Adopt

Poisoning/poisoned baits and the Law

The use of poison and poisoned baits to poison wild birds is illegal but is still taking place across the whole of the UK, particularly on some shooting estates and farms. Poisoning is silent compared with shooting and also less labour-intensive – no need to wait around for a bird of prey to return, just lay the bait, walk away, and come back to check every so often.

The RSPB Birdcrime report noted 36 poisonings in the UK in 2021 (victims included 12 Buzzards, 10 Red Kites, two Peregrines, one Golden Eagle, and one White-tailed Eagle), and there have been 64 confirmed incidents of abuse of banned or highly toxic chemicals to target birds of prey in Northern Ireland alone since 2009. These, remember, are just the birds that were found and reported.

The poisons used are typically insecticides like Carbofuran and Bendiocarb and rodenticides like Brodifacoum or Difenacoum. The targets are usually birds of prey. Carrion-feeding birds such as Buzzards and Red Kites are especially vulnerable to poisoned baits. 

Baits like the meat sprinkled with carbofuran in the image above also pose a serious risk to dogs who can be attracted to the smell of the bait and will be poisoned if they eat it (see ‘Nidderdale Cocktail’ below).

 

While using legal poisons in the correct way is not an offence, the laying of poison baits in the open countryside has been illegal for over 100 years.

  • Using poisons is not necessarily illegal but operators MUST protect other animals from traps or poisons. 
  • Operators must place baits under cover so that other animals and birds are not poisoned.
  • The laying of any poisoned bait in the open is illegal. There are no exceptions.
 
Birds of prey are the typical targets of illegal poisonings but all species are fully protected  > Birds of Prey and the Law

If we report a poisoning we will NOT be expected to know what species of bird of prey is involved, but Protect the Wild has a page of the most routinely persecuted species, and here are six of the most commonly targeted linked to their individual species accounts.

Common Buzzard

Golden Eagle

Hen Harrier

Peregrine

Red Kite

Short-eared Owl

A poisoned bait may take the form of a pigeon or rabbit carcass or a piece of meat which has been sprinkled with poison. Carcasses are often split up the middle and grains of poison sprinkled inside. Many poisons are brightly coloured in line with marking WHO toxicity levels (carbofuran for example is  bright blue).

  • Many poisons are so fast acting that the corpses of birds of prey are found close to the baits.
  • Poisons used in baits are often insecticides – a carcass with DEAD flies on or near it (rather than buzzing around it) can be a sign it has been poisoned.
  • Sometimes baited eggs are injected with poison, which often stains the content.

 

Animals do of course die of natural causes. Not every corpse found in the countryside is a sign of an attempted poisoning. But if the corpse of a bird of prey is found on a grouse moor or shooting estate and there are no visible signs of injury (eg gunshot wounds or collision damage) it is safest to treat the corpse as if it may have been poisoned.

It’s highly likely that any poisoned birds of prey we might find will already be dead because of the speed with which illegal poisons kill. 

Their otherwise uninjured bodies will often be next to (or very near) a prey item – typically a Wood Pigeon or a Hare that has been cut open and dosed with poison (often a few red or blue ‘grains’ will be present).  Other signs might include several carcasses of raptors close to each other, cramped legs, traces of vomiting, and a twisted neck.

Any birds that have been poisoned but are still alive may show symptoms including muscle twitching,  a “tent-like” wing posture, stiffened (often twisted) neck, dilated pupil, diarrhea, vomiting and seizures.

Reports suggest that the ‘peak poisoning period’ is from February/early Spring to the early summer – in other words when birds of prey start displaying and become visible again after the winter up to and including when they are nesting – but there is no hard and fast rule. If a gamekeeper thinks he or she has a ‘problem’ they may decide to lay a poisoned bait at any time of the year.

  • If we think we have found a possible poisoned bait DO NOT TOUCH it with bare hands. Modern poisons like the banned agricultural pesticides Carbofuran or Bendiocarb are extremely dangerous. Just a few grains or granules will kill a bird of prey by breaking down its nervous system, and the poison can be quickly absorbed through our own skin. Carbofuran, for example, can affect us if we just breathe it in. Exposure can cause weakness, sweating, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and blurred vision. Higher levels can cause muscle twitching, loss of coordination, and may cause breathing to stop.
 
