Recently, we heard reports concerning the Stody Estate in Norfolk, whose gamekeeper has been found guilty of killing 10 buzzards and 1 sparrow hawk. However, there have been additional consequences of such actions, with the farm losing 75% of its Single Farm Payment, being fined £930 and a further £80 for possession of suspicious substances that could be used to prepare poisoned baits. Although an example of a more extreme case, this is just another instance of raptor persecution that continues to occur across the UK.
However, along with this news came some more positive reports. In Scotland at least, pressure groups and charities are urging the Scottish Government to tighten punishments concerning wildlife crimes. A review report endorsed by the Scottish Government outlined 10 recommendations for dealing with wildlife crime. These included greater penalties, clearer sentencing guidelines and the strengthening of wildlife legislation. But it doesn’t stop there, with the report suggesting an increase in fines of up to £40,000 and a possible 12 month prison sentence or five years for indictment (more than one charge).
This is, of course, fantastic news for our wildlife and finally shows an increased concern for our native species. This review has perhaps been long overdue, for 30 years now the fine for wildlife crimes has been set at £5000 and has not showed any sign of changing. Despite the fact that laws on wildlife crime in Scotland have been praised in the past, recently they have somewhat fallen by the wayside, with penalties for such crimes falling behind those for other environmental crimes and levels of inflation.
As would be expected, the review was praised by RSPB Scotland, though they have urged immediate action against such crimes, acknowledging that punishments often did not reflect their greater conservation impacts.
Depending on your viewpoint, this may be considered good news, stronger deterrents being essential to stop illegal persecution. Often, it has been argued that if the punishments are not great enough then the calculated risk of committing such a crime is relatively low, which makes it more likely to occur. But it is perhaps disappointing for many that a review was only carried out in Scotland. What about the rest of the UK? So far, we’re still waiting.
In addition to this, concerning raptors there have been some rather worrying arguments thrown around. They tend to follow the line of ‘its just the one bird’ or ‘what difference does a couple of birds really make?’ Well, it matters when we are trying to protect our natural ecosystems and our natural heritage. Indeed, the loss of one buzzard may not seem like the end of the world, but if this was the general view, 1 bird would soon turn to 10, and then 50, then 200 and so on, until we reach extinction. Now, this may sound dramatic, but it has happened before. The golden eagle became extinct by 1850 in England and Wales and in Ireland by 1912. The white-tailed eagle became extinct in 1916 in the UK and the red kite by 1879. As I am sure you know, these species have now experienced recoveries, admittedly to different extents, but only because of the unstinting determination of conservationists.
We have already lost so many of our native species over the centuries, including the famous large carnivores such as wolves, bears and lynx. The effects of this have been seen in the explosion of many deer populations, subsequent overgrazing and extensive ecosystem damage. Now, we may not know the exact effects of the losses of our raptor species, we can only guess, but such estimates may not reflect the true extent of possible damage. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not see the extent of such damage. Killing a species because it poses a threat to certain industries is a bit of a caveman approach because there are other options. They may not be the cheapest, or indeed the easiest, but sometimes the right thing to do is not always the easiest. Our need to protect these species is not going to go away, so let’s accept it, move forward and try and work together to achieve a pleasing outcome for both sides.
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