‘400% increase in illegal killing of birds of prey since lockdown’

Last night BBC Look Northwest had an excellent feature on the continued killing of birds of prey in the UK. It included interviews with Howard Jones from the RSPB Investigations Team, and everyone’s favourite persecution denier, Duncan Thomas from BASC.

The clip can be viewed here (starts 18.10 mins) but is only available until 7pm this evening (Thurs 4 June 2020). We’ve reproduced the transcript below:

BBC studio presenter: “The RSPB says it’s been overrun with reports that birds of prey have been illegally killed since lockdown began. It’s thought the quieter countryside has made it easier for criminals to target them. A recent case involved a buzzard which had been shot near Saddleworth. Here’s our environment correspondent Judy Hobson.”

Judy Hobson: “A buzzard, found in the Peak District three weeks ago. This x-ray shows it had been shot. It was found here on Saddleworth Moor. The RSPB say since lockdown began there’s been a 400% increase in the illegal killing of birds of prey”.

[The shot buzzard and its x-ray. Photo by Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group]

Howard Jones, RSPB: “Lochdown has kind of emboldened the criminals out there who want to kill birds of prey so they think with the restrictions that have been imposed there’ll be less people out in the countryside and there’s less chance of being caught”.

Judy Hobson: “Two birds were found dead in Cumbria last month, other birds targeted include hen harriers, peregrine falcons and red kites. It’s an issue that’s plagued the countryside for years and the RSPB has consistently pointed the finger at gamekeepers protecting young grouse”.

Howard Jones: “In two thirds of the prosecutions that have ended up in court for bird of prey persecution since 1990, two thirds of those have been gamekeepers”.

Judy Hobson: “The charity says the number of birds found dead since lockdown began equates to a bird being killed every single day”.

Duncan Thomas, BASC: “I really dispute these figures. I would love to have a proper investigation in to exactly where they’re coming from. The RSPB are using birds of prey as a cash cow. It’s not proportionate, effective investigation, we must let the police get on with their job. We will expel anybody who is convicted of a wildlife crime of this nature”.

Judy Hobson: “The RSPB says it stands by its figures and says the police are investigating every single incident. Campaign groups such as Wild Justice also believe more birds have been targeted since lockdown. But a row over figures perhaps distracts from an inherent problem which shows no sign of going away”.

Howard Jones: “These are majestic birds of prey and creatures that people come out in to the countryside to see and despite 65 years of legal protection they are still being targeted”.


UPDATE: Comment posted on blog 4/6/20 by Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations: ‘Whilst there has been 56 confirmed/potential raptor persecution offences during lockdown – RSPB did not make or recognise the 400% comment made by the presenter in this piece. We have sought clarification from the BBC‘.

33 thoughts on “‘400% increase in illegal killing of birds of prey since lockdown’”

  1. It makes you wonder if there is some twisted competition between individual estates as to who can kill the most Raptors during lockdown, amazed the usual deniers were not on country file on Sunday this is a situation even they are not hard faced enough to try and spin out of

    1. How completely embarrassing for all the shooting organisations, that their best speakers are simply failing when up against sound research and facts. Who next are they going to bundle to the front in order to try and win their lost cause? The rogues amongst them who keep on killing birds of prey in anger and spite are just accelerating the inevitable outcome.

  2. It’s very sad that the predictions of many raptor workers about how gamekeepers would occupy themselves during the lockdown were true. I’m sure the NGO/SGO etc can reassure us about how tirelessly they are working to deal with the illegal behaviour of a minority of bad apples within their ‘industry’.

    I remember meeting PC Duncan Thomas when he did a talk at an IEEM wildlife crime conference in 2009 in Leeds, and thought he was a reasonable person, how wrong can you be. It was disappointing when we found out who his real masters are.

    For anyone interested in a summary of pheasant release stats and their pros a cons there’s a short piece on BBC Radio 4’s More or Less programme here https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000jmm3 starting at 20 minutes.

  3. Duncan Thomas reverting to type,” “I really dispute these figures. I would love to have a proper investigation in to exactly where they’re coming from. The RSPB are using birds of prey as a cash cow.” If he doesn’t know the source of the figures how can he know whether they are disputable or not? this is classic spin trying to reduce the claims. He and all the other apologists should really know by now that RSPB are very strictly honest in this but hope that the general public will believe the doubts they cast. The cash cow argument is to put it bluntly bollocks, RSPB do not need dead raptors to raise money, it’s a piss poor claim from an intellectually bankrupt oaf.
    I have a good friend and colleague who thinks that DT is good for us every time he appears, I hope he is right. Me I didn’t trust or like Duncan as a wildlife cop and now he just another bloody handed apologist.
    It seems that Judy Hobson could see through the spin. I thought it was reasonable report although not sure about the studio background shots of Osprey, Eagle Owl and Rough legged Buzzard.
    Great Harrier shots though and that is part of the message about how wonderful these birds in reality are rather than a pathetic sad corpse.

