Raptor persecution is widely acknowledged by Defra, Natural England and conservation NGOs, including NERF, to be adversely affecting many, if not all, of our iconic bird of prey species. It is also widely accepted that the majority of the people responsible for this persecution are to be found within the ranks of the game shooting industry. Of course this not new, some raptor species have been limited by persecution in terms of both population and distribution for tens of decades. From the perspective of the members of NERF this is particularly acute in the uplands of the North of England. Goshawk, Red Kites, Peregrines, Short-eared Owls and Raven are all but non-existent across vast swathes of suitable habitat along the Pennine Chain, in the Forest of Bowland and on the North York Moors. Breeding Hen Harriers are absent in all of the NERF study areas other than Northumberland where they breed on land that is not used for grouse shooting. This is despite the fact that the northern uplands contain SPAs that are designated for Hen Harriers.
It is self-evident that if this situation is to be reversed then persecution must be reduced significantly; it is extremely unlikely that it will ever be eliminated altogether. NERF has worked tirelessly within the RPPDG to find a solution to what appears to be an intractable problem, even though the solution is simple enough. All that needs to happen is for the criminals, for that is what they are, to stop killing birds of prey, stop committing crime. There is also a burden on the shooting industry to ensure that the members of the various representative bodies comply with the legislation. They also need to acknowledge that they, like the rest of society, have a duty to assist the Police and the prosecuting authorities to bring the criminals before the courts. The evidence suggests that the shooting organisations are failing in this respect and they are also failing to fulfil their wider social responsibilities by putting self-interest before protecting the natural environment, despite constantly claiming to be the real custodians of the countryside.
Mapping out the extent and location of crimes and putting the information into the public domain is clearly beneficial and that is what the RPPDG maps were supposed to do. Unfortunately whilst the concept is laudable it is NERF’s position that the published maps fail to deliver the purported intended outcome. The maps do not include all forms of raptor persecution, they do not follow the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s definition of a raptor persecution crime. The methodology for mapping the data does not follow the Home Office guideline that the Police should follow the policy of one victim / one crime. They take no account of the guideline that if a witness reports a crime then it will be recorded as such until the subsequent investigation concludes that no crime occurred. The policy of only mapping raptor persecution offences where there is a recovered body, a positive forensic report or a conviction is fundamentally flawed.
Take these two examples:
- a reliable witness finds what appears to be a poisoned bait, next to which there is a dead Buzzard. The witness follows the published advice and photographs the scene, takes a GPS grid reference, covers the bodies with vegetation to prevent further poisonings and reports the incident to the Police. The Police subsequently attend the scene to find that the suspected bait and the Buzzard have been removed. There is enough evidence to record and investigate the incident and the Police do so. Unfortunately the RPPDG ‘no body – no crime’ rule means that the incident will not make it on to the map
- an experienced Raptor Worker is monitoring a Peregrine nest from a distance with binoculars when a person comes in to view and shoots one of the birds. The shooter picks up the body and walks off. The witness is too far away to intervene, and let’s be reasonable the criminal has a gun and direct intervention may not be the best policy at that time. The Raptor Worker reports the event to the Police and they duly record the incident. Following an investigation the person responsible for killing the Peregrine is not identified and the case is closed, undetected. Once again this incident fails the RPPDG ‘no body test and / or conviction test’ and doesn’t make it on to the maps
There is also no recognition that any attempt to commit a crime against a raptor is a crime. Take the second incident, above, for example. The shooter takes two shots but misses the Peregrine; clearly an attempt to kill it. Whilst the Police would record the incident as attempted offence it would not make it on to the RPPDG maps. Why not? Collectively the Police already have the data of all raptor related incidents reported to them therefore it is regrettable that the RPPDG, via the NWCU, insists that it is necessary to filter this data in a way that reduces the actual numbers of offences published in the public domain. There is no doubt that some individuals and organisations involved in the shooting industry will point to the maps to ‘prove beyond reasonable doubt’ that the number of incidents of raptor persecution is extremely low and a vindication that self-regulation is functioning perfectly well.
This restriction on how crimes are mapped by the NWCU would not be tolerated by society for any other form of criminality; nor should it be. Why then should raptor persecution related crimes be any different? Of course they should not. The Police have the data, they have had it for years, and it should be mapped according to the Home Office guidelines. NERF has pointed this out to the RPPDG on every occasion that the maps have been discussed; unfortunately our opinions have been ignored. NERF recognises that the full extent of raptor persecution will never be known to the authorities, they are committed in a shadowy world where offences are committed in remote locations often on terrain that is difficult to negotiate. There are relatively few people monitoring raptors and the likelihood of an individual witnessing a crime being committed against a bird of prey is miniscule. However, acknowledging that the true extent of the problem will never be known is a far cry from designing a system that, in NERF’s opinion, deliberately sets out to minimise the problem. It is inexplicable and unacceptable. Consequently NERF is unable to support the publication of the maps in the present format.
The Defra / RPPDG press release suggests that the mapping the will assist the Police in their efforts to prevent and detect raptor persecution. This statement is ludicrous; it will do no such thing. Whilst crime pattern analysis is a very valuable tool, used to advise Police Commanders how they can deploy their resources in a more effective way theses maps will do nothing to prevent or detect raptor related crimes unless Police Forces allocate sufficient resources to the deal with the problem. In the current financial situation where Police numbers are being reduced significantly NERF believes that nationally we will not see an increase in the number of Police Officers that are dedicated to deal with wildlife crime, including raptor related crime.
It is NERF’s opinion that the publication of raptor persecution maps is fundamentally a good idea; the public have a right to know that birds of prey are being killed for pleasure or profit and the Government has a duty to ensure that they know the true extent of the problem. However; NERF’s position is unambiguous; the data used to populate the maps is incomplete and the scheme needs to be redesigned and implemented in a format that accurately depicts the true extent and impact of raptor persecution. Raptor persecution is a serious problem, it needs to be acknowledged as such by the authorities and tackled appropriately. Once this is done NERF will reverse its current position and support an improved mapping scheme. Not-with-standing our position in respect of the raptor persecution maps NERF will continue, as a member of the RPPDG, to work for the benefit of birds of prey.
Northern England Raptor Forum
15 December 2017