Don’t Mention The Law!

‘I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it!’

It happens to be one of my favourite sitcoms and of course, one of my favourite episodes. But no, this is not the countryside search for Basil Fawlty, with his head all bandaged up and shouting profanities at the general public. So what is it about? What does Basil Fawlty have to do with anything? Well, in truth, not much. It’s not so much Basil himself, rather more what he said , with seven of his words ringing very true when it comes to our wildlife.

‘I think I got away with it.’



Our skies are in a state of turmoil. There’s a problem and a big one at that. Two words: raptor persecution. It’s a phrase that we all know and a problem that seems to haunt the countryside with little sign of stopping. Peregrines, buzzards, kites, merlins, kestrels and harriers have all suffered as a result of persecution and despite the laws against it, they are still suffering in many areas. Trapping, shooting and poisoning are the methods of execution and are very effective ones at that. Because to the gamekeeper and many others, the raptor is an enemy of the state.

But hang on, raptor persecution? It’s illegal! Of course it is and it has been for over 50 years, but it’s still happening and unfortunately, it’s going to continue. And the problem? In a nutshell, the incentive to stop just isn’t big enough. Furthermore, most of these crimes take place in remote areas, away from the prying eyes of the public, where most activities go unnoticed. Imagine, if you ran a business and the success of said business depended upon having as higher number of commodities as possible and there was a threat to that, what would you do? The honest answer? Remove it.


Unfortunately, the raptor is the threat. Or at least perceived as one. So it must be removed. Of course I don’t believe that statement but many do. And if your crimes were unlikely to be discovered, would you risk it and carry on? Would it be worth it? Probably. But what if the punishment for your crime, in many cases was little more than a smack on the wrist? Definitely!

And therein lies the problem. When it comes to raptor persecution in the UK, the punishment just does not fit the crime. Most perpetrators (if persecution is proven) are given a fine, the maximum of which can be £5000, but often, they pay a few hundred. And when it comes to a jail sentence, it’s more rare than the birds themselves.

However, this year saw the first real punishment for crimes against birds of prey. A gamekeeper was jailed for killing a goshawk, taking another and taking a buzzard. The first gamekeeper in Scotland to be jailed for such an offence. How was he convicted? A hidden camera capturing his actions on film. But how often can such solid evidence be presented? Rarely. And though it’s definitely a start, compared to feeble fines of £300 and some pretty sore wrists, maybe we should take a leaf out of the book of our spanish friends. After being found guilty of laying poison bait, killing 11 red kites, 6 foxes, 5 dogs, 4 vultures and a cat, raven and buzzard, a spanish farmer was given 2 years in prison. But it doesn’t stop there. He was also disqualified from farming and other animal husbandry professions, disqualified from hunting for four years, fined 90,270 euros and fined an extra 28,500 euros, which will be used to monitor the progress of red kites in his local area. Now that’s more like it! Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk

So once again we find ourselves dragging our feet behind the spanish, but this time it’s not on the football pitch and it’s even more embarrassing. It’s the same with anything and across all cultures. If the punishment is not strong enough, the crime will continue to happen. A similar story can be seen when it comes to the bushmeat trade in Africa. It’s illegal, but it happens, because poachers are given a telling off and allowed to go free. And it’s another big problem that isn’t going away.

Something that Katherine Hepburn once said brings a devilish smile to my face: ‘Why give them a slap on the wrist with a feather when you could…’

I’ll let you look up the rest of that quote for yourselves.


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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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