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The Problem with Protecting Birds of Prey

All birds of prey are protected in the UK. It is a criminal offence to harm or kill any species. But the law is very difficult to enforce. So difficult, in fact, that several prosecutions have been abandoned recently in Scotland, leaving wildlife campaigners furious.

The Crown Office in Scotland recently dropped four prosecutions in a single month. But it is known that at least 73 birds of prey were poisoned between 2101 and 2015 and many others were shot. The victims included peregrine falcons, hen harriers, buzzards, red kites and tawny owls.


Killed by Landowners


The birds of prey are often killed to protect game birds which are kept on country estates for shooting by paying visitors. Wildlife campaigners are calling for game bird shooting to be licensed whilst landowners and estate managers claim that the campaigners are exaggerating the extent of the attacks on birds of prey. The SGA, an organisation which represents the landowners, is now refusing to attend meetings of PAWS, a forum created by Scottish ministers to tackle wildlife crime.


The relationship between the SGA and the RSPB has also become strained as the RSPB believe that the SGA is denying that crimes against birds of prey are taking place despite evidence to the contrary.


Prosecutions Collapse


Meanwhile there is increasing concern over repeated failures to prosecute cases involving birds of prey. The RSPB is particularly furious about the collapse of case involving he poisoning of three buzzards in Perthshire. The accused was an employee of the Edradynate Estate but has now left his position there. The RSPB now feels that the laws are almost impossible to enforce.


Video Evidence


Holyrood’s environment committee is now seeking clarification regarding the use of video surveillance to help bring the criminals to justice. There is a question mark over the admissibility of this type of evidence in court. Most prosecutions collapse due to lack of evidence. It is often the case that birds have definitely been poisoned and evidence of the poison has been found, but it has not been possible to identify who left the poison or at least to prove their guilt.


If licenses for shooting were introduced, these could be withdrawn where there is evidence of illegal activity against birds of prey. With their businesses threatened, landowners could be more likely to stay on the right side of the law.


Satellite Tagging


The Scottish Government is soon to publish a report on satellite-tagged birds of prey that have gone missing. "We will bring forward further measures to deal with wildlife crime when we judge it to be required, including, potentially, further regulation," said a government spokesman.


Landowners claim that the killing of birds of prey is in decline due to stricter employment contracts, whilst the RSPB maintain that there is still a serious problem. This means that relationships are breaking down, the future of the birds is uncertain and the authorities seem powerless to protect them.


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