The lowland game season comes to a close today and this week leading countryside organisations took the step of declaring a ‘zero tolerance’ stance on the illegal killing of birds of prey, an issue which has dogged the industry.
Representatives of the shooting industry, gamekeepers and landowners made the joint declaration which unreservedly condemns raptor persecution and calls for their community to have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to such crimes.
A spokesman for the group, said the illegal killing of birds of prey put the whole industry under threat and the consequences of losing it would be a disaster for our countryside.
The statement was signed by The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Countryside Alliance, Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers’ Organisation and the Country Land and Business Association.
Eoghan Cameron, chairman of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said the illegal killing of birds of prey continues to “rear its ugly head” and that those committing such crimes are doing shooting a “severe disservice”.
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The declaration recommends that all shooting leases, contracts and other documents include clauses affirming the laws against the persecution of raptors.
It also outlines the launch of training initiatives and a sector-wide awareness campaign.
A spokesperson for the group said: “This joint statement and the actions it outlines should be seen as a clear signal of intent by those involved in shooting to end the scourge of raptor persecution.
“There has been significant progress in recent years, but more needs to be done if the illegal killing of raptors is to be eradicated. The joint signatories have agreed this statement to lay out in the clearest terms possible the position we need to get to and the actions that will help us get there.
“Shooting is responsible for amazing conservation work and keeps people in jobs in fragile rural communities, but the continued illegal killing of birds of prey threatens its very future and that would be a disaster for our countryside, its biodiversity and our economy.
“It falls on all of us, individuals and organisations, to ensure we encourage attitudes and actions that make the illegal killing of birds of prey a thing of the past.
“There must be no hiding place for behaviour that categorically risks destroying the very things we claim so vociferously to protect.” Birds of prey, or raptors, such as hen harriers, buzzards and golden eagles, have been targeted in the attacks and North Yorkshire is one of the worst areas for illegal raptor deaths.
The county, home to a large number of driven grouse moors, has for the past five years been at the top of the RSPB’s list of raptor persecution blackspots.
The latest report issued in August 2019 again showed the area as having the highest number of confirmed raptor deaths in the UK.
Superintendent Nick Lyall, who leads the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, which runs Operation Owl in conjunction with North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force, welcomed the statement.
“I have said since my first day as chair of the RPPDG that the only way we would successfully end raptor persecution was through a fully-engaged partnership approach.
“I have worked tirelessly with key shooting and land management partners to develop a strong and trusting relationship and so I am delighted with the strong words being used in this joint statement.”
There has been a lot of discussion around the persecution of birds of prey, particularly as they can come into conflict with landowners and gamekeepers.
Hen harriers in particular are seen as vulnerable because they prey on the chicks of red grouse that are quarry for shoots on upland estates.
In its 2018 report, the RSPB said North Yorkshire, with two national parks and plenty of suitable habitat, should be a stronghold for hen harriers, but the birds rarely nest with success.
However, in a comment piece for this edition of Country Week (see page 8), Amanda Atkinson, director of the Moorland Association, said out of the 87 incidents in England in 2018 only five were directly linked to grouse moors and four out of every five occurred in counties totally disassociated with grouse shooting.
She also said last year was a record year for hen harrier breeding.
The joint statement will strengthen the work of Operation Owl which aims to increase public awareness of bird of prey persecution.
It is supported at national level and came from a blueprint introduced by North Yorkshire Police, RSPB and RSPCA working with the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks.