RSPB’s 2021 Birdcrime report reveals second-highest figure on record

Last week the RSPB published its latest annual Birdcrime report covering the period Jan – Dec 2021.

The headlines from this rigorously-compiled data can be summarised as follows:

  • Protected birds of prey continue to be illegally killed in high numbers, particularly in relation to land managed for gamebird shooting
  • Birdcrime report reveals 80 of 108 confirmed incidents were in England alone: the second-highest figure for England on record
  • Norfolk is now the county with the worst record, followed by Dorset. North Yorkshire, which has topped the table for consecutive years, is now third.
  • ‘Nothing will change’ without urgent government action

The RSPB published two press releases about the report – one covering the crimes in England (here) and one covering the crimes in Scotland (here).

In 2021, yet again, over two thirds (71%) of all confirmed incidents of raptor persecution took place on land managed for gamebird shooting, where birds of prey are seen by some as a threat to gamebird stocks and illegally killed.

[Infographic from Birdcrime 2021]

Unsurprisingly, representatives from the game-shooting industry, all claiming to have ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution, have dismissed the data and some have gone as far as calling the RSPB ‘liars’.

The funniest response I’ve read so far is that written by the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group, who published this on Facebook:

‘The RSPB has released its Bird Crime Report and once again it predictably focuses an inordinate amount of attention on the gamekeeping profession. Why is the YDMG not embracing the report and working with the RSPB to improve the fortunes of moorland birds? Well to put it bluntly, the report is pure exaggeration, wordsmithing for self-promotion and simply the unjustified stigmatisation of a rural occupation and craft without basis. YDMG will refrain from using too many emotional remarks about the RSPB report but suffice it to say the moorland gamekeeping community is offended by the report and it’s [sic] misrepresentations…’.

It’s worth remembering that members of the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group, like so many of the other regional moorland groups, have for years been at the centre of police investigations into the illegal killing of birds of prey. Indeed, raptor persecution is such a problem in this area that the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has had to include the tackling of illegal raptor persecution as an objective in the Park’s official Management Plan (here) and last year was so incensed at the continued killing, the Park Authority was moved to issue a press statement about it (here).

Of course, disputing the RSPB’s persecution figures is now an annual pantomime by the game-shooting industry, because doing anything else would mean having to admit that some of their members are still killing these birds, nearly 70 years after it became illegal to do so. It seems it’s far easier for them to attack the reputation and credibility of the RSPB than get their own house in order and self-regulate.

In Scotland, this tactic worked for many years but eventually the weight of evidence against the grouse shooters was so great that the Scottish Government was forced to act and we now see the introduction of new legislation, brought in specifically to take action against those who continue to trap, poison and shoot birds of prey.

In England we still have a Government intent on wilful blindness, largely due to many in power having a vested interest in the game-shooting world. However, I read a tweet by ecologist and author Ian Carter recently, who often has a knack of hitting the nail on the head:

I think Ian is spot on with this and I think he summarises the views of many moderates on this subject, including mine.

The RSPB’s 2021 Birdcrime report can be downloaded below, along with the Data Appendices detailing the crimes:

22 thoughts on “RSPB’s 2021 Birdcrime report reveals second-highest figure on record”

  1. Every time the issue is raised with the government the same complacent reply comes back about tackling wildlife crime being a priority. Clearly it is not a priority as the year on year failure to make progress in reducing the frequency of raptor persecution incidents is never seen as a reason for a change of approach. Likewise the shooting organisations claim to have zero tolerance for raptor persecution but, at every opportunity, show the opposite is true when they seek to downplay the seriousness of the problem, cast doubt on the data in reports such as this and cheer whenever legal technicalities prevent perpetrators of wildlife crime from being convicted. This blog, the RSPB investigations team, Wild Justice and other stalwarts do great work in maintaining pressure on the criminals but really it is outrageous that there should be any need for a blog called ‘Raptor Persecution UK’ or for the RSPB to need an investigations unit.

  2. Any crime against a bird of prey is to be deplored. However, I am pleased to note (having followed the Bird Crime reports for decades) the reduction in falconry species being stolen. This is good news. Perhaps the community has at last recognised that all their needs are met by domestic breeding and that the market in the Middle East will no longer pay absurd sums for wild-taken falcons. Well done to all those who continue to prosecute wrongdoers.

    1. Austringer,

      Your claim that ‘the market in the Middle East will no longer pay absurd sums for wild-taken falcons’ is simply not true. Keep an eye on the large, multi-agency Operation Tantallon, currently making its way through the courts.

  3. Thank you for that. I look forward to hearing the outcome, and if proven hope they throw the book at them. Always thought Lendrum got away lightly. Doubtless the result will appear here.

  4. The RSPB report makes grim reading. I haven’t heard it mentioned on radio progs since it came out a few days ago. Perhaps it’ll be picked up on Landward and Countryfile.

    What are the other political parties (Labour, LibDems) in Westminster planning to do if they get into power? Will they do what the SNP in Scotland is doing (has done): introduce tougher sentences? introduce vicarious liability (for the estate owners/shoot managers)? introduce a licencing scheme?
    We hear lots of folk on here criticising the SNP (the only party actually doing something about the criminals in cammo ‘n’ tweeds) – but what about some criticism of the parties who have been in power in Westminster and what little they did when they had that power?
    What pledges are they committed to make on raptor crime if they regain power?
    Or will New New Labour spend another ten years messing around with weak legislation as they did with fox-hunting which still hasn’t ended it?
    There’s certainly no chance of any action being taken in England while people there keep voting for the Conservative and Unionist Party.

  5. I commented on Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group page only first to be threatened with litigation and then when I pointed out the wildlife crime status of North Yorkshire over the last few years i was blocked. They obviously don’t like to be contradicted with the truth.

    1. Pointing out things that they don’t have the ability to rebutt in an open and well mannered discussion, well that was a bit cruel of you, Paul! Those groups are only really for the keeping up of morale of a minority of the keepers, their families and friends in each region. Mainly the ones that aren’t able to simply not care about being widely disliked and distrusted either personally or as a cohort. Although I like photographs of labradors jostling about or litters of spaniel pups, curlew chicks and tidied-up OAP’ s gardens as much as anybody else – and raising money for the air ambulance is a good thing. But in terms of anything of weight to chew over, they bring nothing at all. The GWCT is the only shooting organisation whose output is even worth warming up the brain cells to read.

      1. I agree, well almost as much of GWCT’s output these days is of dubious merit too. However I think we should challenge the shooting lobby’s BS where and whenever it appears, so they know that we will not let them get away with not telling the truth. Not that they appear to understand the difference between opinion, myth, wishful thinking, damned lies and the truth as the rest of us know it.
        Galling to see them claim that keepers have helped to increase Hen Harrier numbers by 800%. When what SOME of them have done is stop persecuting and little more. Besides which 800% of FA is still not very much and in the case of harriers barely 15% of what there should be. Then there is the near total absence throughout Pennine grouse moors of successfully breeding Peregrines, yet according to them all our raptors except Monties are doing well. I strongly suspect that even now there isn’t a raptor or owl species population in the UK that isn’t limited in numbers or range by persecution.

        1. The thing I always like about any GWCT study that they cannot bend into being wholly favourable to shooting is they conclude with a phrase along the lines “the causes of this are not yet fully understood and require more detailed research” or in other words give us some more cash to pay our staff. The next best one they say is along the lines of – “shoots that follow our best practice guidelines can achieve…x,y,z… benefits for biodiversity” Best get your boots on GWCT researchers – I bet barely 1 in 100 estates follow your lovely guidelines* when you’re not looking!
          *except maybe the techical grouse stuff about medicated grit / stocking densities, etc

  6. Protected birds of prey continue to be illegally killed in high numbers, particularly in relation to land managed for gamebird shooting……say the RSPB. Loud and clear, I am not suggesting any wildlife crimes occur on land owned, by King Charles and his family. The bloodsport of gamebird shooting is what the royal family do! Why why why are they patrons of the RSPB and the Rspca?

    1. I’m not sure that Charlie is Patron of either the RSPB or the RSPCA. It was the former Queen who was Patron of both, but I have not seen any official announcement that it has been agreed to pass on those positions to Charlie.

      Of course, when the former Queen was Patron of both, there were several investigations into the alleged killing of raptors at Sandringham:

      However, it has been announced that Charlie will remain Patron of Plantlife, now that he is King. I wonder what his grouse moor management is like for the flora?

      1. I have overlooked that the former Queen passed on her role as Patron of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust to the then Prince Charles in 2016.

        The WWT now display on their website, ‘Our Patron HRH The former Prince of Wales’, which seems a slightly odd way of putting it.

        The WWT are prominent campaigners against the use of lead ammunition.

    2. Thanks for the links …content of same emphasises the principle of my comment even though my assumption that King Charlie may not right now be the patron of the RSPCA and RSPB. Assuming he soon will be makes me wonder why the bosses of the RSPB and RSPCA cannot see that a person that does blood sports is not the ideal person for the role. A few weeks ago I cancelled my membership of the RSPB because of the royals being into blood sports!

      1. “A few weeks ago I cancelled my membership of the RSPB because of the royals being into blood sports!”

        And yet, the RSPB have an extremely hard working investigation team for wildlife crime.

      2. Baby and bathwater spring to mind.

        I’m a firm believer that the RSPB should ditch all patronage from wildlife abusers like Charlie and his lad, but cancelling your membership simply means less cash for conservation, AND the investigations team that Keith refers to. Now, you’re just on the outside, with no say in the matter at all.

        Where’ve we seen that before? :)

      3. Paul, If you have cancelled your membership RSPB, have you considered subscribing to their Birds of Prey Defenders appeal, which is used to fund the vital work carried out by their investigations team?
        It is that work, we read about in this blog, when multi agency raids are carried out on shooting estates.
        Whilst you may be aggrieved of the Royal patronage, the RSPB remains one of the most important organisations lobbying for reform of the game shooting industry. Their voice is hard for politicians to completely ignore.
        The realist in me makes me understand that it is extremely unlikely game bird shooting will ever be banned, and those estates which act entirely within the law, often undertake vital conservation work.
        However, that doesn’t stop me focusing on eradicating all the criminal persecution of wildlife which takes place, and slowly but surely like a dripping tap, there will be gradual reforms to the legislation which will provide better protection for all wildlife, including species deemed as predators (eg- recent changes to the GL, more humane traps for stoats)
        By having Royal patronage of wildlife charities, it puts the Royal family in a position, where they leave themselves open to question and criticism if illegal practices are found to be occurring on the royal estates.
        I genuinely believe certain important members of the Royal family are committed to conservation and environmental matters. These people may be a strong voice from within the game shooting industry for reform and eradication of raptor persecution.
        I think if we are really honest with ourselves, reform of vested countryside interests will only really come about when that change comes from within- the Royal family by having patronage of wildlife charities yet still having a foot within the game shooting industry may offer that hope?

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