I’ve just finished reading the RSPB report on raptor persecution from 1994 to 2014. With 779 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution during that period it makes depressing reading. In addition there were 114 incidents where raptor nests were suspected to have been interfered with, 11 of these against golden eagles, 49 against peregrines and 50 against hen harriers. When I read the locations or estates where the persecution took place most didn’t surprise me as they regularly cropped up when I was working. Since most of the incidents are discovered by accident we would need to be extremely naïve to think that the figure of 779 confirmed incidents was the true total. I’d lay money on at least one of the years on its own having 779 incidents.
In one of the most worrying incidents a satellite-tagged golden eagle was found dead in lower Deeside in May 2012. The post mortem examination of the bird along with previous days’ satellite data, showed it had been caught in a spring trap on an Angus grouse moor, breaking both its legs. The tracking showed that it had then been moved, overnight, and dumped still alive under a tree at the side of a country road, where it died four days later. As well as the cruelty aspect, the person dumping it there was attempting to create suspicion on other totally innocent people. It is a scandal that during the 20 year period 27 golden eagles have been confirmed as poisoned, five as shot, one trapped and four nesting attempts confirmed as destroyed. Satellite tracking has made the recovery of eagle victims easier, but also show that some of the birds have vanished without trace, sometimes in areas where there is a history of persecution. Also of concern is that during the period no less than 14 dogs had been poisoned. I know of another that would have been included in these statistics had the shepherd not been close by and warned the dog off a poisoned bait just in time.
Though the law in Scotland is better than it has ever been, investigation by the police is generally good, and prosecution by the specialist wildlife and environment prosecutors is good, few of these raptor crimes result in convictions since evidence is so difficult to obtain. As I have stated several times, methods outwith the present law of dealing with these criminals (and please don’t consider that those involved are anything other than criminals even though they may not have a police record) are necessary and I am pleased to see that one method is currently being explored by the Scottish Government. They have announced that tenders to research ‘game licensing’ in other countries (which I assume to be the licensing of their game shoots) have already been invited. Law-abiding shoot operators would have nothing to fear from this – apart of course from the inconvenience foisted upon them by the criminal landowners and gamekeepers who persist in flouting the law.
While I accept that there are now less criminals amongst the landowning classes and their gamekeepers than at the start of the 20 year comparison period, the stats shown by RSPB in the report for 2013 and 2014 remain a real concern, with ten confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents in 2013 and eight in 2014.