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Bird of prey persecution

Red kite swooping

Image: David J Morris

Birds of prey continue to be the targets of systematic criminal persecution, despite having been fully protected for decades.

All birds of prey have been protected since 1954 (except for the sparrowhawk which received protection in 1961). Despite this protection, birds of prey continue to be the target of systematic criminal activity.

Bird of prey persecution includes poisoning, shooting, nest destruction and the illegal use of cage traps and spring traps (eg. pole traps).

Scotland experiences a disproportionate amount of the known illegal bird of prey killing in the UK. Several studies have shown a strong association between the killing of birds of prey and management for game bird shooting, especially in the uplands.

Of the defendants convicted of offences relating to the persecution of birds of prey since 1996, around 75 per cent were linked with game interests. All of these were gamekeepers. We believe that the core of the problem lies with those managers and employers within the shooting industry who are allowing or encouraging gamekeepers to break the law. 

In 2000 the government published the UK Raptor Working Group Report which outlined the nature of the problem and gave a series of recommendations.  Despite these recommendations, the problem remains serious, particularly on upland estates managed for grouse shooting. 

In 2008, we launched a bird of prey campaign to raise the profile of this problem and to encourage the government agencies to take more action. 

In February 2009, the UK government launched its top six UK Wildlife Crime Priorities.  One of these was bird of prey persecution in relation to the golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, hen harrier, red kite and goshawk. We hope this will encourage more determined enforcement action against those killing these iconic species.

The following three species are particularly targeted and highlight the problem of bird of prey persecution.


Hen harrier

The hen harrier, relative to its population, is considered the most persecuted bird of prey in the UK because of its unpopularity on grouse moors. More...

Hen harrier


Raptor study group data consistently identify poorer breeding performance by peregrines on managed grouse moor than on other upland land-use areas. More...


Golden eagle

As a breeding bird, this species is absent from suitable habitat in several areas where grouse moors are the predominant form of land management. More...

Golden eagle

Long-term solutions

It would appear that legal protection has failed to safeguard raptors, particularly the hen harrier. This is partly due to the difficulty in detecting incidents and obtaining evidence for prosecutions.

Permitting control of these species to enhance the number of game birds shot, which would be illegal under European law, could open the floodgates for increased persecution and could further jeopardise the status of the species.

The answer to this conflict must lie in a long-term solution to the habitat management problems and not the short term quick fix killing of rare and threatened birds of prey. The RSPB and others with interests in moorland management are working together to find solutions.