Bird crime and shooting

The RSPB’s publication of their “Birdcrime” report once again highlights the link between raptor persecution and shooting.

Between 2010 and 2015, there have been 349 recorded incidents of crimes against birds across the UK – but the true figure is likely to be much higher, because these crimes are often committed in remote areas with no witnesses.

Although the figures include incidents where eggs have been stolen by collectors and birds killed for taxidermy, the main commercial driver for raptor persecution is shooting; some gamekeepers kill any predator which could reduce the yield of lucrative 'game' birds, which themselves are only protected until they are shot.

The Birdcrime report illustrates the links between shooting and raptor persecutions. Raptor persecution incidents are particularly prevalent in areas where driven grouse shoots operate, such as Aberdeenshire and North Yorkshire.

The report also contains instances of gamekeepers being prosecuted for killing and taking raptors. 2015 saw the first custodial sentence for raptor persecution, for gamekeeper George Mutch – an important step forward.

But we agree with the RSPB that far more needs to be done. It should come as no surprise that the League Against Cruel Sports would like to see an end to driven bird shooting altogether, but we know that’s going to be a long fight. Other measures that could easily be implemented are:

Shooting estate licensing: If shooting estates had to apply for a licence, which could be removed if wildlife crime took place on the estate, then this would put huge pressure on the industry to clean up their act. Estate licences could be a powerful tool in halting illegal persecution as well as gaining more meaningful information on how shooting affects the countryside. So far, nowhere in the UK has a policy to licence shooting estates.

Tougher sentences for wildlife criminals: The total amount levied in fines against prosecuted wildlife criminals was just over £13,000. Given that 49 charges were proved successfully, these fines are often a “slap on the wrist”. We’d like to see more meaningful sentences, including the removal of firearms certificates and confiscation of equipment used to carry out wildlife crime. The Scottish Government has promised tougher wildlife sentences before the end of this Holyrood term.

Vicarious liability: In Scotland, it’s already possible for landowners and managers to be prosecuted if they have not been diligent enough in making sure their employees haven’t carried out wildlife crimes. When the law was introduced in Scotland, Defra said they would wait to see if the legislation could be used successfully before introducing it in England. So far there have been two successful Vicarious liability prosecutions in Scotland. It’s time for Defra to act.

Other measures that have been successfully implemented in Scotland that could be rolled out to England, Wales and Northern Ireland include the criminalisation of the possession of pesticides commonly used to kill birds of prey, an annual wildlife crime report, and the removal of tax exemptions from shooting estates.

As well as being beautiful, and part of our heritage, raptors can be hugely valuable too – a recent report showed that the Galloway Kite Trail had generated £8.2m to the economy in the South West of Scotland.

The Birdcrime Report is another indicator that it is well past time for Governments across the UK to do more to halt the persecution of birds of prey.

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