Police search grouse moors as raptor persecution crimes surge during lockdown

RSPB press release (15 May 2020)

Bird of prey persecution crimewave during lockdown

  • The RSPB has received a surge in reports of birds of prey being illegally killed since lockdown began 
  • The majority of incidents have been on or close to sporting estates managed for game bird shooting 
  • The public are being asked to stay vigilant and report crimes against birds of prey 

The RSPB’s Investigations Unit has been ‘overrun’ with reports of birds of prey being illegally killed in recent weeks.

Police have been called out to investigate multiple cases involving the shooting, trapping and suspected poisoning of birds of prey following reports by the public.

The RSPB is currently aware of many confirmed incidents involving the targeting of birds of prey involving hen harriers, peregrines, buzzards, red kites, goshawks and a barn owl in the last six weeks. Amongst the cases being dealt with by the police are a number of significant ongoing investigations on land managed for grouse shooting.

[A bleak, ecologically devastated landscape of intensively managed driven grouse moors, photo by Ruth Tingay]

On 29 March a buzzard was found shot at Shipton, near York. Its wing was fractured in two places and an x-ray revealed several pieces of shot within the bird’s body. Thanks to the care of a local wildlife expert the buzzard recovered and was released.

Over the Easter Weekend, a red kite was found shot dead near Leeds. It had 12 shotgun pellets lodged in its body.

The following weekend, wildlife presenter Iolo Williams recovered a dead red kite in Powys, which had been shot. Reports also came in of a further two shot red kites in the area, which is managed for pheasant shooting.

And in Scotland, the police are following up several raptor persecution cases and multiple reports of illegal trap use on grouse moors.

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said:  “Since lockdown began, the RSPB has been overrun with reports of birds of prey being targeted. It is clear that criminals on some sporting estates both in the uplands and lowlands, have used the wider closure of the countryside as an opportunity to ramp up their efforts to kill birds of prey. 

Spring is the time when birds of prey are most visible and therefore vulnerable, as they put on courtship displays, build nests and find food ready to breed. It is clear the criminal actions are targeted and malicious in nature, taking out birds before they have the opportunity to breed, often in areas where they have previously faced persecution. 

We welcome the fact that the public is remaining vigilant and encourage any suspicious incidents to be reported. But please observe government guidelines at all times.”

[An illegally poisoned buzzard. Photo by RSPB]

Superintendent Nick Lyall, head of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, said:  “Over recent weeks, I have been sickened by the number of raptor persecution cases that have come to my attention as chair of the Raptor Persecution Delivery Group. I know that there are officers currently investigating a number of crimes against wild birds of prey which have occurred since lockdown began. 

It is clear that lockdown has been seen as a green light by those involved in raptor persecution offences to continue committing crimes, presumably in the belief that there are fewer people around to catch them doing so.  

I remain grateful to everyone involved in investigating these crimes, and thankfully in the vast majority of the cases I am aware of, it looks like some really good lines of enquiry are taking place which should lead to arrests and interviews.

If you have any information about birds of prey being killed in your area, call the police on 101 or the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline: 0300 999 0101.


The game-shooting industry’s supposed stance of ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution is going well, then.

There’ll be more news about the lockdown raptor persecution surge later today.


BBC News website is running a piece with a quote from Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association) who essentially ignores the surge in reported crime and bleats the mantra that grouse moors are great for raptors (see here)

The Guardian has an article that includes more detail on the reported crimes, including 15 confirmed shot birds and 24 others submitted for further postmortem analysis after suspected illegal killing (see here)

The RSPB’s Investigations Team has published the press release (here) along with this illuminating table:

UPDATE 20 May 2020: Game-shooting industry displays zero credibility in fight against raptor persecution (here)

UPDATE 29 May 2020: RSPB provides update on raptor persecution surge during Coronavirus lockdown (here)

30 thoughts on “Police search grouse moors as raptor persecution crimes surge during lockdown”

  1. 1 Write to your MSP or MP. Call on them to support EDM 139 which is calling for permanent funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit (which provides training for WC Officers). The web link is:


    2 Check you have a Wildlife Crime Officer in your area. If not – write to your MSP or MP calling for an officer to be appointed.

    3 If you live in England, and you can do so safely, go out and check the estates for traps, snares, stink pits or other illegal or revolting activities. Record, report and share those incidents.

