Report reveals illegal killing remains ‘significant threat’ to birds of prey

29 November 2012

Illegal shooting, trapping, nest destruction and poisoning continue to pose a significant threat to Scotland’s birds of prey, according to the latest annual report by RSPB Scotland, covering 2011. The report, The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland in 2011, revealed that, as in previous years, some of the country’s rarest bird of prey species continue to be the victims of wildlife crimes such as the illegal use of crow traps and the setting out of baits in the open, laced with illegal and highly toxic chemicals. Whilst the report acknowledged a decline in the number of detected poisoning incidents in comparison to the previous few years, in 2011 a total of 20 birds, including 4 red kites and a golden eagle were amongst those confirmed by Scottish Government testing to have been poisoned. Other incidents recorded by RSPB Scotland during the year included a buzzard starved to death in a crow trap, a short-eared owl, two peregrines and three buzzards shot and a goshawk nest destroyed.

The report also highlights the suspicious disappearances of nesting hen harriers and peregrines, and of golden eagles fitted with satellite transmitters by scientists studying their movements and survival. As in recent years, the majority of incidents of illegal killing took place in areas managed for driven grouse shooting, particularly in the eastern and central Highlands and the southern Uplands of Scotland. Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said ?Many of these crimes were discovered purely by chance, by walkers or birdwatchers, in remote areas of countryside, it’s safe to assume that many victims of illegal killing are not detected or reported . ?While at last there may be some welcome indications that the indiscriminate use of illegal poisons is on the wane, it is clear from this report, and the events of the last few months, with a golden eagle being illegally trapped in Angus, and another found shot in Dumfries-shire, that there is a long way to go before these crimes are eradicated. We were pleased that these events received cross party condemnation in the Scottish Parliament.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management said: “We hope that a decrease in poisoning cases is a trend that continues and is reflected in the return of birds of prey in their former ranges. However, it is deeply concerning that over this same period, there is no evidence of a decline in other forms of illegal killing. These crimes can have a devastating impact on the long-term population of rare and slow breeding species such as hen harriers, golden eagles and red kites. There can be no place for these appalling crimes in Scotland in the 21st century. We thank the public for their continued vigilance and those landowners who have already made marked efforts to stamp out this illegal practice. We call on all those working in Scotland’s countryside to take active steps to eradicate these despicable crimes once and for all. These birds are not only important for our wildlife heritage but also bring with them tourism opportunities, which benefit the country’s economy.”

This unique record covers all forms of illegal killing of birds of prey and compliments the annual Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture report which focuses on illegal poisoning of wildlife and other animals, including cases related to birds of prey. In total 17 incidents of deliberate poison abuse were confirmed during 2011, involving 20 victims (7 buzzards, 4 red kites, 1 golden eagle, 2 peregrines, 2 ravens and 4 other bird species. In total 16 other illegal incidents relating to shooting, nest destruction, the use of uncovered spring traps or cage traps were confirmed during 2011. Confirmed victims include 8 buzzards, 2 peregrines, 1 goshawk, 1 sparrowhawk, 2 kestrel and a short-eared owl. The Scottish Government introduced new measures in the recent Wildlife and Natural Environment Act 2011, including ‘vicarious liability’. This instrument makes landowners responsible for the actions of their employees, meaning that in the event of proven illegal activity against birds of prey, landowners could be liable for prosecution.

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