  • If walking a dog, get them out of the area immediately. If you suspect they may have ingested some poison (perhaps they found the bait) get them to a vet as soon as possible.
  • If possible warn other members of the public of your suspicions.
  • While birds of prey do of course die natural deaths, if you find a corpse of bird of prey on a grouse moor or a shooting estate and there are no obvious injuries (gunshot wounds, leg injuries from illegal traps) it is safest to treat the corpse as if it may have been poisoned and may still be hazardous.
  • Remember too that unless the poison can be seen – and it often can’t as such small quantities are used – it is very difficult to be certain that none is present.

Yes. Many populations of birds of prey are still recovering from decades of persecution and are still very vulnerable.

A decade ago the RSPB reported that confirmed incidents of poisoning included 30 Buzzards, 20 Red Kites, a Golden Eagle and a White-tailed Eagle. Ten years later the 2021 RSPB Birdcrime report noted a similar roll call with 36 poisonings of birds of prey in the UK: victims included 12 Buzzards, 10 Red Kites, two Peregrines, one Golden Eagle, and one White-tailed Eagle. There have been 64 confirmed incidents of abuse of banned or highly toxic chemicals to target birds of prey in Northern Ireland alone since 2009.

To some (particularly lobbyists for ‘countryside sports’) the quoted figures may not seem very high, but as with all wildlife crime the number of recorded incidents will be just the tip of the iceberg. Most poisonings will be taking place on large estates. They will never be recorded and the victims never found. Possibly thousands of birds of prey will have been killed illegally. And they involve species that are supposed to have full legal protection and which are only now returning to territories they were driven out of by gamekeepers.

  • As we have said many times on Protect the Wild, the shooting industry has no right to dictate how many birds of prey there are in the UK, what species they are, or where they occur. And there is no excuse at all for using banned chemicals to kill them. Poisoning incidents often involve banned chemicals like carbofuran and aldicarb (it is illegal even to be in possession of either chemical in Scotland). There is no reason for anyone to have these chemicals and no excuse for them to be used in baits or to kill wildlife. They are dangerous to both animals and humans (see ‘Bird of prey poisonings: public at risk, says Lincolnshire Police’) and putting such chemicals out into the environment where anyone can come across them is totally irresponsible

The Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) makes enquiries into the death or illness of wildlife, pets and beneficial invertebrates that may have resulted from pesticide poisoning.

The scheme has two objectives:

  • To provide information to the regulator on hazards to wildlife and companion animals and beneficial invertebrates from pesticides;
  • To enforce the correct use of pesticides, identifying and penalising those who deliberately or recklessly misuse and abuse pesticides.


In practice “companion animals” usually refers to cats and dogs, and “beneficial invertebrates” refers to honeybees, bumble bees and earthworms.

Also included in the Scheme are suspect baits, where it is thought that pesticides have been inappropriately applied or used, and spillages of pesticides where this poses a risk to wildlife or companion animals.

The Scheme is essentially a monitoring tool to inform the pesticide approval process. However, where there is clear evidence of a breach of pesticide law enforcement action may be taken.

Suspected incidents can be reported on 0800 321600 (calls are free).

The WIIS system, known as WIISOL, is hosted by Defra and is designed for use by WIIS partners; Natural England, Animal and Plant Health Agency, Fera Science Ltd and the Health and Safety Executive’s Chemical Regulation Directorate.

The Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005 (which applies to Scotland only) makes it an offence to be ‘in possession’ of any of a list of banned substances (or techincally “prescribes types of ingredients of pesticides for the purposes of section 15A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981”). The Order came into force on 14th March 2005.

It was brought in because prosecuting an indvidual for laying illegal poisons and/or poisoned baits is extremely difficult. As anyone using poisons illegally knows, unless a witness comes forward it is virtually impossible to prove without doubt exactly who it was that laid a bait and perhaps subsequently killed a protected species.

