We look back over the stand-out moments of 2019, from low points to positive steps. A huge thanks to all who have supported us in our mission to end raptor persecution.
A golden eagle was photographed with a trap on its leg in August
2019 has been a year in which the conversation surrounding grouse moor management has gained more momentum. Voices have grown louder, with illegal raptor persecution and the environmental impact of moorland burning increasingly called into question.
Yet the challenge to end the illegal killing of birds of prey remains. Each year brings with it shocking new stories, and 2019 was no different: from a shot hen harrier found on a grouse moor to a photograph of a golden eagle with a trap clamped to its leg. All of this has provided renewed motivation to see an end to raptor persecution.
Raptor Map Hub
Our dedicated Intelligence team have been updating our Raptor Map Hub, a set of maps clearly showing the worst blackspots for raptor persecution in the UK. Have a look: www.rspb.org.uk/raptormap and you’ll see two maps – one which can be filtered by year and incident type, the other providing an overview ‘heat map’.
Most of the worst blackspots are in upland areas: North Yorkshire, the Scottish Borders and Aberdeenshire. This is consistent with independent research showing that raptor persecution is often associated with land managed for driven grouse shooting.
Hopefully this will serve as a useful tool for our enforcement partners, the public, and anyone else wanting a clear picture of raptor persecution in the UK. Currently it covers the year range 2012-2018, but we’re going to plug in several more years’ worth of data very soon in the New Year.
Bird of Prey Appeal
Early in August we launched a brand new appeal, inviting everyone who is concerned about the illegal killing of birds of prey to become a ‘bird of prey defender’. For as little as £3 per month, supporters can help fund our team’s work. We had an overwhelming response! A heartfelt thank you goes to everyone who has signed up: your support has allowed us to employ three Assistant Investigations Officers across England and Scotland. This means more boots on the ground so that we can protect birds, and safeguard their future, on your behalf.
Our incredible film unit made this emotive short film for the appeal – you can watch it here.
The appeal is still open, just visit: www.rspb.org.uk/defend. All amounts great and small are so valuable to us. We’d particularly like to thank BAWC (Birders Against Wildlife Crime) and Mark Constantine for their generous donations.
Our fieldworkers have spent long hours carrying out surveillance and monitoring work and providing expert advice to police. We’ve watched roosts, tagged hen harriers, monitored their progress and assisted police in following up disappeared birds and other investigations. We’re pleased to have secured three assistant investigations officer positions across England and Scotland going into next year, working on the front line to root out raptor crime.
The Hen Harrier LIFE project, which is coming to a close, has been an invaluable undertaking, helping us understand more about the lives of hen harriers and the risks they are facing. In April, River was found dead on a North Yorkshire grouse moor, her body containing shot (pictured below). And in June, an un-tagged hen harrier was also found on a grouse moor in Scotland. Its body contained shot. A month earlier, another harrier known as Rannoch was found dead in an illegal trap on a grouse moor in Perthshire.
River's body being recovered from a grouse moor
Meanwhile tagged hen harriers continue to disappear in suspicious circumstances. Ada, tagged this summer, suddenly stopped transmitting in October, her last fix coming from a grouse moor in Northumberland. And Romario and Thistle, who were also tagged this year and stopped transmitting in September and October.
Sadly, two sat-tagged white-tailed eagles also vanished, their final transmissions coming from Scottish grouse moors. And it’ll be hard to forget the photo of the golden eagle with its leg clamped in a spring trap, or the video we captured of a buzzard caught in a crow cage trap, both in Scotland.
As a team we watched with dismay Chris Packham’s stark, horrific video of the male hen harrier found caught in an illegal trap on a grouse moor in Scotland. Its leg was almost severed by the jaws of the trap, and vets were sadly unable to save the bird. Worse still, a second trap was found nestled between the eggs at a hen harrier’s nest nearby. This area in South Lanarkshire is a known wildlife crime hotspot. The video naturally caused outrage, and added more fuel to the argument that grouse moors must act now and meaningfully address the raptor persecution issue.