    4 Volunteer for or support your local wildlife rescue or conservation centre.

    5 Support Wild Justice and the other great organisations uncovering and challenging these crimes.

    We must shame these people. We must pressure them. We must expose them for the vile thugs they are!

    1. Wildlife Crime Officers need support and reinforcement but more importantly need to be fit for purpose not allegedly collutional with or turning a blind eye to those who break the law unless they are working undercover.

      [Ed: link deleted as we cannot verify the accuracy of the allegations against named individuals]

  2. There is a sad inevitability to all this, it was always predictable that this would happen, as it did in 2001 during the F&M closing of the countryside. The dark side are irredeemable and rife throughout game management despite the protestations of their organisations that this is rare and not tolerated. Time the whole thing of driven game shooting was kicked in to the oblivion of history it deserves, as the “good guys” in the cabal do nothing about this and provide a screen of ever thinning respectability for the slaughter.

  3. I wonder if there really has been a surge or is it simply there’s more people spending time walking in their local vicinity and finding the evidence?

    1. You do mean people spending LESS time walking in their local vicinity. Or, do you think that the Government statistics are all lies?

  4. Since there’s hardly anyone except gamekeepers or ‘land managers’ wandering about on our denuded wastelands AKA grouse moors, it should be a pretty simple task for the police to work out who the prime suspects are.

    1. And with access to guns, traps, snares, poison, over-land vehicles etc! Motive, equipment, victims!

  5. I have been monitoring a pair of Red Kite on a grouse moor near to my home. During this lockdown period I have noticed a huge amount of keeper activity in that area.
    Last week I watched as keepers eradicated an entire jackdaw colony from one of the wooded valleys. During the same period the Red Kites have mysteriously disappeared, and despite repeated searches over the entire moor I can find no trace of them.
    Likewise, another local reported to me that a pair of Buzzards, which had been nesting in the same valley as the Jackdaws have also vanished.

    Yesterday I found a Jackdaw in a Larsen trap- the bird was in a dishevelled state and there was no water in the dispenser- which wasn’t even suitable for wild birds. This was reported to the police.
    I have long suspected one keeper working in that area was a individual of immense cruelty and wickedness, and there is now evidence starting to surface which supports this suspicion.

    As far as I am concerned what has happened over the last few weeks has shown the true insidious nature of many gamekeepers.
    There will be some law abiding keepers out there, but they seem so reluctant to “whistleblow” on those committing cruel and criminal acts- that this suggests they have lost any notion of “professionalism” and “responsibility”?

    The Moorland Association appears to have failed in any attempt to govern the actions of some of its members.

    I do feel sorry for those landowners who are trying to do everything right, and who do work hard on genuine conservation projects – but unless they want to be tarred with the same brush – they must speak out against the badly managed estates.

    It seems the only way forward now will be to report to the police every incident of lawlessness, not just wildlife crimes- but other breaches of legislation; whether that is road traffic offences such as riding their unregistered and unlicensed “off road quad bikes” down the country lanes. Or firearms offences such as having a loaded shotgun in a public place- this will include travelling on public roads with a loaded shotgun in a vehicle or attached to the handlebars of a quad bike (it should be possible to monitor and watch whether a keeper loads a shotgun when he alights from a vehicle?), or any shooting which takes place within 50ft of the centre of a highway and that includes footpaths or bridleways.

    To quote an old expression “there are many ways to skin a cat”- and its time we made life very uncomfortable for those individuals who have used the absence of the public in our countryside to commit criminal acts against our wildlife. Hopefully the police will play their part and follow up reports of illegal acts- however minor the breaches of legislation appear to be. This is the tactic used against other aspects of criminality, and it now has to be used against the criminal fraternity acting in our countryside. Hopefully the police’s public statements about getting tough on crime – will extend to wildlife crimes?

    To be “angered to action” perhaps describes how I feel at the moment.

    1. Relax – none of this is really happening. The Moorland Assoc are on top of things and in fact we are being inundated with raptors of all shapes and sizes.

      “The Moorland Association (MA), whose members include many shooting estates in England and Wales, said it condemned illegal activity.

      The MA’s Director, Amanda Anderson, said: “The reports we have from our members in the uplands have suggested that many birds of prey are in fact benefiting from the lockdown restrictions and the subsequent reduction in disturbance from members of the public.

      Estates across the country have reported a number of raptors including peregrine, merlin and hen harriers nesting and living on those landscapes.”

      RSPB and the police, or the MA who condemn but tolerate wildlife crime – who do you believe? A couple of arrests at this time would be more than interesting especially as raptor persecution is now widely covered in the media.