The legislation makes even possession of the following substances – all of which were known at the time to be used to illegally target birds of prey – a crime:

  • Aldicarb
  • Alphachloralose
  • Aluminium phosphide
  • Bendiocarb
  • Carbofuran
  • Mevinphos
  • Sodium cyanide
  • Strychnine.

 

According to the legislation, “A person guilty of an offence under section 15A(1) of the 1981 Act shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale (currently £5,000), or to both. Section 15A(2) of the 1981 Act provides a statutory defence to an offence under section 15A(1).”

  • This legislation has led to the successful prosecution of individuals (mostly gamekeepers) who in searches by the authorities were found to be ‘in possession’ of one or more those substances (it was not necessary to prove they used or were planning to use them). Poisons were discovered in their vehicles, at their work premises and even in their homes. They were confiscated and destroyed, taking them out of circulation and out of the hands of people who target birds of prey illegally.

Bendiocarb is “an acutely toxic carbamate insecticide used in public health and agriculture and is effective against a wide range of nuisance and disease vector insects” (it is used in malaria control, for example). Pure bendiocarb is highly toxic to birds such as ducks and quail, and to honey bees.

It is so toxic that it has been banned in Scotland since 2005 and even possession is considered a serious offence. In England, bendiocarb is licenced for (diluted) use as an ingredient in a number of products, but they are intended for the indoor control of certain insects such as ants and wasps.

So how do raptors end up ingesting it?

By feeding on poisoned baits – often pheasant or rabbit carcasses split open and dosed with poison – left in the open to attract raptors.

The laying of poison baits in the open countryside has been illegal for over 100 years, but as the RSPB’s Guy Shorrock wrote in November 2021, “we are still a long way from removing the cancer of illegal poisoning from our countryside“, adding that bendiocarb “has increasingly become the poisoner’s weapon of choice”.

 

Incidents involving the illegal use of bendiocarb to kill birds of prey in the last five years include:

– a Red Kite poisoned in North Yorkshire in March 2019 with Bendiocarb and Isofenphos (Northern England Raptor Forum)

– a Red Kite found poisoned near Scarmpston, North Yorkshire in April 2020: tests found a combination of Brodifacoum and Bendiocarb. (Northern England Raptor Forum)

– a Common Buzzard killed in Nidderdale by a combination of pesticides including Bendiocarb (three pesticides were found in the buzzard’s gizzard and crop with a fourth detected in its kidney).

– an adult Peregrine found dead on top of the remains of a wood pigeon in May 2020 on National Trust land in the Upper Derwent Valley (see  Peregrine poisoned in Peak District National Park).

– a young Peregrine found poisoned near Barnsley in July 2020 (> RSPB Community Our Work).

– a young White-tailed Eagle from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme found dead on a shooting estate in West Sussex in October 2021.

– two White-tailed Eagles found poisoned on a grouse moor in Northern Ireland in May 2023.

 – a Red Kite found near North Creake in Norfolk in August 2023.

Brodifacoum is one of the world’s most widely used rodenticides.

Absorbed through the gut, Brodifacoum is a second generation anticoagulant (SGAR) that works by preventing clotting by decreasing Vitamin K levels in the blood. Eventually the blood ceases to clot and permeates the artery walls, and the animal dies of multiple causes related to blood loss.

In the UK Brodifacoum (and Flocoumafen) are restricted to indoor use and by professional users only. It must never be used outdoors. Widely available online (and often sold mixed into a paste), a “sudden and marked increase in the numbers of wildlife incidents” that involved Brodifacoum was recently identified by the government-run Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) leading the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use UK to express concerns that its availability would become even more limited.

In 2020 a Red Kite was found poisoned in North Yorkshire. Toxicology tests identfied Brodifacoum. Analysis revealed that there was no way the bird could have accidentally ingested the poison and  had been deliberately targeted.

In Dorset, in 2022, a young White-tailed Eagle (from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme) was found dead on a still unnamed shooting estate with seven times the lethal dose of Brodifacoum.

