RSPB publishes latest UK Birdcrime report detailing the illegal killing of birds of prey in 2019

Press release RSPB (1 October 2020)

The law has failed our birds of prey

RSPB Birdcrime report reveals 85 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK in 2019 including shooting, trapping, and poisoning 

RSPB data, peer-reviewed science, and population surveys prove these crimes are concentrated on and near driven grouse moors

Between 2012-2019 half (49%) of the confirmed incidents occurred in protected landscapes

The RSPB calls for urgent action from governments to end bird of prey killing and ensure grouse shooting operates legally and sustainably

Self-regulation from within the grouse shooting community has failed, and urgent action is needed to prevent protected birds of prey being illegally killed and to bring this industry into the 21st century and to help address the nature and climate crises.

That’s the message from the RSPB’s Birdcrime report, out today (1 October), which demonstrates that birds of prey continue to be systematically killed, particularly where land is managed for driven grouse shooting.

The report reveals 85 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution, involving birds such as buzzards, red kites, peregrines, golden eagles, and hen harriers being shot, trapped, and poisoned. The highest concentration of these occurred in upland areas of the North of England and Scotland, with North Yorkshire emerging as the worst county for the sixth year running. Half of the confirmed incidents occurred within protected landscapes.

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 depending on the jurisdiction.

Yet in the past 10 years, there have been over 1000 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK. Despite hard work by police forces, RSPB Investigations, and volunteers who monitor birds of prey across the UK the law is failing to protect these birds.

The RSPB has stated that, without urgent change, the next decade will be no different. This year, the illegal destruction of birds of prey continued even during COVID-19 lockdown, when the RSPB’s Investigations team reported their busiest ever spring, dealing with multiple reports of bird of prey persecution and assisting police with investigations, many of which took place on land used for gamebird shooting.

As well as illegal killing, a growing number of satellite-tagged birds of prey are vanishing in suspicious circumstances over grouse moors. Since the start of 2018, 45 tagged hen harriers – a rare and heavily persecuted bird of prey – are known to have been illegally killed or disappeared in suspicious circumstances. Only 19 successful nests were recorded in England in 2020, although there is habitat and prey to support more than 300 pairs. The analysis of the government’s own data, published in 2019, showed that illegal killing was the principle factor limiting hen harrier numbers in England.

The RSPB is urging the government to act now, to address the ecologically and environmentally damaging practices involved with the most intensive forms of grouse moor management including raptor persecution and burning of moorland vegetation on peat soils, our most vital carbon stores.

Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said: “Once again the Birdcrime report shows that protected birds of prey like hen harriers, peregrines and golden eagles are being relentlessly persecuted, particularly in areas dominated by driven grouse shooting.  

“The illegal killing of birds of prey is just one of the symptoms of a wholly unsustainable grouse shooting industry. The burning of internationally important peatlands is another hugely important issue. This destructive grouse moor management practice not only releases carbon into the atmosphere, it degrades the peat, impoverishes wildlife, and increases the flow of water across the bog surface, causing devastating flooding in some cases in communities downstream. In a climate and ecological emergency, this is simply not acceptable. Today, at the start of the annual burning season, the RSPB is renewing its call for moorland burning on peatland soils to be banned by Government.  

“At a time when the world – and the UK in particular – is seeing catastrophic declines in wildlife populations, the destruction of rare wildlife looks like the opposite of progress. Healthy bird of prey populations are key indicators of the health of our environment. Yet hen harriers are just a few bad breeding seasons away from disappearing from England as a breeding species as a direct result of illegal persecution on grouse moors. The shooting community has had decades to get its house in order, but it is abundantly clear that they cannot control the criminals within their ranks. Current legislation has failed to protect our birds of prey, and the time has come for urgent, meaningful change.  

“UK governments must implement tougher legislation to bring the driven grouse shooting industry in line with the law, stamp out environmentally damaging practices, and deliver on the UK’s nature recovery targets.”


Birdcrime 2019 can be downloaded here: birdcrime-report-2019.pdf

The all important data appendices can be downloaded here:

13 thoughts on “RSPB publishes latest UK Birdcrime report detailing the illegal killing of birds of prey in 2019”

  1. Quote: * The analysis of the government’s own data, published in 2019, showed that illegal killing was the principle factor limiting hen harrier numbers in England.* end quote.

    Fact checked – incorrect.

    The loss of any bird of prey is to be regretted but without clear and empirical evidence, to attempt the claiming of support, that there is an assurance from Government that birds have been intentionally killed, is wrong and cannot be relied upon. The reality is that the promoted and protected Hen Harriers which are resident and nest successfully on Grouse Moors, demonstrates a clear and obvious juxtaposition to this spurious claim.

      1. Let me get this right , Perdix is saying, in very fancy terms, that because some Hen Harriers managed to breed successfully on land managed for Driven grouse shooting , that any claims of illegal persecution of hen harriers on land managed for driven grouse shooting are moot by default !!
        Methinks Perdix can take his fancy nomenclature and disappear back up himself .

        1. How many more times is this clown prepared to make an ass of him/herself? His/her every inept attempt at defending the indefensible has been comprehensively destroyed, and when pressed to supply supporting evidence, Perdix just melts away like a wet fart, the only evidence being the proof of his/her ignorance and dishonesty.

