Wildlife Crime

Written evidence submitted by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Executive Summary

· The Government has identified raptor persecution as one of six UK wildlife crime priorities. There is a strong body of scientific evidence linking raptor persecution with upland moors managed for driven grouse shooting.

· The RSPB welcomes the Law Commission’s project to reform the legal regime for wildlife management in England and Wales. We suggest a number of existing provisions and new offences that could be enacted to make species protection legislation fit-for-purpose.

· While the legislative framework can be improved, crimes against wild birds, particularly birds of prey, persist largely due to inadequate enforcement. The Government needs to change the behaviour of those responsible, through making better use of existing provisions, new legislative offences, stronger financial penalties and other sanctions.

· The legislative toolkit for dealing with illegal activity affecting protected sites is broadly effective. However, that there is limited evidence that this toolkit is being used to full effect. In order for Natural England to fulfil its role of delivering effective site protection it will need close support from Defra, especially when an enforcement-led approach proves unpopular with certain stakeholder groups.

· It is vital that the function of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) is preserved, enhanced and adequately resourced. Responsibility for tackling wildlife crime of a serious and organised nature should lie with the new National Crime Agency, with the NWCU providing appropriate intelligence support. It is therefore vital that the NWCU has secure long term funding, providing stability and enabling long-term planning.

· Statutory efforts to record wildlife crime remain disjointed and inconsistent. The NWCU should be enabled to better manage and apply this data in an enforcement context.

· Prevention strategies need to be broader in scope, and adequately resourced.


1. The RSPB is Europe's largest wildlife conservation charity. With the support of more than one million members, we conserve and enhance the populations of wild birds, other wildlife and the habitats in which they live. We focus on priority species and set clear conservation objectives. These include owning and managing land as nature reserves and influencing land-use practices and government policies to benefit wildlife and the wider countryside.

2. The RSPB has an Investigations Section whose main function is to support the statutory authorities in the investigation of offences involving wild birds. This Section has extensive experience of working closely with Police Wildlife Crime Officers, the Crown Prosecution Service, Procurators Fiscal and HM Customs and Excise. Due to the high conservation impact of illegal incidents, bird of prey persecution is a particular concern for the RSPB.


Crime affecting protected species in the UK

Raptor persecution

3. Over 210,000 individuals signed the RSPB’s bird of prey pledge, calling for an end to illegal killing of birds of prey [1] . This graphically illustrates the degree of public support for more effectively tackling bird of prey persecution. In 2010, over 160 MPs from across the political parties backed this campaign by signing Early Day Motion 654 calling for the Government to make tackling this illegal killing a greater priority [2] . Birds of prey are a sign of a healthy environment, and bring proven benefits to local economies. For example, white-tailed eagle tourism is worth over £ 5 million per year to the economy of the Isle of Mull [3]

4. The RSPB has been recording wild bird crimes for about 40 years and maintains a unique database, which is used to compile an annual report, ‘Birdcrime’. Long term datasets show that levels of raptor persecution do not appear to be diminishing. However, these figures represent no more than a snap shot of crimes committed, limiting the conclusions that can be drawn.

5. A more complete and statistically robust picture of the impact that these crimes have emerges from the systematic study of bird populations themselves. In recent years, the severe impact that persecution has on national populations of some raptors has been demonstrated through multiple scientific studies.

6. Encouragingly, the Government has identified raptor persecution as one of six UK wildlife crime priorities [4] , with a focus on golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, hen harrier, red kite, peregrine and goshawk. A summary of the evidence for persecution, much of it linked with grouse moor management, impacting on the conservation status of these species is outlined at Appendix 1.

7. This evidence builds on previously published work linking raptor persecution with upland moors managed for driven grouse shooting [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] . A map of confirmed raptor persecution incidents reported to the RSPB 1990 – 2009 shows that the practice is widespread across the UK but with ‘hotspots’ in areas associated with grouse moor management in the north of England and large parts of Scotland [10] . The RSPB believes that the practice fulfils the definition of ‘serious and organised’ crime as determined by the Home Office.

Trade in wild birds

8. Most reported incidents relate to non-birds of prey, and the illegal trapping and sale of finches remains widespread. Most such cases are dealt with by the RSPCA.

