Birds of prey illegally killed during lockdown

| 15th May 2020
RSPB "overrun" with reports of illegal killings of birds such as hen harriers, peregrines, buzzards and red kites.

I have been sickened by the number of raptor persecution cases that have come to my attention.

Wildlife experts and police have raised concerns over the number of reports of birds of prey being illegally killed in recent weeks during lockdown.

The RSPB's investigations unit has been "overrun" with reports of illegal killings of birds such as hen harriers, peregrines, buzzards and red kites.

And Superintendent Nick Lyall, head of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, said it appeared the coronavirus lockdown had been "seen as a green light" by some to continue illegally killing birds.

Breed

The RSPB said police were investigating a number of cases of shootings and suspected poisoning of birds of prey following reports by the public, including on land managed for grouse shooting.

All birds of prey are protected by law and intentionally killing or injuring one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

Mark Thomas, RSPB head of investigations, said: "Since lockdown began, the RSPB has been overrun with reports of birds of prey being targeted.

"It is clear that criminals on some sporting estates, both in the uplands and lowlands, have used the wider closure of the countryside as an opportunity to ramp up their efforts to kill birds of prey."

He said spring was the time when such birds were most visible and vulnerable, and the "targeted and malicious" persecution of them was designed to kill them before they had the opportunity to breed.

Arrests

While the RSPB encouraged the public to report any suspicious incidents, the charity also urged people to observe Government guidelines at all times.

Mr Lyall said: "Over recent weeks, I have been sickened by the number of raptor persecution cases that have come to my attention as chair of the Raptor Persecution Delivery Group.

"I know that there are officers currently investigating a number of crimes against wild birds of prey which have occurred since lockdown began.

"It is clear that lockdown has been seen as a green light by those involved in raptor persecution offences to continue committing crimes, presumably in the belief that there are fewer people around to catch them doing so."

He said there were good lines of inquiry in the majority of cases, which should lead to arrests and interviews.

Raptor

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said any confirmed reports of bird of prey persecution are "cause for concern" and the organisation always encourages reporting of any suspicious incident.

She said Moorland Association members were reporting that many birds of prey or raptors were benefiting from the lockdown restrictions and the subsequent reduction in disturbance from members of the public.

"Estates across the country have reported a number of raptors including peregrine, merlin and hen harriers nesting and living on those landscapes," she said.

And she added: "We condemn any illegal activity and Moorland Association members have signed up to a cross-sector zero tolerance approach to wildlife crime.

"Estates and gamekeepers have been the eyes and ears on the ground during lockdown, reporting suspicious activity. They are also actively working with police authorities in Operation Owl - an initiative to raise awareness of raptor persecution."

This Author

Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.

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