New study: raptor persecution in Wales 3 x more likely in areas managed for driven gamebird shooting

Press release from RSPB Wales (24th August 2021)

New research sheds light on crimes against birds of prey in Wales

The theft of eggs and chicks of birds of prey has almost ceased in Wales, but persecution rates are not declining – according to a new RSPB Cymru review, published today.

Crimes against raptors in Wales 1990-2019 – written by RSPB Cymru and published by the Welsh Ornithological Society – summarises the plight of raptors in Wales over the past three decades.

One of the key findings is that since the 1990s, egg and chick theft has almost ceased. Theft used to be a major problem in Wales, with eggs of raptors such as peregrines and red kites stolen by collectors. The chicks of goshawks and peregrines have also been targeted for the purposes of selling to falconers, including in the Middle East. But tougher penalties and a shift in public awareness and attitude has resulted in the detection of only a handful of cases in Wales over the past decade.

On the other side of the coin, the picture for raptor persecution (by shooting, trapping and poisoning) is less positive. While the number of confirmed incidents of raptor persecution fell in 2000 – 09 compared to the previous decade, there has been a marginal increase in the past decade. However, the real total could be much higher, as the number of confirmed persecution cases could only be the tip of the iceberg.

[This buzzard was found shot dead near Powys]

Most worryingly of all, the rate of poisoning cases has increased in the last 30 years, with 52 cases confirmed in the last decade. While laying poison baits in the open has been illegal since 1911, the review suggests that it remains a problem for wildlife in the Welsh countryside. Birds of prey, wild mammals and even household pets can fall victim to the abuse of pesticides.

Julian Hughes, RSPB Cymru Head of Species and lead author of the paper, said:

There has been good progress made over the past three decades to reduce the rate of crimes against our majestic birds of prey. The dramatic reduction in the theft of egg and chick shows that tougher action really does work. This has helped the welcome return of birds such as red kite that was once on the brink of extinction. However, the rise in persecution, and especially poisoning cases, is a big worry. There’s still work to be done to root out these deplorable acts of crime against wildlife.

The paper also shows that the probability of a persecution incident in 2010-19 was three times higher in areas where driven shooting of gamebirds is available for sale.

Julian Hughes continued:

The relationship between raptor persecution and driven shooting was stronger than we expected, and we think this deserves further investigation to understand.”

Anne Brenchley, Chair of the Welsh Ornithological Society, said:

Public awareness of raptor persecution has heightened in the last thirty years, often due to the concerted efforts of the RSPB. The Welsh Ornithological Society fully supports all attempts to reduce raptor persecution, particularly investigating the apparent link between persecution and gamebird management. We hope that the levels of detected illegal raptor persecution continues to decrease over the next thirty years.”

Rob Taylor, Welsh Government Wildlife and Rural Crime Coordinator, said:

Historically the human race has affected the population and even existence of many birds and habitats within Wales, for a variety of reasons. As a nation we have many iconic birds that proudly adorn our skies and we give credit to the work of the few who have gone that extra mile to maintain their essential conservation. The red kite and osprey are a prime example of a success story within Wales, although these can be still subject to unnecessary persecution even in 2021. We, the police and our key partner agencies, have a duty to prevent the further persecution of any bird within Wales and protect them and their habitats for future generations to come. My new role, sponsored by the Welsh Government, will ensure that we remain focused as a nation and the establishment of a Wales Bird Crime Enforcement Group will bring together the necessary expertise to achieve that. Our work today will maintain the natural beauty of our Welsh birds and visitors for generations to come.”


The research paper has been published today in the journal of the Welsh Ornithological Society. Here’s the citation:

Hughes, J., Mason, H., Bruce, M. and Shorrock, G. (2021). Crimes against raptors in Wales 1990-2019. Birds in Wales 18 (1): 3-19.

The research paper can be downloaded here:

6 thoughts on “New study: raptor persecution in Wales 3 x more likely in areas managed for driven gamebird shooting”

  1. I fully support all of this research and the RSPB’s hard work. I just wish they didn’t feel the need to be so cautious in their press releases. Example being…”the real total could be much higher…could only be the tip of the iceberg” ought really to be (in my opinion) ‘the real total is certainly much higher…this is only the tip of the iceberg’. As it is, it just makes it sound a bit down-played to me.

