Birds of prey continue to be illegally shot, trapped and poisoned, particularly on land managed for driven grouse shooting according to the RSPB’s annual report of illegal bird persecution, with North Yorkshire and the Peak District identified as illegal persecution blackspots.
Birdcrime 2018 reveals 87 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in 2018.
Victims included 31 buzzards, 27 red kites and six peregrines. Hen harriers, red kites, peregrines and owls were also illegally killed. Intelligence, and scientific data from satellite tagging raptors, suggests many more birds will have been killed and not found, and that these figures only offer a glimpse into a far larger problem.
A total of 67 incidents took place in England, with 12 in Scotland, five in Wales, three in Northern Ireland. Despite this, only one incident, from a 2017 investigation resulted in a conviction during the year.
The report also identifies illegal persecution blackspots in the Peak District, North Yorkshire and southern Scotland.
Incidents were predominantly recorded in these upland areas where the land is managed for driven grouse shooting. All birds of prey are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, yet in some areas these laws are being widely ignored. On some grouse moors, birds of prey and other protected species are routinely and illegally trapped, shot and poisoned. Intelligence, scientific studies and monitoring of satellite-tagged birds, continues to indicate a strong association between raptor persecution and grouse moor management.
A recently published ten-year scientific study using Natural England data revealed 72 per cent of satellite-tagged hen harriers were confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed.
It also found that hen harriers are ten times more likely to die or disappear over grouse moors, where birds of prey are often considered a threat to red grouse stocks.
Mark Thomas, Head of Investigations UK at the RSPB, said: “The illegal and widespread killing of birds of prey has gone on for too long. Current legislation and sentences are proving woefully inadequate and offering absolutely no deterrent to those who want to see birds of prey eradicated from our hills.
"Urgent and meaningful change is needed to the way our uplands are managed, to put an end once and for all to illegal killing and bring back biodiversity to these landscapes. Enough is enough."
North Yorkshire Police Sergeant Stuart Grainger said the force is doing everything it can to put a stop to "unacceptable persecutions".
He said: “Since the launch of our Operation Owl in February 2018, we have seen a much greater awareness from members of the public about raptor persecution and the important role they can play in being vigilant whilst they are out enjoying the local area. Like other forms of rural crime, raptor persecution is not a problem that the police can tackle alone and we need everyone to keep their eyes open for illegal traps and poisoned bait.
“If you come across anything suspicious, take as many photographs from as many different angles as possible, as well as photos which clearly show the location, and report it to the police as soon as you can.
“We have been working hard to train a range of outdoor groups including staff in both of our National Parks, Mountain Rescue teams, and community organisations, and the force has doubled the number of Wildlife Crime Trained Officers. "