RSPB Bird Crime Report – the GWCT response

By Andrew Gilruth, GWCT Director of Communications

Another fall in the number of reported incidents of wildlife crime is welcomed by the GWCT. All those involved in reducing wildlife crime should be congratulated on achieving this downward trend. The police’s National Wildlife Crime Unit and the many organisations that support their Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) initiative should be proud of this achievement.

The RSPB report reveals that there were 46 confirmed incidents involving birds of prey and owls last year. As the table below shows, more needs to be done by all sides to tackle both crime and providing solutions to remedy land use conflicts with wildlife. For more detail on these numbers, see here.

Bird Crime Graph

The GWCT is working to understand why predators are illegally killed (Langholm Project) and what management approaches, including additional licensed management, would lead to less crime. Our active involvement in the Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan is a mark of our commitment to ensuring good conservation status for predators and prey species alike.

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RSPB Birdcrime Report

at 21:47 on 11/11/2017 by Kelvin Thomson

It is ridiculous to conflate “solutions are needed for land use conflicts with Wildlife” with Wildlife Crime as summarised in the report. Birds of prey are fully protected under Wildlife law so regardless of any perceived “conflict” killing them is illegal and therefore completely unjustifiable in any shape or form. The sooner the shooting sector accepts this the less likely that additional, burdensome regulation will be imposed on them!

Re: RSPB Bird Crime Report

at 13:27 on 08/11/2017 by Andrew Gilruth - GWCT

Duncan – your former conservation director, Mark Avery, has admitted the RSPB were wrong to believe there was no conflict. Others also see this as a case of wildlife conflict (2011 JNCC paper, Elston et al 2014, 2015 Conflicts in Conservation etc). Conservationists around the world have established that such conflicts require a remedy to unlock them (as per Defra’s plan) not further regulation (as the 2017 Birdlife report demonstrates) and we look forward to the discussion about the social, economic and environmental sustainability of maintaining moorlands in the context of the Scottish Government review.

RSPB Bird Crime Report

at 19:59 on 07/11/2017 by Duncan Orr-Ewing

Andrew, thank you for clarifying what you meant in the original blog, as the present tense in your text suggested to me that you were referring to the just-ended Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, which is now in the write up phase, and with a final report to be published in due course. With regards the Joint Raptor Study from the 1990s, you mention just one aspect of this comprehensive study's findings. Your readers would be advised to see the whole picture set out in the joint GWCT/RSPB statement on this important piece of research, including the historical perspective with loss of moorland habitats at Langholm, and what happened on other reference moors?. You could provide a link to this document? Likewise the 2017 Birdlife Report which you highlight accurately as stating that the trend for illegal killing of raptors in the UK is "unknown". We do know though from a number of peer reviewed scientific research studies that the rate of this illegal killing is sufficient to limit significantly the populations of a number of raptor species (eg. golden eagles, peregrines, hen harriers and red kites) in certain parts of the UK (mostly grouse moor areas); and also from national raptor population surveys that these same species are often absent as breeding birds on grouse moors despite suitable habitat. As we agree, it is very difficult to establish precise levels of birds killed, although helpfully satellite tagging is providing much more detail these days. The recent SNH report on the fate of satellite tagged golden eagles, and the use of this reliable technology, is now shedding light on a truly appalling situation. GWCT would do well to acknowledge this evidence, so that the debate can move on in a more constructive way? Despite your assertions about lack of knowledge about trends in raptor killing in your comments to my original post, you then infer a "downward trend" in raptor killing in your blog above based on number of incidents reported. I think that if you had spoken to your GWCT scientific team before posting, they would have agreed that no statistical trend can be taken from these reported incident figures by the RSPB, as they are based on annual chance finds and reporting of dead birds. In Scotland, we have a good term for your inconsistent approach, we call it "havering"! You also refer to "wildlife conflict" in your blog, clearly a "smokescreen" term to cover up more sinister facts. The illegal killing of birds of prey is crime, and you might get some more respect from people for recognising that fact? I note also in your response to my post that you apparently have nothing to say about the reputational impact of the illegal killing of raptors on sport shooting, which has been rightly acknowledged just recently by some of the more forward thinking leaders in your sector. BASC also acknowledged the scale of illegal killing. In Scotland, we will shortly be having an independent enquiry into how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law. This is very welcome and we hope that it will result in a workable system of licensing for driven grouse shooting, with appropriate checks and balances to protect public interests. Licensing systems for hunting are prevalent across most of Europe and good systems can provide safeguards also for responsible hunters practicing their legitimate recreational activity. We note some good public conversations now in Scotland, involving also those with an interest in gamebird shooting, about how an effective licensing system for driven grouse shooting might work for all parties. Will GWCT be part of that constructive debate? Finally (and as you know), the movement of Montagu's and hen harriers in France, nesting in crops, is specifically designed to protect broods of young from harvesting machinery. The scheme is designed to benefit the species concerned, which would otherwise be killed accidentally. You then conflate this activity with proposed brood management measures in England, designed to prevent the deliberate criminal killing of hen harriers by individuals who understand the law and should know better. Surely it would be easier to stop the criminal activity, and tolerate some predation by hen harriers and other raptors, especially when grouse moors are now experiencing record numbers of grouse to shoot?

