Confined To History

Birds of prey. A natural, awe-inspiring part of our world, prominent and important in many habitats, bio indicators for ecosystem health and huge moneymakers when it comes to tourism. They are beautiful, majestic and integral parts of our world and, like every other animal on the Earth, (humans are wavering a little); they have a right to exist. Why then is it that all species of birds of prey on our lands are indiscriminately and consistently killed off? Are they evil? Conniving? Is it destined in the stars that they should be unable to lead an undisturbed life? Or perhaps it’s something else. Competition? That little word that sounds so simple and normal in most walks of life, but when it comes to illegal raptor persecution, it is decidedly sinister and greatly disturbing. Unhappily, birds of prey share many habitats that us humans like to utilise for ourselves, whether it be the lowlands, uplands or forests, there is always something we want: to shoot or, to rear animals purely for shooting. Whilst there are some things our raptors will always need: a stable, natural food source and a suitable place to breed. All because of this, raptors of the UK found themselves the main competition for some individuals in our society.

A few years ago I would have believed that. I would have believed that the main reason for raptor persecution was down to that simple word of competition. Nowadays however, my opinion has somewhat changed. I no longer believe that it is competition driving these devastating actions, but something of a different origin. An Italian origin if you will; a vendetta. From the Latin word, ‘vindicta’ (vengeance) vendetta means ‘a blood feud’ or ‘a prolonged bitter quarrel or campaign against another’. In this sense however, I suppose the word is rather misplaced. After all, vendetta implies revenge or vengeance for another evil act, so would we call a bird of prey trying to survive evil? Apparently, some of us would. These attacks on our raptors are unprovoked, callous and illegal and although the punishment for breaking most laws, is severe and fitting, for illegal raptor persecution, it is not. If the crime is even acknowledged and the defendant not let off for some minor, insignificant detail, the perpetrator usually gets away with a meagre fine, with prison sentences being considered very rare indeed.

Raptor persecution has been going on for centuries, and has been illegal for decades. The rate of crime however, it still alarmingly high. Every year, the carnage continues and those of us who fight against it are left exasperated, disappointed and angered at the end of every year. The latest developments? A Red Kite found dead in Castle Douglas, Scotland has been found to be another victim of poisoning. The location of this latest death is just miles from The Galloway Red Kite trail, which is a huge tourist attraction as well as being a home to numerous birds. Poisoning is an easy way to target a raptor, particularly those birds of a scavenging nature such as Red Kites, but is also highly dangerous to the public and their domestic animals. Not only is the culprit of this horrific crime endangering these beautiful and important birds, but the lives and health of the public. Since then? A Buzzard shot in Norfolk, within plain sight of some members of the public.

To kill a bird of prey is a crime committed by humans but a crime against nature. To kill birds of prey is to damage our ecosystems, our natural world and therefore our planet. However, the culprits care not for that, all they care about is their small part of the world and the way they want things done. Raptor persecution is not going away and it is not getting better, just those who commit it are becoming more cunning in their methods. The destruction of evidence is rife. How do we know this? Because birds disappear. Sometimes yes, this is down to other causes, but sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is exactly what we think it is. Raptor persecution has become a vendetta that is almost bred in some social groups. The reasons individuals object to raptors are no longer ‘reasons’ but excuses, excuses that mask a deeper hatred for these magnificent birds.

How do we tackle these culprits? How long is a piece of string? Until the deterrents are stronger, the punishments greater and the public more aware, this is an age-old problem we will continue to face.

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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