In a March 2023 blog RSPB investigator Howard Jones wrote that:

There have been some serious incidents where dogs out for walks have died from ingesting brodifacoum due to its illegal use. And the misuse and deliberate abuse of brodifacoum is having a troubling impact on our wildlife too, on a scale not yet fully understood but it is now widely recognised as the biggest emerging poisoning threat to wildlife in the UK.”

 

 

In November 2023 the Hunt Investigation Team (HIT) reported on the use of the rodenticide in Sapphire Paste on Allendale Estates, a well-known Northumberland shooting estate. Retailers state specifically that “Sapphire Paste must be used with a secured tamperproof bait station”, but HIT found sachets of brodifacoum illegally left exposed in open countryside and five dead buzzards, one dead Barn Owl, and a dying badger (as well as numerous dead rats) lying beside them.

Carbofuran is a carbamate pesticide, widely used around the world to control insects on a wide variety of crops, including potatoes, corn and soybeans. It is a systemic insecticide, which means that the plant absorbs it through the roots then distributes it throughout its organs where insecticidal concentrations are attained.

Carbofuran is highly toxic to vertebrates with an oral LD50 of 8–14 mg/kg in rats and 19 mg/kg in dogs.

It is known to be particularly toxic to birds. In its blue granular form, a single grain will kill a bird. Before the granular form was banned by the US’s EPA in 1991, it was blamed for millions of bird deaths per year. 

Carbofuran was banned in the UK in 2005 (and is banned in Canada, Sri Lanka, and throughout the European Union). For many years though it was considered the ‘gamekeepers poison of choice’ for the illegal killing of raptors (although in the last few years it has perhaps been overtaken by Bendiocarb).

In 2010 police and the RSPB found a 10kg  sack of Carbofuran hidden  in a locked shed on Skibo Estate. Fiscal depute Ian Smith said at the time that this was the largest find of any illegal poison in the UK, adding that “10kg is sufficient to wipe out the entire Scottish Golden Eagle and Red Kite populations several times over”.

Carbofuran is still being used. In May 2024 Christopher Hodgson, Director of Ashley Game Farm Ltd in Wembworthy, Chulmleigh, Devon appeared to plead guilty to multiple offences including the use of Carbofuran.

Named after the Nidderdale AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) in the Yorkshire Dales, the now infamous ‘Nidderdale Cocktail’ is a local mix of illegal pesticides used to target birds of prey which came to prominence in July 2020 when two spaniels were poisoned after accidentally ingesting it.

The ‘Nidderdale Cocktail’ is a deadly mixture of chemicals including alphachloralose and the banned pesticides Carbofuran, Bendiocarb, and Isofenphos. Whilst Chloralose is licenced for use in England in a low concentration as a rodenticide, Bendiocarb, Isofenphos and Carbofuran are all banned across the UK. None of these chemicals should ever be used in an environment where companion animals and/or wildlife could come into contact with them.

Clearly that was of no concern to the gamekeepers who put carrion baits out containing the ‘cocktail’ with the intention of killing protected raptors.

For more see Nidderdale: Raptor Poisoning Capital of the UK

Ruby Grain 25 is a highly attractive (and according to retail web sites) very palatable whole wheat bait for use against rats and mice.

Formulations can contain as little as 0.005% Difenacoum anti-coagulant, but it is extremely toxic to birds.

As the name suggests, poisoned grains of wheat are stained a very strong ruby red colour. Grains have been found sprinkled on Wood Pigeon baits on shooting estates.

  • It’s use outdoors is illegal, and any suspected use to target birds of prey should be reported immediately.

No rodenticide can legally be used outdoors, but secondary poisoning is now a serious problem.

Rodenticides – poisons (typically anti-coagulants) used to kill rats and mice – are widely used across the UK and some can bought legally (usually at low strengths) online without accreditation or licencing. All poisons must be covered or placed in bait traps when in use, but many rodenticides are designed to be carried back to the nest by adults rather than to kill immediately.

This does mean that birds of prey (especially owls) are likely to find dying rodents or their dead bodies in the open. This can lead to ‘secondary’ poisoning, where the bird of prey is not the target but is still consuming the poison.

