New research sheds light on crimes against birds of prey in Wales

The theft of eggs and chicks of birds of prey has almost ceased in Wales, but persecution rates are not declining – according to a new RSPB Cymru review, published today.

Crimes against raptors in Wales 1990-2019 – written by RSPB Cymru and published by the Welsh Ornithological Society – summarises the plight of raptors in Wales over the past three decades.

One of the key findings is that since the 1990s, egg and chick theft has almost ceased. Theft used to be a major problem in Wales, with eggs of raptors such as peregrines and red kites stolen by collectors. The chicks of goshawks and peregrines have also been targeted for the purposes of selling to falconers, including in the Middle East. But tougher penalties and a shift in public awareness and attitude has resulted in the detection of only a handful of cases in Wales over the past decade.

On the other side of the coin, the picture for raptor persecution (by shooting, trapping and poisoning) is less positive. While the number of confirmed incidents of raptor persecution fell in 2000 – 09 compared to the previous decade, there has been a marginal increase seen in the past decade. However, the real total could be much higher, as the number of confirmed persecution cases could only be the tip of the iceberg.

Most worryingly of all, the rate of poisoning cases has increased in the last 30 years, with 52 cases confirmed in the last decade. While laying poison baits in the open has been illegal since 1911, the review suggests that it remains a problem for wildlife in the Welsh countryside. Birds of prey, wild mammals and even household pets can fall victim to the abuse of pesticides.

Julian Hughes, RSPB Cymru Head of Species and lead author of the paper, said:

“There has been good progress made over the past three decades to reduce the rate of crimes against our majestic birds of prey. The dramatic reduction in the theft of egg and chick shows that tougher action really does work. This has helped the welcome return of birds such as red kite that was once on the brink of extinction. However, the rise in persecution, and especially poisoning cases, is a big worry. There’s still work to be done to root out these deplorable acts of crime against wildlife.”

The paper also shows that the probability of a persecution incident in 2010-19 was three times higher in areas where driven shooting of gamebirds is available for sale.

Julian Hughes continued:

“The relationship between raptor persecution and driven shooting was stronger than we expected, and we think this deserves further investigation to understand.”

Anne Brenchley, Chair of the Welsh Ornithological Society, said:

“Public awareness of raptor persecution has heightened in the last thirty years, often due to the concerted efforts of the RSPB. The Welsh Ornithological Society fully supports all attempts to reduce raptor persecution, particularly investigating the apparent link between persecution and gamebird management. We hope that the levels of detected illegal raptor persecution continues to decrease over the next thirty years.”

Rob Taylor, Welsh Government Wildlife and Rural Crime Coordinator, said: “Historically the human race has affected the population and even existence of many birds and habitats within Wales, for a variety of reasons. As a nation we have many iconic birds that proudly adorn our skies and we give credit to the work of the few who have gone that extra mile to maintain their essential conservation. The red kite and osprey are a prime example of a success story within Wales, although these can be still subject to unnecessary persecution even in 2021. We, the police and our key partner agencies, have a duty to prevent the further persecution of any bird within Wales and protect them and their habitats for future generations to come. My new role, sponsored by the Welsh Government, will ensure that we remain focused as a nation and the establishment of a Wales Bird Crime Enforcement Group will bring together the necessary expertise to achieve that. Our work today will maintain the natural beauty of our Welsh birds and visitors for generations to come.”

You can read the full text of the paper here. The picture of a female Peregrine feeding her chicks was taken by Chris Gomersall – see rspb.images.com.

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