In 2020, the Welsh Government provided supportive funding for an investigative role in Wales, in an effort to monitor the extent of raptor persecution across the country and bring those responsible to justice. Niall Owen, our newly appointed Raptor Officer gives an overview of his work, what is to come, and how you can help in the fight against raptor persecution.
Wales is known for its natural beauty, and we are privileged to hold nationally and internationally important populations of many amazing species of wildlife. But sadly, there is a hidden dark side as birds of prey continue to be illegally killed and remain notably absent from certain areas where they should be abundant.
What is raptor persecution?
Raptor persecution generally refers to the illegal poisoning, trapping, nest destruction and shooting of birds of prey. In Wales, this happens largely due to conflicts perceived by some in certain industries, such as livestock farming and intensive forms of game shooting and rearing, where birds of prey are seen by some as a threat to gamebird stocks.
All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981: to intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail. Our latest Birdcrime report identified 85 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution in the UK in 2019, though sadly this is just the tip of the iceberg. Raptor persecution tends to happen out of sight, in remote places, and is very difficult to detect, meaning there is inevitably a lot more going on than we know about.
My role involves reacting to reports of potential incidents which come in to the team, but also proactively searching in parts of the country where there have been confirmed incidents in the past, or places we suspect these illegal killings are going on. This includes finding deceased birds, illegal traps or potential poisoned baits, and documenting non-compliance of the laws which protect our wonderful raptors. Evidence is then passed to the police, and myself and the team will assist with the police investigation.
Poisoned red kite found in Powys, 2020
Then and now
Persecution is not a new problem, nor is it going away. Take the red kite, our national bird, for example. Wales held the last remaining pairs in the whole of the UK in decades gone by, their numbers devastated due to intense persecution in the 20th century. Thankfully, numbers are now vastly improved, but one of the first incidents I was involved in when I took up my post last year was that of one confirmed, and two further suspected shootings of red kites in Powys https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/investigations/posts/red-kites-shot-wales. Incidents like these undermine all the hard work going into recovering this magnificent species. Investigations into several more recent cases are still ongoing, and myself and my colleagues in England and Scotland are out on the ground almost every day trying to detect these illegalities.
Lockdown restrictions have made it difficult for us all, though some unfortunately saw it as a green light to cleanse our wild places of these magnificent birds which have every right to be there. When the pandemic first hit, we as a team were inundated with reports of persecution, and we’re hoping, this year, that you can assist us in uncovering any criminalities you find this spring and beyond.
Be our eyes and ears
You, the public, play a vital role in helping me and the rest of the team uncover raptor persecution and protect our birds of prey. As lockdown restrictions begin to lift, please be our eyes and ears out in the countryside and report any suspicious findings or activity you see. For instance:
Please take photos, note the location, date and time – and please do not touch or move anything.
Anything you believe may be suspicious will be gratefully received and assessed by an expert team. Please report anything you find to email@example.com and phone the police too on 101. If a crime is in progress, call 999.
There’s more on what and how to report wildlife crime here https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-to-report-crimes/, including our online report form.
We know that there can be sensitivities involving reporting such crimes, especially in rural communities. If you know of someone killing birds of prey and would like to remain anonymous, you can contact our confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.
Our hen harriers
Many of you will know the notorious plight of one of our most special birds of prey, the hen harrier. Considered the most persecuted bird of prey in the UK, hen harrier numbers are drastically low, and we have been conducting an ongoing project to satellite track some of our young birds in order to understand their movement patterns. Satellite tagging also helps identify where they are most prone to persecution. It is an immense privilege to witness these magnificent birds up close at the nest, and difficult not to develop an intense connection to these individual birds who have a difficult time making it to adulthood without the additional pressure of potential persecution. Hopefully this year, with tags funded by Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales, we will be able to track more young birds, to further expand our knowledge of this magnificent species in Wales.
You can help us with this project by reporting hen harrier sightings - email firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you see one. More information on identifying hen harriers here.
Finally, a big thank you to our supporters: without you we wouldn’t be able to continue to fight for our native birds of prey and tackle raptor persecution head on.
Putting an end to it
Birds of prey are an immense passion of mine, as I’m sure they are for many of you. There’s nothing like the skydancing of a hen harrier, the hovering of a kestrel or the soaring of a buzzard. This passion fuels my drive to rid Wales of this outdated persecution of birds of prey, and I hope to see the tightening of regulations to help bring these crimes, which are such a stain on our countryside, to an end.
Jack Ashton-Booth (l) and Niall Owen (r), part of the RSPB Investigations Unit.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654
Accepting all non-essential cookies helps us to personalise your experience
These cookies are required for basic web functions
Allow us to collect anonymised performance data
Allow us to personalise your experience