So-called second generation rodenticides (SGARs), first introduced in the 1970s, are 100 to 1,000 times more acutely toxic than ‘first generation’ poisons (like Warfarin), and have been detected in almost all Barn Owls tested for it. Most Kestrels tested in the UK also contain rat poisons, despite the fact that they don’t usually take rats: contamination is probably through eating Wood Mice and voles that have eaten bait laid for rats.

In June 2023 the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use (CRRU) announced that legal authorisation was being withdrawn by the Health and Safety Executive for open area and waste dump use (in other words, outside and away from buildings) for the only two SGARs currently still allowed to be used that way: bromadiolone and difenacoum. Both poisons can currently be bought online and home delivered.

  • The sale of these two products for use in open areas and at waste dumps will end on 4 July 2024. Products bought on that date, or prior to it, will be authorised for use in open areas and waste dumps until 31 December 2024. Following that date, it will be illegal to use any SGAR product to treat a rodent infestation not associated with a building.

The laying of poison baits in the open countryside has been illegal for over 100 years. Rodenticides must always be covered or laid in bait traps when in use (so they are kept away from non-target animals) – but it has been legal to use two SGARs (second generation anticoagulant rodenticides) away from buildings if those conditions are met.

In June 2023 the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use (CRRU) announced, however, that legal authorisation was being withdrawn by the Health and Safety Executive for open area and waste dump use (in other words, outside and away from buildings) for the only two SGARs currently still allowed to be used that way: bromadiolone and difenacoum.

The sale of these two products for use in open areas and at waste dumps will end on 4 July 2024. Products bought on that date, or prior to it, will be authorised for use in open areas and waste dumps until 31 December 2024. Following that date, it will be illegal to use any SGAR product to poison rodents not associated with a building (including around pheasant pens and on grouse moors).

According to information on ‘Reporting Incidents‘ given by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE): “If you, your family, wildlife, or the environment have been affected by exposure to pesticides you are strongly advised to report it. Such incidents are taken very seriously but they need to be reported as soon as possible after the incident for an effective investigation to be undertaken.”

  • HSE inspectors will normally investigate all pesticide incidents involving ill health where these occur in places such as factories and farms (call 0300 003 1647 during office hours).
  • Local Authority inspectors are responsible for investigating incidents at other places such as leisure premises etc. The department to contact depends on the type of incident that you wish to report (contact details are in a local telephone directory or online).
  • For incidents involving the Environment contact the relevant Environment Agency (Environment Agency (England and Wales), or Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)).
  • For incidents involving wildlife, farmed or companion animals contact the Wildlife Incidents Investigation Scheme (call 0800 321600).
 

Yes, poisoning is a huge problem in other parts of Europe (and Africa).

Because it is a non-selective method of killing “undesirable” animals such as feral dogs, across Europe and Africa birds such as vultures fall victim to poisoned baits or by feeding on dead poisoned animals. Unfortunately, this threat has increased in recent years across Africa with major impacts on the populations of different vulture species.

A study published in Biological Conservation in May 2024 reiterated the importance of investing to strengthen the competence of the agencies responsible for monitoring and investigating the pervasive effects of illegal poisoning through, for example, robust law enforcement, awareness campaigns, and the involvement of local communities. This study concluded that this type of environmental crime must be a priority for the local authorities in each country and the international community.

On the other hand, in Europe, and particularly in the Balkans, progress has been made in stamping out the scourge of vulture and other wildlife poisoning, including VCF-lead projects such as the BalkanDetox LIFE.

Wildlife crime is defined as any action which contravenes current legislation governing the protection of the UK’s wild flora and fauna, including species traded in the UK.

Note that wildlife crime does NOT include:

  • Incidents involving domestic or companion animals such as dogs (other than dogs being used to hunt mammals), cats, rabbits, domesticated birds, etc.
  • Wild animals that have been involved (killed or injured etc) in road traffic accidents.

Road accidents with wild animals do not need to be reported to the police, but note that domestic animals (as well as goats, horses, cattle, asses, mules, sheep and pigs) come within the remit of the Road Traffic Act.
If you have a road accident involving these animals you are required by law to report it to the police. If the wild animal is so badly injured in a road accident that there is no chance of recovery or the animal can not be returned to the wild then he or she may be euthanised, providing there is no appropriate long-term captive or semi-captive accommodation or when treatment would involve undue suffering or distress.

