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A quarter of reported incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK in 2017 took place in Eastern England - RSPB

PUBLISHED: 11:58 25 September 2018 | UPDATED: 12:48 25 September 2018

There was one confirmed  incident of a peregrine falcon being shot or shot at in Suffolk in 2017   PIC:  Ivan Ellison/British Trust for Ornithology

There was one confirmed incident of a peregrine falcon being shot or shot at in Suffolk in 2017 PIC: Ivan Ellison/British Trust for Ornithology

IVAN ELLISON/British Trust for Ornithology

Birdcrime 2017 report confirms 17 incidents of birds of prey being either shot at, poisoned or trapped in the East in 2017.

There were confirmed incidents of buzzards being shot at in both Essex and Suffolk last year, according to the RSPB.   PIC: Allison BalaamThere were confirmed incidents of buzzards being shot at in both Essex and Suffolk last year, according to the RSPB. PIC: Allison Balaam

A quarter of illegal incidents of bird of prey persecution reported to the RSPB in the UK last year took place in Eastern England, according to a new report.

The Society’s latest Birdcrime report published this week revealed it received 17 confirmed reports of birds of prey being shot at or shot, poisoned or trapped in the region in 2017 out of a nationwide total of 68. But the Society says these numbers are “just the tip of the iceberg” with many illegal killings going undetected or unreported.

The figures for Eastern England take in crimes from seven counties including Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Lincolnshire. In Suffolk, two incidents - of a buzzard and a peregrine falcon being either shot or shot at - were confirmed while in Essex there was one confirmed incident of a buzzard being shot or shot at. Across the region red kites and a tawny owl were also targeted.

The RSPB says persecution of birds of prey (also known as raptors) has historically been linked with the game shooting industry, with one of Eastern England’s most notorious incidents in recent years the poisoning in 2013 of 11 birds of prey by the then gamekeeper at the Stody Estate in Norfolk.

This has created a dilemma for the Society, which works with game managers and shooting estates around region to help protect some of the UK’s most threatened birds, including stone-curlews and turtle doves.

Red kites were also persecuted in Eastern England in 2017 PIC Frances CrickmoreRed kites were also persecuted in Eastern England in 2017 PIC Frances Crickmore

The RSPB’s director for Eastern England, Jeff Knott, said: “It’s terrible that illegal killing of birds of prey is still something we see happening all over the UK, and for me especially sad that so many magnificent birds, including peregrines and red kites, are being wantonly killed in Eastern England.

“The RSPB has worked for many years alongside landowners and shooting estates to manage habitat and save threatened species. Without the work of gamekeepers in The Brecks it is very likely stone-curlews would be extinct as UK breeding birds today. But the continuing spectre of raptor killing has undoubtedly cast a dark shadow on the positive contribution made by good game management to the conservation of these and other threatened species.”

And while detection is a problem, so is securing a conviction - the RSPB reporting that there were just four raptor persecution-related prosecutions in 2017 and only a single conviction.

According to Sergeant Brian Calver at Suffolk’s Police’s Rural and Wildlife Crime team many incidents of raptor persecution tend to happen in isolated areas, making detection a challenge.

He said: “It is often difficult to get evidence or crimes go unreported. Poisoning of birds of prey often takes place where the public don’t go while it can also be difficult to know whether a bird has died from being poisoned or from secondary poisoning - we have seen an increase in rodents which have built up a tolerance to poison but when they are taken by a buzzard, the poison in their system kills the bird.”

A tawny owl was trapped in Bedfordshire last year according to the Birdcrime 2017 report   PIC: Alan BaldryA tawny owl was trapped in Bedfordshire last year according to the Birdcrime 2017 report PIC: Alan Baldry

Gathering evidence where habitat sheltering birds that are actively nesting has been destroyed is also a challenge.

Sergeant Calver added: “Property developers may bulldoze through some hedgerows and trees but finding the evidence of nesting birds is difficult - it’s impossible to find blackbird eggs under several tonnes of earth - sadly, that is what we are up against.”

The full Birdcrime 2017 can be found at: www.rspb.org.uk/birdcrime

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