The painful truth about how birds of prey are per­se­cuted

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

AS much as it pains me to write this, es­pe­cially as I have been re­port­ing sim­i­lar sto­ries for 41 years, the il­le­gal per­se­cu­tion of birds of prey is still hap­pen­ing all too reg­u­larly in the UK coun­try­side, in­clud­ing in Der­byshire, ac­cord­ing to the RSPB’s Bird­crime 2015 re­port, and the char­ity is ask­ing gov­ern­ments to take ur­gent ac­tion now to stop the slaugh­ter.

The re­port re­veals 196 re­ports of shoot­ing and de­struc­tion of birds of prey in­clud­ing the con­firmed shoot­ing of 16 buz­zards, 11 pere­grines, three red kites, one red-footed fal­con and one hen har­rier.

The re­port, pub­lished on­line for the first time, also shows 50 re­ports of wildlife poi­son­ing and pes­ti­cide-re­lated of­fences. Con­firmed vic­tims of poi­son­ing in­clude 15 buz­zards, four red kites, and three pere­grine fal­cons. Th­ese fig­ures rep­re­sent only a frac­tion of the il­le­gal per­se­cu­tion in the UK, with many in­ci­dents go­ing un­de­tected and un­re­ported.

Der­byshire is one of the worst coun­ties in the UK for bird of prey per­se­cu­tion. Bird­crime 2015 re­veals that there were five con­firmed in­ci­dents against rap­tors in­clud­ing the shoot­ing of a pere­grine, a goshawk, a buz­zard, and a fur­ther two buz­zards were poi­soned.

De­spite rap­tor per­se­cu­tion be­ing iden­ti­fied as one of the UK gov­ern­ment’s top wildlife crime pri­or­i­ties in 2009, the per­se­cu­tion of birds of prey still re­mains an is­sue of se­ri­ous con­cern with around 590 birds of prey na­tion­ally hav­ing been con­firmed poi­soned, shot, trapped or de­stroyed in the last six years.

In 2015, a satel­lite tagged hen har­rier, An­nie, was found shot dead in Scot­land in March, with an­other tagged bird ‘Lad’ found dead, with in­juries con­sis­tent with be­ing shot, on Spey­side in Septem­ber. In Eng­land, an­other five breed­ing male hen har­ri­ers ‘dis­ap­peared’ from nest­ing sites. Al­though we will prob­a­bly never know the fate of th­ese in­di­vid­u­als, the ev­i­dence shows that il­le­gal killing re­mains the sin­gle big­gest fac­tor pre­vent­ing hen har­rier re­cov­ery.

In Novem­ber last year, news emerged that an­other satel­lite tagged hen har­rier, named Rowan, was also found dead with in­juries con­sis­tent with be­ing shot, and only three pairs of hen har­ri­ers suc­cess­fully bred in Eng­land in 2016, de­spite there be­ing enough suit­able habi­tat to sup­port over 300 pairs.

Martin Harper, RSPB Di­rec­tor of Con­ser­va­tion, said: “Our birds of prey are mag­nif­i­cent crea­tures and the sight of a hen har­rier’s dra­matic sky­danc­ing dis­play flight is sim­ply breath­tak­ing. Ev­ery­one should be able to wit­ness this but sadly mil­lions of peo­ple are de­nied this op­por­tu­nity. Our up­lands are de­prived of some amaz­ing wildlife be­cause of on­go­ing il­le­gal per­se­cu­tion and it has to stop.”

It is not only con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions fight­ing for the pro­tec­tion of our wildlife. Pub­lic anger is grow­ing stronger over the on­go­ing per­se­cu­tion of our birds of prey and the state of our up­lands, and more voices are be­gin­ning to call for change.

The sta­tus quo is not an op­tion and the RSPB con­tin­ues to call, through­out the UK, for the in­tro­duc­tion of a ro­bust li­cens­ing sys­tem for driven grouse shoot­ing and an of­fence of vi­car­i­ous li­a­bil­ity for em­ploy­ers whose staff com­mit wildlife crime. Change is es­sen­tial if we are to im­prove en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tion of our up­lands.

For the first time in Jan­uary 2015, an Aberdeen­shire game­keeper, Ge­orge Mutch, re­ceived a four-month prison sen­tence for the killing of a goshawk, the il­le­gal use of two cage traps, and the tak­ing of a buz­zard and a sec­ond goshawk. The of­fences came to light dur­ing the re­view of footage cap­tured by RSPB video cam­eras de­ployed on the Kil­drummy Es­tate in Au­gust 2012.

The char­ity be­lieves a change in at­ti­tude from some within the game­bird shoot­ing in­dus­try, and a com­mit­ment from the gov­ern­ment to toughen up on leg­is­la­tion en­force­ment is es­sen­tial if birds of prey are to thrive in their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

A fe­male hen har­rier

The Laugh­ing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

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