Operation Raptor – new initiative to catch raptor killers in Northern Ireland

A new, multi-agency initiative has been launched in Northern Ireland aimed at targeting those who continue to kill birds of prey.

Operation Raptor was launched at the weekend and will run indefinitely across the country. The idea is to identify raptor persecution ‘hot spots’ and widely distribute a campaign poster throughout those areas to not only encourage the public to report suspicious incidents but also to warn offenders that their crimes will be prosecuted.

Operation Raptor poster PSNI

Operation Raptor is a partnership initiative between the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and members of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAWNI) Raptor Subgroup, which includes the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, RSPB, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland, Agri-food and Biosciences Institute and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

This new campaign is a direct result of the report that the PAWNI Raptor Subgroup published last November (see here) which documented crimes against raptors in Northern Ireland between 2009-2013. The data revealed several persecution hot spots and it is these that will be targeted first. As more hot spots are identified, so the focus of attention will follow.

This campaign is a good example of real proactive partnership working and all credit to those involved.

Can we expect to see something similar being rolled out in raptor persecution hot spots across England and Scotland? It’s highly unlikely – membership of the English & Scottish PAW Raptor Groups is dominated by organisations from the game-shooting industry, some of whose members are repeatedly at the centre of raptor persecution investigations. Although interestingly, in the Operation Raptor press release there’s the following quote from Chief Inspector Martin Simms, head of the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit:

The NWCU welcomes the Operation Raptor initiative for Northern Ireland. Focused work to tackle these horrible crimes in hot-spot areas seems to be a logical step forward, as exemplified in Operation Raptor. This reflects the approach in the rest of the United Kingdom where “hot-spot Counties” have been identified so action can be targeted for a more effective use of resources. Such impactive posters as Operation Raptor will hopefully make people understand the effect of these crimes and the suffering that is caused to such beautiful animals. I hope it will encourage people to report such wildlife crime”.

Yes Martin, raptor persecution hot spots have long been identified in England and Scotland through the publication of the annual poisoning/persecution maps (e.g. see here and here), many of which just happen to be in areas where the land-use is dominated by driven grouse shooting. The question is, what tangible action has been undertaken within those hot spot areas to tackle these crimes?

Decision on SSPCA increased powers due “shortly”

sspca logoRegular blog readers will know all about the proposal to provide increased investigatory powers to the SSPCA to enable them to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crime than they already do. We’ve been blogging about it since February 2011 when it was first suggested by former MSP Peter Peacock (see here for a timeline of events since then).

The public consultation on this issue closed 18 months ago in September 2014 but still no decision has been announced.

On 3rd February 2016, the cross-party Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment (RACCE) Committee wrote to Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod to ask for an update. The Committee said:

In your response to the Committee’s letter on the Annual Report 2013, you indicated you would keep the Committee updated on developments with regard to a response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the extension of powers in wildlife crime investigation to the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA). To date, the Committee has not received an update and the Scottish Government has not published its conclusions resulting from the consultation. The Committee requests details of when your analysis and conclusions from the consultation will be published, and expects this to be in good time for the Committee to include this in its legacy report to its successor committee(s)“.

We’re not sure when the Committee’s Legacy Report is due to be completed but would guess that it’s imminent as the Scottish Parliament dissolves at midnight on 23rd March in preparation for the election on 5th May 2016.

On 25th February 2016, Environment Minister Dr McLeod wrote back to the RACCE Committee and said this about the SSPCA consultation:

The analysis of the consultation results were published on 22 January 2015. I appreciate that this proposal has been under consideration for some time. It does however raise some complex issues as you will have heard from ACC Graham when he gave evidence on the matter during the Committee’s session on the 2014 Wildlife Crime Annual Report. I have some further matters to clarify with the SSPCA, however I do hope to be able to report on the Scottish Government’s position on this issue shortly“.

The issues raised really aren’t complex at all. We’ve been through them over and over again – here’s a summary. The bottom line is, does this Scottish Government want to use every available mechanism to crack down on wildlife crime, and particularly on illegal raptor persecution, as it so often claims, or not? We’re about to find out…

Our 6th birthday

Where does the time go?

It’s been another good year for our little blog as we edge towards 1.8 million blog views. That’s amazing, and it’s thanks to you all for reading, commenting, sharing, re-tweeting etc.


Our readership is a diverse bunch, mostly from within the UK but with growing audiences in mainland Europe, North America and beyond. The message that illegal raptor persecution is still rampant in some parts of the UK, and particularly on driven grouse moors, is steadily spreading. A significant number of journalists now follow this blog and we’ve also seen a small increase in the number of political advisors (in both Holyrood & Westminster) who have subscribed. They’re paying attention, but whether their bosses are listening is another matter.

Here are our top ten most viewed posts during the last year:

  1. Now THAT’S a deterrent!
  2. Langholm hen harrier ‘Annie’ found shot dead on a Scottish grouse moor.
  3. George Mutch sentenced to four months in prison.
  4. Stody Estate receives £221,000 subsidy penalty for mass raptor poisoning.
  5. The red grouse and medicated grit scandal: it’s hard to swallow.
  6. Desperate days as 5th male hen harrier ‘disappears’.
  7. More mountain hares slaughtered in the Angus Glens.
  8. Scottish gamekeeper fined £2,000 for killing a buzzard.
  9. Masked gunmen caught on camera attacking goshawk nest in Cairngorms National Park.
  10. Gas-gun bird scarers deployed on Leadhills Estate grouse moor.

Thank you for your continued support. Let’s see what 2016 brings…..there may be a few surprises in store…