Blog Post: Hen Harriers in Birdcrime Report 2018

Every year our investigations team release a report listing the crimes against birds of prey in the UK. Last year, in the Birdcrime 2017 report, we revealed that there had been 68 confirmed incidents of bird persecution. Sadly, in 2018, that has increased to 87 confirmed incidents. What is most unsettling, is that these numbers simply don’t reflect the true scale of persecution. This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the illegal killing of our birds of prey. We know, from independent studies on raptor populations, that more incidents will have taken place undetected or unreported and so the true extent of the problem goes far deeper. Birdcrime 2018 confirmed that a devastating 41 birds were shot, 28 were poisoned, 16 were trapped and left to die, and there were a further two incidents involving nest destruction or disturbance. Of those victims, five were cases involving hen harrier. These five cases are not representative of the scale of persecution for these magnificent birds. The Hen Harrier LIFE Project has been using extremely reliable, satellite tagging technology to track and record the life journeys of over 80 hen harriers over five years. Unfortunately, this has revealed the shocking levels of illegal persecution in and around our UK uplands. Raptors are proven to face a high risk of persecution on driven grouse moors according to scientific research conducted by the government. Their study ran from 2007 to 2017 and found that 72% of satellite tagged hen harriers were either confirmed or likely to have been illegally killed, and are ten times more likely to die over areas of land being managed as grouse moor than land with no grouse moor. Regular readers of the blog will know that during the course of 2018 , we have lost many of our satellite tagged hen harriers in suspicious circumstances across the UK, their bodies and tags never recovered: Rannoch, Heather, Lia, Blue, Saorsa, Marc, Aalin, Finn, Hilma, Athena, Octavia, Margot, Heulwen, Stelmaria, Thor and Arthur. Some people who are working to keep grouse in high numbers, believe birds of prey like the hen harrier threaten red grouse. This is despite the availability of diversionary feeding, which reduces predation pressure of hen harrier upon red grouse chicks up to 100%. The perceived conflict between hen harrier and red grouse means illegal killing in the uplands is rife, with 67% of those convicted of raptor persecution related offences since 1990 being within the gamekeeping profession. The killing of hen harriers is illegal, as is all persecution of birds of prey, according to the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. Obeying the law is not be optional. For this reason, the RSPB is urging the government to act now and end the criminality in our uplands. Martin Harper, RSPB’s Director of Conservation said: “Grouse moor management needs urgent reform. The relentless persecution of birds of prey must stop. Enough is enough.” Birds of prey should be free to soar, enriching our lives as well as our eco-systems. But sadly, many of these birds fall victim to illegal persecution, particularly in upland areas of the UK. If the criminality revealed in the Birdcrime 2018 report has shocked you and you want to know what you can do as an individual to help, here are three simple things you can do: Report crimes: the public have a huge role to place in the fight to protect our birds of prey. If you see suspicious activity, find evidence of illegal traps or find a dead or injured bird of prey, please call the police on 101, or alternatively call our RSPB investigations team on 01767 680 551 or if you’re in Scotland 0131 317 4100. Reports are treated in the strictest confidence. Donate: you can help the RSPB’s investigations team fight for the future of birds like the hen harrier, by becoming a Bird of Prey Defender for just £3 a month, or through a one-off donation. Raise your voice: joining the conversation on twitter - @rspb_skydancer – or at a Hen Harrier Day event. Public pressure is crucial in turning the tide for birds of prey. You could also write to your MP to lobby for a change to legislation for our uplands such as calling for a licensing system for grouse shooting.