Adopt
RSPB 2021 Birdcrime Report

The Killing Continues: Shooting industry driving raptor persecution

The latest RSPB Birdcrime Report confirms that the shooting industry continues to drive the illegal persecution of birds of prey, listing 108 confirmed incidents across Britain in 2021. The tally of dead birds includes 50 Common Buzzards, 16 Red Kites, seven Peregrines and three Goshawks.

Birdcrime is the UK’s only annual and comprehensive report of known offences against birds of prey. This report covers confirmed incidents in 2021, as collated by the RSPB’s Investigations Team, working in support of the police and statutory agencies.

England’s tally of 80 confirmed persecution incidents is the second-highest figure since records began in 1990, after a well-noted surge in wildlife crime during the pandemic year of 2020 when gamekeepers took advantage of the lack of potential eyewitnesses (that year a record 137 known incidents of bird of prey persecution were logged).

The details of some of these latest incidents are depressingly familiar and include a mass grave of birds of prey found down a well on a pheasant shoot in Wiltshire. In Scotland, a Golden Eagle was found poisoned on a grouse shooting estate lying beside a dead hare laced with a deadly banned pesticide. And as was widely reported at the time a young White-tailed Eagle from the Isle of Wight reintroduction programme was found dead in Dorset with seven times the lethal dose of brodifacoum, a rat poison increasingly found in birds of prey indicating it is being used deliberately to kill them (a danger not just for birds of prey but for other wildlife, people and pets who may also come into contact with these deadly substances).

The data in this report clearly show that raptor persecution remains at a sustained high level,” said Mark Thomas, the RSPB’s UK head of investigations. “The illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey has no place in modern society. In a nature and climate emergency, the deliberate destruction of protected species for financial gain is completely devastating and unacceptable.

 

Protected?

While eighty confirmed incidents across the whole of England may not sound serious to some, all species of birds of prey are protected by law, and many are Birds of Conservation Concern only just recovering from decades of persecution. And as the RSPB notes these are just the known, confirmed incidents. The actual numbers are likely to be far higher, with more going unreported and undetected. Furthermore, the RSPB says, that if they “extrapolate satellite tagging studies for key species such as the Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle, it suggests the true number of raptors killed is far greater than the annual totals documented so far”. This has been demonstrated by numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies, including 2019’s ‘Patterns of satellite-tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors’.

The bird shooting industry is to blame.

In what the shooting industry would like to greenwash as ‘good news’, 2021 was widely reported as the most successful for breeding Hen Harriers in England for over a century. As Protect the Wild has pointed out many times, though, while the number of chicks hatching in well-monitored nests is up (from catastrophically low levels) that doesn’t translate into higher numbers of adults. As the 2019 study linked to above confirms GPS satellite tagging continues to reveal what is coyly termed ‘suspicious disappearances’ of young Hen Harriers. A rolling tally on Raptor Persecution UK states that 73 Hen Harriers are now confirmed ‘missing’ or illegally killed in the UK since 2018, most of them on or close to grouse moors.

That last fact is mirrored by this latest Birdcrime report which says that more than two-thirds of all confirmed incidents in 2021 related to land managed by the shooting industry. The worst areas for raptor persecution contain many shooting estates. As they have now done repeatedly the RSPB stresses that “as ever, there’s a startlingly clear connection between raptor persecution and land managed for shooting”, pointing out that birds of prey are persecuted because they are perceived to be a threat to Red Grouse and to the millions of non-native pheasant and partridges released every year just to be shot. All five of the individuals prosecuted for raptor persecution-related offences in 2021 were gamekeepers.

More regulation? What difference will it really make?

It is very clear where the problem lies. Were there no shooting industry there would be vastly reduced incidents of raptor persecution.

The official response from the RSPB, though, sticks rigidly to the line that more regulation will make the difference. Beccy Speight, the chief executive of the RSPB, while noting that “The evidence shows that the illegal persecution of birds of prey – which is time and time again linked to gamebird shooting – is holding back the recovery of some key species” is also quoted saying “we call on the new government in Westminster and governments around the UK to act and pave the way towards a sustainable future, respectful of the law.”

At the same time, the Scottish government is of course consulting on a new law to license grouse moors.

Protect the Wild remains utterly unconvinced that more regulation is any sort of answer at all.  There is legislation in place right now but it is as good as unenforceable on the huge, often remote estates where these incidents of persecution are taking place and there appears to be no new money to increase numbers of either police or investigation officers. The shooting industry itself clearly has no real interest (beyond their own financial interests) in stopping raptor persecution because they remain convinced that profits will be impacted if they obey the law. Their employees remain reluctant to speak out or report wildlife crimes because they may lose their jobs or even their homes – and even when convicted receive little more than a slap on the wrist (Archie Watson, the young criminal filmed dumping dead raptors down a well in Wiltshire received a 12-month community order (180 hours unpaid work) and was told to pay a paltry £393 costs).

End Shooting

Fiddling with the law (legitimising shooting birds and the appalling slaughter of countless mammals in traps and snares while doing it) won’t make a jot of difference. Public disgust and public pressure will. The answer to ending raptor persecution is shutting down the shooting industry and rewilding shooting estates for the public good.

As Birdcrime 2021 also states, we are in the midst of a nature and climate emergency. The shooting industry should not be dictating how many birds of prey grace our biodiversity-depleted landscapes or where they can be seen. Shooting has had decades to sort itself out. In our opinion, it has now run out of time. We will continue to press the RSPB to come to the same conclusion.

(All images from Birdcrime 2021. To download this and previous reports go to rspb.org.uk/birdcrime)