At least 118 birds of prey were killed or injured in 137 recorded incidents in the UK last year, according to a new report by wildlife charity RSPB.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is a criminal offence to intentionally kill or injure birds of prey, also known as raptors, in the UK. A person can be fined or given up to six months in jail for the crime.
Despite the high number of crimes against the birds in 2020, there were only two prosecutions.
Incidents include birds being illegally shot, trapped or poisoned. Among the victims were 58 buzzards, 20 red kites, 16 peregrines, six sparrowhawks and three goshawks. Hen harriers and golden eagles were also targeted.
Highest number of killings
The overall number of incidents, which only includes confirmed cases, is the highest figure since records began 30 years ago.
The RSPB says that the actual number of attacks could be a lot higher because many crimes are not detected or reported.
“Although we have become used to the illegal killing of birds of prey, the figure for 2020 is truly shocking,” said Mark Thomas, head of Investigations at RSPB.
The report says that at least 85 of the incidents were “linked to land managed for or connected with gamebird shooting.”
To maximise the number of pheasants, partridges, or grouse available for shooting, gamekeepers often kill their natural predators, including legally protected birds of prey.
In one incident in April last year, police officers found five raptors dead and hidden in a hole in the ground on a grouse moor, where hunters kill red grouse as a sport. According to a witness, the birds of prey had been shot.
The police interviewed eight people in connection with the shootings, but due to a lack of evidence, none of them were taken to court.
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