Wildlife Crime in the UK
Despite 230 000 members of the public signing a pledge drafted by the RSPB to end the persecution of birds of prey, wildlife crime in the UK remains rife. A report conducted by the RSPB themselves into crimes from 2013 provides results that are difficult to ignore. The report focuses on crimes affecting the species of highest conservation concern and incidents that are inferred as serious and organised.
The numbers are startling. 164 reports of shooting or destruction of birds of prey alone in 2013. The RSPB however, believes that this is just a fraction of the real total. Of the 32 individual prosecutions involving offences against wild birds, 118 charges were proven out of 139. Shootings are not the only cause for concern. Poisoning and nest robberies are playing a huge part in the problem, with one gamekeeper alone being found guilty of poisoning 10 buzzards and a sparrowhawk.
- 164 reports of shooting and destruction of birds of prey
- 74 reports of poisoning and the use of poisoned baits
- 14 nest robbery incidents
- 29 reports of illegal taking, possession or sale of birds of prey
- 36 reports of illegal taking, possession or sale of wild birds other than birds of prey, predominantly finches
The use of poison baits to kill foxes is having a terrible side effect, claiming birds of prey such as the red kite as victims, as well as being a danger to pets and humans. Reports of dogs and other unintended poison targets being killed are becoming a cause for concern in many areas, including grouse moors.
Another major issue is accountability. Until now the law states that the perpetrator alone is to be held responsible for wildlife crime and will suffer the consequences. However, increasing pressure is now being felt to bring in legislation that will hold employers, contractors and landowners accountable for the actions of their employees (vicarious liability). This is already the case in Scotland, with some reports suggesting that these actions have reduced wildlife crime as a whole. The suggestion of such laws being introduced in England is likely to be met with fierce protest from those that could now be in line for potential prosecution. Whichever method is used, something clearly needs to be done.
The growing concern over certain birds of prey highlights the necessity of this report and the consequences of wildlife crimes. No hen harrier breeding pairs were found in England in 2013, with suitable habitats in Scotland showing worrying numbers. The annual RSPB bird crime report is unique and is fast becoming an invaluable tool for the indexing of crimes against birds of prey. The RSPB currently monitors the progress made each year and has challenged the Environmental Audit Committee to monitor the vicarious liability results in Scotland as an indicator for its implementation in England.
By Dylan Wood
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