The headline says it all. In 2017 there was only one recorded incident of illegal poisoning of birds of prey in Scotland. Asthe official Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland press release stated, this is the lowest figure recorded since these statistics were compiled from 2004.
In 2004 there was a total of 38 incidents in Scotland, 31 alone involving buzzards. It is clear that poisoning appears to be in decline, as of course, it should be, although there is an indication that when the 2018 figures are released next year it will not have been completely eradicated.
While we can congratulate ourselves for this reduction all that we are doing is admitting our past guilt.
Not all poisoning can be laid at the door of game shooting interests, or gamekeepers, and we are aware that a number of previous convictions have involved individuals who were more interested in controlling badgers and foxes to protect lambs rather than raptors to save game. However, we cannot hide from the fact that poisoning was, and still is, often attributed to game shooting interests.
In recent years these official statistics and maps have not only looked at recorded incidents of poisoning but of other “Bird of Prey Crimes” that include shooting, trapping, disturbance etc. In 2017 there were nine such incidents. So, even expanding the range of recorded offences we have nine when in 2004 there were 38 poisoning offences alone. (10 years ago, for example, the 2007 poisonings still amounted to 27, this time involving 10 red kites and four peregrines.)
I think that the consistent standards applied to the recording of these incidents (compared to “suspected” incidents) means that there has been a significant reduction in the number of recorded offences involving birds of prey.
At a number of meetings with RSPB over the last two years, there was also clear recognition that the offences on low-ground shoots had declined, almost “cleared up”. This is good news for pheasant and partridge shoots, but less good for grouse moors.
Of the nine offences in 2017, we know that only one involved poisoning. Two involved shooting, and the same number for trapping. Three were for disturbance and one is yet to be disclosed. Despite this detail, there are serious reservations about whether these statistics actually reveal the true picture. In her press release, the Environment Secretary welcomed the “further reduction” but went on to say that raptor persecution “remains a problem in some parts of Scotland”.
The press release also referred to the disappearance in unexplained circumstances of satellite-tagged birds, with persecution strongly suspected. While there could be a wide range of reasons for these tagged birds (mainly young eagles) to disappear, earlier research did identify a number of hot spots for their disappearance, and they did coincide with areas managed as grouse moors.
In recent years grouse numbers in much of Scotland have been at record numbers, this being attributed to good, legal predator control, habitat management and of course the use of medicated grit when needed. Has it also been, in part, due to the ongoing bird of prey persecution?
The Grouse Moor Review Group will be considering this in some detail in the coming months and has a remit to look at potential regulatory options for shooting businesses.