killing of birds of prey continues in Cumbria

Red kite c Guy Shorrock

The UK’s birds of prey continue to be at risk according the latest Birdcrime report which has revealed a minimum of 68 confirmed incidents of detected illegal bird of prey persecution in 2017.

Birdcrime 2017 – the only report summarising offences against birds of prey (also known as raptors) in the UK – revealed 48 shooting, 9 poisoning, 3 trapping, 4 nest destruction and 4 other incidents of illegal persecution against raptors.

In Cumbria, there were four confirmed incidents of bird of prey crime including the shooting of a buzzard, two short-eared owls and a peregrine.

Between 2012 and 2017 there were 19 confirmed bird of prey crimes in Cumbria, making it the joint sixth worst county in the UK for raptor persecution.

Evidence suggests these figures are just the tip of the iceberg with many illegal killings going undetected or unreported.

And it’s not only detection that is a problem. There were just four raptor persecution-related prosecutions in the UK in 2017 and only a single conviction.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “Birds of prey are part of our heritage and inspire us. We should all be able to enjoy seeing these magnificent birds, however illegal activity continues to put species at risk. There are laws in place to protect these birds but they are clearly not being respected or adequately enforced. We need governments across the UK to do more to tackle illegal killing to protect our raptors for us and for future generations to enjoy.”

Previous research has shown that illegal killing of birds of prey is associated with land managed for intensive driven grouse shooting, leaving vast areas of our uplands without typical breeding raptors. A Natural England study revealed ‘compelling evidence’ that persecution of hen harriers – associated with driven grouse moors – was the main factor limiting their recovery in England.

Governments need to do far more to create a climate of accountability, particularly on shooting estates. Whilst there has been some steady progress in Scotland, elsewhere far more needs to be done. The RSPB is calling on the UK Governments to introduce a system of licensing for driven grouse shooting, to ensure land is managed legally and sustainably. This would also help tackle the wider problems of intensive management of ‘big bag’ driven grouse shooting, like the draining of and burning on fragile peat bogs. A fair set of rules in the form of a licensing system could help ensure shoots are operating legally and sustainably and introduce the option of restricting or removing a licence in response to the most serious offences, for example where staff on an estate have been convicted of illegally killing birds of prey.

Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, said: “The persecution of birds of prey is a widespread problem in the UK, and is affecting some of our most loved and vulnerable species, like owls and eagles. Every week the RSPB’s Investigations team get reports of yet another raptor being shot, trapped or poisoned. But for every report we receive, scientific studies suggest there are many more that go undetected and unreported. As such, these figures only scratch the surface of the true extent of raptor persecution in the UK.”

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, said: “It is encouraging to see that the number of persecution incidents, both across the UK and in North Yorkshire specifically, continue to decline significantly. This is what we all want to see.

“Of course, more can be done and the best way to achieve progress is for people, including RSPB, to continue to work together constructively. The Moorland Association is committed to the eradication of all forms of wildlife crime.

“Any incident of bird of prey persecution is unacceptable and the full force of the law should be felt by those breaking it.“

The RSPB has also launched the Raptor Persecution Map Hub. This comprises two interactive maps – one which can be filtered by year and incident type, and the other that provides an overview ‘heat map’ of confirmed incidents across the UK for the period 2012-2017 – enabling people to see where this illegal activity is occurring.

For the full copy of Birdcrime 2017 report summarising the extent of illegal persecution offences against birds of prey in the UK, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdcrime

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