    1. Agree Paul – whenever I speak to people without an interest or knowledge about this they always comment on how disingenuous DT comes across. His performance in this was more reined-in than the usual hammy, scenery-chewing performance he gives like the one on Channel Four last week. It’s a shame he wasn’t rolled out on Countryfile as well – I wonder why he wasn’t. More DT please.
      If there is an investigation like he proposes let’s hope someone with greater competence than he displayed when he was a policeman is involved.

      1. I remember DT when he was a wildlife police officer and he was a joke, he was totally wrong for the job as he never hid his allegiance to the shooting fraternity. Now he’s with BASC and doing a great job in these interviews of making them a laughing stock

    2. I agree with everything you write although I think it’s an American Great Horned Owl, not an Eagle Owl, in the studio background images.

      1. Thanks chaps, must pay more attention to background owls in future. I find DT obnoxious in the extreme and did when he was an alleged wildlife cop. Meeting him always made my skin crawl and my blood boil, may be he does that to lots of folk even on their TV screens. In which case yes can we have more of him please, may be that’s why somebody else did Countryfile.

    3. “The RSPB are using birds of prey as a cash cow”

      That is the argument put forward by some ‘birders’ on BirdGuides.

  4. It’s good to see the BBC carrying several reports on TV about this situation all of which, to varying degrees, were critical of and pointed the finger firmly at gamekeepers and game estates as being responsible for so much illegal persecution of raptors. It reflects a growing unease amongst the wider population with regard to wildlife crime and feeds into a wider perception, thanks to recent political events, that there’s an ‘elite’ in our society whose sense of entitlement and access to power means that they regard observing the law as an optional extra. What is now needed, rather than news driven stories, is an in-depth exposé from a flagship TV current affairs team. I’ve a feeling that the likes of Duncan Thomas will soon wilt under a probing cross examination rather than simply being given the opportunity to spout the party line.

  5. “In two thirds of the prosecutions that have ended up in court for bird of prey persecution since 1990, two thirds of those have been gamekeepers”.

    That is either a completely garbled statistic or the RSPB are saying that only 44% of prosecutions for raptor persecution are gamekeepers. I wonder what he meant?

    1. If you look at the statistics Keith two thirds of those convicted of crimes against birds of prey since 1990 are gamekeepers, we can surely forgive Howard for the verbal fumble.
      Couple that with the recent statement on Channel 4 News by Inspector Matt Hagan of NYP that all of the suspects in their current raptor crime investigations are grouse gamekeepers. Tells you most of what you need to know about the current situation concerning raptor persecution. Gives the lie to the zero tolerance claim of the shooting cabal organisations. Nobody seems to have asked them if they are co-operating with the police in these various investigations——— call me cynicaI but I rather doubt it.

    2. You know what he means: two thirds of prosecutions have been of gamekeepers. With friends like you nit-picking who needs enemies?

      1. Why not say what you mean? It is either ‘two thirds’ or it is ‘two thirds of two thirds”. Both are applicable, why should one be more obvious than the other in the written word? One is 66% and the other is 44%. I expect to speak clearly when interviewed on technical matters.

  6. Whilst there has been 56 confirmed/potential raptor persecution offences during lockdown – RSPB did not make or recognise the 400% comment made by the presenter in this piece. We have sought clarification from the BBC. Mark Thomas RSPB Head of Investigations

  7. Are Amanda and Tim self-isolating their mouths or just leaving it to the inept in BASC to take the lead and subsequent flak

  8. Anyone who kills raptors in an effort to protect money crop birds , or estates on which killed raptors are found should be charged and stopped rearing money crop birds AND heavily fined as they are destroyong the verg nature they say they are protecting..
    They ate toh lowest so the low and should be put out of business ans prevented ftom having sjooting kver their land.

  9. At least the BBC reporter got it right: BASC as well as the criminals involved in killing BoPs would love to argue over the figures to distract from the fact that one is too many!