Re: Langholm Project

at 15:44 on 07/11/2017 by Andrew Gilruth - GWCT

Duncan – welcome. Langholm Moor has indeed helped us understand motives behind illegal killing. As Dr Mark Avery (RSPB Conservation Director 1998-2011) confessed in his 2012 autobiography “we at the RSPB used to hold, in all honesty, to the view that a few hen harriers scattered around the uplands weren’t going to present a great threat to driven grouse shooting and that the grouse moor managers’ fears were greatly exaggerated. We were wrong. It was the Langholm Study, more properly called the Joint Raptor Study, that showed how wrong we were.” As the Police have long said, illegal killing in remote areas is hard to detect and hence why the focus must be on resolving the wildlife conflict. Sadly the Diversionary Feeding trial at the subsequent Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (LMDP), sometimes called Langholm 2, did not work well enough to resolve the conflict (see the LMDP seven year review for more) and this is why we support Defra’s Hen Harrier Recovery Plan (something the RSPB asked Defra to produce) because it includes both policing measures and others such as a legal brood management scheme (like the one used in France for twenty years) to ensure hen harrier and grouse thrive in the interests of each other. We also agree the RSPB bird crime report only tells part of the story. For example, it omits to mention that in the UK section of the 2017 Bird Life report (written in consultation with the RSPB) that the trend in the scale of illegal killing in the UK is “unknown”. It also estimated the number of birds killed in the UK at 300-14,500. Which is similar to saying ‘we just don’t know’. The report also highlights the limitations of resolving wildlife conflict through licensing and enforcement. Some of the countries with “comprehensive” legislation have some of the highest levels of illegal killing.

Langholm Project

at 15:42 on 07/11/2017 by Duncan Orr-Ewing

The Langholm (Moor Demonstration) Project is not "working to understand why predators are illegally killed" as stated. You need to be more accurate. Instead, it is explicitly a demonstration project with key objectives set out in a Project Plan. These objectives include restoring economic driven grouse shooting to benefit moorland breeding bird species, whilst also protecting native raptor species, such as hen harriers (the notified feature of the local SPA). It has also trialled legal means for resolving the concerns of grouse moor managers around raptor predation of grouse, including a successful method of diversionary feeding of hen harriers. More widely, it would also be helpful if GWCT, like BASC, could recognize the impact of the illegal killing of raptors on the reputation of sport shooting. Whilst these crimes are hard to detect, given that they often take place in remote areas, there is now a wealth of good evidence to suggest these crimes are still widespread; for example the very recent SNH report on the fate of satellite tagged golden eagles in Scotland published in 2017. GWCT, as a scientific organization, should surely be taking into account all relevant evidence, and such scrutiny would reveal that the raptor "body count" set out in Birdcrime only tells part of the story. Time for a more honest debate from GWCT?

RSBP Crime Report

at 12:31 on 07/11/2017 by Nickerless

This is looking down the wrong end of the telescope. The problem is that the laws that we have all been landed with in the UK are ludicrous. Predators - Good Prey - who cares. We seem to be hell bent on destoying all our food chains. The larger the predators the better. The latest craze is Lynx. Next it will be wolves, wolverines and bears and who knows wild aurochs. The fact that there will be nothing for them to eat seems to have bypassed the general mass of the populace as represented by the RSPB. We have replaced 5 million skylarks (Killed of course by those dastardly farmers. They could possibly have been eaten by predators could they?) with 20 thousand swans The list is endless. All the small animals are disappearing and being replaced by the large (larger the better?) predators. There is not a thougfht given to hedgeogs or the ground nesting wasps and bees or ground nesting anything for that matter. Badgers are far more important. Yes of course agriculture has a huge part to play. We desperately need more unkempt hedges and smaller fields and a greater variety of management of the ground. The monocultures of anything including grasses has a lot to answer for in wildlife terms but growing ever more food has been the priority to feed the ever growing human population for the past several hundred years. It can't go on but we have been saying that for a very long time. Are we running out of phosphate and potash? Again we have been saying that for a long time. We have been simplifying the food chains almost since agriculture began. So what are the answers. Intensively managed small fields separated by managed wildlife habitats in between the fields. If the answer was simple we would have come up with the answer long ago. The ultimate answer though is nastier but in the end inevitable. Get rid of at least ½ of the world's population. That could mean you and me! This has come a long way from the stupid RSPB survey but that survey only demonstrates a complete lack of any joined up thinking.

RSPB Crime Report

at 11:34 on 07/11/2017 by John Clements

Whilst the data presents some pretty awful statistics, and I am not condoning them; it would be interesting to hear what the population densities of the birds killed by gamekeepers actually is in the key areas of persecution and the impact that those birds have in those areas in a broader view of wildlife. Especially in the light of the Langholm project.

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