Illegal killing of birds of prey is rife

With grouse shooting season underway, the mass killing of wildlife is taking place up and down the country. The RSPB has spoken out against this slaughter, publishing its annual report of illegal bird persecution and calling for a review of driven grouse shooting.

An image of a poisoned golden eagle
An image of a poisoned golden eagle


Imogen Benson

The RSPB’s Birdcrime 2018 report has revealed that the illegal killing of birds of prey is rife throughout the UK, confirming 87 incidents in 2018. 

This total included 31 buzzards, 27 kites and 6 peregrines, with hen harriers, red kites and owls also illegally slaughtered. Despite the 87 confirmed killings, only one incident resulted in a conviction.

According to the report, these figures only offer a glimpse into a far larger problem, as intelligence and data gathered from the satellite tagging of raptors suggest that many more birds will have been killed and not found.

The report raises strong concerns around grouse shooting, which takes place each year from 12 August, known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’, to the 10 December. According to the report, there are illegal killing blackspots in the Peak District, North Yorkshire and southern Scotland, where the land is managed for driven grouse shooting. In these areas, birds of prey and other protected species are considered a threat to grouse stocks, and are therefore routinely and illegally trapped, shot and poisoned. 

Hen harriers have suffered the most from this culling – a recently published ten-year scientific study using Natural England data revealed that 72 per cent of satellite-tagged hen harriers were confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed. On 11 August, former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett joined thousands of protestors in Derbyshire for Hen Harrier Day, a day of campaigning against the unjust slaughter of the bird of prey. 

Significant concerns have also been raised around the environmental impacts of grouse shooting, with the RSPB report highlighting issues with moorland management practices such as the burning of heather to provide a habitat for the grouse. This practice is leading to degradation of the peatland, causing serious environmental damage through increasing flood risks and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The Committee on Climate Change has reported that damage to UK peatlands – often caused by moor burning for grouse shooting – is releasing 18.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere each year. The RSPB is therefore demanding an independent review of driven grouse shooting in England, strengthening its calls for grouse moors to be licensed across the UK. 

Mark Thomas, Head of Investigations UK at the RSPB, said: “The illegal and widespread killing of birds of prey has gone on for too long. Current legislation and sentences are proving woefully inadequate and offering absolutely no deterrent to those who want to see birds of prey eradicated from our hills.

“Urgent and meaningful change is needed to the way our uplands are managed, to put an end once and for all to illegal killing and bring back biodiversity to these landscapes. Enough is enough.”

Commenting on the environmental impacts of grouse shooting, Martin Harper, Conservation Director at the RSPB, said: “Any industry which includes criminal and environmentally damaging practices needs reform. The driven grouse shooting industry has, despite decades of warning, failed to put its house in order – most shockingly turning a blind eye to the ongoing illegal persecution of birds of prey. 

“Given we face a climate and ecological emergency, we believe it is time for governments to intervene. A first step should be, as is happening in Scotland, independent reviews of driven grouse shooting for the rest of the UK. Ultimately, the RSPB believes that change will only come through regulation.”