During the past five years, the UK suffered from a major rise in wildlife crime, particularly in the unlawful killing of birds of prey, including hen harriers, peregrine falcons, buzzards, owls and other raptor species. The latest reported figures showed nearly 500 incidences have occurred since 2012, with many more thought to have gone unreported.
Of all the counties, North Yorkshire has become a hotspot for raptor persecution with 54 confirmed incidences during this period. In an attempt to address the issue, the RSPB has launched an emergency ‘hotline’ for concerned parties to use to report any such incidences.
Birds of prey are often targeted due to their proximity to grouse shooting moors, where they are brought down with pole traps, shot, or poisoned in their nests. Previously, observers of raptor killings were encouraged to call the police, however Guy Shorrock, Senior Investigations Officer at the RSPB, says that ‘some members of the shooting community may feel more comfortable talking to a specific wildlife unit than going straight to the police.’
Shorrock feels that in order to truly tackle bird of prey persecution, people ‘need to be able to communicate with the heart of our rural communities. Often, gamekeepers of grouse moors are aware of the illegal killing going on, but are worried about coming forward.’ The new hotline connects to a specific investigations unit at the RSPB, with all information being handled confidentially.
Court records show that the majority of criminals prosecuted are gamekeepers. ‘However, we believe the instructions come from the land managers and employers,’ says Shorrock. It is hoped that a better alliance of gamekeepers, the RSPB and the police will improve the accountability of estates and their landlords. Shorrock adds: ‘Ideally we would also like to see shooting organisations themselves showing support for the hotline on their websites and encouraging members to be transparent. Wildlife crime gives them a bad name.’
Mark Avery, an expert on birds of prey and a long-time campaigner for wildlife protection, said of the killings: ‘There are people out there who could help the police put an end to it. I hope they do the right thing and step forward.’
The hotline can be reached at 0300 999 0101.
This was published in the April 2018 edition of Geographical magazine.
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