The latest Birdcrime report revealed a minimum of 81 confirmed incidents of illegal raptor persecution in 2016, without a single person prosecuted.
Birds of prey in Britain face a bleak future unless urgent action is taken to stop shooting, poisoning and trapping, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
The RSPB today published its latest report, Birdcrime 2016, which found that there were 81 cases of persecution in 2016 alone. This included 40 shootings, 22 poisonings, 15 trappings and four other incidents.
Hen harriers, peregrine falcons, red kites and buzzards were among the victims. The charity suggests these figures are just the tip of the iceberg with many illegal killings going undetected or unreported.
The report also revealed close to two-thirds (53) of the confirmed incidents took place in England, with particular concern for raptors in North Yorkshire.
Over the last five years the county recorded the highest number of confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents in the UK, with 54 incidents since 2012 and 19 last year alone.
The problem wasn’t confined to England, with the report highlighting confirmed case in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, where there is growing concern over the repeated suspicious disappearance of satellite tagged birds of prey.
This year, a study by Scottish Government examined the fate of 131 golden eagles fitted with satellite tags between 2004-16 concluding that ‘as many as 41 (one third) disappeared, presumably died, under suspicious circumstances connected with records of illegal persecution.’
Increasingly, people in the UK are being robbed of the chance to see these spectacular birds because of these illegal incidents, yet in 2016, there wasn’t a single prosecution arising from a confirmed incident, the first time this has happened in 30 years.
Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “Birds of prey bring our skies to life. There is nothing like seeing a diving peregrine or a skydancing hen harrier.
"The sights of these spectacular birds are something we should all be able to enjoy, unfortunately illegal activity is stopping this and preventing the birds from flourishing.
"There are laws in place to protect these birds but they are clearly not being put into action. We need governments across the UK to do more to tackle illegal killing to protect our raptors for future generations to enjoy.”
Previous research has shown that illegal killing of birds of prey is associated with land managed for intensive driven grouse shooting, leaving vast areas of our uplands without raptors.
A Natural England study revealed ‘compelling evidence’ that persecution of hen harriers – associated with driven grouse moors - was the main factor limiting their recovery in England.
The RSPB believes the introduction of a licensing system for driven grouse shooting would help tackle the ongoing illegal persecution that occurs on these grouse moors.
This would also help tackle the wider problems of intensive management of ‘big bag’ driven grouse shooting, like the draining of and burning on fragile peat bogs.
A fair set of rules in the form of a licensing system could help ensure shoots are operating legally and sustainably and introduce the option of restricting or removing a licence in response to the most serious offences, for example where staff on an estate have been convicted of illegally killing birds of prey.
The RSPB welcomes a recent announcement by Scottish Government that will see an independent panel established to review options for regulation of grouse shooting and to look at the economic and environmental costs and benefits of the industry.
Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, said: “This latest Birdcrime report continues to highlight that in the UK we have a major issue with birds of prey being deliberately and illegally killed, despite having full legal protection.
"This type of crime has serious consequences for the populations of species, such as the hen harrier, and we must see a change in attitude and more effective law enforcement to protect these birds for years to come.”
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. For the full copy of Birdcrime 2016 report summarising the extent of illegal persecution offences against birds of prey in the UK, visit the RSPB website.