RSPB’s perspective on DEFRA’s useless raptor persecution maps

Last week we blogged about the publication of DEFRA’s latest raptor persecution maps (2011-2015), as developed by the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG).

We were highly critical of the maps (here) because we considered them to be inaccurate and out of date, difficult to navigate, and we argued that they would not, as DEFRA had claimed, help tackle wildlife crime. It was our opinion that DEFRA had published these useless maps as a desperate attempt, in the face of growing public concern, to make it look like it was actually doing something to tackle illegal raptor persecution.

The Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF), a member of the RPPDG, shared many of our concerns and publicly distanced itself from the maps (see here).

One of our main concerns about DEFRA’s useless maps was the amount of missing data (i.e. incidents that had been deliberately excluded, such as poisoned baits) and we said we would contact the RSPB to ask how many raptor persecution incidents they had recorded during the same period, for comparison.

It’s now very apparent that we were right to have concerns, not just about the poor quality of the maps but also of the dysfunctionality of the RPPDG, which, remember, is supposed to be a working partnership, but when you read the RSPB’s comments (below) and the statement from NERF, it’s pretty clear that the RPPDG is yet another partnership-working sham.

Many thanks to the RSPB’s Senior Investigations Officer Guy Shorrock who sent us the following insights yesterday:

Dear Raptor Persecution Scotland

Further to your email of the 15 December 2017 asking for details of confirmed raptor persecution data recorded by the RSPB from 2011 to 2015 inclusive I can provide the following information.

For this five year period we have 309 confirmed raptor persecution incidents, 106 of which are pesticide related incidents. Other than the pesticide incidents sourced through the government’s Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS), nearly all of this data (shooting/trapping) for the RPPDG map was supplied by the RSPB. In overview, the RPPDG map has 262 data points, the difference from the RSPB 309 data points is due to: –

  • RSPB has 106 confirmed bird of prey poison incidents vs only 66 plotted on the RPPDG map (see below re WIIS data)
  • Thirteen confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents supplied by RSPB were not included as they did not fit the group’s criteria
  • A few errors in how the RSPB supplied data has been displayed – (there are 6 more incidents than there should be on the map, as four of the incidents we provided have been plotted as ten).

Data from WIIS for this period has been plotted at 66 incidents on the RPPDG map.  RSPB have the same WIIS data as representing 106 incidents, the two main reasons for this difference are that: –

1) incidents such as poisoned baits have not been included on the RPPDG map, and

2) the toxicology data supplied by WIIS has not been separated out into individual wildlife crime incidents.

RSPB use consistent spatial and temporal rules to decide how raptor persecution incidents should be recorded. This same method is applied to the WIIS toxicology data to produce wildlife crime incidents. The Glanusk case you mention in your blog provides a good example. During 2012 and 2013 a number of poison baits and victims were discovered on the Glanusk Estate, Wales over a twelve month period at a number of different locations. Using our rules we have mapped this as a total of 13 incidents. The RPPDG map has not included the poison baits and has grouped the raptor victims into a single incident.

RPPDG members, with the exception of NERF, had agreed the following phrase within a statement to go with the map ‘The inclusion of all categories of confirmed raptor persecution incidents (including e.g. poison baits, confirmed attempted incidents) will be considered for future updates’. We are disappointed that this clarification was not included and only became aware of this omission when the Defra media release was actually put out. I have tried to call Defra this morning to ask why this was omitted but have been unable to contact the relevant person. We were also surprised to see that Defra had linked the RPPDG map as a tool to support their Hen Harrier Action Plan. We were not aware that this was their intention, this was not part of the prepared RPPDG statement, and RSPB do not accept this is a valid claim.

RSPB believes that joint initiatives that help raise the awareness of raptor persecution are highly worthwhile and has invested significant time and resource supporting the NWCU and NE in the production of the RPPDG map. However, we do not accept the claim that this map by itself will enable the police in England and Wales to crack down on enforcement where it is needed most, as it is not providing anything we didn’t know already. RSPB has been publishing maps and details of confirmed incidents for over 20 years, in addition there is a huge amount of intelligence information gathered by RSPB and the statutory agencies plus a wide range of published work on raptor ecology and links to persecution. For example, it is clear that land on and around intensively managed grouse moors in the north of England are areas where species such as hen harrier and peregrine falcon are most at risk from persecution.

We believe the production of reliable and publicly accessible raptor persecution maps is a valuable initiative. Going forward, we hope future maps will include all raptor persecution incidents and that the toxicology results from WIIS will be properly categorised into wildlife crime incident data. Maps should also clarify whether any data has been omitted.

In order to make meaningful inroads into this difficult problem, the RSPB believe the key issue for the government to address is improving accountability on sporting estates. Key recommendations mentioned in our recent Birdcrime report include: –

‘Introduce a system of licensing for driven grouse shooting. Self-regulation has been given a chance but is not working. Therefore we propose introducing a fair set of rules in the form of a licensing system and code of practice, underpinned by law, to ensure shoots are operating legally and sustainably. This would also provide an effective deterrent to criminal activity, including loss of a licence to shoot in the most serious cases’.

‘Ensure shoot owners and managers can be held accountable for the actions of their gamekeepers by extending the vicarious liability legislation employed in Scotland to the rest of the UK’.

