Resources must be there to bring bird of prey persecutors to justice says Pete Short of RSPB Blacktoft Sands
RECENT months has seen a spectacular congregation of birds of prey here on the Humber at RSPB Blacktoft Sands, with up to 30 marsh harriers and five highly endangered hen harriers roosting in the wetland reedbeds.
This is great news, yet I am still extremely worried about the future of both of these species, as well as several of our other birds of prey in the UK.
You see, back in the 1950s both species declined dramatically due to illegal human persecution and the effects of insecticide DDT which caused many thousands, if not millions, of deaths of many bird species in our countryside.
Harriers – being at the top of the food chain – were particularly badly affected by DDT and by the early 1970s there was only one pair of marsh harriers breeding in the whole of the UK. Hen harrier numbers, meanwhile, tumbled as they were continued to be persecuted on grouse moors because of their habit of making off with the odd game bird.
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DDT has long since been banned but sadly, bird of prey persecution continues.
For example, there was the recent case of a male marsh harrier that was intentionally poisoned and killed around the Humber last summer and which was busy feeding a nest of three young chicks. Then, shortly afterwards, one of the last hen harriers born in England was found shot in North Yorkshire. It too died of its wounds.
There was also the recent case of the buzzards which were poisoned by bait laced with carbofuran near to Scunthorpe. This banned substance will also kill dogs, cats and people. It is incredibly toxic, with only a few grains sufficient to kill a bird stone dead. Poisoning birds of prey is a particularly insidious crime, both because it is incredibly painful for the bird and because it is also very indiscriminate. Beloved family dogs often die as a result of eating laced bait and there is also the risk that a child might find it.
On a national scale, bird of prey persecution almost certainly takes place daily across the UK. The RSPB's annual Birdcrime report reveals in 2011 it received 100 reports of poisoning and a further 202 reports of the shooting and destruction of birds of prey. These figures are likely to be only the tip of the iceberg as bird of prey crime is notoriously difficult to detect, often taking place in the middle of the night at remote locations. Often, the only evidence we have of illegal persecution taking place is an absence of birds where there should be lots.
According to Government- commissioned research, there is enough suitable habitat in the English uplands for at least 300 pairs of breeding hen harriers. Last year, there was only one. This is why we are lobbying the Government to introduce an emergency recovery plan for the species including long-term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit so it is able to tackle persecution effectively.
Bird of prey persecution is illegal so we need the resources to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.