The Peak District National Park should be a safe haven for spectacular species like peregrines, but a number of recent incidents highlight continuing problems. 

In May this year RSPB raised concerns about the surge in raptor persecution cases during Covid lockdown. Amongst the many reports received were three involving dead peregrines in Staffordshire. It has now been confirmed three peregrines and a buzzard were illegally poisoned during these incidents. Staffordshire Police released this media appeal for information today and RSPB has offered a £1000 reward for information leading to a conviction in connection with any of the incidents. 

On Saturday 16 May, a buzzard and peregrine falcon were discovered dead in a wooded area just west of Longnor.

A buzzard and a peregrine were found poisoned near Lognor, Staffordshire (Staffordshire Police)

On 19 May, a second peregrine falcon was found dead at Beeston Tor near Wetton.

Staffordshire police collected this dead peregrine from Beeston Tor (Staffordshire Police)

Both these incidents are in the Peak District National Park and on 20 May Staffordshire Police made an appeal for information. A short while later on 4 June, a third peregrine falcon was found dead in a working quarry near Waterhouses just outside the park, and a member of staff quickly brought this incident to the RSPB's attention. 

Yet another peregrine poisoned by a pigeon bait laced with a pesticide (J Forrester)

Whilst the COVID-19 lockdown presented some serious logistical challenges, we are grateful for the efforts of Natural England staff to get these birds sent for post mortem examinations and toxicology testing under the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS). This has recently confirmed all four raptors were poisoned by the same pesticide, and that at least two of the incidents involved a pigeon bait which had been laced with the pesticide. Staffordshire Police are not releasing the details of the pesticide at this time, but it is a substance which has been regularly abused to kill birds of prey. 

At least two locations were believed to be near peregrine falcon breeding sites, and the RSPB would like to thank licensed Raptor Workers and members of the British Mountaineering Council for help in checking sites. Though not confirmed, it is possible the incident at Beeston Tor during the breeding season may also have resulted in the deaths of dependant young. 

Problems in the Peak

Raptor persecution incidents in the Peak District National Park are unfortunately nothing new. Most of the problems are in the northern Dark Peak, particularly where the predominant land use is driven grouse shooting. A report published in 2018 clearly outlines the scale of the problem. The recent 'Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative' interim report for 2020, confirms six succesful pairs of peregrines in the northern area of the park. Whilst a better than average year, it is still a long way below the target of 17 pairs. 

Consequently, these crimes in the south of the National Park putting further pressure on peregrines are especially unwelcome, particularly when it appears that peregrines are also being targeted for the falconry market. In June Derbyshire Police put out an appeal after eggs were believed taken from three nesting sites.  

The Prime Minister very recently committed to protecting 30% of UK land by 2030. Whilst sounding positive in principle, unfortunately, large areas of our protected landscapes (within National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Scenic Areas) remain in poor environmental condition and not delivering what is needed to help tackle the current biodiversity and climate emergency. It is also a sobering reminder that nearly half of all the confirmed raptor persecution incidents in the eight years since 2012, have been discovered in these same areas.

In relation to these three recent poisoning incidents we are not aware of any game bird interests in the immediate area, and the use of pigeon baits in at least two incidents may indicate that disgruntled pigeon fanciers are responsible. Certainly, there have been numerous incidents of killing and targeting peregrines in the south of the county and adjoining West Midlands where pigeon fanciers are firmly believed to be involved. Whoever is responsible, it seems clear, as with many other incidents reported this spring, that criminals tried to take advantage of  lockdown to target and kill birds of prey.

Mark Thomas, Head of Investigations, commented: “Peregrines are the fastest birds in the world, yet all too often the lives of these magnificent creatures are cut short by illegal persecution like poisoning. For incidents like this to repeatedly happen in a National Park, where authorities have set targets for success is all the more alarming, an urgent rethink is needed. If you have any information about any of these cases, or if you come across what you believe may be a poisoned bird of prey, please call the police immediately. You are our eyes and ears.”

As always, if anybody has any information about these crimes, or any others relating to birds of prey, please contact the police on 101 or the RSPB here. There is a wealth of information on the Operation Owl website and the RSPB confidential Raptor Crime Hotline 0300 999 0101 is also available for people wishing to report sensitive information regarding bird of prey persecution. All calls will be treated in the strictest confidence.