What is raptor persecution?

Put simply, raptor persecution is a wildlife crime against a bird of prey, their chicks, and/or their nest. It is one of the UK Wildlife Crime Priorities and the term includes poisoning, shooting, trapping, habitat destruction and nest destruction/disturbance.

Most raptor persecution takes place on shooting estates: who else wants a bird of prey dead after all…

shot buzzard matthew stroud norfolk


Raptors are birds of prey. They are perfectly adapted to catch mammals and other birds in a range of different habitats – including habitats occupied by shooting estates.

At one time there were no laws protecting birds of prey. Wealthy landowners ordered their employees (gamekeepers) to eradicate them. All birds of prey are now fully protected in the UK by law, but illegal persecution on shooting estates continues anyway. The illegality is so endemic and so recognised that Dr Mark Avery was able to say in his book ‘Inglorious’ that the grouse industry is ‘underpinned by wildlife crime’ without being seriously challenged.

The government’s own research shows that 72% of young satellite-tagged Hen Harriers (birds fitted with lightweight satellite tags used to track their movements) will disappear in ‘suspicious circumstances’ (essentially legalese code for ‘killed’) on grouse moors in northern England. In July 2020 the RSPB published an article describing a ‘catalogue of bird crimes in the Peak District National Park’. Even the under-resourced National Wildlife Crime Unit recognises that “intelligence continues to indicate a strong association between raptor persecution and grouse moor management”.

In the lowlands the targets are more usually Common Buzzards (like the bird in the image above) and growing numbers of Red Kites. In June 2022 gamekeeper Archie Watson was filmed dumping the corpse of a Buzzard into a covered well on a pheasant-shooting venue in Wiltshire, which after a hugely expensive multi-agency operation was found to be where eleven Buzzards and four Red Kites had been hidden. In October 2022, Norfolk gamekeeper Matthew Stroud admitted to the intentional killing of six buzzards and a single Northern Goshawk as well as a string of other offences. And in January 2023 Dorset gamekeeper Paul Allen appeared in court after police found six Buzzards and ‘parts’ of three further Buzzards in a property search.

Raptor persecution typically take place in remote areas out of view of the public, cameras, and monitors. There is an omerta of silence amongst gamekeepers. And even if a crime is uncovered, the appeals process can be made remarkably convoluted.

If the evidence is incontrovertible estates will scapegoat a gamekeeper before shuttling them off to a neighbouring estate or allowing them to sneak back before the end of the season (in a clear-cut case involving the shooting of a Goshawk, ‘action’ was taken against three gamekeepers: one ‘worked his notice‘ before resigning, the other two were ‘reinstated following their colleague’s resignation and ahead of the start of the grouse season’).

Charity investigators acknowledge that there would be next to no raptor persecution if the shooting industry was shut down.

So let’s shut it down…

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Protect the Wild works to end Hunting and Shooting in the UK