Plenty has changed over the past year, but raptor persecution sadly remains a problem that won’t go away. Last spring the RSPB reported on the ‘surge’ in cases during the first lockdown, and while the RSPB Birdcrime 2020 report won’t be published until later this year, early indications suggest 2020 was a depressingly bad year.

With this backdrop, it is clear that increased pressure on the raptor killers remains essential. In a move aimed to help this process, the RSPB has just produced the first ever guide on the investigation of raptor persecution to assist police forces in England and Wales, and based upon our many years of supporting this vital work through our dedicated RSPB Investigations team.


A male hen harrier – stunningly beautiful but remains a regular victim of the raptor killers (Pete Morris)

In the light of persistent levels of wildlife crime against our native birds of prey, we support stronger Government action, in particular the licensing of driven grouse shooting estates and heavier penalties to act as a genuine deterrent to criminality and allow bird of prey populations to recover to natural levels. We believe that increased accountability for the shooting industry, along with better enforcement of wildlife protection laws, are needed to put an end to these appalling crimes against our vulnerable raptor species.

Both co-ordinated and strategic enforcement are absolutely necessary and have the potential to achieve powerful results. Within driven grouse shooting, there are serious and organised crimes against raptors – which needs a serious and organised response.

While excellent enforcement work is being done, and support from the CPS remains strong, frustratingly golden opportunities still go begging every year. While we in our team encounter it every day, because of the specialist nature of raptor persecution, and other pressures on police time,  it’s understandable that not all police officers have much experience of these kind of crimes. As such, other statutory agencies, and RSPB Investigations,  provide essential support. We hope our guide, will offer specialist knowledge and advice to those tackling this issue and become an essential component in the tool kit to combat raptor crime.

The guide, which will be restricted to the police and other relevant enforcement agencies, draws on our experience over the decades and is designed to directly support those investigating such crimes. It will be reviewed and updated annually, and any feedback from the statutory agencies will be highly welcome. Please get in touch with any thoughts. Going forward, we will assess the value of adapting the guide for Scotland and Northern Ireland.


WCO PC Brendon Frith, North Yorkshire Police, helping with recovery of a poisoned peregrine in 2020

Supporting endorsements

Matt Hagen, Acting Chair of the Raptor Persecution Delivery Group, said: “It is abundantly clear that wildlife crime continues, and in some areas is on the increase. Even lockdown did not stop some criminals intent on illegally killing birds of prey and other wildlife in our countryside. This is something we as the police have a duty to investigate.  

"The RSPB has a wealth of experience and expertise which we can tap into, and this guidance document brings together useful information to assist officers when investigating the illegal killing of birds of prey. Too many people are getting away with these crimes, which often take place in isolated rural locations, and I hope that by this partnership approach we can work together to secure more successful prosecutions.”  

Paul Stimson, CPS Wildlife Crime lead, added: "This is a valuable tool for police officers investigating these crimes and assisting CPS Wildlife Prosecutors to put cases before the court."

Chief Inspector Kevin Kelly, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: "I have spent all my service working within the Wildlife Crime Arena and sadly, raptor persecution is still very present and more concerning, it is on the increase. Whilst progress is made at certain times it would seem that enforcement slows and partnerships break down, almost in peaks and troughs. There is a real need to acknowledge this crime type and work in a number of ways to be impactive. This is to raise awareness, to upskill the front line, build and maintain effective and long lasting partnerships that have the best interests of wildlife at heart and to highlight and show case good practice and good work. "Everybody has a part to play in reducing wildlife crime, this is emphasised within the Raptor persecution arena. We need to act now."

Two of the peregrines poisoned in 2020 – part of a catalogue of incidents during the year (Guy Shorrock)

On 2 March this year Defra launched the United Nations-led assessment of UK wildlife crime legislation and enforcement. This will use the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) toolkit to review wildlife crime policing structures, including the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) and UK Border Force, and efficacy of prosecutions. The toolkit has five parts: legislation; enforcement; judiciary and prosecution; drivers and prevention. Already implemented in 15 countries, the UK will be the first G20 country to have invited this assessment. Running until August, it will comprise a comprehensive analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of our preventive and criminal justice responses.  On the face of it, this all sounds quite helpful. However, there has been a long history of reviews, including: -

  • Report of the UK Raptor Working Group’, 2000
  • RSPB ’Getting Away With It’ report 2004
  • The Scottish ‘Natural Justice’ report 2008
  • Two Environmental Audit Committee reports on wildlife crime in 2004 & 2012
  • The NPCC Wildlife Crime Policing Strategy 2018-2021.

The most recent NPCC guidance yet again has some good recommendations, but ultimately there does not seem to be any impact on the levels of raptor crime. We need actions not more words. UK Governments need to fully empower the statutory agencies to bring the full weight of the law against the raptor killers and to invest in new legislation and sanctions to bring meaningful pressure on the worst estates.

We hope this will happen!

The latest news …

As recently featured on various social media posts, the RSPB has joined various police forces on a number of recent follow up searches in relation to raptor persecution offences. (A big thank you to Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Cheshire, Devon & Cornwall, Dorset, Durham and North Yorkshire and support from NE and NWCU.) This is excellent, and hopefully some of these will translate into successful prosecutions and send a clear signal that the illegal killing of birds of prey does not go unnoticed and will not be tolerated.

We hope our new guide will support these operations and those coming soon, as raptor persecution seemingly has no end.