For over 20 years I’ve dealt with the dirty world of bird of prey persecution offences. In addition to dealing with a depressing catalogue of magnificent birds which have been shot, trapped and poisoned it has also provided an insight into why this problem won’t go away.

In the last couple of decades there has been much to celebrate with increases in buzzards and marsh harriers and successful re-introductions of red kites and white-tailed eagles. However, in the uplands of northern England and Scotland, where land is managed for red grouse shooting, the situation remains depressingly bleak. Species like golden eagles and hen harriers continue to be badly affected by illegal persecution. Last year a perilous four pairs of hen harriers bred in England, despite habitat for over 300.

Goshawk in the snow. Photo by Niall BenvieUnpopular

My job is to try to get those persecuting raptors into court. Whilst very difficult crimes to investigate, the RSPB have been instrumental in many convictions. This has understandably made us rather unpopular with the criminal element within the shooting industry.

Just this month gamekeeper Glenn Brown from the High Peak Estate in Derbyshire lost his appeal at Derby Crown Court. This followed a conviction for the illegal use of a cage trap baited with a live pigeon (a ‘hawk trap’) after he was covertly filmed - see recent blog posts on the court case and appeal for all the details. His failed appeal brought his costs to an eye watering £17,000, though the defence bill for employing a QC would no doubt have already dwarfed that figure. It seems somewhat unlikely that Mr Brown will be covering these bills and is a sign of the resources available to fight these cases.

Held to account

So another gamekeeper in the dock, now over one hundred since 1990 for raptor persecution related crimes. Of those how many of their employers or managers have been held to account? – well none that I’m aware of. In many ways the gamekeeper is something of a fall guy. The gamekeeper is man who does the dirty work whilst those in charge keep their heads well and truly down. If caught, he will get a good defence, keep his job and probably have his fine paid. In return, he keeps those in charge out of the frame.

Gamekeepers themselves have told me that raptor persecution on upland grouse estates is routine and that it is something they are expected to do if they want to keep their jobs. I have no doubt it is the shooting industry itself, the managers and employers who run these wealthy shooting estates, who are at the root of this pernicious problem.

Much of the shooting world remains in denial about the extent of raptor persecution. It is this lack of accountability for those running the show which means catching a few gamekeepers every year has limited deterrent effect. Encouragingly, Scotland has taken a step forward and introduced new legislation and an offence of vicarious liability. This seeks to make managers and employers more accountable for the criminal actions of their staff – this has to be a step in the right direction.

What can you do to help?

An e-petition is currently running to try to persuade the government to adopt similar legislation in England. Please step up for nature and take just a moment and to sign the vicarious liability e-petition to add your support.

Despite over 50 years of legal protection there seem to be little sign of the shooting industry getting its house in order. It is about time those crouched behind the parapet are finally made to stand up and be held to account for the damage being inflicted on our countryside.