    1. Perdix, you are deliberately undermining the whole oncept of fact and fiction, truth and lies, right and wrong, proof and non proof by your statement. It was a tactic acknowledged by Goebbels. What is more i am sure it is deliberate. Your fact check is plain for all to see, just a strategy to confuse. I honestly don’t know how you sleep at night, are you being paid for this spin?

  2. The report was publicised this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, but it turned into something of a car-crash interview because of the (presumably) ridiculous use of mobile technology, where hardly a single statement by Mark Thomas could be broadcast without prolonged drop-outs and confusing signal delays and silences. In contrast, the Moorland Association had an almost free run of denying all accusations. Note to the RSPB: never attempt contentious radio interviews without using a land line (it helps listeners’ blood pressure).

    1. I was driving at the time and listening to the R4 car-crash as well, and MT doing his Norman Collier impression wound me off the clock as I could hear he was trying to get facts across and sound passionate about it but it wasn’t working, he needs a better wi-fi provider. My partner was listening and concluded that the RSPB man didn’t get his point across and sounded a bit hysterical, whereas Mr double-barrelled name sounded calm and reasonable in suggesting RSPB should make more effort to work with the estates and live happily ever after. Unfortunately a lot of folks listening may have thought the same.

  3. Perdix: “The analysis of the government’s own data, published in 2019, showed that illegal killing was the principle factor limiting hen harrier numbers in England Fact checked – incorrect.”

    From the Government’s own website:

    “Study suggesting widespread illegal killing of hen harriers on English grouse moors”

    “The study showed the likelihood of hen harriers dying, or disappearing, was ten times higher within areas predominantly covered by grouse moor, compared to areas with no grouse moor.”

    “The study revealed that 72% of tagged harriers were either confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed.”

    “Illegal killing of hen harriers has long been thought to limit their population size” and “This provides overwhelming evidence that illegal killing is occurring on some grouse moors, where some gamekeepers view hen harriers as a threat to their grouse stocks.”

    “Dr Megan Murgatroyd, from the University of Cape Town, who is the lead author of the study said: The multiple levels of analyses of the data have all led to the same robust conclusion that hen harriers in Britain suffer elevated levels of mortality on grouse moors, and this is most likely the result of illegal killing.”

    And from the report itself: “We conclude that hen harriers in Britain suffer elevated levels of mortality on grouse moors, which is most likely the result of illegal killing.” and “We conclude that illegal killing is the most parsimonious explanation for the fate of these birds.” and “Our inference that illegal killing is responsible for these losses matches previous studies that have highlighted illegal killing of hen harriers and other raptors on grouse moors”

    This pernicious, squirming, perdicks couldn’t fact-check itself out of a paper bag. But thanks for giving us the opportunity to highlight the official findings again and expose your sophistry.

  4. Like most trolls, they think they are so clever and above the likes of us minions. I have come across trolls naming themselves after birds and fish, perhaps it is an indication of brain size and function?

    But of course they don’t last long, they are either gun fodder or sought by hook and line.

    While trying to justify their killings they remain an irritation.


  5. Whilst I agree with the RSPB’s call for better legislation and regulation to curb illegal activity.
    This also has to be accompanied by more resources and more sophisticated investigative procedures to implement that legislation and bring offenders to justice.

    The existing Countryside and Wildlife Act is quite robust legislation.
    It protects most of the things it was intended to protect.

    It fails not because it is poor legislation, but because the police are faced with an almost impossible task of meeting the burden of proof to proceed with prosecutions and bring offenders to justice.

    What mustn’t happen is for new legislation or regulations to be introduced, which then can’t be enforced.
    This would simply leave the countryside in the same position that it is now, with offenders simply breaking the law, and the legal system powerless to hold offenders accountable.

    Could more meaningful change come not through simply trying to introduce new legislation, but by making grouse moors and grouse shooting financially unviable; and instead incentivising landowners to fundamentally change the way they use grouse moors?
    So that instead of the moors being managed to produce an abundance of grouse, simply for shooting purposes.
    Could the moors be used for an entirely different purpose?
    A purpose that didn’t involve shooting, in fact one where shooting would incur a financial penalty for the landowner.
    The current climate emergency and wildlife extinction crisis might provide that purpose, and if the right financial incentives were put in place for things like carbon capture, wildlife and habitat regeneration, etc, then maybe it would be possible to drag the grouse moors out of the dark ages and into something more beneficial to help tackle both the climate emergency and the wildlife crisis?

    Money is a strong motivator.
    So could simply reforming the way that public money is awarded for conservation be a good place to start?

    I am sure such ideas will already have been considered: but with the increased public awareness of exactly what is happening to this planet, and a growing consensus that humanity has to act , now might be the time to properly explore these reforms?

    Timing often decides what works and what fails!

    …..and maybe it’s time to start thinking outside the box!!

  6. It’s absolutely sickening year in year out the same keeps happening . No doubt who’s behind it. I’ve always thought and hoped if these grouse moors or where they have shoots. They could shut them down for a few years. Obviously it big money and the shooters aren’t your ordinary working class people. Who will pay to kill just for the fun of it.more needs to done by the authorities the sooner the better.

  7. It’s amazing is’nt it our politicians jump on the stop burning the Amazon bandwagon,yet when it comes protecting
    our own wildlife and enviroment they do nothing about it.
    It says everything about the people in power.

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