Peregrine falcon, side on in flight over the sea with rocks in the background, South Stack, Anglesey.

Fighting bird crime

With five incidents in just three months, we're stepping up our protection of peregrines. Jenny Shelton explains...

Peregrine persecution

Peregrines are under attack. And they’re not the only bird of prey to face persecution. Across the country, the RSPB investigations team is working hard to defend some of our most treasured species.

"While most of us love our nation's birds of prey, it can be easy to forget that there are those who want to do them harm. Much of this illegal activity goes on behind closed doors, in very remote areas, which makes catching people extremely difficult." So says Jenny Shelton, Investigations Liaison Officer, who works within the team dedicated to fighting bird crime.

It is illegal to kill any protected wild bird in the UK. However, the poisoning, trapping and shooting of wild birds, particularly birds of prey, is a real problem.

In the first three months of 2017, the RSPB received five reports of peregrines being illegally harmed, a worryingly high figure for the start of the breeding season, when the death of one adult bird could also mean the deaths of several chicks.

And this is just the start of the deaths we could see this year – in 2016 alone there were 196 incidents of birds of prey being illegally killed. There are currently 1500 peregrine pairs in the UK, and they are on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species list.

Peregrine chick

How we investigate

“We are usually alerted to the death or injury of a bird by a member of the public,” explains Jenny. “The public are vital to this work, they are our eyes and ears all over the country and we rely on all bird lovers to help us investigate when something happens.”

When an incident is reported, the team take down details, grade the report, and then contact the police and either send someone out to recover the bird, or see that it is sent to a local vet for a postmortem examination. Even if a bird is only injured, an investigation is still carried out to establish how it sustained its injuries.

Protecting peregrines

The RSPB are now working with a number of organisations to monitor peregrine nests in Derbyshire, to prevent eggs being taken – peregrine eggs and chicks are also at risk from the lucrative falconry market. “The money we receive from the RSPB supporters allows us to employ people to carry out the nest monitoring,” says Jenny. “We also use funds from supporters to pay for post-mortems and purchasing equipment such as cameras. “Our supporters are really valuable and we couldn’t do it without them.”

Peregrine female at nest feeding chicks.

Latest investigations

On 11 March, a teenage girl discovered a peregrine struggling to fly in King Somborne, Hampshire. It was taken to the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Andover where it was examined by a vet who confirmed that the bird had a fractured wing, caused by shooting.

A ring on the bird's leg revealed that it hatched at Salisbury Cathedral in 2014 and is known as 'Peter'. Peter recovered well after treatment and was released back into the wild on 23 May 2017. Though sadly there’s no guarantee that, once the bird is re-released, it won't be shot at again. 

In March, we were also contacted about a peregrine found dead in Cumbria, close to RSPB Geltsdale. It was  found to have historic shot wounds, though these were not deemed to be the cause of death. Clearly the bird had lived with the injury – but the fact remains that it had, at one point, been illegally targeted.

A third bird was recovered, dead, from a church roof in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire in February. It too had been shot.

Also in March, police put out a tweet calling for information on two dead peregrines found on the Offas Dyke footpath in Gloucestershire. Investigations are continuing.

Peregrine perched on a branch in front of cliff face, Scotland UK

How you can help

 Black browed albatross Thalassarche melanophrys, West Point Island, Falklands.

Thank you for what you're already doing to help our projects in the UK and abroad - we couldn't do it without you. If you feel you can donate some additional money at this time, it will help us achieve even more.