When you launch a report like Birdcrime, after months of hard work and careful thought, you’re never quite sure what the reaction will be once it enters the big wide world. It’s like shouting into a crowd then waiting for the response; hoping for cries of support and an echoing of our calls for greater action.
Last week we published Birdcrime 2016, detailing crimes against birds of prey throughout 2016. The overwhelming message is that raptors are being relentlessly persecuted, unchecked, and this is having an impact on their wider populations and conservation status. It’s a serious concern that needs addressing – there were zero prosecutions last year despite over 80 confirmed incidents. Thankfully, Birdcrime 2016 was met with cries of overwhelming agreement, passion and calls for change, with some influential voices joining in for the first time.
Headlines in The Times, Telegraph, Guardian and The Express focused on the lack of prosecutions, which was a 30-year first. It’s always been difficult to catch the culprits of wildlife crime, especially since so many take place in remote, rural locations. We think better police enforcement could help rectify this. Meanwhile press in Yorkshire and the Scottish Borders ran with their regions’ bad reputation for raptor persecution.
The lack of prosecutions could have given the critics in the crowd a reason to shout back, had they missed the graph in Birdcrime which included a red trend line, showing that confirmed incidents are actually slightly increasing over time. Some did miss this. The Countryside Alliance complained that we had failed to celebrate a falling trend in illegal persecution (it’s not falling), and the rise in raptor populations (numerous independent studies tell us there are gaping black holes in, for instance, peregrine and hen harrier populations in places like Bowland and the Yorkshire Dales).
To most, happily, it was clear that something needs to be done about this ongoing problem. Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said: “Thousands of people who are actively involved in grouse shooting fully wish to see the eradication of all forms of wildlife crime.” While these words are welcome, this organisation needs to work far harder to deal with serious criminality associated with driven grouse shooting.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale AONB, Forest of Bowland AONB and Peak District National Park also expressed their outrage at the ‘stain’ of raptor persecution on their landscapes.
Most welcome of all were the words of BASC’s acting chief executive Christopher Graffius: “All of us need to realise that the killing of raptors is doing us no favours. It risks terminal damage to the sport we love.” He added: “I know it’s not all keepers, but the figures of those caught and convicted must be the tip of the iceberg.” And: “We must make it clear that wildlife crime has no place in our community.”
This week, however, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust published a blog containing incorrect figures and misleading claims. They have mistakenly stated that there were “46 confirmed incidents involving birds of prey and owls last year”, when the true number, mentioned frequently in the report, is 81. As we know from population studies, which identify illegal persecution as a key reason why raptors are eerily absent from habitats where they should be plentiful, this number only scratches the surface. Likewise, that fewer incidents have been reported to the RSPB doesn’t mean the incidents aren’t taking place – quite the contrary. Of those reports, a higher proportion are translating through to confirmed incidents, perhaps indicative of increasing quality of information coming through to us. Regardless, the graph of confirmed incidents above speaks for itself.
It is encouraging that Birdcrime has provoked thought, and we hope the discussions triggered last week will continue until real changes are seen and felt in our countryside.
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