The following press release was issued today [27 October 2021] by RSPB England: 

The RSPB’s 2020 Birdcrime report has revealed that North Yorkshire is yet again the worst place in the UK for the illegal killing of birds of prey. The nature charity says that much of the persecution is linked directly to driven grouse shooting and has called for the industry to be regulated.

The figures in the 2020 report are the highest number recorded since the first Birdcrime report in 1990, and North Yorkshire has topped the table for the seventh year in a row.

 Twenty-six of the 137 confirmed incidents occurred in North Yorkshire. Of these two thirds were directly related to grouse shooting and a further four incidents to other types of shooting. Victims in the county included 16 buzzards, two peregrine falcons, two red kites and one goshawk.

Wildlife crime data, court convictions and peer-reviewed studies based on satellite tagging and bird of prey populations show that raptor persecution has the most negative conservation impact on raptors on land managed for driven grouse shooting. In order to support the largest possible number of red grouse for clients to shoot, the RSPB says that some estates kill protected birds of prey despite all birds of prey being protected by law in the United Kingdom.

In April 2020, North Yorkshire Police officers found five dead buzzards on a grouse moor on the edge of Bransdale in the North York Moors. Four of the birds were confirmed to have been shot, and the injuries of the fifth were ‘suggestive of damage from a shotgun pellet’.

Based on population studies for significant species, it’s believed the true number of raptors killed is far greater, with many crimes going undetected and unreported.

Raptors in particular are targeted with poisons, such as Carbofuran and Bendiocarb, which can kill indiscriminately. Poison baits laid out to target birds of prey also put other wildlife, people and pets at risk. A spaniel died and another became ill in April 2020, after consuming a ‘cocktail of poisons’ in Nidderdale – a known blackspot for bird of prey persecution.

Poisoning isn’t the only danger posed to birds of prey – shooting and nest destruction are also significant threats to wildlife. The RSPB is aware of 14 confirmed buzzard shootings in North Yorkshire in 2020, as well as the destruction of a tawny owl nest. Other methods include the use of live decoys, to lure birds of prey into the open before shooting them.

The RSPB is calling on the governments of the UK to act now and implement a system of licensing for driven grouse shooting, to create greater accountability and ensure all estates operate to legal and high environmental standards. Failure to comply with licensing requirements should result in licence revocation for a defined period and therefore removal of the right to shoot as a meaningful deterrent to illegal behaviours.

The wildlife conservation charity is also urging for action to end other associated environmentally damaging land management practices, including a ban on burning on deep peat. Since 1 October this year the RSPB has received 20 reports of burning in North Yorkshire, of which two were likely to be on deep peat (over 40cm) and one on a protected site.

Mark Thomas, Head of Investigations UK, said, “Although we have become used to the illegal killing of birds of prey, the figure for 2020 is truly shocking. We continue to work with police on many joint investigations and are grateful for their support in tackling these awful crimes.

“We are in a climate and nature emergency. All land must be managed legally and sustainably for people and for nature, and not accelerate the worrying loss of UK wildlife we are already experiencing.

“The RSPB welcomes the announcement by the Scottish Government to licence driven grouse moors there, but this has to happen now in England as well. Licensing should be conditional on compliance with wildlife protection laws, and if breached, should result in removal of the right to shoot. Those shoot operators who behave legally and responsibly should have nothing to fear from this sanction”.

The RSPB Investigations unit’s annual Birdcrime report, is the UK’s only full data set on confirmed incidents of raptor persecution - namely the illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey. The charity has been recording these numbers since 1990.

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