  6. To be expected, in the midst of the nesting season most of the chicks dead too. And these are just the reported ones. There is a new, very ambitious petition on .gov.uk that has not had a great deal of publicity I feel . https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/300222 perhaps all the readers on here will sign & share. The timing of this news with this petition is spot on. Thank you

  7. As I never tire of saying, these people commit these crimes because they can get away with it – and at the moment they think they have even more chance of getting away with it. Some police officers and other authorities [including judges and sheriffs] need to be more aware of the fact that they are routinely being lied to and often by supposedly respectable members of the community.

  8. One other notable increase is the surge in urban wildlife crime, swans etc being shot with air guns. Now of course this, per say, isn’t connected to game shooting, BUT since people’s movements have been restricted these scrotes with air guns haven’t suddenly bought them and discovered parks and ponds. These people have no respect for the countryside or wildlife they just get a kick inflicting hurt on living things smaller than themselves.

    So before lockdown they obviously have been taking their habits elsewhere, no doubt further afield where their activities are tolerated and perhaps welcomed (Now what type of land use would want to grant these type of people access?)

    1. Indeed, Mike. I would, however, suggest that (legality aside) the only differences beween scum with airguns and scum with shotguns are the clothes they wear, and the fact that the former don’t insult our intelligence by masquerading as “conservationists”. Your statement – “These people have no respect for the countryside or wildlife they just get a kick inflicting hurt on living things smaller than themselves.” – applies equally to both elements. The motivation is no different.

    2. Definitely!!! The bastards that used to swagger about with airguns shooting anything that moved were one of the banes of my 1970s Scottish council estate childhood, the kids that spent their time looking for birds’ nests to smash eggs and trample chicks were another. The Xbox and PS3 have helped cut the latter and the former have become a bit more circumspect – usually – but the ignorance and cruelty hasn’t gone away. When I look at the comments from keepers on social media they very much remind me of the those social inadequates, twisted fuck ups who took it out on animals by torturing and killing them. It’s laughable how they try to portray the typical keeper as a softly spoken, nature loving gentleman in tweed, pretty puke inducing actually. How many keepers have been convicted for their involvement in badger baiting and dog fighting? How does that compare with the proportion of say estate agents, opticians, teachers that have been done for it?

  9. Interesting statement from John L about keepers eradicating an entire jackdaw colony. I wonder what the reply might be if they were asked what the justification for this was and what other solutions they had tried to address this that had failed.

    1. That occurred to me too. I guess John L would have to do a Land Registry search first to find out the name of the land owner before enquiring with Scottish Natural Heritage or Natural England (whichever jurisdiction applied) whether the estate had a license to do so and, if they did, whether they had complied with the terms of the license. Is that how you would go about it?

    2. My thoughts exactly- I assume they would be using the General Licence as a defence to killing wild birds? And as such the provisions of the GL would apply? – But I suspect that as gas guns have appeared on nearby moors in the last couple of weeks- the claim will be – “we deployed gas guns as a non lethal method- this failed- so we had to resort to killing the birds as allowed by the GL”? A nice weakness in the legislation which can so easily be exploited??

      Having just read the updated figures published by the RSPB of 56 birds of prey known to have been killed- this will be just the tip of the iceberg – this is a national disgrace- it should be a major story in the national media- and the landowners of the land on which these crimes have occurred should be publicly named, and made to hang their heads in shame. At a time when the country was in lockdown – the only movement on those moors will have been gamekeepers – so it is no good any of the shooting brigade trying to point the finger elsewhere – these crimes are simply the work of criminals who hide in the murky world of grouse moor management. Something that should now be brought to wider public’s attention through concerted national media coverage – which no doubt will cause anger and outrage?

      1. Good contribution John – spot on.

        It is not hard to engender anger and outrage in the shooting industry – it is a noted consequence of digesting too much lead !

      2. Most if not all moorland in England is either SPA or SSSI I would enquire of NE if the moor in question has permission to use gas guns, most do not. I’m also lead to believe that no estates in SPA/SSSIs have had licences to control corvids granted. Again worth a follow up.

  10. All sadly entirely predictable given the widespread contempt for basic wildlife laws within the driven shooting community

  11. The question still arises with the killing of the jackdaws as to what they were trying to protect. Wild birds? Doubtful. Serious damage to crops or livestock? Doubtful. If the latter, would they refer the questioner to a farmer for justification?

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