Just for the record, our first Birdcrime type annual report started in 1990, and first map of confirmed persecution incidents was in the 1994 report. I have attached a map of confirmed raptor persecution incidents from 1990 to 2016 (including RSPB & WIIS data) – this has 2545 data points (incidents for which we have a grid reference). As these are just the very tip of the iceberg, it is a rather sobering thought that there will undoubtedly have been tens of thousands of undiscovered and unreported confirmed incidents during this same period.

Guy Shorrock, RSPB Senior Investigations Officer


17 thoughts on “RSPB’s perspective on DEFRA’s useless raptor persecution maps”

  1. [Ed: Message to Richard Towers, well known internet troll. Your comment has been deleted. If you’d like to provide evidence, actual evidence, for your various allegations, then we’ll consider publishing them. If you think we’ll just publish your general trolling comments, you are sadly mistaken. And that goes for the rest of your troll pals, too. Happy Xmas]

  2. Excellent! Clear and backed up with strong data. Well done RSPB and Guy in particular. I do get a bit fed up with the “RSPB-bashing” that goes on – from it’s own side. No, they don’t always get it right, but they are on the right side and have a difficult line to tread, especially being a charity. They are a great many powerful people out there who would love to see them brought down. A question: can I copy and share the map and legend above separately from your blog post, please (i.e. on my homepage)?

    1. There is another side to the “RSPB-bashing” coin, which I prefer to think of as constructive criticism. I have profound respect for the organisation, especially those individual staff members who do sterling work, particularly in the line of investigating and exposing wildlife crime. However it has to be said (again) that some criticism is justified over their tendency to ignore pleas made “from its own side” to take a firmer stance in principle against grouse shooting per se, as well as its negative impacts on biodiversity and the environment. It does seem hypocritical to claim to be fostering care for wildlife and the countryside, yet by their silence effectively condoning activities which have the opposite effect. I know they aren’t fooled by the game shooting bodies claim to be “true” conservationists, with all their attendant lies about managing habitats to encourage thriving wader populations and so on, which we all know is utterly false. The only excuse I ever hear the RSPB coming up with to explain their inaction, over the cruel exploitation of wildlife by killing birds and other animals for fun, is that shooting is legitimate. That is feeble. The slave trade used to be legitimate. Why can’t they come into line with the feelings of most of their million members and campaign against these cruel so-called sports? If it’s really down to the fact that their Royal Charter prohibits criticism of “legitimate field sports”, then perhaps its time to think again about the ethics and worthiness of the charter. Some, possibly a majority of its members, believe the clause in question to be an anachronism which inhibits progress and modern thinking.

  3. It beggars belief that Defra/RPPDG thought that they could get away with publishing half-baked information. They must have been aware that more accurate data was held and would come to lightt. Well done RSPB.

    1. Yep, absolutely right, Dylanben. As Guy points out, nearly all the shooting/trapping data was provided by the RSPB, so it’s clear that the RPPDG has picked over these data and tried to remove as much as possible, because some incidents didn’t fit the “group’s criteria”, whatever that is.

        1. What was their criteria? Is there a way of finding out? I know we can get a sense of how limiting it actually was but it would be interesting to see it spelled out.

    2. For myself I don’t believe they actually published it, in the normal sense of the word. A search on their home page failed to find it. I’d say they chose to bury it.

      With the un-anticipated result that any RSPB map will have wider circulation.

  4. The first question that strikes me is who made the changes (both by omission and addition) to the report noted by Guy Shorrock and why they did so. Time for an FoI request? I also strongly second Andy Mitchell’s comment regarding the RSPB. It ain’t perfect but the shooting community certainly knows who their most powerful and dangerous opponent is which why they keep trying to bring the RSPB down

  5. What this clearly shows and thank you Guy and RSPB, is why the DEFRA maps are inadequate and what really should have been produced. RPPDG is of course packed with game industry lobbying groups making the real task of tackling the scourge that is raptor persecution doubly difficult. NERF has already commented on this in their review of the DEFRA Hen Harrier recovery plan as follows.
    “In relation to Hen Harrier persecution it is clear that the greatest potential source of information
    is to be found from within the shooting industry. NERF expects the representatives of the
    industry to work tirelessly with their members to assist both local Police Forces and the NWCU
    to build the intelligence picture and assist with prosecuting offenders when they are put before
    the courts. NERF proposes that members of the RPPDG who cannot demonstrate compliance with this
    action should forfeit their position on the Group.”
    Surely any data to be considered by RPPDG should fit normal policing and Home Office guidelines it is worse than disappointing that these maps do not.

  6. It is on occasions like this that I feel totally vindicated in continuing to be a member of the RSPB. No other organisation can respond like this: with facts and total integrity.

  7. One of those red dots appears to be very close to the hen harrier southern release site, just north of SPTA. Or am I mistaken?

    1. No – you won’t find the details anywhere else but a few years ago three buzzards were shot near Pewsey, approximately where that red dot is

  8. lets be realistic here the RSPB are a propaganda machine only interested in boosting membership. so anything they say should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. I honestly don’t know why they are listened to. the maps are just a taster of what is really going on, the majority of raptor deaths go unrecorded, probably less than 10% are found. raptors are being slaughtered in the hundreds every year, on local farm shoots,

    1. Keith, your first two sentences are unwarranted and unfounded nonsense – and I speak as someone who worked for them for a number years. Their data is always soundly-based, no pinches of salt required. Not sure what your problem is there.

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