Birdcrime case studies

Birds of prey are targeted by criminals in many ways. Here are four case studies illustrating the most common methods of persecution.

Shooting

Eyewitness accounts of raptor crime are rare, but in May 2017 Police Scotland received a first-hand account of a man shooting a hen harrier on a driven grouse moor at Leadhills, South Lanarkshire. 

That same month, on the same estate, another incident was reported. A witness heard a single gunshot, saw a person pick something up from the ground then pause briefly at a ditch as they walked back to their vehicle. The following day the RSPB retrieved the body of a short-eared owl which had been stuffed into the ditch. A post-mortem revealed the owl had been shot, causing multiple fractures to its wing, leg, foot, ribs and skull.

Police investigated both incidents but nobody has been charged for these crimes.

Head of Investigations RSPB Scotland, Ian Thomson said: “The shooting of a hen harrier and a short-eared owl on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire are indicative of the continuous and widespread problem faced by our protected raptors.”

Trapping

In 2017 a raptor persecution case was discontinued by the Crown Office in Scotland – causing great frustration and concern. 

Two years previously, an illegally baited pole trap had been found on the Brewlands Estate in Glen Isla, Angus. These traps have been illegal since 1904, and are designed to snap shut and break the legs of a bird of prey. An RSPB covert camera was installed, with a view to securing evidence before the police arrived. This recorded a man resetting the trap on two occasions. Following several hearings, a trial date was set – but the footage was deemed inadmissible and the case was discontinued. 

RSPB covert surveillance has been used successfully in court on many occasions to prosecute individuals for serious crimes against birds of prey. However, the RSPB is concerned about the lack of consistency with the admissibility of such footage.

RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management, Duncan Orr-Ewing said: “This significantly undermines our confidence in the ability of Scotland’s justice system to bear down on the criminals who continue to target our protected birds of prey.”

Read the full story in the August 2017 Legal Eagle.

Poisoning

It is illegal to place a poisoned bait in the open – a method often used to target birds of prey. This practice also puts pets and people at risk.

In May 2017, two adult peregrines were found dead at Clee Hill Quarry in Shropshire, leaving three vulnerable chicks in a nearby nest. The adults had been deliberately poisoned after feeding on a pigeon laced with the pesticide diazinon, which was found nearby. This site has a history of poison being used to target birds of prey. We suspect this crime may be connected with pigeon racing.

The three chicks were rescued and successfully fostered into wild nests, including a nest on Salisbury Cathedral, as featured on BBC Springwatch. The youngsters all fledged, but the culprit behind the poisoning of the parent birds has not been found.

Read the full story in the December 2017 Legal Eagle.

The peregrine falcon is an iconic species. I cannot believe we are still dealing with incidents like this in the 21st century.

Springwatch presenter Iolo Williams

Disturbance

It is illegal to intentionally damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. Certain rare breeding birds listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 are given additional legal protection in the breeding season and it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb them. Breaching this law can result in an unlimited fine and/or six months in jail.

Hen harriers are rare, “Schedule 1” birds of prey which nest on the ground, often on moorland. During 2017 there were no successful hen harrier nests on grouse moors in England. However a marsh harrier nesting attempt was recorded at Denton Moor, a driven grouse moor in North Yorkshire, in May 2017. This was highly unusual: as their name suggests, marsh harriers generally prefer low-lying marshland areas. 

RSPB Investigations officers installed a covert camera to monitor the nest, which contained five eggs. When they returned, however, the nest was empty. The footage revealed that armed men had visited the site. One is seen removing eggs from the nest. Gunshots can also be heard. It is believed this was a premeditated effort to stop the birds breeding successfully.

Despite enquiries by North Yorkshire Police it was not possible to positively identify the men.

RSPB Investigations Officer Howard Jones said “This is yet further evidence of what happens to harriers trying to breed on a driven grouse moor. This continues to damage the reputation of all shooting.”

Read the full story on our blog or read about another case in North Yorkshire involving the disturbance of a goshawk nest.

Donate

Red kite Milvus milvus, swooping in to feed on ground, Oxfordshire

Are you moved by this? You can help fight illegal raptor persecution by donating here. Any donation is welcome, and will be used to support the work we are doing around protecting and defending birds of prey.

Be our eyes and ears

If you see evidence of illegal traps, suspicious activity, or find a dead or injured bird of prey, call police and the RSPB on the numbers below. Most cases that end up in court start with a phone call from someone like you. 

How to report crimes against wild birds:

  • Contact the police on 101
  • Contact the RSPB Investigations Unit*: England 01767 680551, Scotland 0131 317 4100 
  • If you have information about someone killing raptors, and want to remain anonymous, call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.
  • Or report wild bird crime to the RSPB using our online reporting form.

*Reports to the RSPB Investigations Unit are treated in the strictest confidence.

Read the full birdcrime 2017 report