RSPB crime report shows ‘persecution’ of birds of prey

The continued 'persecution' of the region's most treasured birds of prey has been highlighted in a wildlife crime report which outlines the illegal shootings, trappings and poisonings reported last year.

The RSPB's Birdcrime 2011 document rates the East of England as the third highest region for crimes against wild birds, with the charity's Investigations Unit recording 64 incidents in the region – almost 11pc of the UK total.

In Norfolk, there were 14 reported incidents of bird crime in 2011, six of which were against birds of prey. In Suffolk, there were 12 in total including seven against raptors.

One of the report's case studies is of a tawny owl discovered by Norfolk Police in May 2011. The bird was caught in an illegal pole trap set on top of one of the posts of a chicken run at Easton, near Norwich. The owl suffered significant injuries as the trap, which has been outlawed for more than a century, had cut through the bird's skin and flesh down to the bone on both legs.

The person who set the trap was fined �100.

The report outlines a series of 13 recommendations to government ministers which include the introduction of a 'vicarious liability' offence which could make landowners more accountable for the criminal actions of their employees.

It also suggests increased penalties for wildlife offences and the need to secure long-term funding for the Police National Wildlife Crime Unit.

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RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said the ongoing review of wildlife protection legislation by the Law Commission could also provide a 'once in a lifetime opportunity' to tackle the illegal shooting and poisoning of 'some of our most magnificent birds'.

He said: 'I hope that tougher laws and penalties for wildlife offenders will help consign their crimes to the pages of history where they belong. We need Defra and Home Office ministers to step up for nature and make the right decisions. An essential first step is to secure the future of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which only has guaranteed funding until March next year.'

The report says the hen harrier is on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird in England, with the government's own studies suggesting that illegal killing is the major factor in the species' decline.

It also details 100 reports of wild bird poisoning across the country, although no victims were found in Norfolk and Suffolk.

'It's been over a hundred years since poisoning of wild birds was outlawed in the UK and yet our report shows we're still witnessing the slaughter of kites, eagles and buzzards,' said Mr Harper. 'Fewer incidents were recorded last year, but as our report highlights birds of prey continue to die at the hands of those who want to remove them from our countryside.

'Thankfully, vastly more people are inspired by the homecoming of eagles, ospreys and peregrines and recognise these charismatic species bring huge enjoyment to people and benefits for tourist economies.'

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