THE RSPB published its Birdcrime 2021 report recently which revealed that birds of prey continue to be illegally killed in high numbers in the UK.
In total there were 108 confirmed incidents in the UK, 80 of which were in England – the second highest on record.
Many of the cases, over two thirds, were related to land managed for game bird shooting, where birds of prey are seen by some as a threat to gamebird stocks and illegally killed.
The total includes 50 buzzards (pictured), 16 red kites, seven peregrines and three goshawks. Rare hen harriers and white-tailed eagles also continue to be affected. The majority of the birds were either shot, trapped or poisoned.
Scientific papers, intelligence and satellite tagging studies for key species such as hen harrier suggest the annual Birdcrime totals are only the tip of a far larger iceberg, and that many killings go undetected and unreported.
All birds of prey are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Two of the worst counties based on 2021 data – Norfolk (13 incidents) and Dorset (12 incidents) – are lowland areas, dominated by pheasant and partridge shooting. The third worst county was North Yorkshire (10 incidents), which includes grouse, pheasant and partridge shooting.
One shocking incident was caught on camera by the RSPB, showing a gamekeeper beating buzzards to death in a trap in Nottinghamshire.
The worst individual case occurred in north Wiltshire. On June 1, Swindon Magistrate’s Court handed gamekeeper Archie Watson a 12-month community order to carry out 180 hours unpaid work and told to pay £393 costs after he pleaded guilty to offences relating to the possession of five buzzards and three red kites. This followed an investigation in August 2020 carried out by RSPB Investigations Officers following a tip-off.
On land near Beckhampton, the officers found an innocuous-looking manhole cover on the edge of a field. They installed a remote, covert video camera to monitor the site.
Three days later, they returned under the cover of darkness and lowered an action camera and light down into the well.
A complex recovery operation involved photo comparison of corpses, detailed feather analysis and skull examinations carried out by the Natural History Museum.
The body count was at least four red kites, 11 buzzards and one large gull. This makes it the largest number of birds of prey ever involved in an English raptor persecution investigation. Officers feared that other remains were in too poor a state to allow identification.
Mark Thomas, RSPB head of investigations UK, said: “The data in this report clearly show that raptor persecution remains at a sustained high level,.
“The illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey has no place in modern society. The time for reform is now long overdue.”
The organisation has also called for stronger sentences to be handed out to better protect birds of prey from persistent illegal killing.