If we come across a wildlife crime scene or a dead bird/object that may be related to a wildlife crime every piece of information is – or might be – important, but it needs to be recorded properly and accurately for the authorities to have a chance of prosecuting an offender.

  • Before we do anything else it is very important that we do NOT approach anyone we suspect of committing a crime – they may be violent and/or aggressive. This is especially true of badger baiters and hare coursers who are typically extremely violent. This must be a first priority!
 
What do we need to record?
  • What we can see happening – what sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved, could we or the public be in danger?
  • The exact location. Most smartphones have map apps or download the free What3Words app. If in open countryside look for obvious landmarks or fence lines, a tall or isolated tree, a wind turbine, any streams or brooks etc. Think about what would you need to re find a remote location.
  • It is important to record if at all possible whether we are on or near public land as this will determine the type of police response.
  • Never put ourselves in danger, but can we see who is involved and what they look like (e.g. number of people, their gender(s), age(s), the clothing worn, tools being carried)? Can we hear them – if so what are they saying, are they using any names etc?
  • If any dogs are involved how many are there, what colour are they, do we know what breed they are (even information like ‘terriers’ or ‘lurcher-types’ can be very useful).
  • The make, colour and registration number of any vehicle (we can take photos of a car if we think it is being used or might be used to commit a crime). Does it have any obvious dents, branding or markings, spotlights, bullbars etc.

 

DO and DO NOT

  • Do NOT disturb the scene by walking around unnecessarily – small pieces of evidence (cigarette ends, footprints, the marks left by a spade etc) may be lost or trampled into the mud or grass.
  • If photographing an object do try to use eg a coin or a notebook/field guide for scale – providing it won’t disturb the crime scene.
  • If in the countryside take wide angle photographs of any landmarks (a tree, a distinctive fenceline, a hill) that might help officers relocate the crime scene. DO NOT mark a site with eg a white plastic bag though. Being able to see a marker from a distance might sound like a good idea, but it will also alert an offender that someone has been at the site: they may go back and remove the evidence
  • Do NOT move any items at the scene – the exception being if they are likely to disappear before the police arrive when we can collect them as evidence.
  • Do NOT touch any dead birds or animals with bare hands. They may be poisoned baits or victims of poisoning. Many poisons (eg Carbofuran) are extremely dangerous in even very small amounts and can be absorbed through the skin.
  • Do NOT do anything illegal ourselves – that might mean our evidence is not admissible.
  • NEVER touch with bare hands any dead birds or animals. They may be poisoned baits or victims of poisoning. Many poisons (eg Carbofuran) are extremely dangerous in even very small amounts and can be absorbed through the skin.
 
  • Stay upwind of any corpse or bait – a few windblown grains of eg Carbofuran can be a serious risk to health.

  • If it is safe to do so make a note of the date and time and take photographs or video of the scene using a mobile phone or camera  or make as accurate a sketch as possible.

  • Note the location as accurately as possible (free smartphone apps are widely available).

  • If a substance is present note whether it is coloured, is made up of granules or a powder, and how a bait has been laid out.

  • Do not interfere with the victim or the bait. Leave the scene exactly as you found it so that the evidence can be fully recorded when a police officer or investigator arrives on site.

  • If waiting for authorities to arrive try to keep people and animals clear of the bait or victim.

  • If you see someone laying poison – and only if it is safe to do so – take as many photographs as you can. Recording the offender’s face is important of course, but their clothing, the bags they’re carrying, the equipment they’re using are all important too. 

 If we see a wildlife crime taking place (or someone is at risk of getting injured or is being threatened) call 999 immediately.
They will want to know what we can see happening:
  • What sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved
  • Could we or the public be in danger
  • Do we have photos or video footage which may be used as evidence
  • Tell whoever you REPORT the crime to exactly what you have RECORDED as described in the section above.

