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RSPB Annual Birdcrime Report

There’s an old saying that there are lies, damn lies and statistics. It is true that facts and figures can often be deceptive and can be interpreted in different ways. The recently published Annual Birdcrime report from the RSPB is a case in point.

The Royal society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) prefaced their report regarding bird crime 2016 by saying:

"In the UK we have a major issue with birds of prey being deliberately and illegally killed, despite full legal protection."

Scare Tactics

It’s certainly an attention-grabbing statement which is guaranteed to provoke a reaction from bird lovers. The Report highlights that there were 81 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution in the UK last year and that these may be the tip of the iceberg. The region with the highest number of offences was North Yorkshire.

It would be easy to think that the UK is a shameful nation where people simply do not care about birds and that the killing of raptors is rife. But how embarrassed should we really be about our heinous level of crime?

Not very as it turns out.

A National Disgrace?

Martin Harper, the charity’s director of conservation referred to raptor persecution "a national disgrace." in the report. However, the recent Birdlife International report into the illegal killing of birds, to which the RSPB was a contributor, shows that the UK has one of the lowest levels of crime against birds in Europe.

Bird Numbers Rising

Clearly any level of persecution is unacceptable but it is important to gain some perspective on the situation. Birds of prey numbers are actually up in this country. Buzzards, once rare outside the western regions of the UK are now a common sight across the whole of Southern England. Kites are doing well and even hen harrier numbers have increased.

The Countryside Alliance

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, has been quick to point out that the RSPB has much to gain from inspiring feelings of outrage as they need to encourage people to join up or donate to the charity. Good news does not fire people up to part with their cash. He has also explained that the attitudes of gamekeepers have changed and they no longer view raptors as birds to be eliminated. However, he could hardly say that the birds should be shot!

The RSPB’s own figures do demonstrate that reports of raptor persecution are down and that confirmed cases have fallen from a high of 120 in 2013 to 81 in 2016.

So who is right? How should we interpret the latest statistics?

Beyond the Headlines

Well, the figures certainly aren’t damned lies! The truth is that crime against raptors does appear to be falling. There have been less confirmed cases of persecution and the numbers of many species have increased. That doesn’t mean that more can’t be done, but the Birdcrime report largely delivers good news, you wouldn’t know from the headlines though! Sometimes you have to examine the figures from all angles to make a balanced judgement.


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