Criminals are taking advantage of the coronavirus lockdown to slaughter birds of prey, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
RSPB’s dedicated Investigations Unit says it has been inundated with reports of predatory birds being illegally killed in recent weeks.
Targeted birds that have been killed in the last six weeks include hen harriers, peregrines, buzzards, red kites, goshawks and a barn owl.
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Over the Easter Weekend, a red kite was found shot dead near Leeds after being hit 12 times by a shotgun. Several other of the birds were found dead in Wales, pictured, one of the unlawfully slaughtered animals
On 29 March, the same week Boris Johnson first urged people to stay at home due to COVID-19, a buzzard was found shot at Shipton, near York.
The animal suffered a fractured wing in two locations and shrapnel from the shot was seen throughout the bird’s body on X-rays.
This animal was lucky and survived after being nursed back to health by a local wildlife expert before being released back into the wild.
Over the Easter Weekend, a red kite was found shot dead near Leeds after being hit 12 times by a shotgun.
The following weekend, wildlife presenter Iolo Williams recovered a dead red kite in Powys, which had been shot. Two other red kites were later found dead in the same area.
Scottish police were called out to investigate raptor persecution cases while there were multiple reports of illegal trapping on grouse moors.
All the act reported by the RSPB broke the law and breached the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The intentional killing or injury of animals covered by the act is a criminal offence punishable by an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.
Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said: Since lockdown began, the RSPB has been overrun with reports of birds of prey being targeted.
‘It is clear that criminals on some sporting estates both in the uplands and lowlands, have used the wider closure of the countryside as an opportunity to ramp up their efforts to kill birds of prey.
‘Spring is the time when birds of prey are most visible and therefore vulnerable, as they put on courtship displays, build nests and find food ready to breed.
On 29 March, the same week Boris Johnson first urged people to stay at home due to COVID-19, a buzzard was found shot at Shipton, near York. The animal suffered a fractured wing in two locations and shrapnel from the shot was seen throughout the bird’s body on X-rays. The animal (pictured) was nursed back to health and made a full recovery
Freak Mediterranean storm in April causes a drop in swift and swallow sightings
A freak storm in the Mediterranean at the start of April may have led to a drop in the number of sightings of swallows, swifts and other migrating birds in the UK.
Last month, thousands of birds migrating from Africa to Europe were blown off course due to high winds battering Greece, and were found dead in the streets.
The British Trust for Ornithology, which tracks migrating birds as they arrive in the UK, say they’ve had reports from the across the UK of a decrease in numbers.
They say that sightings of swallows, swifts and house martin numbers were all down and that the ‘disastrous storm’ in Greece is the most obvious cause.
However, they warn that this is purely anecdotal evidence as they haven’t been able to conduct proper surveys due to coronavirus lockdown measures.
‘It is clear the criminal actions are targeted and malicious in nature, taking out birds before they have the opportunity to breed, often in areas where they have previously faced persecution.
‘We welcome the fact that the public is remaining vigilant and encourage any suspicious incidents to be reported. But please observe government guidelines at all times.’
The Moorland Association, which cares for 860,000 acres of heather moorland in England and Wales, claims birds of prey are benefiting from the lockdown.
Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, said: ‘Any confirmed reports of raptor persecution are cause for concern.
‘The incidents specified near Leeds and York in the RSPB release are clearly not on grouse moors, while reports we have from our members in the uplands have suggested that many birds of prey are in fact benefiting from the lockdown restrictions and the subsequent reduction in disturbance from members of the public.
‘Estates across the country have reported a number of raptors including peregrine, merlin and hen harriers nesting and living on those landscapes.
‘We condemn any illegal activity and Moorland Association members have signed up to a cross-sector zero tolerance approach to wildlife crime.
‘Estates and gamekeepers have been the eyes and ears on the ground during lockdown, reporting suspicious activity.
‘They are also actively working with police authorities in Operation Owl – an initiative to raise awareness of raptor persecution. We always encourage reporting of any suspicious incident.’
Superintendent Nick Lyall, head of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, said: ‘Over recent weeks, I have been sickened by the number of raptor persecution cases that have come to my attention as chair of the Raptor Persecution Delivery Group.
‘I know that there are officers currently investigating a number of crimes against wild birds of prey which have occurred since lockdown began.
‘It is clear that lockdown has been seen as a green light by those involved in raptor persecution offences to continue committing crimes, presumably in the belief that there are fewer people around to catch them doing so’