I read in the blog Raptor Persecution UK of the recovery in March this year of the goshawk washed up at the mouth of the River North Esk near St Cyrus. I may have missed it but it was disappointing not to have read of this or heard about in any other form of media. Is there so little interest in the shooting of a rare bird? Considering the 7 months delay before this found its way into the public domain it was very fairly reported by RPUK. Briefly, for those who are unaware, the bird had been found by a member of the public. The person who had ringed the bird was then notified and he arranged for the bird to be collected from where it had been washed up and sent to the Royal School of Veterinary Studies at Edinburgh University. The bird was x-rayed and found to have been shot by a shotgun at close range. It was then sent to Scottish Rural College (SRUC) for a post-mortem examination.
For whatever reason Police Scotland appeared not to have been notified of the dead bird or any outcome at any stage of this process.
It’s not too easy to get close to a goshawk so it may well have been caught in some sort of trap first and shot at close range within the trap. No x-ray is publicly available though the shot pattern on such an x-ray might throw some light on how close the bird was to the person shooting. The post-mortem examination should also be able to give a rough period over which the bird had been dead.
While the chance of Police Scotland getting anyone to court for this crime was minimal, it was in no way helped by the time delay. I accept that the failure of any organisation to notify the police was unintentional but nevertheless surprising considering the close working relationship by these agencies with police wildlife crime officers.
It may be that Police Scotland will remind the public and other agencies that may be involved in any way with the finding of a bird or animal which may have been killed unlawfully or the subsequent investigation to make contact with them at the earliest opportunity.
So far as raptor species are concerned, in particular if the bird is a goshawk or hen harrier, they are intensely disliked by many folks with shooting interests. The finding of a dead one should always arouse suspicion and I’d suggest the police should be notified and given the chance of collecting or examining the bird. In addition it is also worthwhile notifying RSPB Investigations so that they can link in with the police and provide advice or assistance if necessary.
If it helps, I can detail what I did when with Tayside Police and a dead raptor was reported. Firstly, the circumstances may suggest a high probability of accidental or natural death. Examples are an immature sparrowhawk found dead near a window or conservatory, a bird under power lines, a bird at the roadside or beside a railway line, or a thin bird during a hard spell of weather. Most of these can be discounted, though in hardly any circumstances would I suggest that a goshawk, hen harrier, golden eagle, peregrine or white-tailed eagle should not be collected for further examination. Even if the police officer is unable to make the collection RSPB Investigations are normally delighted to assist.
If I had collected a dead raptor I would initially have it x-rayed either at HMP, Perth or at Dundee Airport, whichever was handiest. This would give an immediate result if it had been shot and an investigation would begin. If there was no evidence of shooting it would be taken to SRUC for a post mortem and for samples to be submitted to Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) for examination for pesticides. From recovery of the bird to x-ray and passing to SRUC would almost always be done with 24 hours, 48 hours at most.