People have just about had enough of raptor persecution.

With hen harriers down to just a handful of pairs in England, and no peregrines breeding in the Dark Peak in 2017 for the first time since 1984, clearly something needs to be done. Newspapers are catching on; the public are becoming increasingly environmentally astute; the Government is pledging to restore nature in a generation (no mention of raptor persecution in the 25 Year Plan, but still… read more in Martin Harper’s blog) and this fired-up new generation are taking their concerns to Downing Street to discuss the issues facing the wildlife they (we) love and are set to inherit.

We’ve seen how driven grouse shooting contributes to the illegal persecution of raptors (68% of those convicted of raptor persecution are gamekeepers), and that better regulation is needed. The intense management practices, including burning, also damages vital upland peat bogs in protected areas.

As a result of this frustration, a number of petitions are also emerging. And while they don’t guarantee success, they do provide a window into public opinion that can’t be ignored.

Last year, Mark Farrar launched his online plea to extend Scotland’s vicarious liability laws to England and Wales. This would hold landowners accountable for the crimes of their staff, on their land. Meanwhile the hard line, calling for an outright ban, is being pushed by Mark Avery and those who see no other way to end persecution. Most recently, Ed Hutchings launched an online petition calling for driven grouse shooting to be licensed. This too is gathering momentum – and we believe represents a firm but fair way forward.

Licensing is something the RSPB is strongly behind, and so Ed's petition is the one we're backing. Law-abiding estates would have nothing to fear from licensing, but estates found to be illegally killing hen harriers and other birds of prey could have their license removed. We believe licensing could help improve standards, increase accountability, giving our hen harriers, and other birds of prey, a better chance.

We found out from Ed – a writer, birder and RSPB supporter – what prompted his petition...

Ed Hutchings: 'People should sign the petition if they care about the ecology of our uplands'

“Like many people, I’m sick to the back teeth of raptor persecution. Why some individuals feel that these beautiful creatures should continue to be shot, poisoned and trapped in the 21st century is beyond me. The archaic attitudes of the 18th and 19th centuries aren’t tolerated anymore. The wording of Jane Grigg’s petition ‘Don’t ban Grouse Shooting’ [“Killing vermin is a social service which benefits ALL wildlife. Birds of prey are over-protected and are out of balance with natural habitats and species”] shocked me to the core and I decide to take action in the form of a petition.”

We’ve seen evidence linking gamekeepers to bird of prey persecution, and moorlands empty of raptors imply that much more illegal killing goes on undetected. So what needs to change?

“We have, and sadly it’s the tip of the iceberg. How many persecuted birds are not found? The true number would horrify the general public. The pertinent fact is this: if you want to shoot gamebirds for fun (an activity in which I once partook but now abhor), then you need to accept that you are raising unnaturally high levels of them in a natural environment inhabited by predators, including birds of prey. If you lose some, tough. Accept it or stop shooting. They’re not playing by the rules. Why should our natural heritage be decimated by the minority that enjoy shooting for leisure? It’s outrageous.”

The RSPB’s Birdcrime 2016 report revealed that there were no prosecutions for raptor crimes in 2016, despite over 80 confirmed incidents. In response, the RSPB is calling for better enforcement – and for driven grouse shooting estates to be licensed.

“It’s a farce,” Ed agrees. “The Government and courts need to start taking this more seriously and police forces need greater support in tackling these cases. There are laws in place to protect these birds, but these are clearly not working. Furthermore, the law is pitifully lenient on those that are prosecuted. The paltry fines and sentences are no deterrent – a large estate will pay the fine and take a slap on the wrist. I am of the opinion that if your estate is proved to have persecuted raptors, then you lose your right to shoot game. Simple as that. And this is where licensing comes in. We need a powerful message sent out that it won’t be tolerated anymore.

“People should sign the petition if they care about the ecology of our uplands. Important wildlife sites are being destroyed or damaged by the poor management of many driven grouse moors, while raptors continue to be disturbed and persecuted. Self-regulation has failed, so I am asking for a robust licensing system. Those who breach conditions would have their licenses removed. Law-abiding grouse shoots would benefit from improved public confidence. What have shooting estates to fear if they are legal and sustainable? I hope it will lead to some form of licensing in the future. Apart from a ban, I can’t see any other way forward.”

You can sign the petition here. It runs until June.