A wild peregrine falcon which was found dead in Newbiggin, Cumbria, has sparked an investigation.
Local walkers discovered the body on a public footpath in Bove Wood and contacted the RSPB. The bird was given a post-mortem but the cause of death could not be confirmed. However, an X-ray carried out by a local vet uncovered three lead shot fragments in its neck, knee and hip, revealing the bird had been shot at an earlier date, but survived despite its injuries.
Peregrines are capable of reaching speeds of 240mph, making them the fastest animals in the world.
Local resident Gordon Beakes, a retired botanist, reported the incident.
He said: "A group of us were out walking when we came across a dead bird. We were appalled to find it was a dead peregrine. There was certainly something suspicious about finding a bird like this dead at the side of a footpath."
Gordon added: "I spent my youth birdwatching and wildlife conservation is something I feel strongly about. Peregrines are very exciting birds to see in the wild, and I remember watching them on the New Grounds at Slimbridge as a teenager."
Jenny Shelton, Investigations Liaison Officer for the RSPB, said: "The persecution of birds of prey is something we are constantly fighting against. It is clear that, at some point in its life, this peregrine was shot."
PC Sarah Rolland for Cumbria Police said: "It is quite apparent that the peregrine recovered from Newbiggin had been shot at some stage in its life. However, the post mortem indicates the fragments of shot may be historic and were not the direct cause of its death. It is therefore difficult to establish when or where the bird was shot."
Peregrines, like all birds of prey, are protected by UK law. Anyone found guilty of killing or harming a peregrine could face a fine of £5,000 and jail. Despite this, since 2010 there have been 57 confirmed cases of birds of prey being shot in northern England alone.
The RSPB would like to thank the Animal and Plant Health Agency Penrith for carrying out the post-mortem.
If you have any information relating to this case, call Cumbria police on 101.
If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx