Bird of prey persecution remains at ‘high level’ as case were golden eagle was poisoned in Scotland highlighted

Dozens of birds of prey were illegally shot, poisoned or trapped in the UK last year, conservationists have said.

The RSPB’s annual bird crime report found there were 108 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK last year.

The confirmed incidents included 41 shootings or attempted shootings, 32 poisonings and 18 trapping incidents, along with other cases of persecution and illegal nest destruction.

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The RSPB highlighted a case in Aberdeenshire where a golden eagle was found poisoned, lying beside a dead hare laced with the same deadly banned pesticide, on a grouse shooting estate within the Cairngorms National Park.

A golden eagle. Image: Phil Wilkinson
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A total of 91 birds of prey were affected, including 50 buzzards, 16 red kites, seven peregrines and three goshawks, as well as a hen harrier, white-tailed eagle, golden eagle, two sparrowhawks and a number of different owls.

The RSPB warned annual totals in the report were only the tip of the iceberg and many killings of birds of prey go undetected and unreported.

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All birds of prey are protected by law, but they can be at risk from illegal persecution, including from some involved in gamebird shooting who see them as a threat to stocks of pheasants, partridge or grouse shot for sport, the charity said.

The wildlife charity wants England to follow Scotland’s lead and bring in licensing for driven grouse shoots, and is also calling for better regulation of pheasant and partridge shoots and more enforcement of existing rules to crack down on wildlife crime.

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The report said 71 per cent of all confirmed incidents of raptor persecution were related to land managed for gamebird shooting.

Satellite tag data revealed that three hen harriers, all from a small breeding population in southern Scotland, disappeared last year in suspicious circumstances.

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Norfolk and Dorset – two lowlands areas dominated by pheasant and partridge shoots – recorded the highest number of incidents, with 13 and 12 respectively, while Yorkshire, which has grouse, pheasant and partridge shooting, was the third highest, with ten incidents.

Five individuals were prosecuted in 2021 for offences relating to bird of prey persecution, all of them gamekeepers, the report said. Mark Thomas, RSPB head of investigations UK, said: “The data in this report clearly show that raptor persecution remains at a sustained high level, especially in England, with over two thirds of the incidents connected to land managed for gamebird shooting.

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“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.”

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Beccy Speight, RSPB chief executive, added: “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.

“This year’s bird crime report is another reminder of the appalling methods deployed by some, and why there is a need for swift and effective change in our countryside.”

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