New report reveals 28 persecution incidents in 2019
Self regulation of the grouse shooting industry has failed and urgent action is needed to prevent further illegal killings of birds of prey.
That’s the message from Birdcrime 2019, the latest in a series of annual reports by the RSPB, which lists 85 confirmed incidents throughout the UK last year, with 28 of victims in Scotland.
The birds illegally killed include goshawks, hen harriers, sparrowhawks and buzzards who met their deaths through shooting, illegal trapping, and being poisoned with banned pesticides.
Birds of prey populations are also key indicators of the health of our countryside in the context of the climate and nature crisis. Sadly and despite Scotland’s birds of prey species being protected for decades, improvements in legislation and other government initiatives, as well as long-term attempts at partnership working between statutory agencies, conservationists and the grouse shooting industry, there is no evidence of a decline in the level of these crimes.
Piecemeal action has not been enough; urgent action and a meaningful deterrent to illegal behaviours against some of our most vulnerable and highly protected species is needed now. Greater accountability is also vital - there was only one criminal conviction for the illegal killing of birds of prey in the whole of the UK last year; a gamekeeper in the Scottish Borders.
While it is widely accepted, including by the police and Scottish Government, that detected crimes only represent the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of the overall number of offences, RSPB Scotland’s data shows that criminal activity is almost exclusively linked to land managed for intensive driven grouse shooting.
High profile cases during in 2019 included the illegal trapping of a male hen harrier on its nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire, a female hen harrier found dead in a similar trap on a Perthshire grouse moor, a third hen harrier found shot on a Dumfries-shire grouse moor, and a golden eagle seen and photographed flying over an Aberdeenshire grouse moor with trap hanging from its leg.
As in previous years, there were multiple sudden, suspicious disappearances of satellite-tagged birds of prey, including golden eagles, hen harriers and white-tailed eagles, all occurring in areas managed for driven grouse shooting, in Aberdeenshire, Inverness-shire, Perthshire and South Lanarkshire.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “The very clear pattern of bird of prey persecution cases occurring on Scotland’s driven grouse moors has been repeated year after year, and as Birdcrime 2019 outlines shows no sign of abating. Indeed, even during the COVID-19 lockdown this year, these crimes have continued, as has the predictable campaign of denial and misinformation from a grouse shooting industry that has demonstrably and repeatedly failed in its attempts at self-regulation.
“The recent recovery of a satellite-tag from a golden eagle, which disappeared on a Perthshire grouse moor in 2016, wrapped in lead sheeting and thrown into a river, is unequivocal proof not only of serious, organised crime, but also the lengths to which the perpetrators of these offences will go to dispose of evidence and cover up these crimes. It is long overdue the Scottish Government ends this appalling cycle of destruction of our natural heritage, by enacting a licencing system for grouse shooting, with immediate effect.”
More on Birdcrime 2019 here.