Illegal persecution of birds of prey is still happening all too regularly in the UK countryside including the North East according to the RSPB's Birdcrime 2015 report, published today in a new online interactive format, and the charity is asking governments across the UK to take urgent action now to stop this slaughter.
The RSPB's Birdcrime 2015 report reveals 196 reports of shooting and destruction of birds of prey including the confirmed shooting of 16 buzzards, 11 peregrines, three red kites, one red-footed falcon and one hen harrier.
The report, published online for the first time, also shows 50 reports of wildlife poisoning and pesticide-related offences. Confirmed victims of poisoning include 15 buzzards, four red kites, and three peregrine falcons. These figures represent only a fraction of the illegal persecution in the UK, with many incidents going undetected and unreported.
The North East is one of the worst regions in the UK for bird of prey persecution. Birdcrime 2015 reveals that there were four confirmed incidents against raptors in Northumberland including a poisoned buzzard, a shot buzzard and a shot kestrel. In County Durham there were three confirmed incidents; these included the discovery of two shot short-eared owls near Selset Reservoir, a shot peregrine at Bishop Middleham and another shot peregrine at Barnard Castle.
This week, news has emerged that a hen harrier has been found dead in Northumberland. Post mortem evidence indicates that the satellite tracked hen harrier, named Carroll, had died of natural causes but was carrying two shotgun pellets, having survived an earlier shooting incident. The bird was satellite tagged and fledged last summer as part of the RSPB's Hen Harrier LIFE project and is yet further shocking evidence that birds of prey continue to be illegally targeted.
Despite raptor persecution being identified as one of the UK government's top wildlife crime priorities in 2009, the persecution of birds of prey still remains an issue of serious concern with around 590 birds of prey nationally having been confirmed poisoned, shot, trapped or destroyed in the last six years.
In 2015, a satellite tagged hen harrier, Annie, was found shot dead in Scotland in March, with another tagged bird "Lad" found dead, with injuries consistent with being shot, on Speyside in September. In England, another five breeding male hen harriers 'disappeared' from nesting sites. Although we will probably never know the fate of these individuals, the evidence2 shows that illegal killing remains the single biggest factor preventing hen harrier recovery.
In November last year, news emerged that another satellite tagged hen harrier, named Rowan, was also found dead with injuries consistent with being shot, and only three pairs of hen harriers successfully bred in England in 2016, despite there being enough suitable habitat to support over 300 pairs.
Martin Harper, RSPB Director of Conservation, said: "Our birds of prey are magnificent creatures and the sight of a hen harrier's dramatic skydancing display flight is simply breathtaking. Everyone should be able to witness this but sadly millions of people are denied this opportunity. Our uplands are deprived of some amazing wildlife because of ongoing illegal persecution and it has to stop."
It is not only conservation organisations fighting for the protection of our wildlife. Public anger is growing stronger over the ongoing persecution of our birds of prey and the state of our uplands, and more voices are beginning to call for change.
Martin Harper said: "There is growing public support to reform driven grouse shooting. People care deeply about the future of our birds of prey and their concerns must not be ignored.
"The status quo is not an option and we continue to call, throughout the UK, for the introduction of a robust licensing system for driven grouse shooting and an offence of vicarious liability for employers whose staff commit wildlife crime. Change is essential if we are to improve environmental condition of our uplands."
For the first time in January 2015, an Aberdeenshire gamekeeper, George Mutch, received a four months prison sentence for the killing of a goshawk, the illegal use of two cage traps, and the taking of a buzzard and a second goshawk. The offences came to light during the review of footage captured by RSPB video cameras deployed on the Kildrummy Estate in August 2012, as part of a long-term project monitoring the use of cage traps in Scotland.
Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, said: "This sentence shows that people who continue to break the law and kill protected species face the prospect of prison. The gamebird shooting community needs to demonstrate that its activities are sustainable and don't rely on the illegal killing of birds of prey. And our governments need to demonstrate a strong commitment to enforcing wildlife laws and to making sporting estates more accountable for what takes place on their land."
The RSPB is working hard to protect birds of prey, and projects such as the RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE project includes a combination of satellite tracking this threatened species, protecting their nests, monitoring and undertaking research, raising awareness among the public and working with volunteers, land owners and local communities to protect these birds.
The charity believes a change in attitude from some within the gamebird shooting industry and a commitment from the government to toughen up on legislation enforcement is essential if birds of prey are to thrive in their natural environment again.
1. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.
2. A JNCC report 'A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdom' states "In England the hen harrier is threatened with extinction because of illegal persecution (Natural England 2008), and as such DEFRA have recently added it to the government's list of species considered of principal importance for conserving England's wildlife."
3. For the first time we are publishing the RSPB Birdcrime report online, to make it more accessible to a wider audience. The report can be viewed at: http://rspb.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=4e5f691ca72048479b94f6fddd92a80d Birdcrime 2015 can be viewed using Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer 11 (please note that it will not fully display using versions of Internet Explorer older than 11)Reporting a wildlife crime: Crimes against wildlife should be reported to the local police via the 101 number. Crimes against wild birds can also be reported to the RSPB online or by calling the RSPB. If you have any sensitive information about the illegal killing of birds of prey, please report it by calling the RSPB's confidential hotline on 0845 466 3636. Calls to this number are not recorded and will be treated in the strictest confidence.