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Birdcrime 2011 – based on fact or fiction?

CA Moorlands Director Adrian Blackmore writes: The RSPB’s recently published Birdcrime Report for 2011 provides a summary of the offences against wildlife legislation that were reported to the RSPB in 2011. Since 2009, Birdcrime reports have not included a “total” reported figure for all categories of wild bird crime, explanation given being that this enables the RSPB to focus its finite resources on wild bird crime affecting species of high conservation concern, and crime that is serious and organised. In his forward to the Report, Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, states that the RSPB believes that persecution of birds of prey is just that; both “serious” and “organised”, and he refers to the “intolerable Victorian throwback of persecuting birds of prey and other wildlife in the name of sport”.  

The RSPB believes that there is strong evidence of a link between raptor persecution and land managed for driven grouse shooting in the uplands of England and parts of Scotland, and that the nature of this activity is “widespread and systematic”. It believes that the law currently fails to target those who encourage or require their employees to break the law by killing birds of prey, and therefore wishes to see an offence of vicarious liability introduced. It is calling for the maximum fine of £5,000 and / or 6 months imprisonment that can be awarded for offences tried in the Magistrates Court to be increased to £50,000 and / or 12 months imprisonment, and in the Crown Court is wishes to see unlimited fines and / or up to 5 years imprisonment. It further believes that there should be an option to withdraw the ‘right’ of an individual to shoot game, or businesses to supply shooting services, for a fixed period, following a conviction for a wildlife or environmental offence, and that “reckless” provisions should be added to all “intentional” incidents of wildlife crime.

From all of this, anyone could be forgiven for thinking that wild bird crime must be spiralling out of control, and that illegal persecution of threatened species of birds of prey is rife; particularly in the uplands of England. If that were indeed the case, then the RSPB’s calls for tighter legislation would make perfect sense, but when based upon its own available statistics in its Report that convincingly show the problem to be reducing, they become absurd.

In 2011, there were a total of 461 reported incidents, compared to 568 in 2010 and 741 in 2009; a reduction of 19% and 38% respectively. Going even further back, the figure for 2011 also happens to be 28% lower than the previous 5 year average of 644 reported incidents. These, however, are just the reported incidents, the usefulness of which must be questionable at the best of times, but especially when the RSPB admits in the report that 1% of those concerning birds of prey occurred in an unknown location in the UK.

Careful study of the figures show that for every five ‘reported incidents’, just one results in the confirmed death of a bird of prey. Of the 202 reports of the shooting and destruction of birds of prey in 2011, there are 42 that are shown as having been confirmed. This figure includes 30 incidents of shooting (a figure that includes 8 owls), the destruction of 1 nest, 9 incidents in relation to illegal trapping, and 2 confirmed ‘other’ incidents, details of which have not been given in the report. Although there were 70 confirmed cases of poisoning and the use of poisoned baits, the number involving birds of prey was 48, the other 22 being concerned with dogs, cats, a hedgehog, and non bird of prey species including carrion crows, magpies and a rook. There were therefore a total of 90 confirmed bird of prey incidents in 2011, compared to 115 in 2010; a reduction of 22%. The 48 confirmed poisoning incidents in 2011 also represents a 31% reduction from 2012, when the figure had been 70; another downward trend that should be welcomed.

Of the 90 confirmed bird of prey incidents in 2011, only 9 are shown as having occurred in counties where grouse moor management takes place in the North of England, and none have been linked to that management. Despite the RSPB using the Report to highlight alleged persecution of hen harriers and peregrines on grouse moors, there is not a single incident, either reported or confirmed, against these species within any county in the North of England where grouse moor management is carried out. The RSPB is also well known for its frequent accusations against gamekeepers, but of the 42 individuals prosecuted in the courts last year, just 7 were either full or part-time gamekeepers, and of the offences for which they were found guilty, only 2 were directly linked to the taking or death of a bird of prey. As in previous years, the vast majority of prosecutions were concerned with non birds of prey.

All the facts therefore paint a very different picture to that which the RSPB is doing its utmost to portray. It should be celebrating the significant reductions year on year in the crimes that it is reporting, but instead it is campaigning for major changes to legislation that directly target the sporting community, based on ‘evidence’ that it simply cannot produce.

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