The recent publication of the RSPB Birdcrime 2016 has once again highlighted the criminal activity that has resulted in the persecution of Birds of Prey, much of which took place within the geographical areas monitored by NERF Raptor Study Groups. Whilst some members of the shooting industry have sought to dismiss the report, pointing out that the number of annual prosecutions for persecution is minuscule, it is clear that in some areas – particularly those associated with gamebird shooting, that raptor persecution is undiminished.
In Birdcrime the RSPB reported that there were a total of 81 confirmed incidents of Bird of Prey persecution across the UK during 2016. Fifty-three [65%] of these confirmed incidents took place in England. Disappointingly this is consistent with the 5 year average of 54 raptor related crimes per annum. The graph also highlights the fact that across the UK the overall number of persecution incidents, from 2000 onward, continues to increase.
Graph courtesy of RSPB Investigations.
It is clear from data collated by NERF members over many years that raptor populations, particularly in areas where the intensification of land management for game bird production has been, or is being, undertaken, are seriously adversely affected. It is not only Hen Harrier populations that are being suppressed, other raptor species specifically Goshawk, Peregrine, Red Kite and Common Buzzard populations are also under sustained threat in many areas. These species, often referred to as ‘black hole species’, are frequently absent despite the extensive availability of both excellent habitat and abundant prey.
In addition to recording the absence of ‘black hole species’ NERF members also monitor breeding attempts of these species at some sites that regularly fail in inexplicable circumstances on, or adjacent to, land used for game bird shooting. This is in stark contrast to the presence and productivity of breeding raptors that NERF members record away from this form of intensive land management. Without any other acceptable explanation to account for this disparity NERF can only conclude that these absences and continual breeding attempt failures are due to persecution.
The depressing plight of Peregrine Falcons across the NERF study areas was highlighted in the Amar et al scientific paper which was co-authored by NERF members. The paper identified that Peregrines fared less favourably on intensively managed grouse moors than they did away from grouse moors. Additionally the evidence revealed that where Peregrines were successful their productivity was in keeping with birds breeding away from grouse moors. The conclusion was that persecution rather than prey availability was the main driver for this difference. Data collated by NERF in the intervening years indicates that whilst the national Peregrine population has increased slightly the situation on land associated with game bird management in the northern uplands remains unchanged.
Following the release of the Birdcrime 2016 report senior representatives of both the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and the Nidderdale Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty have voiced their concerns about the adverse effects and reputational damage that the killing of birds of prey is having within their respective areas of responsibility. These timely interventions are very welcome and NERF looks forwards to hearing similar, unconditional statements of support for protected wildlife from other prominent national organisations who have an obligation to protect our national heritage.
The statements can be read by following the links below.
Similarly, in an article published in the November / December issue of The Shooting Times and repeated in the Times newspaper, Christopher Graffius, the CEO of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation [BASC] condemned raptor persecution by individuals connected with the shooting industry. He said “All of us [shooting organisations] need to realise that the killing of raptors is doing us no favours. It risks terminal damage to the sport…..” Mr Graffius also acknowledged that c70% of individuals convicted of raptor persecution since 1990 were gamekeepers employed on shooting estates. In the article Mr Graffius further acknowledged that “I know it’s not all keepers but the figures of those caught and convicted must be the tip of the iceberg….”NERF fully supports this assertion.
NERF applauds this intervention from BASC and we would like to offer our support for the stance that Mr Graffius and BASC are taking against raptor persecution. This progressive viewpoint from a leading representative of the shooting community is a very welcome change from the usual response raptor workers have come to expect from some sectors of the industry. The traditional response is to attempt to deflect responsibility for raptor related crimes away from the shooting industry, often towards the very people who spend countless hours rigorously protecting Birds of Prey. Alternatively the industry representatives frequently attempt to minimise the adverse impact that raptor persecution has on the viability of local populations.
Birds of prey have been protected in the UK since 1954 and yet there are still large areas of the country, particularly in the northern uplands of England, where persecution is endemic. The shooting industry is very well represented on the Police led Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime [PAW] Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG] and it is incumbent on other sectors of the industry to follow the BASC lead and acknowledge that it is not just ‘a few bad apples’ who are responsible for killing Birds of Prey. On the contrary whilst we acknowledge that not all those employed in game bird management are involved in raptor persecution the problem is widespread. The shooting industry claims to be the ‘custodian of the countryside’; however there is little, if any, evidence to support that claim. NERF believes that there needs to be a tangible, discernible shift in their attitude towards criminality if we are to succeed in bringing raptor persecution to an end. Simply participating in the RPPDG and condemning individual cases after the event is no longer adequate or acceptable. Affirmative action, not platitudes is what is required.
For members of the public who are not involved in Bird of Prey monitoring it must appear somewhat ridiculous that in the 21st century conservationists still have to call on sections of the shooting industry to simply obey the law and stop killing protected species, an activity that some undertake to increase bag numbers and the profitability of their shooting estate. This type of criminality would not be tolerated in any other business and cannot be tolerated in respect of Birds of Prey.
The 2017 Hen Harrier breeding season has once again been disastrous for the species, with only three pairs successfully rearing young in England. All three nests were in the Northumberland National Park and none were on a grouse moor. Despite warm words and assurances that ‘progress is being made’ from Natural England and the shooting industry NERF is unable to discern any evidence to support that claim and this assertion should be abandoned forthwith. Consequently NERF’s position on the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan remains unchanged, indeed after its second full year it is clear that it has yet to deliver on any of the tangible and beneficial outcome. Changes in the collective mind-set within the shooting industry is certainly needed. NERF’s position statement is available at:
NERF’s position that no progress is being made with respect to improving the distribution and breeding success of the English Hen Harrier population is supported by the Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority who said in his response to the publication of Birdcrime “Only when we start to see a number of successful [Hen Harrier] nest sites will we be able to say that things are really improving”.
On the positive side the struggle (for that is what it is) goes on to protect our national heritage allowing iconic raptor species to prosper in their natural environment. There are many individuals, including volunteers – largely unknown to the general public, who are working tirelessly to highlight the issues of raptor persecution in the hope that they will see a real change in the culture that has allowed these criminal practices to continue for so long. NERF would like to offer you our heartfelt thanks for the unceasing hard work that you undertake.
In addition to the volunteers there are professionals who are equally committed to ending raptor persecution and to bringing those responsible before the courts. North Yorkshire has for years been at the head of Bird of Prey persecution list of reported incidents, an unenviable reputation to hold. NERF therefore congratulates Dave Jones, Chief Constable of the North Yorkshire Police, for deploying a dedicated Rural Crime Team, which also has responsibility for investigating wildlife crime. NERF members are always available to offer expert advice to the Unit where needed.
Finally NERF would like to both praise and thank the RSPB Investigations Team for undertaking the vital work of investigating raptor persecution, not without personal risk, and for assisting the prosecuting authorities to obtain invaluable evidence when offences have been committed. It is not easy to withstand the constant barrage of attacks on the Team’s professionalism and integrity, particularly when those attacks are made by individuals and organisations who should, and actually do, know better. Congratulations and keep up the excellent work assured that you have the full support of NERF.