  10. The rspb have continually lied about the numbers of peregrine falcons in the uk to retain there status as an endangered species and to keep the money flowing in from donations if they lie about this why wouldn’t they lie about anything else ?

    1. “The rspb have continually lied about the numbers of peregrine falcons in the uk to retain there status as an endangered species”

      You are the one lying. The RSPB list the status of the Peregrine Falcon as GREEN (least concern).

    2. Utter tripe, As RSPB only quote population figures from national surveys often conducted by others. The peregrine population status is green with a population estimate of 1750 prs.
      The idea that RSPB need to lie about any birds population to keep donations flowing is laughably ludicrous, quite how these numbwits believe this rubbish is beyond sanity.

      1. I’m no authority on peregrines although I love to see them. I rarely do. It’s got to be indicative of something that they are so rare in their natural upland habitats and depend upon urban fledglings to attempt any re-colonisation of those places to which they belong in the first place. If they hadn’t adapted to urban living they would be in the same precarious position as the hen harrier…or worse. But then again you could say the same about otters in the north east, their safe population is in the more urban lower reaches of the rivers, the young spread out upstream and then at a certain point the population stops dead…quite literally in fact.

    3. Given that your assertion is factually wrong, despite it being easy to check, then the question must be asked if the shooting fraternity “lie about this why wouldn’t they lie about anything else?” If you have yourself been misled then, after a retraction and apology, I suggest you ask the same question of your source.

    4. It’s funny how these nitwits can’t even get their thick heads around the fact that the RSPB isn’t even responsible for population data. But then most of them probably haven’t even heard of the BTO.

  11. The statistics, however people want to dispute them, all give strong evidence of the fact that the majority of those convicted of the crime of killing of raptors are gamekeepers.

    This is a very good indication of which element in our society is responsible for the majority of these crimes.

    This is something that however much the shooting industry want to twist the information, they can not dispute.
    Neither can they go on ignoring or denying the problem.

    What the various shooting organisations are really not understanding, is that outside their very small circles, the vast majority of the public who frequent the outdoors have little support for the grouse shooting which takes place on the moors. They find many of the activities undertaken by game keepers to manage the moors unpalatable and inconsistent with any notion of conservation.

    The fact that in the last few weeks the media have now started to tell the story of what has been happening to raptors during the Corvid19 outbreak, is now out there in the public domain.
    It is a story that many outdoor enthusiasts have suspected.
    It is a story that despite all the denials by the shooting industry will enrage the majority of the public.

    Whether it generates increased membership and revenue for organisations like the RSPB is irrelevant.

    What it will do is touch public sentiment.

    I suspect the fear that the shooting industry have, is that now public consciousness is being awakened to the scale of the crimes being committed, and the problems birds of prey are facing; then the public reaction could be very similar to that over plastic packaging and its damage to environment.

    Perhaps, the very direct attacks on organisations like the RSPB by the shooting industry are because they realise that if organisations like the RSPB can keep the momentum going, and keep the public informed, then it will result in such public pressure, that the way our outdoors is managed will have to change.

    Will the public go on tolerating large amounts of public money being spent on questionable conservation, when it would seem that those benefiting from this public money are killing of raptors?

    The public are not stupid, and the shooting industry organisations by merely shouting “No, no no -we oppose the illegal killing of raptors”, but then failing to come up with any creditable evidence to demonstrate what steps they have undertaken to root out the criminals in their midst, is just reinforcing the public belief, that the “gamekeeper” is merely a persecutor of wildlife, and in particular raptors.

    Not all gamekeepers act unlawfully or irresponsibly, but by not actively exposing those in the industry that do, and by not demanding that their umbrella organisations stop the child like denials to the scope of the problem, then are they damning themselves in the eyes of the public?


  12. Looking at the number of prosecutions each year it is very clear that the current level of sentencing is not fit for purpose. It beggars belief that game keepers are working contrary to their employers instructions so as well as upping the level of fines on the guilty keepers , the estate should be banned from allowing shooting on their land for an extended period. Only when they can see that it will hit them most severely in their pocket will this unnecessary killing stop.

  13. I live in mid Wales, in early April, while walking the dog, we found 2 dead red kites, thrown into the field from the nearby road. There have been a number of previous killings close to here. Police and RSPB and other authorities called in, post mortems to come after lockdown. But there is no doubt from the state of them, that they were deliberately killed ! There is a close grouse moor !!!!!!!!l
    Like many other criminals, lockdown is being seen as the perfect cover for their activities.

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