To report a historic crime – that is, a crime that is no longer taking place – use 101 or a local organisation instead.
  • If calling the police ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer and make sure to get an Incident Report number.
  • Please always follow any advice given and – if they are not available – insist that a Wildlife Crime Officer is made aware of your report.
  •  Our options are wider if the event is over, and it may be preferable to talk first to a charity or NGO to get advice. Crimestoppers (an independent charity) can be contacted in complete confidence on 0800 555 111
  • When thinking about reporting a crime it’s worth noting that only the police have statutory powers to make an arrest. RSPCA and RSPB investigation officers work with the police for successful prosecutions.
 
Reporting a wildlife crime (or even a suspected wildlife crime) is important for two reasons.
  • If the event is still happening it may enable the authorities to catch the criminals ‘in the act’ (which means a higher chance of prosecution),
  • and if the event is over a report can still help to build up a more accurate picture of what might be happening in a specific location or across the country as a whole.

Even if we only suspect a poisoning it is always best to call the Police: they will deal and investigate any offences and they will involve partner agencies (Natural England, RSPB etc) when appropriate to do so.

Expect the police to advise us to be very careful and warn us of the dangers to our health of any poisons.

  • If a crime is in progress (ie we find someone laying a poison) call 999. If we find a dead bird or bait and the culprit is not on the scene call 101. Give details as requested, and ask for a crime reference number.
 

Suspected posioning using pesticides can also be reported from anywhere in the UK to WIIS (the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme) on 0800 321600.

If we have information about someone killing raptors, and want to remain anonymous, we can also call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

Our help is always welcomed
  • Whoever we decide to contact we have been assured that our help is welcomed and that if we’re in any doubt that what we’re seeing is a wildlife crime we should report it anyway. Remember, if what we see ‘feels’ wrong, it probably is!
  • Even if we’re not sure about what we’re seeing, we can take a photograph and email it to the police or an investigations officer – they are trained to quickly recognise for example when a snare is illegally placed, whether a trap is being used illegally, or whether a crime is being committed or not.
  • We may help stop or solve future crimes by helping build up a pattern of behaviour in an area.

 

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault, or what we should do if we’re arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in over thirty simple, mobile-friendly pages just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault or harassment, or what we should do if we’re stopped and searched or even arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in forty-one simple, mobile-friendly pages and over 500 FAQs just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource with two aims: to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution; and to provide a ‘quick guide’ to anyone interacting with hunts, hunt supporters, or the police.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to, and the more we know our rights the better we can protect ourselves.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit currently has seven priority offences for wildlife crime.

Badger persecution

It is illegal to interfere with or block a badger’s home or ‘sett’. Badger baiting is a centuries-old now illegal blood sport, where small dogs such as terriers or lurchers seek badgers out of their setts before fighting and killing them.

Bat persecution

Bats and their homes are legally protected, so disturbing or removing them is an offence. If bats roost in your roof, you need to obtain a special ‘bat mitigation licence’ from Natural England to be allowed to disturb them. They are hugely important to our ecosystem.

Trade of endangered species

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) sets out which endangered animals and plants have protected status. It is illegal to remove any of them from their natural habitat, possess, or sell them. Currently, the top priorities are European eels, birds of prey, ivory, medicinal and health products, reptiles, rhino horns, and timber.

Freshwater pearl mussel offences

These Endangered mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera) are only found in rivers in Scotland and small parts of England. They can live for more than 130 years but are extremely sensitive to water pollution and have been illegally farmed for years. It is illegal to damage or destroy their habitat or to take, injure or kill them.

Poaching

Fox, deer, and hare hunting are all illegal under the Hunting Act 2004. Poaching offences also cover illegal fishing – when anglers do not obtain a licence or remove protected fish from lakes and rivers without returning them.

Raptor persecution

Birds of prey are often targeted on shooting estates. Their eggs are also traded illegally. It is an offence to target, poison, or kill them, with a particular focus on Golden Sagles, Goshawks, Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Red Kites, and White-tailed Eagles. Disturbing or taking their eggs or chicks is also illegal.

Cyber-enabled wildlife crime

Social media is often used to promote wildlife crime and recruit people to take part in it. Endangered plants and animals are also traded illegally online.

