Today the RSPB has released further data revealing more clearly than ever where the raptor persecution blackspots in the UK occur.

Map 2, showing raptor persecution blackspots

Readers of this blog will know that birds of prey (raptors) are sadly routinely being illegally shot, trapped and poisoned, and that often this is associated with driven grouse shooting.

The Raptor Persecution Map Hub, which was launched in 2018, now and for the first time has a full 12 years’ worth of confirmed raptor persecution incidents available for you to view and interact with. Thanks to the Intel team within the Investigations Unit, an extra block of historic data has been added to the existing incidents already available in the hub, backdating this to 2007, so giving you a bigger and better picture of known raptor persecution incidents in the UK over time. Are there any near you?

Take a look at the Map Hub here… 

The key for Map 2 is as follows: yellow (1 incident), orange (2-3), red (4-5), black (6-13).

It’s always hard to draw patterns from data like this in isolation, as numbers can fluctuate because of varying detection rates. Many more incidents take place unseen - population studies confirm this - so while our data doesn’t show absolute trends in raptor persecution as such, it confirms these crimes are a continued presence in our countryside.

Below are some of the headline figures and findings from this dataset (NOTE: the full dataset figures vary slightly from those mapped in the hub, as 17 incidents could not be mapped).


During the 12 years 2007-2018:

  • There were a total of 1242 confirmed incidents of persecution, across all 4 countries (England 686, Scotland 394, Wales 79, Northern Ireland 82 plus 1 ‘UK’ incident that could not be assigned to a specific country.)
  • 2018 was the worst year in England since 2007 (both had joint highest number of incidents in over 40 years of recording this data), with 67 confirmed incidents.
  • For the UK as a whole, 2013 and 2007 are the worst years on record, with 128 confirmed raptor persecution incidents each. But note this is only the number detected, and has very little bearing on the actual number of birds of prey targeted in the year as detection is so low.
  • For Scotland, at a glance, the signs appear encouraging. However there is mounting evidence that, rather than decreasing, crimes are simply becoming more covert. Following the enactment of vicarious liability legislation and the increased use of satellite tags to monitor raptors, there has been a reduction in poisoning incidents, presumably because such crimes and their victims were becoming increasingly detectable. Sadly raptor population surveys repeatedly show no evidence of an overall decline in persecution levels in Scotland, or indeed the rest of the UK.   

Bird species involved -

  • 22 species of bird of prey were targeted. Species of highest conservation concern include Hen Harrier (13 incidents), Goshawk (24 incidents), White-tailed Eagle (4 incidents), Golden Eagle (14 incidents).
  • Buzzards are the most frequently persecuted species. 428 incidents involved buzzards, followed by red kites (189 incidents), peregrines (131 incidents) and sparrowhawks (57 incidents). At the other end of the scale, the data includes one red-footed falcon which was shot in Cambridgeshire in 2015.
  • Actual known victim numbers: Buzzard 378 victims; red kite 176; peregrine 100; Sparrowhawk 49; kestrel 20; barn owl and tawny owl both 19; goshawk 17; hen harrier 15; golden eagle 14; short-eared owl 12; marsh harrier 8; little owl 6; osprey 5; white-tailed eagle 4; hobby 4; merlin 3; long-eared owl 2; red-footed falcon 1; eagle owl 1.

NOTE: Incident and victim numbers are different. There may be one incident that involves several birds, likewise there may be confirmed incidents where no victim was found.

Blackspots -

  • North Yorkshire accounts for over 10% of the 1242 incidents over this period with 132, averaging 11 a year.
  • The next worst county is Highland in Scotland with 71 incidents (5.6%) meaning North Yorkshire is twice as bad as the second worst county.
  • Other counties of interest include Scottish Borders (58, 4.6%), Angus (44, 3.5%), Perth and Kinross (43, 3.5%), Aberdeenshire (38, 3%), South Lanarkshire (37, 3%), Cumbria (36, 2.9%), Derbyshire (29, 2.3%), Down (29, 2.3% - the worst in Northern Ireland) and Powys (29, 2.3% - the worst in Wales).
  • The worst 10km square on the map is NO46, in Angus, with 18 incidents, followed by NT35 (Scottish Borders, 17 Incidents).
  • The majority of red and black squares are in areas of upland habitat, often used for driven grouse shooting.

Persecution methods -

  • Shooting is the most common form of persecution. There were 484 confirmed shooting incidents, 472 poisoning, 194 trapping (of which 104 were pole/spring traps), 30 nest destruction and 62 ‘other’.
  • The poison used in the most incidents is the banned pesticide Carbofuran, found in 235 incidents, followed by the pesticide Bendiocarb (83 incidents) – which has some approved uses by professional licensed pest controllers, but should not be used to poison birds of prey – then the banned pesticide Aldicarb (63 incidents).

Helen Mason, Investigations Intelligence Manager for the RSPB, says:

“The data is very telling as each coloured square hints at the ongoing extent of raptor persecution across the UK – and this is just scratching the surface as so many incidents go undetected and unreported.

"It’s clear that very few areas of the UK are unaffected. It is also clear that the highest concentration of these incidents tend to occur where the land is managed for intensive driven grouse shooting. The RSPB has long been calling for tougher regulation for driven grouse shooting, in the form of a system of licensing. This data underpins the need for urgent changes which MUST be made to protect our magnificent birds of prey, and put an end to this appalling slaughter once and for all.”