  2. “the many iconic birds that proudly adorn our skies” ; glad to see the proud bardic tradition remains strong across Welsh culture.

  3. Interesting paper, in the four breeding seasons I have now lived in Mid Wales within the area of a large commercial shoot I have noticed that sometimes, Buzzard, Goshawk, Red Kite and Raven nesting pairs sometimes disappear or vacate the area usually close to rearing sites or release pens. In that time I have found one badly injured Buzzard which the local vet euthanised due to a badly broken wing, A buzzard that all were convinced was poisoned but the chemical concerned was not found, whilst a colleague found a confirmed as poisoned adult Goshawk. The woodlands used for release are a disgusting mess of destroyed vegetation and bare pheasant effluent covered ground, certainly not to best practice. Several gardens locally including ours often host dozens of pheasants and RLPs to the detriment of the gardens of course.

  4. “The relationship between raptor persecution and driven shooting was stronger than we expected, and we think this deserves further investigation to understand.” Really, deserves further investigation to understand? I think it’s blindingly obvious.

    1. You nailed it there ; RSPB never call a spade a spade; they opposed Swansea Lagoon for ages stating the costs were high when its a structure that lasts 120 years plus and was a totem project in an area of very high deprivation………Chart the costs over a century, which I thought might be considered “sustainability”and they are below negligible and in fact are “free”… for the final 2/3 of the structure’s existence…………..magnificent ?

  5. This is bad news – as I’ve mentioned on RPUK several times (so I’m repeating myself – but the context is slightly different!) about rewilding in Wales, larger scale ecological restoration, is at present effectively dead in the water. Rewilding has literally become a taboo word in some places and circles there. That means wildlife in it only has pretty much habitat as it’s got already – not much quantity or quality wise and so any increase in persecution isn’t in anyway going to be at least countered by growing populations on expanding habitat. Wales clearly has raptor persecution like the rest of the country, but even in the north of England and Scotland estates are changing hands from mass killing to conservation and tenancies are going the same way too, green shoots of change without a doubt. Welsh wildlife has to contend with the shite wildlife contends with elsewhere, but not the positives they’re getting. Any raptor persecution in Wales is going to hurt even more than usual.

    In England hardly a week goes by without another landowner announcing they’re going to a bit of Knepp style rewilding eco tourism venture and/or bring in beavers (all be it enclosed for now). Wales in contrast is a no go zone for any of this, totally dead as far as I can see. There were even grumblings from the farming community about the existing efforts to conserve wildlife before there was any discussion about possible rewilding. The Welsh hill/sheep farmers have effectively built a great big brick wall against wildlife conservation in their country, they really have. What occurred with the Summit to Sea proposal is illustrative I would love to be proved wrong because the conservation movement in Wales has had the rug pulled from under its feet. I can’t think of one single example of any significantly sized eco restoration project in the whole country – no new biggish woodland or wetland project, not one.

    A group of people who receive public subsidies, which the vast majority of us don’t get, but pay for, and whose subsidised ‘management’ of the land is almost certainly making a significant contribution to the flooding of homes, businesses and better quality farmland have been put on a pedestal where their views and wants are virtually sacrosanct. Political convenience/correctness in the extreme put before obligations to wildlife, ecological health, the benefit of the majority and I’d say real democracy – if you’re paying taxes that keep hills treeless which mean your house is more likely to be flooded shouldn’t you be informed about that and asked if you’re hunky dory with it? I think the pretty obvious answer to that is why the question is never asked.

    I know this post is specifically about raptor persecution, but I can’t help feeling the absolutely awful situation re conservation in Wales in general is relevant to it. Are we just going to shrug our shoulders, admit defeat and walk away from helping nature in Wales? Where is the conservation movement’s plan B, how could it do worse by ruffling feathers that need to be ruffled, than it has done by being conciliatory, accommodating and reasonable? There are worrying parallels between the Welsh speaking sheep farmers and Gaelic crofting community, and I think that the further down the road we go in Scotland the more and more the latter is going to be a growing obstacle to getting a healthy landscape and its wildlife back, and a genuinely healthy economy rather than subsidy ranching serving as a black hole for public funds that could have went to the NHS, education, public transportation…..

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