Recent multi-agency work by statutory agencies and RSPB Investigations has demonstrated what can be achieved with a collective approach.
Next week I will have been working for RSPB Investigations for precisely 30 years and raptor persecution has never been far from the headlines. Whilst there has been a welcome increase for many species, such as common buzzards, red kites, marsh harriers and ospreys, the picture for several species in large upland areas dominated by driven grouse shooting remain grim. Some of our most celebrated species like golden eagles, hen harriers, peregrines and goshawks all remain regular victims of persecution. This continues to have significant conservations impacts on their distribution and breeding success in large areas of the countryside.
A peregrine found poisoned in North Yorkshire
The response of the statutory agencies to tackling raptor persecution during my time has been variable, from excellent to highly disappointing. One thing that is abundantly clear, as with many areas of crime, that partnership working using the expertise, resources and experience of key agencies and individuals massively increases the effectiveness of wildlife crime investigations. The RSPB has instigated and supported the majority of raptor persecution cases that have been successfully brought to court during the last three decades. This point is clearly not lost on the criminal fraternity. Consequently, another unwelcome constant during my time has been the ongoing efforts of parts of the shooting industry to try to drive a wedge between the RSPB and statutory agencies; no doubt to reduce the efficiency of investigations and public exposure of these cases. This has included repeated attacks on the integrity of our raptor persecution data, and our annual Birdcrime reports, despite the NWCU repeatedly reassuring them of the quality and reliability of our data gathering and recording.
Against this backdrop, I have to say the partnership working during the last 12 months or so to tackle raptor persecution has been some of the best I can ever remember. We have had fantastic responses from many police forces including Cheshire, Dorset, Devon, Durham, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, North Yorkshire, North Wales, Suffolk, West Mercia, Wiltshire, and Police Scotland. Some of the work by police Wildlife Crime Officers in these cases has been outstanding, and the support from the NWCU, Natural England, Welsh Government, CPS and HSE has been genuinely heart-warming. RSPB have been supporting all these enquiries, and have indeed generated several of them, and most are now progressing to court. They include some very serious allegations of extensive persecution which will no doubt cause significant public alarm when the full details and graphic imagery come to light.
Durham Constabulary, NWCU, Natural England & RSPB on a multi-agency raid this year following the poisoning of two buzzards
In relation to recent investigations, in addition to individual police officers, prosecutors, pathologists, toxicologists and many others, the RSPB would like to acknowledge the support from those who have been pivotal in the clear improvement in partnership-based enforcement work. These include, Chief Inspector Kevin Kelly, Head of the NWCU, who has provided guidance and resources; Inspector Matthew Hagan, Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), who has acted as a liaison point with police forces; Detective Sgt Billy Telford Police Scotland's Wildlife Crime Coordinator; Caroline Harrison and Rachel Hodson of Natural England and Welsh Government, who manage the WIIS teams dealing with wildlife poisoning; Martin Ball at the HSE for legal support and Paul Stimson the CPS wildlife crime lead who has been on hand to support his colleagues dealing with these cases.
Whilst enforcement alone will not fix raptor persecution, it remains an essential part of the toolkit. It highlights the issue is not going away, which elements are at the heart of the criminality and increases the deterrent climate and public awareness. It also continues to shine a spotlight on the significant legislative weaknesses that are preventing far better progress being made, particularly in our uplands. Accountability is absolutely key. Without this, those at the root of the problem will continue business as usual. Outside Scotland, the government has continued to fail to bring meaningful pressure on the those sporting estates, managers and employers who continue to orchestrate the killing by their staff. Therefore, the RSPB is continuing to call for licensing of driven grouse shooting and other legislative improvements to try to increase accountability. So serious has been the lack of meaningful progress in some areas that the RSPB has reviewed its stance on gamebird shooting and associated land management.
In our increasingly urgent climate and ecological emergency, with the critical COP26 about to start, getting our uplands into far better ecological condition to help sequester carbon, improve SSSI condition and biodiversity should be high up the government agenda. Recent reports about burning on peatlands has again highlighted the inadequacy of new regulations that Defra brought in earlier this year and the apparent lack of enforcement activity. The government simply have to step up, there is no time to lose.
Onwards and upwards!
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