Persecution of protected birds of prey

As the 60th year of legal protection for wild birds, I had assumed the latest RSPB Birdcrime report would be positive but released today it highlights the continuos story of illegal persecution of our UK’s birds of prey, it has also been reported that Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus have failed to breed successfully in England for the first time since the 1960s, a big surprise due to the available habitat suitable for over 300 mating pairs. Following on from the persecution in 2012 it was revealed that there was over 208 reports of shooting birds of prey with over 70 poisoning incidents including nine buzzards and seven red kites, with the real numbers certainly higher due to go unnoticed and unrecorded.

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Some areas of the UK’s countryside including parts of the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland have become “no-fly zones” for birds of prey, with several studies concluding that persecution on intensively managed upland grouse moors is to blame affecting a variety of populations, which has prevented species such as the golden eagle and hen harrier from occupying parts of their natural habitat. The Northen Harrier has failed to be protected this year across England implicating the birds breeding, this species are at the greatest threat of persecution in the UK with only six successful nests in 2009 and between 11-15% of the females being illegally killed each year in Scotland alone making illegal killing the paramount factor in its decline, and a real tragedy.

All birds of prey in the UK enjoy full legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 but persecution remains a major problem for almost all UK raptors and with many of the incidents occurring in remote areas, the vast majority  is never reported and is therefore not represented in these figures and showing no signs of decreasing. Persecution of birds include the destruction of nests, shooting, the use of uncovered spring traps with or without bait and the use of cage traps, with either live or dead bait, ways in which I personally find disgusting, to lure such magnificent birds to a cruel slaughter or to destroy their home and eggs is disrespectful and inhumane. The result of this slaughter of our native birds of prey is proved through scientific evidence that it negatively effects the viability of part or all of the populations of iconic species, such as golden eagle, hen harrier and red kite whilst many other birds of prey.

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Raptor killing traces back to the 15th century and are still considered to be a vermin as they are a threat to sheep and game birds. The Common Buzzard Buteo buteo is the most commonly persecuted bird of prey where in one recent case, a gamekeeper’s diary recorded over 100 buzzards had been killed on a single estate. Without illegal killing, annual survival rates of young kites would have been high enough to allow the north Scotland red kite population to grow to over 300 breeding pairs, 250 pairs more than the actual population size today. This illegal persecution is strongly correlated with land managed for driven grouse shooting. This intensive form of upland management requires very high densities of red grouse and to achieve this, gamekeepers operate intensive management to minimise grouse mortality, unfortunately, including the resort to illegal predator control.

It seems that action has taken place but due to peoples own greed or through the fault of taking action into there own hands cruel acts of torture have taken place through slow deaths and unnecessary ones. If action was targeted at geographical areas of persistent offending and enforcement through combined efforts I personally think there can be a compromise to boost both populations. With penalties in place the public may understand at more depth the importance of this conservation to our country and our wildlife.

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