Birdcrime report reveals worst year on record

Tuesday 26 October 2021

A short-eared owl that has been shot

  • The RSPB’s Birdcrime report reveals 137 known, confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in 2020 – the highest in 30 years.
  • Almost two thirds were in connection with land managed for or connected to gamebird shooting.
  • With nature in crisis, all land must be managed sustainably and legally, and the RSPB is calling on governments to implement a system of licensing for driven grouse shooting without delay.

The RSPB’s Birdcrime 2020 report has revealed 137 known, confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution last year – the highest number recorded in 30 years.

Produced annually by the RSPB’s Investigations unit, Birdcrime is the UK’s only full data set on confirmed incidents of raptor persecution - namely the illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey.

There were 137 confirmed incidents in 2020: the highest total since recording began in 1990. The overall rise in numbers can be attributed to the unprecedented number of incidents detected in England (99) during 2020, many of which occurred during Covid-19 lockdown.

The victims included 58 buzzards, 20 red kites, 16 peregrines, six sparrowhawks, three goshawks and other protected birds of prey including rare hen harriers and golden eagles. Based on population studies for significant species, it’s believed that the true number killed is far greater, with many crimes going undetected and unreported.

The crimes took place across a variety of land uses. However, a minimum of 85 (62%) of all confirmed incidents were in connection with land managed for or connected to gamebird shooting. Bird of prey persecution shows a clear link to pheasant, partridge and grouse shooting, with incidents being more widespread in lowland areas and more concentrated in upland areas. In addition to Birdcrime data, peer-reviewed scientific studies based on satellite tagging and bird of prey populations, crime data and court convictions, show that raptor persecution has the most negative conservation impact on driven grouse moors. A Government study in 2019, identified criminal persecution by humans as the main factor suppressing the UK population of hen harriers: a red-listed bird species which nests on heather moorland.

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail. Yet in 2020, there were only two prosecutions for raptor persecution offences.

The RSPB is calling on the governments of the UK to act now and implement a system of licensing for driven grouse shooting, to create greater accountability and ensure all estates operate to legal and high environmental standards. Failure to comply with licensing requirements should result in licence revocation for a defined period and therefore removal of the right to shoot as a meaningful deterrent to illegal behaviours.

The wildlife conservation charity is also urging for action to end other associated environmentally damaging land management practices, including a ban on burning on deep peat. The RSPB would also like to see a significant reduction in the numbers of non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges, currently millions, released into the countryside each year as there is growing evidence of environmental harm.

Mark Thomas, the RSPB’s Head of Investigations said “Although we have become used to the illegal killing of birds of prey, the figure for 2020 is truly shocking.

“We are in a climate and nature emergency. All land must be managed legally and sustainably for people and for nature, and not accelerate the worrying loss of UK wildlife we are already experiencing.

“The RSPB welcomes the announcement by the Scottish Government to licence driven grouse moors there, but this has to happen now in England as well. Licensing should be conditional on compliance with wildlife protection laws, and if breached, should result in removal of the right to shoot. Those shoot operators who behave legally and responsibly should have nothing to fear from this sanction”.

Chief Inspector Kevin Kelly, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) said “Raptor Persecution is a National Wildlife Crime Priority. This report puts an emphasis on why it’s a priority and why it will remain a priority for years to come. I am disappointed in such a significant rise in incidents as the crime figures go a long way to undermine the hard work that’s done daily to tackle raptor persecution. I feel the Priority Delivery Group holds the key to success, this has gone through a period of change, bringing leadership, accountability and some fresh positive partners in. That said, the hard work lays ahead of us and we will be judged on our actions, not our words.”

Read the report here

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, email crime@rspb.org.uk or fill in the online form

Last Updated: Thursday 16 December 2021

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