9. The taking of wild birds of prey to supply the illegal falconry market has declined significantly over the last 20 years. The RSPB believes this is primarily due improved captive breeding techniques and better enforcement, particularly the use of DNA profiling to establish whether birds are genuinely captive bred [11] . However, the RSPB is concerned that recent deregulation of registration controls, reducing the number of species required to be registered with the government, makes it easier for such offences to go undetected [12] .

10. In August 2010, a Zimbabwean national was convicted of attempting to smuggle 14 peregrine eggs taken in Wales to Dubai, demonstrating that there is still an international demand for wild British peregrines as falconry birds [13] .

Egg collecting

11. Encouragingly, levels of egg collecting offences appear to be in long-term decline. The RSPB believes this is primarily due to the introduction of custodial sentences in 2001. Some 16 custodial sentences have been awarded to egg collectors and the graph at Appendix 2 shows the reduction in cases being brought before the courts.

Crime affecting species in UK dependencies

Bird trapping in Cyprus

12. In autumn 2011, BirdLife Cyprus estimated that 1.9 million songbirds were trapped illegally to provide a delicacy sold in local restaurants: ambelopoulia [14] . Of particular concern to the RSPB is the fact that a large proportion are trapped at Dhekelia – a UK Sovereign Base Area (SBA). More than ten times the level of illegal netting activity was recorded on the SBA compared with similar areas in the Cypriot Republic. We acknowledge that the UK Government has made considerable efforts to tackle this issue. Nevertheless, there needs to be greater enforcement activity on the SBAs and greater efforts made to change public attitudes towards eating ambelopoulia.

Crime affecting protected sites in the UK

13. We are unaware of any coordinated recording of offences relating to Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England. Consequently, it is not possible to determine the precise scale and nature of illegal damage to protected wildlife sites. However, in Wales, offences relating to the condition of SSSIs are monitored by both Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) and the police. Indeed, habitat destruction has been adopted in Wales as a Wildlife Crime Priority. In Northern Ireland NIEA do collect some information on damage to ASSIs, although we suspect that this may not be comprehensive.


Crime affecting protected species in the UK

14. The legislative framework generally provides strong and therefore welcome protection for species in the UK, though improvements are necessary in some areas. The RSPB therefore welcomes the Law Commission’s project to reform the legal regime for wildlife management in England and Wales [15] . We have three key ambitions for this review – transposition (of the relevant EU Nature Directives), rationalisation and ultimately the development of a fit-for-purpose legislative framework. We will actively support any amendments proposed to wildlife legislation that enhance the conservation and protection of biodiversity.

15. While the legislative framework can be improved, crimes against wild birds, most notably the persecution of birds of prey, persist due largely to inadequate enforcement [16] . The Government needs to change the behaviour of those responsible, through making better use of existing provisions, new legislative offences, stronger financial penalties and other sanctions.

Existing provisions

Pesticide controls

16. Illegal wildlife poisoning remains a major problem in the UK. In an effort to combat this, Defra introduced controls under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to make it an offence to possess certain listed pesticides without legitimate reason. Six years later the schedule of proscribed pesticides has still not been populated. In contrast, the Scottish Government enacted similar legislation in 2004, resulting in ten convictions to date. Northern Ireland has recently introduced similar legislation but has yet to create the schedule.

17. In response to a joint letter from the RSPB and British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Defra Ministers recently stated that the Government was not intending to populate the schedule for England and Wales [17] . Given that the case for such controls has been previously accepted, this unwillingness to introduce an important tool in combating illegal poisoning is of concern.

New offences

Vicarious liability

18. The evidence (paras 6-7, Appendix 1) shows a strong link between raptor persecution and land managed for game bird shooting, particularly in the uplands of England and parts of Scotland. This is serious and organised crime.

19. The maximum penalty for such offences is a £5000 fine and/or six months in prison. Analysis of 152 convictions since 1990 for raptor persecution related offences show that the vast majority (c.70%) are committed by gamekeepers [18] . Most have been dealt with by small fines; only three custodial sentences, all suspended, have been issued. The current level of convictions and penalties carries little deterrent value. The RSPB believes a key reason for this is that the law does not target those ultimately responsible – the managers and landowners encouraging or requiring their employees to break the law.

20. An offence of ‘vicarious liability’ has been introduced in Scotland through the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act 2011. This imposes criminal liability on persons where their employee or agent or contractor commits an offence, unless they can show they were unaware of the offence and had exercised due diligence. The RSPB believes it essential that those orchestrating and/or sponsoring raptor persecution be held accountable. We recommend that an offence of vicarious liability be introduced in the rest of the UK.

Harassment of certain species of wild bird

21. This offence was introduced in Scotland by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. It provides year round protection and prevents the regular, unwarranted disturbance of white-tailed eagles. Similar provisions should be introduced in the rest of the UK and extended to protect roosts of red kite, hen harrier and raven outside the breeding season.

Extending reckless provisions

22. ‘Reckless‘ provisions were introduced by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 in relation to disturbance of nesting Schedule 1 birds and certain wild animals. These originated from the failure of a number of wildlife cases where, although clear harm was done to protected species and the perpetrators appeared well aware of the risk of harm, it was not possible to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that they intended harm. 

23. The Scottish Government went further and proposed that where a deliberate action to harm wildlife was currently an offence, reckless action with the same result should also be an offence. Consequently, "recklessly" was added to all such "intentional" offences by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. It follows that this should be the case in England and Wales.

Offences under the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 (COTES)

24. It is essential that COTES offences are included within s7(3) WCA as it applies to England and Wales, as implemented in Scotland by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. Otherwise, a person convicted under COTES of unlawful trade in a species which is included on Schedule 4 of the WCA is not prevented from keeping/possessing that species in the future. This position is inconsistent with that of a person convicted for a less serious offence under the WCA, who is currently prevented from holding the same species for three or more years. Correcting this will help prevent people continuing to trade illegally in vulnerable species.

Tampering with approved rings or possessing birds wearing tampered rings

25. Long term datasets indicate a persistent problem with the illegal trapping of wild finches which are then laundered in the avicultural market as being legitimately captive bred.  Under the WCA, a system of using close rings attempts to prevent this. The principle is that a correctly sized close ring can be fitted just a few days after hatching and helps support the claim that the bird was captive bred.  However, many examples exist of close rings being tampered with to allow them to be fitted to wild taken birds. The proposed offence would improve the ability of enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute such practices.

Selling ducks, geese, swans, coot or moorhen killed using lead shot

26. We support the purpose of the Environmental Protection (Restriction on Use of Lead Shot) (England) Regulations 1999 and subsequent regulations in Wales. However, investigations by the RSPB and on behalf of Defra [19] have highlighted that compliance is poor, and it remains legal to sell birds killed illegally using lead shot. This undermines the purpose and effective enforcement of the existing Regulations.


27. The WCA continues to play a key role in maintaining the recovery of many species. For example, the deterrent value of custodial sentences introduced by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 has – we believe – reduced significantly the incidence of egg collecting and the taking of birds and eggs for falconry, which remain at a low level today [20] (see Appendix 2).

28. However, the current maximum fine which can be awarded for offences to be tried in the Magistrates' Court under the WCA is just £5000 and/or up to 6 months in prison. This is inadequate as a deterrent and is out of line with penalties under other recent environmental legislation: e.g. fines of up to £50,000 and/or up to 12 months in prison in the Magistrates Court, and unlimited fines and/or up to 5 years in prison in the Crown Court under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.

Regulation of game shooting

29. The UK is almost unique in Europe and North America in having no form of, or potential for, the regulation of the practice of game shooting by individuals or service providers [21] . Given a) the potential of this activity to cause adverse population-level impacts for species of conservation priority, and b) the serious and organised nature of crimes committed against birds of prey, consideration of stronger sanctions is merited. An option to withdraw the ‘right’ of an individual to shoot game, or businesses to supply shooting services, for a fixed period following conviction for a wildlife or environmental offence, should be considered.


30. Significant sums of public money are provided to those managing the countryside through Single Farm Payments. To target effectively, and penalise, those involved in perpetrating wildlife crime, it is essential that the full range of associated offences are covered by cross-compliance rules. The Government should work with the European Commission to ensure that anyone contravening EU wildlife legislation faces having their Single Farm Payment withdrawn. A process needs to be introduced to ensure all such potential cases are brought to the attention of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).

Crime affecting protected sites in the UK

31. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 [22] gave English Nature (now Natural England) and the CCW considerably enhanced tools for the protection of these sites as well as greater penalties to deter crime. Consequently, we believe that the legislative toolkit for dealing with illegal activity affecting SSSIs is broadly effective. However, that there is limited evidence that this toolkit is being used to full effect.

32. In Northern Ireland, the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act, 2011 updated the legislative toolkit in respect of ASSIs, but the rate of investigation and enforcement is low, due in part to insufficient resourcing of NIEA. In 2011 there were 164 reports of damage on 57 ASSIs, but few investigations with only one prosecution and one restoration order.

33. In the absence of direct or adequate transposition of the requirements of Article 6(2) of the Habitats Directive on land and in inshore waters [23] , the UK is largely reliant on the SSSI consenting framework and the deterrent of effective enforcement action to ‘avoid ... the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as disturbance of the species for which [Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation] have been designated’, as required by the Directive.

34. In November 2008, the National Audit Office (NAO) [24] found that ‘Natural England has not made full use of its enforcement powers’ and ‘has not yet exercised its powers to enforce positive management practices’. In February 2009, the NAO report was considered by a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Its findings and recommendations, published in June 2009 [25] again highlighted the failure to use enforcement powers.

35. Natural England has developed and consulted on a draft enforcement policy (in 2008), a draft compliance and enforcement position and draft enforcement guidance (in 2011). In its submissions to these consultations, the RSPB expressed concern that that many of the fundamental precursors for effective enforcement are not currently fit for purpose. We highlighted the need to ensure that surveillance systems are sufficiently comprehensive and robust to identify infractions where they occur, the need for staff training, and the need for effective operational management to ensure that potential prosecutions are not compromised.

36. When consulted on Natural England’s draft enforcement guidance in 2011, we were disappointed that this did not address in full the recommendations we made in our comments on NE's consultation on its draft enforcement policy in 2008, and which we consider remain pertinent.

37. We note that Natural England’s discretion to act has been restricted. Ministers have made clear their expectation that Natural England needs to prioritise its customer service role, and, by implication, do less enforcement. In order for Natural England to fulfil its role of delivering effective site protection, it will need close support from Defra, especially when an enforcement-led approach proves unpopular with certain stakeholder groups.

38. Statutory powers for investigating species offences are currently much more extensive than those for investigating habitat offences. There is no ability to obtain a search warrant to enter a dwelling to search for evidence, such as documentary or electronic records relating to work undertaken on SSSIs.

International trade in protected species

Possession controls for CITES species

39. The EU Wildlife Trade regulations EC 338/97 regulate the import and export of CITES-listed species into and out of the EU, and commercial trade within the EU. Provisions under Art 8(2) allow for the possession of certain species to be regulated. Under the WCA, possession of certain native species is unlawful. We believe that the Government should determine whether possession of critically endangered species originating outside the UK should be more strictly regulated. Defra consulted on this principle in 2005.

40. COTES implements enforcement of the EU Wildlife Trade regulations EC 338/97 in the UK. Since revision in 1997, COTES has been long overdue an update. A draft Statutory Instrument (SI) was drawn up by Defra in 2004/2005 but for reasons that are unclear, this was never enacted. It is essential that the amendments proposed in the draft SI are implemented in full.


NWCU and the NCA

41. The current ACPO lead on wildlife crime, Chief Constable Richard Crompton, states in his introduction to the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s (NWCU) 2010 annual report that wildlife crime includes "criminality of a serious and organised nature and ultimately, a huge international operation concerning the illegal trade in endangered species". This type of criminality crosses police force, national and international boundaries, and can only be tackled effectively with appropriate national co-ordination and resources.

42. The NWCU is a key structure in current efforts to tackle wildlife crime. This small unit provides excellent value for money by co-ordinating intelligence gathering and supporting enforcement efforts across police forces. The RSPB believes it is vital that the function of the NWCU is preserved, enhanced and adequately resourced – not all wildlife crime is of a serious and organised nature and would therefore fall outside the NCA’s remit. Responsibility for tackling wildlife crime of a serious and organised nature (including raptor persecution) should lie with the NCA, with the NWCU providing appropriate intelligence support. It is therefore vital that the NWCU has secure long term funding, providing stability and enabling long-term planning.

Police Wildlife Crime Officers (WCO)

43. The WCO network is a key component in the fight against wildlife crime and needs to be protected at an individual force level. The EAC 2004 report recommended that there must be at least one full time WCO in each police force (Recommendation 27). Unfortunately, since 2004 many forces have lost their full time WCOs and this has made pursuing wildlife crime investigations in some forces areas more difficult. The Government should challenge police forces to allocate permanent staff to tackle wildlife crime, especially in "hot-spot" areas.

Wildlife Crime Priorities

44. A welcome and positive development has been the development of UK wildlife crime priorities, using scientific evidence and prosecution data agreed by government and enforcement officers. However, there is little consistency around how these are taken forward. For example, the CITES priority appears to achieve positive co-ordinated work between police, NWCU, UKBA and AHVLA. In contrast, the raptor persecution priority has been split into three groups (Scotland, England & Wales, and Northern Ireland). Whilst there has been some progress in Scotland, there has been a disappointing lack of action to progress this priority in England and Wales. More Government support is needed in Northern Ireland where the level of resourcing remains low, with one Wildlife Liaison Officer (civilian staff) for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).


Internet offences

45. A number of recent cases [26] have highlighted the importance of the internet in ‘facilitating’ wildlife crime. Current legislation was designed before such technology rose to prominence, and the scale of online illegal trading warrants consideration of new offences.

EU wild bird import regulation

46. The EU banned commercial imports of wild birds in 2007 following concerns over the transmission of avian diseases, particularly avian flu. However, Regulation (EC) 318/2007 allows certain categories of birds to be imported for "conservation programmes approved by the competent authority of the member state of destination".

47. In November 2010, a West Midlands bird dealer was convicted of import and sales offences after AHVLA supplied import permits for 22 birds of prey from South Africa for a bogus conservation breeding programme [27] . This has raised concerns that importers are evading import restrictions when no genuine conservation programme exists. In view of the serious disease risks and potential impact on conservation we recommend that AHVLA reviews the issue of import permits and makes rigorous checks to ensure regulations are not being circumvented.


Crime affecting protected species in the UK

48. The RSPB was pleased that the EAC 2004 report on wildlife crime made several recommendations (see 5, 6, 7, 11 & 26) on the importance of accurate recording [28] . These included that wildlife crime must be recorded, there should be a sufficiently staffed and resourced centrally managed national database, and that it should be supplied with consistent and reliable data to provide a view of the scale and nature of the problem.

49. Statutory efforts to record wildlife crime remain disjointed and inconsistent. While crimes such as minor theft are recorded by the Home Office, serious wildlife crimes with major conservation impacts, such as poisoning eagles, are not. There is no reliable statutory system for retrieving wildlife related prosecutions to help provide sentencing advice for courts or to assess sentencing consistency. The RSPB can provide such data for bird offences but there is no mechanism for offences involving other taxa.

50. The RSPB believes that reliable data are essential to assess the scale of the problem and whether enforcement and other measures are being effective. In relation to wildlife poisoning, good long term data sets exist via the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS), though this information could be better utilised. However, government data regarding other types of raptor persecution remain limited.

51. The police and the NWCU have made positive progress in improving recording of wildlife crime. However, much data published by NWCU is reliant on information collated by the police National Standards Incident Recording (NSIR) scheme. This crude recording method has significant limitations and the commitment by individual forces to provide such data appears highly variable.

52. On 26 January 2011, in answer to a Parliamentary Question on UK raptor persecution figures, the Government conceded that comprehensive information is not held centrally [29] . Of particular concern, was that the data provided for raptor poisoning were significantly different than the official government source data. For example, the number of golden eagles, red kites and peregrines listed as poisoned were significantly under recorded. This erroneous reporting was recently repeated in a report to the European Commission [30] .

53. The RSPB is aware that the NWCU is making significant efforts to deal with the huge flow of information regarding wildlife crime, but struggling to make best use of it. We believe that the NWCU should be enabled to better manage and apply this data in an enforcement context.


54. The RSPB records annually around 40-50 prosecutions relating to birds (other than welfare). The deterrent value of custodial sentences has been outlined previously in this paper. An analysis of all cases since 2001 under a range of legislation shows that custodial sentences were awarded in 55 cases ( see Appendix 3 ) . All were in English courts apart from two in Wales and one in Scotland. The RSPB believes the courts have been careful and selective in the use of custodial sentences, reserving them for more serious cases or for individuals with previous convictions. However, of 42 prosecutions resulting in custodial sentences under the WCA, only three cases involved species of high conservation concern relating to the persecution of birds of prey (all suspended). Jail sentences have been repeatedly given for offences involving species of lower conservation concern, such as ten cases relating to the killing of swans, gulls and ducks. The RSPB believe that for raptor persecution offences, more meaningful sentences need to be considered in order to achieve the desired deterrent effect .

Crime affecting protected sites in the UK

55. The RSPB is unaware of any coordinated recording of offences relating to SSSIs in England. However, in Wales, the Wildlife Crime Enforcement Group provides quarterly updates to the Wales Biodiversity Partnership Steering Group on current activity and cases [31] . CCW have provided annual reports on criminal offences relating to SSSIs. However, this has not been updated on their website since 2005.

56. It is essential that penalties are sufficient to remove the financial benefit from committing an offence against protected sites, which may be considerable in some cases. We believe that:

57. There needs to be greater flexibility within the Rural Payment Agency’s inspection framework to allow them to respond effectively to cases of wildlife crime and to maximise the deterrent value of the cross-compliance regime  ;

58. The use of civil sanctions (which the RSPB generally supports) in relation to damage to SSSIs should be limited to those cases where there are no restoration requirements as such cases will be difficult to resolve satisfactorily as a civil matter.



59. In England, the RSPB is concerned that there is a lack of appetite within Defra and Natural England for robust enforcement action and that a failure to put in place all the necessary precursors and mechanisms for effective enforcement may hamper Natural England’s ability to take enforcement action, even when criminal damage has clearly occurred.

60. Since the offences for damage to SSSIs were overhauled by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, just 17 prosecutions have been taken, 16 of which were successful [32] [33] . Ten of these were accompanied by a restoration order to make good the damage caused.  However, we are unaware of any work to review compliance with, and the efficacy of, restoration orders in returning the SSSIs in question to favourable condition.  Such information would be invaluable to assess the effectiveness of the legislation in tackling criminal damage to SSSIs.

61. In addition, we are not aware of any published work to asses the deterrent effect of penalties under wildlife legislation e.g. whether or not those prosecuted have been subject to further enforcement action, including the need to take new criminal prosecutions for any subsequent offences. Such information is vital to inform decisions on the threshold to be applied in deciding whether or not civil or criminal sanctions should be used in a particular case.


62. The need for enforcement activity by the statutory agencies and police can be moderated through more effective prevention strategies. Publicity is an important tool, which to date has been employed on a fairly ad hoc basis, and remains overly reliant on the efforts of NGOs. The Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW) could play a more active role, though its ability to deliver is largely dependent on non-government resources being secured. We believe, however, that prevention strategies need to be broader in scope, and adequately resourced. The UK wildlife crime priorities mandate a focus on prevention, alongside intelligence and enforcement, activity. We are aware of proposals emerging from the raptor persecution priority group in Scotland to engage land owners and managers in persecution hotspots, and follow-up instances of suspected and/or proven persecution. Such an approach may have application elsewhere in the UK.



Appendix 1: Evidence for persecution impact on UK Government wildlife crime priority raptor species

Hen harrier

The hen harrier is a species of high conservation concern [34] , which is identified as a species of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England via Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. Hen harrier is listed under Scottish Natural Heritage’s (SNH) Species Action Framework [35] as a priority species for action.

The UK/Isle of Man breeding population of hen harriers declined by 18% between 2004 and 2010, driven by declines in the large Scottish population, and following several decades of recovery [36] . A Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)-published conservation framework report quantifies the potential UK hen harrier population at 2514-2653 pairs, compared to an estimated population of 806 pairs in 2004 (this analysis pre-dates the 2010 survey results, which report an estimated UK population of 662 pairs), and ascribes the difference in large part to persecution [37] . In 2008, just five successful hen harrier nests were recorded on driven grouse moors in the UK; an area of habitat estimated to have the potential to support 500 pairs [38] . In England, which has sufficient habitat to support at least 323 breeding pairs, the hen harrier is on the verge of extinction as a breeding species with only four pairs successfully raising young in 2011. If this trend continues, it is likely that the Government will fail in its commitment in the England Biodiversity Strategy to avoid any human induced extinctions of known threatened species by 2020 [39] .

Golden eagle

The results of the most recent national golden eagle survey in 2003 suggested a British population at about 440 occupied territories [40] , with all but one or two pairs in Scotland.

A SNH conservation framework report [41] concluded that some parts of Scotland no longer support viable populations of golden eagles, despite suitable habitat being available. Persecution was found to be the most severe constraint on golden eagle populations, and incidents of persecution were more common where grouse moor management predominated. The report also concluded that the rarity of golden eagles in England is probably a result of persecution limiting potential recruits from Scotland and to raptor persecution in upland areas of England.

Red kite

With over 1,500 pairs in the UK, red kites are a conservation success story thanks to dedicated work to protect the species in Wales and successful re-introduction programmes in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, recent scientific research shows that illegal poisoning remains a significant cause of mortality in one region [42] . Between 1989 and 2009, 64 red kites were found poisoned in Scotland, though the true number will be far higher as most birds are never recovered.


The UK peregrine population has recovered well from its low point due to the effects of organochlorine pesticide poisoning in the 1960s. The most recent survey in 2002 put the population at over 1,400 pairs [43] , a 10% increase since the previous survey in 1991. However, their recovery has been particularly slow in some parts of the English uplands managed predominantly for driven grouse shooting.

A recently published scientific study using data from nearly three decades of nest monitoring across northern England found that breeding success of peregrines on grouse moors was half that in other habitats [44] . The study also found that confi rmed and probable incidents of p eregrine persecution between 1990 and 2006 across northern England , occurred far more frequently on grouse moors than on other habitats. The higher levels of breeding failure meant that p eregrine populations on grouse moors were not self-sustaining and regional extinction was only prevented by more productive birds nesting in sites away from grouse moors.


The goshawk was the first bird of prey to be driven to extinction in the UK, in 1883. Since its re-establishment in the 1950s the goshawk population has recovered well but illegal killing remains a problem. For example, in the north-east of the Peak District National Park, a previously stable population of up to 11 pairs in the 1990s had disappeared by 2006 – persecution is the only credible explanation [45] . In contrast, a population in the south of the National Park, located away from grouse moors, remained healthy.

White-tailed eagle

White-tailed eagles were driven to extinction in the UK by 1916 but have been re-introduced in three phases in Scotland where there is now an established breeding population of around 50 pairs. Despite this progress, illegal killing remains a problem with at least seven birds poisoned since the re-introduction project started in 1975. Although only a small number of birds, whilst the population remains small any illegal killing is problematic for a bird that matures slowly and produces few young, and is a waste of government and charitable investments in the project.

Appendix 2: Egg collecting convictions recorded by the RSPB, 1994-2010

Appendix 3: Custodial sentences for wildlife offences relating to birds (not welfare related). [BOP = birds of prey]

28 February 2012

[1] http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/news/archive/2010/02/03/stop-killing-birds-of-prey-say-200-000-people.aspx

[2] http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2009-10/654

[3] http://forargyll.com/2011/06/sea-eagles-5-year-tripling-of-economic-benefit-to-mull/

[4] http://www.defra.gov.uk/paw/files/201102strategic-assessment.pdf

[5] Court, I.R., Irving , P.V., & Carter, I. 2004. Status and productivity of peregrine falcons in the Yorkshire Dales between 1978 and 2002. British Birds , 97, 456-463

[6] Etheridge, B. et al. 1997. The effects of illegal killing and destruction of nests by humans on the population dynamics of the hen harrier Circus cyaneus in Scotland. Journal of Applied Ecology 34, 1081-1105

[7] Summers, R.W. et al 2003. Changes in Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus numbers in relation to grouse moor management in Thompson, D. B. A et al (eds). Birds of Prey in a changing environment, Scottish Natural Heritage/The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

[8] Holmes, J., Walker, D., Davies, P. & Carter I. 2000. The illegal persecution of raptors in England. English Nature Research Report No. 343 . English Nature, Peterborough .