Just yesterday (19 December) we gave a cautious welcome to the long-awaited independent ‘Werritty Review’ of grouse shooting in Scotland. We support the recommendations relating to regulation of muirburn and better safeguards for mountain hare populations, however regret that panel behind the report has not been bold enough to recommend the immediate licensing of driven grouse moors.
Given the overwhelming evidence of serious organised crimes perpetrated against our birds of prey, as well as the harm caused to upland habitats and species by grouse moor management practices, we will be asking the Cabinet Secretary to consider the ‘wider societal views’ mentioned by Professor Werritty and make the necessary “step change” to grouse moor licensing, conditional on legal and sustainable practices, and to ensure that this is done as soon as possible.
Birdcrime and Climate Strike
Our annual Birdcrime report came out in August, showing the highest number of confirmed incidents of raptor persecution in England ever. There were 67 confirmed incidents in England out of a total of 87 for the UK. Of course many more will have taken place which we don’t know about. Still, the report gained wide coverage in digital and traditional media, and a printed version was put quite literally under the noses of those who have the power to make positive changes. This year, we also highlighted how the raptor persecution issue is closely linked with environmental concerns regarding upland management.
With this in mind, the Investigations team took the Youth Climate Strike to the Peak District to demonstrate why intensive burning needs to stop, and why the grouse shooting industry must evolve to address the twin climate and ecological crisis. We made a video for this to spread the message and rally support. You can watch it here.
We made several short videos this year as part of our bid to raise the profile of raptor persecution and help build a support base of people who, like you and me, want to see an end to the illegal slaughter of our raptors. Some of these have gained over 20 thousand views. If you’ve shared any of these, then thank you!
Here’s one we shot of Martin Harper urging for reform in our uplands. Martin also chaired a panel debate in Westminster this summer whereby people from a range of perspectives were invited to pitch their vision of the future of the industry. It was a lively debate, which put the issues of the industry under the spotlight.
We have held meetings with various stakeholders to share knowledge and help tackle raptor crime. This included talks with the NWCU, CRD (WIIS) and BAWC. We have also delivered a number of public talks and Wildlife Crime Officer training sessions about raptor persecution, forensics and satellite tagging. Our data has also been used to inform initiatives like the Campaign for National Parks, and for reports by LINK, Nidderdale AONB, and PAW NI.
Operation Owl led by Sgt Stuart Grainger, pictured centre
In September we took part in the national police initiative Operation Owl. Led by Sgt Stuart Grainger of North Yorkshire Police, the operation was supported by more than 20 police forces, the RSPB and several national parks. There was also a website, providing a hub of information on what to look for and how to report crimes.
A number of RSPB reserves stepped up, displaying posters and our promotional film, while Investigations staff teamed up with local forces in key locations in Scotland, Yorkshire and the Peak District, speaking to walkers and handing out specially-designed beer mats displaying our confidential hotline number. Op Owl generated wide social media and traditional media coverage. Hopefully it’s helped spread the word within communities where persecution is happening, to encourage those with information to speak out and, hopefully, cause wrongdoers to think twice about acting in the first place.
You can watch the two videos here – one features messages from partner organisations and individuals on why raptor persecution must end, and the other gives a good visual summary of the event.
Despite all this, there is clearly much still to do. Take heart in the knowledge that we are working hard each day to address raptor persecution, and we won’t take our foot off the gas until we see the changes we need. We can’t emphasise enough how much you have already helped with this, and how your continued support will keep us pushing forward as we look to a new decade.
To all of you who have picked up the phone and reported a crime: thank you.
To all of you who have voiced your dismay online, or spread the word in your own way: thank you.
To the media who have covered our stories, and the partners who have enabled positive action: thank you.
To all of you who support the RSPB, or our Bird of Prey Appeal: thank you.
We won’t stop until the killing stops. That’s our promise to you.
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