Latest Birdcrime report highlights continued raptor persecution


The RSPB's latest Birdcrime report, published today [24 November 2023], has revealed the continued illegal persecution of Britain's raptors, with no fewer than 61 incidents recorded in 2022.

The annual publication also showed that at least 64% of all incidents are linked to land used for gamebird shooting, painting a grim picture when it comes to the persecution of several rare and threatened bird of prey species.

Among the victims in 2022 were Common Buzzards, Red Kites, Northern Goshawks, Peregrine Falcons and White-tailed Eagles – but the most highly persecuted species was Hen Harrier. A Red-listed species, a shocking 39 individual harriers were either killed or 'suspiciously disappeared' in 2022, with eight of them being satellite-tagged birds from the Birkdale area of North Yorkshire.

This male Hen Harrier was found dead with its head missing (Natural England).

Two of the most alarming incidents recorded against Hen Harriers include one of Natural England's satellite-tagged birds which had its head pulled off while still alive, and four chicks that were trampled to death in a nest being monitored by Natural England. The report also reveals that one RSPB-tagged Hen Harrier was found shot dead in May 2023 on a grouse moor at Knarsdale, next door to the RSPB nature reserve at Geltsdale on which it was breeding. It is unknown who shot the bird, but the supporting tag data is clear in documenting where and when this incident took place.

The report also highlights the significant case of a young White-tailed Eagle from the UK Government-licenced reintroduction scheme on the Isle of Wight, which was confirmed to have been poisoned on a shooting estate in West Sussex. This was the first case of this species being illegally killed in England since its extinction due to persecution in the 18th century.

On the same estate, three days after the eagle died from ingesting a banned poison, a Labrador suffered the same fate after ingesting the same pesticide – Bendiocarb. Frustratingly, the police investigation failed to hold anyone to account for these crimes.

There were two successful convictions for raptor persecution crimes in 2022, with both individuals being gamekeepers. Disappointingly, in one case, where multiple birds of prey were shot or poisoned – the gamekeeper received a 200-hour community order and was ordered to pay only £1,200 in fines, costs and compensation. 

This latest report, alongside peer-reviewed papers, intelligence and data from wildlife crime incidents continues to affirm that raptor persecution is frequently linked to land managed for gamebird shooting. Evidence shows that on some shooting estates birds of prey are deliberately targeted to reduce potential predation on gamebird stocks and sometimes also to reduce disturbance to these quarry species on shoot days.

RSPB Chief Operating Officer, James Robinson said: "Sadly, once again, the report documents the shameful illegal killing of rare and vulnerable birds of prey, an important part of our natural heritage. Given the correlation in location between birds of prey persecution and land under game management, the RSPB is calling for greater regulation of shooting, in particular intensive forms of grouse shooting.

"A bill to introduce licensing of grouse moors in Scotland to stop raptor persecution is now moving ahead and we need a similar response in England".

For more information on the 2022 Birdcrime report visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdcrime.