RSPB: New 'Birdcrime' report finds raptor chicks trampled and birds beheaded in ongoing persecution

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Many red-listed hen harriers are meeting awful fates on gamebird estates, the report found

Warning: Some of the content in this story may be distressing.

The persecution of the UK's hawks, harriers, eagles and falcons is alive and well, with birds dying in horrific ways disproportionately linked to land used for gamebird shooting.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) released its annual Birdcrime report on Friday (24 November), which found many of the UK's protected birds of prey were still victims of illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning. Amongst the victims were buzzards, red kites, goshawks, hen harriers, peregrine falcons and white-tailed eagles - all species protected by laws designed to help the rarest and most threatened species.

There had been a total of 61 confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents nationally in the last year, the report said, with two-thirds (64%) linked to gamebird shooting estates. Hen harriers - a red-listed species in the UK - were being relentlessly targeted, particularly in areas dominated by driven grouse moors.

Red-listed hen harriers are meeting awful fates on gamebird estates, the report found (Photo: Andy Hay/RSPB/PA Wire)Red-listed hen harriers are meeting awful fates on gamebird estates, the report found (Photo: Andy Hay/RSPB/PA Wire)
Red-listed hen harriers are meeting awful fates on gamebird estates, the report found (Photo: Andy Hay/RSPB/PA Wire) | Andy Hay/RSPB/PA Wire

Since January 2022, RSPB and Natural England data showed that 39 hen harriers had been confirmed to have been killed or had ‘suspiciously disappeared’ across the UK, with eight satellite-tagged birds being persecuted or disappearing in suspicious circumstances in the same North Yorkshire area alone. Two of the most shocking incidents recorded included a Natural England satellite-tagged bird called Free, which had its head pulled off while still alive, and four hen harrier chicks that were trampled to death in a nest being monitored by Natural England.

An RSPB tagged hen harrier named Dagda was found shot dead in May 2023 on a grouse moor at Knarsdale, right next door to its nature reserve at Geltsdale. It is unknown who shot the bird, but the RSPB said the supporting tag data had clearly documented where and when the incident took place. This comes after a peer-reviewed study by the RSPB found that survival of tagged hen harriers in the UK was very low, with birds living on average for only four months.  As much as 75% of the annual mortality of tagged birds was due to illegal killing associated with grouse moor management. The conservation charity said that if this relentless killing continues, the future of these rare and threatened birds is at serious risk in the UK.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However, the report also found hen harriers were not the only species being targeted. It highlighted a significant case where a young white-tailed eagle from the UK government-licenced reintroduction scheme on the Isle of Wight was confirmed to have been poisoned - on a shooting estate in West Sussex. This was the first case of this species being illegally killed in England since their extinction due to persecution in the 18th Century.

The RSPB also said existing wildlife protection laws were failing to protect birds of prey, acting neither as a deterrent nor as an appropriate punishment for the crimes committed. There were just two successful convictions for raptor persecution crimes in 2022, with both individuals being gamekeepers. Disappointingly, in one case, where multiple birds of prey were shot or poisoned – the gamekeeper received a 200-hour community order and was ordered to pay just £1,200 in fines, costs and compensation.

"Sadly, once again, the report documents the shameful illegal killing of rare and vulnerable birds of prey, an important part of our natural heritage," RSPB chief operating officer James Robinson said. "Given the correlation in location between birds of prey persecution and land under game management, the RSPB is calling for greater regulation of shooting, in particular intensive forms of grouse shooting. A Bill to introduce licensing of grouse moors in Scotland to stop raptor persecution is now moving ahead and we need a similar response in England”.   

The RSPB is calling for grouse shooting in England to be licensed - and following similar measures now being introduced by the Scottish Government - for a law overhaul to provide a meaningful deterrent to illegally killing birds of prey.