‘Relentless persecution’: Better enforcement of existing laws needed to protect raptors, report states

Existing laws are “failing” to protect birds of prey from being illegally killed, says the RSPB in its 2021 Birdcrime report, which calls for better enforcement of existing laws and stronger regulation of the shooting industry.

Despite being protected by law, in 2021 there were 108 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK, marking the second highest year on record, according to the report. 

It shows that in 2021 over two thirds of all confirmed incidents of raptor persecution related to land managed for game bird shooting.

This has prompted the wildlife charity to call on the government to introduce stronger regulation of the shooting industry. Earlier this year, Scotland announced that tighter laws around grouse shooting are being considered as part of the new Wildlife Management Grouse Moor Bill.

The report states that the shooting industry has reached “unsustainable levels”, pointing specifically to the 60 million non-native game birds that were released into the UK countryside every year before the Covid-19 pandemic. 

They also write that tighter regulation of raptor crime is needed, citing the fact that in 2021 there were only four convictions for raptor persecution and in some years, there were none at all. 

“It is clear that existing laws are failing to protect birds of prey from being illegally killed”, the report notes, adding that “the actual punishments that are handed out act as little or no deterrent”.

“There must be better enforcement of existing laws, plus essential new legislation, to meaningfully protect raptors from routine and relentless persecution. In particular, strong statutory pressure needs to be brought on those managers and employers within the shooting industry who direct or allow their staff to commit these crimes”, the authors write. 

The charity also notes that there is an increase in the detection of brodifacoum (a rat poison) in birds of prey at concentrations “well beyond lethal levels”, which the charity says is indicative of “misuse, or abuse, to directly target birds of prey”. 

Every quarter, the government-run Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) conducts toxicology testing across the UK, the data released shows cases where pesticide abuse and misuse has taken place. 

The charity states that while they “fully support” the function of the WIIS, they highlight that the results are often not not available for several months, and in some cases more than a year, after a dead bird or animal is found. 

“This causes inevitable delays in investigations and increases the risk of missed opportunities for follow-up,” the report states. 

The authors also note that this lag is concerning from an environmental health and public safety perspective because the activity may continue unchecked.

Mark Thomas, the RSPB’s head of investigations UK, said: “The data in this report clearly show that raptor persecution remains at a sustained high level, especially in England, with over two thirds of the incidents connected to land managed for gamebird shooting.

“The illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey has no place in modern society. In a nature and climate emergency, the deliberate destruction of protected species for financial gain is completely devastating and unacceptable.

“The time for reform is now long overdue. Licensing driven grouse moors is the first step in clamping down on those estates engaged in criminal activity at no loss to those operating within the law.”

A DEFRA spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance of tackling wildlife crime, which is why we have doubled funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit to over £1.2 million for the next three years – supporting them to provide intelligence and advice to police forces to protect these precious animals.”