[9] Whitfield, P. et al 2003. The association of grouse moor in Scotland with the illegal use of poisons to control predators, Biological Conservation 114, 157-163.

[10] Birdcrime 2009 p14 http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/birdcrime_tcm9-260567.pdf

[11] Birdcrime 2008: offences against wild bird legislation 2008 http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/birdcrime_tcm9-226049.pdf

[12] http://animalhealth.defra.gov.uk/about/publications/cites/bulletins/autumn-08.pdf

[13] Birdcrime 2010: offences against wild bird legislation in 2010 http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/birdcrime2010_tcm9-293799.pdf

[14] http://www.birdlifecyprus.org/images/Pdf_files/bc_trappingreport_autumn2011_finalversion.pdf

[15] http://www.justice.gov.uk/lawcommission/docs/lc330_eleventh_programme.pdf

[16] Birdcrime 2010: offences against wild bird legislation in 2010 http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/birdcrime2010_tcm9-293799.pdf

[17] Richard Benyon , Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Natural Environment and Fisheries), Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in lit

[18] Birdcrime 2009 p36 http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/birdcrime_tcm9-260567.pdf

[19] http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=WC0730_9719_FRP.pdf

[20] Birdcrime 2010: offences against wild bird legislation in 2010 http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/birdcrime2010_tcm9-293799.pdf

[21] http://fp7hunt.net/Portals/HUNT/Reports/RSPB_ReportFINAL_Covers.pdf

[22] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/37/contents

[23] Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31992L0043:EN:HTML

[24] http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/0708/natural_england_role.aspx

[25] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmpubacc/244/244.pdf

[26] See Legal Eagle 62, pages 6, 9 & 10 http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/LegalEagle62_tcm9-264579.pdf ; Legal Eagle 63, page 5 http://intranet.rspb.org.uk/images/legaleagle63_tcm7-269997.pdf

[27] Birdcrime 2010: offences against wild bird legislation in 2010 http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/birdcrime2010_tcm9-293799.pdf

[28] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmenvaud/605/605.pdf

[29] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110126/text/110126w0001.htm

[30] Bio Intelligence Service 2011. Stocktaking of the main problems and review of national enforcement mechanisms for tackling illegal killing, trapping and trade of birds in the EU. Final report prepared for European Commission (DG Environment)

[31] http://www.biodiversitywales.org.uk/content/uploads/documents/SG%20Meetings/SG16/WBPSG16%20PTN%20A%20Wildlife%20Crime%2021%202%202012.pdf

[32] English Nature prosecutions: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/encrowprosecutions_tcm6-5745.xls

[33] Natural England prosecutions: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/NE-CROW-prosecutions_tcm6-27540.xls

[34] Eaton, M. A. et al 2009. Birds of Conservation Concern 3: the population status of birds in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. British Birds 102 : 296–341.

[35] http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/species/Species%20Action%20Framework.pdf

[36] Bird Study in press

[37] http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/pdf/jncc441.pdf

[38] Thompson, D. Thirgood, S, Amar, A, Smith, A and Redpath, S. (2008) Towards reconciling raptor conservation and game management aspirations. Presentation to SNH Species Management Conference

[39] http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/pb13583-biodiversity-strategy-2020-111111.pdf

[40] Eaton, M.A. et al 2007. Status of the Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos in Britain in 2003. Bird Study , 54 , 212-220.

[41] http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/commissioned_reports/Report%20No193.pdf

[42] http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/smart_amar_sim_et_al_2010_tcm9-248263.pdf

[43] http://www.bto.org/survey/complete/peregrine.htm

[44] Amar A et al. 2012. Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations. Biological Conservation 145, Issue 1, 86-94. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00063207/145/1

[45] Peak Malpractice Update 2007 RSPB http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/PeakMalpracticeUpdate2007_tcm9-165094.pdf

Prepared 5th March 2012