Town & Country
THE number of birds of prey that are shot, captured or poisoned in the UK has decreased by almost two-thirds since 2015, finds the new RSPB Birdcrime 2016 report. However, the problem persists and England is still far worse than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Hen harriers have declined by 27% in the past 12 years and there are now only three successful nests in England; a third of satellite-tagged golden eagles disappeared in Scotland in 2016. Last year saw 81 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution— North Yorkshire, where hen harriers haven’t bred since 2007, has emerged as by far the worst county—but, for the first time in three decades, not one person was prosecuted.
The charity suggests that driven grouse shoots should be licensed and advocates that the Scottish system of ‘vicarious liability’, whereby employers can be convicted unless they can prove they have taken actions to prevent crime, be rolled out across the rest of the UK.
‘Birds of prey bring our skies to life. There’s nothing like seeing a diving pere- grine or a skydancing hen harrier. Unfortunately, illegal activity is preventing these birds from flourishing. There are laws in place to protect them, but they’re clearly not being put into action,’ laments RSPB conservation director Martin Harper. ‘We need governments across the UK to do more.’ However, ‘shoot licensing is not the answer’, warns BASC chairman Peter Glenser. ‘It will not have any impact, other than increasing costs and bureaucracy for regulators… Although the RSPB highlights issues that need to be addressed around raptor persecution, there is a need for clearer thinking.’ He continues: ‘We must not lose sight of the immense good done by the shooting community, but the criminal minority damages us all and the shooting community needs to speak as one… The RSPB has shared interests [with us] in high standards and an end to wildlife crime and this needs to be based on the facts and a common commitment to the task… We must also talk plainly and openly with those who may not immediately be considered friends of shooting. There is a need for honesty from all sides.’ Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, agrees: ‘Any incident of bird-of-prey persecution is unacceptable and the full force of the law should be felt by those breaking it. The statistics in the latest report show that the number of such incidents continues to decline significantly and there has been a very substantial drop in incidents over the past five years. This is what we all want to see. Of course, more can be done and the best way to achieve progress is for people across the sector, including the RSPB, to continue to work together constructively.’
Hen harriers (top left), kestrels (left), buzzards (top centre) and red kites (above and top right) are still being illegally killed