There have been a number of raptor poisoning cases in the news recently, including the illegal killing of a white-tailed eagle found on a grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland (here), the mass poisoning of 23 buzzards in a field in Co Cork, Ireland (here), the poisoning of four peregrines on Guernsey in the Channel Islands (here), the poisoning of a family’s pet dog, believed to have consumed a poisoned bait intended for birds of prey in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire (here), the poisoning of a buzzard found dead on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here), the poisoning of a buzzard in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire (here) and the suspected poisoning of numerous raptors in Derbyshire including three peregrines, two buzzards and one kestrel, all pending toxicology results (here). More on some of those suspected cases shortly.
The connecting feature of all these incidents is that, in all probability, the poisoners will evade justice.
[Illegally poisoned sea eagle. Photo by Police Scotland]
It’s incredibly rare to secure a conviction for poisoning birds of prey in the UK, mainly due to the difficulty of securing sufficient evidence to link the crime to the actual individual who laid the bait. For example if the poisoned bait had been laid out on a large game shooting estate there could be numerous suspects (e.g. gamekeepers), who will all give ‘no comment’ interviews to the police, thus making it virtually impossible for the police to determine which one of them should be charged.
And even in a case where three golden eagles were found illegally poisoned on the same grouse moor, and an enormous stash of banned Carbofuran poison was found in the gamekeeper’s locked shed, reportedly to which only he had the key, he still wasn’t charged with killing those eagles, only for possession of the banned poison (see here).
There have been a few successful prosecutions for raptor poisoning over the years, but the subsequent penalties have been so utterly feeble they simply haven’t acted as a suitable deterrent for others (e.g. see here, here and here).
Meanwhile, over in Spain where tackling the illegal killing of birds of prey is taken seriously with, for example, the deployment of specialist poison detection dogs, resulting in massive fines, custodial sentences and extended hunting disqualifications for those convicted of laying poisoned baits (e.g. see here, here, here, here), another poisoner has just been sentenced this week.
According to these articles (here and here), an unnamed farmer has just been convicted of poisoning two red kites in Cabeza de Buey (Badajoz) in 2018 and has been ordered to pay a 20,000 EURO fine (the estimated value of the two red kites). He also received a two-year hunting disqualification.
Compare that response with what we’ve seen in Scotland this last week – an illegally poisoned white-tailed eagle, killed with a banned pesticide, found dead inside a National Park in an area where at least seven eagles have now been either illegally killed or have disappeared in suspicious circumstances.
There was a wholly inadequate response from a junior Environment Minister (here) followed by total silence from the Environment Cabinet Secretary and the First Minister, despite unprecedented public uproar urging action (see here and here).
Interesting, isn’t it?