Mark Thomas of RSPB Investigations is one of the authors of a new paper published today (28 April 2018) in the journal British Birds. Read his account of what the results of this paper mean to him, and for all of us.

Watch Mark's video here.

Like so many birders, nature lovers and tourists I have at times sought both mental and physical wellbeing in one of the UK’s amazing National Parks. A peaceful, beautiful place to go and see wildlife and landscapes that I know are protected; that fact giving deep reassurance and comfort.

Hailing from Sheffield, the Peak District National Park was my back yard – a wilderness on my doorstep. As an obsessive young birder, I longed to know where I could see special and secret birds. Goshawk was always top of the list; big, powerful and elusive, with that wild amber eye. In the UK, the Peak District National Park was the place to see this bird. I saw my first goshawk in late March 1990, in full display flight low over a Northern Dark Peak woodland adjacent to a grouse moor. I kept going back, eager to experience again the thrill of that magical encounter. Keen birder or enthusiastic amateur, we’ve all had those connections to nature which we remember and treasure.

Then in 2001 it all started to go wrong. The birds began vanishing, the utopia was beginning to dissemble and overall the place no longer felt safe. There was disquiet, the hushed voices began to rise and the spectre of systematic raptor persecution on the grouse moors began to cast it shadow over the Dark Peak.

In 2006, the RSPB published the report Peak Malpractice – What is happening to the wildlife in the National Park? The focus was entirely on the Dark Peak (the north of the National Park) and it was clear all was far from well. Adult goshawks were gone, with 12 pairs missing in action. Not only that but peregrines and badgers as well, and all on or next to land managed for driven grouse shooting.

Then came the prosecutions, following diligent and inspiring investigations led by RSPB Investigations and the Police. Gamekeepers sentenced for destroying active goshawk nests and baiting cage traps with pigeons. Persecution still continued unabated, shot peregrines, poisoned ravens, goshawk eggs smashed, nests shot out at night and an armed man filmed with a hen harrier decoy – all in the Dark Peak and now under the glare of the disapproving public at large.

With no breeding peregrines at all in the Dark Peak in 2017, this has now truly become a raptor black hole, ruled by the persecutors… all this in a park with millions of visitors per year. For the past three years, together with equally passionate colleagues, we have been working on a scientific paper which purposefully tells this story.
Today the journal British Birds has published the paper, Raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park. We hope you read it – you might not enjoy it, but you simply can’t ignore it, it’s powerful and compelling.

By comparing the location of confirmed raptor persecution incidents throughout the National Park against land use we have confirmed a statistically significant association with land burnt for driven grouse shooting and persecution.

Confirmed persecution incidents within each 10km square of the Peak District National Park (2000-2016) overlaying location of moorland burning (proxy for driven grouse shooting)

Furthermore, we have found that the populations of goshawks and peregrines have declined so badly that they are on the verge of local extinction in the Dark Peak yet are thriving in the nearby White Peak, which is virtually free of driven grouse shooting. The contrasting fortunes of these two raptors in grouse and non-grouse shooting areas is startling. The maps below graphically illustrate the point:

It’s going to be interesting to see the response to our paper. Put simply, those carrying out the persecution have miscalculated their actions and misread the resolve of the public at large. Birds of prey being illegally killed should and will not be tolerated. Times have to change and they surely will.

Raptor Persecution in the Peak District National Park was written by Tim Melling, Mark Thomas, Staffan Roos and Mike Price. The abstract of the paper is below. To read it in full, please subscribe to British Birds. And let’s make it clear that the thoughtless persecution of nature won’t be tolerated.

Join the discussion on twitter at @RSPBbirders