  • Punishment must fit the crime. Conditional discharges and paltry fines are not a disincentive for criminals.

A common complaint is that even if wildlife criminals are brought to court the fines or sentences they get are pathetic and not a disincentive. In most cases judges are giving out the penalties they are allowed to under the law. Changes can be made though. In 2022 the maximum sentence for ‘causing uneccesary suffering’ went from six months to five years. That was the result of targeted public pressure and campaigning. We need to identify where changes should be made and push hard for them.

 

  • Wildlife crime must be notifiable and statistics accurately compiled so that resources can be properly targeted.

Police forces are required by law to inform the Home Office of any notifiable offences, which then uses the reports to compile the crime statistics known as ‘recorded crime’. Currently, wildlife crimes are not ‘notifiable’ though (and wildlife crime involving firearms are also not recorded as firearms offences by the Police).  Without them being notifiable, no one knows how many wildlife crimes are being committed across the UK and where the hotspots are (though ‘grouse moors’ is one obvious response). As we have stated many times on this website, law and legislative enforcement is hugely underfunded and under-resourced. Some of this has undoubtedly been through political choice, but if we at least know which crimes are being committed and where, the resources that are available can be placed where they are needed most.

 

  • There must be changes to make it far easier for all of us to play our part in ‘Recognising, Reporting, Recording’ wildlife cime.

As even a quick glance at the Protectors pages makes clear, laws protecting wildlife are hard to understand. Major pieces of legislation like the Hunting Act 2004  and other laws are riddled with exemptions which strongly favour the hunting, shooting, and agricultural industries. Some date from a century or more ago and don’t reflect the modern world. These need to be updated. While there has undoubtedly been efforts made by successive governmants to use ‘plain english’ to explain legislation, any government wanting to tackle wildlife crime needs to make understanding what is and what isn’t a crime far more easily understood and put resources into a reporting system that the public feel confident using. Crucially, the public need to be sure that if they do report a crime it will be acted upon.

 

  • We have to protect the environment and wildlife properly.

Laws protecting wildlife and the environment need to be revised to reflect the 21st century and the biodiversity and climate crises we are in. Animals (and plants) are not an add-on or a ‘nice to have’ – they have shaped the systems that life depends on, and our laws need to reflect how critically important they are.

 

If you’d like to support just one legislative change, Protect the Wild has launched ‘The Hunting of Mammals Bill: A Proper Ban on Hunting‘ – please sign our petition calling for a proper ban on hunting with dogs.

We would like Protectors of the Wild to be the ‘go to’ free resource, packed with the kind of information that really does help all of us become ‘eyes in the field. But we can’t possibly think of every question that might need answering or every situation someone might find themselves in! And while the information in these pages is largely taken from Government online advice and was compiled in 2023 (and constantlyy updated), perhaps we’ve missed something out.

If you could provide us with legal advice get in touch. Or if you find a mistake or a gap please let us know. That way we can continually improve Protectors of the Wild – for the benefit of animals and all of us. Thanks.

‘Protectors of the Wild’ is a project of Protect the Wild. We have a dedicated email address for anyone wishing to get in touch with a specific Protectors query or with additional information etc. Please use the form on our Contact Protectors page or email protectors@protectthewild.org.uk. Thank you.

Much of the information we give in these pages is very technical or to do with legislation which can be revised without much notice. While we have worked very hard on these pages and we take keeping our information accurate and up-to-date very seriously, Protect the Wild are not legal professionals. Just to make sure no-one thinks we’re offering professional legal advice, we feel obliged to include the following disclaimer on every page.

  • Please think of the ‘Protectors of the Wild’ pages as a ‘first stop’ before seeking legal advice. We provide detailed information but not professional advice. The information provided by Protect the Wild should NOT be considered or relied on as legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Any of the material on our website may be out of date at any given time, and we are under no legal obligation to update such material. While we update and revise as often as we can, Protect the Wild assumes no responsibility for the accuracy and correctness of any information, or for any consequences of relying on it. Please do not act or refrain from acting upon this information without seeking professional legal advice.