UK’s birds continue to suffer at hands of criminals


Crimes against wild birds remained at near-record highs last year. The RSPB received 1,206 reports of shooting, poisoning, trapping and disturbance of birds and of the theft of birds and their eggs. While the figure is slightly down from the all-time high of 1,228 reports in 2007, it remains the second-highest ever recorded by the charity. Many more are believed to have gone undetected and unreported. As a result, the RSPB is using its annual Birdcrime report to repeat its call for a fundamental shake-up of the way such crimes are policed.

This White-tailed Eagle found in Tayside during 2008 is the sixth UK bird known to have been poisoned since the Scottish reintroduction scheme started (Photo: A Stewart (Tayside Police))

The figures include 210 reports of shooting and destruction of birds of prey. Data from the report showed the two worst counties in England for all reported incidents against birds of prey were North Yorkshire with 24 and Derbyshire with 14 reported incidents. In Scotland, problems were worst in Perth & Kinross where there were 18 reported incidents and in the Borders where there were 15. Aberdeenshire, Angus and the Highlands each had 14 reports. In Wales, Bridgend and Denbighshire saw the most reports of crimes against raptors, with five each. Northern Ireland's hotspot was County Down, which accounted for five of the province's 11 reported incidents against birds of prey.

The persecution of birds of prey is something the RSPB is campaigning to stop and which Government has declared one of its 'wildlife crime priorities'. However, the RSPB maintains that without a thorough review of the way these hard-to-detect crimes are investigated there is little chance of reducing the number of offences. The RSPB would like:

  • A 'Thematic Review' of wildlife crime policing in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure minimum standards of investigation across the UK. This would complement a similar review carried out in Scotland in 2008.
  • Secure long-term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which offers specialist support to police forces.
  • The NWCU to be given the resources for someone to tackle bird-of-prey persecution full time.
  • More full-time, specialist Wildlife Crime Officers.
  • The Government to look at updating the way game shoots are regulated, with those found guilty of persecuting birds of prey banned from shooting for a fixed period.
  • Crimes against birds of prey to be classed as 'recorded crime' by the Home Office and included in national crime statistics.

An x-ray showed this Raven shot in Cumbria contained over 70 pieces of lead shot (Photo: RSPB (rspb-images.com))

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Ian West, Head of Investigations at the RSPB, said: "How many more of our wild birds have to be lost before the authorities start taking these crimes seriously? It is absurd that the Government lists the killing of birds of prey as a wildlife crime priority and yet these crimes are not recorded by the Home Office. This provides little incentive for police to tackle crimes seen as less important. If I stole a packet of sweets, it would be recorded in the Home Office figures. If I shot a Golden Eagle, it would not. That cannot be right. The law is being flouted and our natural heritage ransacked for want of modest resources and a shared determination to tackle the problem."

He added: "The RSPB will do all it can, despite the difficulties, and will continue to support the many dedicated wildlife crime officers up and down the country. The recent outrage over two Golden Eagles found poisoned in Scotland shows the strength of public concern. The public's help will be vital in helping us put a stop to these crimes and hold those responsible to account." The RSPB is also asking members of the public who care about our birds of prey to pledge their support for an end to illegal killing at www.rspb.org.uk/birdsofprey.

The 1,206 incidents in 2008 comprised:

  • 210 reports of shooting and destruction of birds of prey, with the confirmed shooting of 23 individual birds of prey.
  • 133 reports of poisoning incidents, including 62 confirmed incidents of abuse involving the confirmed poisonings of at least 65 individual birds or animals.
  • 36 egg-collecting incidents, including five confirmed and 17 probable nest robberies from Schedule 1 species.
  • 27 reports relating to illegal disturbance or photography of Schedule 1 birds.
  • 42 reports of illegal taking, possession or sale of birds of prey.
  • 64 reports of illegal taking, possession or sale of wild birds other than birds of prey, predominantly finches.
  • 682 reports of shooting and destruction of birds other than birds of prey, including trapping and nest destruction.
Written by: RSPB