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Crimes against birds of prey

16/03/2010

The number of bird poisoning incidents in Scotland has increased, according to new figures published today.

Maps published by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) outline the number and general location of confirmed poisonings in 2009, and cumulative figures for 2005 to 2009. A total of 22 poisoning incidents were recorded in 2009 resulting in 27 dead birds of prey including 19 buzzards, four red kites and two golden eagles.

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Birds of prey

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham joined RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association (SRPBA) to meet scientists at the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) centre for the launch of the maps.

Ms Cunningham said:

"These figures are a wake-up call to those who thought bird poisonings were on the wane.

"The latest PAW map clearly indicates that poisonings remain a problem in some parts of Scotland. A total of 27 birds were found to be illegally poisoned in 2009 - a disappointing return to the high levels of several years ago.

"This continued persecution of our precious wildlife is simply incomprehensible. Poisoning is an arbitrary method of killing which poses serious risks to other animals, and potentially people, in our countryside.

"The protection of Scotland's wildlife has never before occupied such a prominent position politically or in terms of the law. I am hugely grateful to those partners working together to tackle these appalling crimes and I hope that our joint efforts will result in a safer environment for our birds of prey."

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland said:

"The number of illegal poisoning incidents discovered in 2009 is one of the highest on record. Experience tells us that this represents just a fraction of the true scale of this illegal activity, which persist with shocking regularity in some areas of Scotland.

"There is now ample evidence to demonstrate the significant impact of this on the populations of some of Scotland's most iconic species, including the golden eagle. It is the selfish actions of a minority that damage the standing of the shooting industry.

"We ask the authorities to deploy the full range of sanctions against the perpetrators of this indiscriminate activity, and to send a clear message that this will not be tolerated in the Scottish countryside of the 21st century."

Lord Hopetoun, Director of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association (SRPBA) said:

"Our position remains clear: wildlife crime should not be tolerated and should be punished accordingly. This applies to all forms of wildlife crime from the illegal poisoning of birds of prey to poaching and hare coursing. This map-based report is an extremely useful barometer of the extent of the problem, based as it is on Government-verified incidents rather than unofficial reports and suspected offences.

"We remain committed to eradicating this scourge of our countryside. I am hugely disappointed that numbers have shown an increase but, as with many forms of wildlife crime, increasing awareness of the issues will lead to a greater number of reported incidents and follow-up, with more police time dedicated to these types of offences.

"We are committed to working with the Government, Police and other agencies and organisations on preventative measures to eliminate all forms of wildlife crime. As part of the solution there must also be an improvement in legal management tools, as these will be instrumental in bringing about changes in both attitudes and behaviours."

Figures out today also indicate the majority of poisonings carried out use Carbofuran, which is illegal in the UK and potentially dangerous to humans. Members of the public are warned not to touch any suspected poisoned animals or baits and to report them to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or contact their local wildlife police officer.

PAW Scotland is the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime in Scotland. PAW Scotland membership encompasses a wide range of bodies with an interest in tackling wildlife crime including conservation, land management, shooting and law enforcement organisations.

Led by PAW Scotland members RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association (SRPBA), the latest map was compiled using data held by Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA). The final result displays the number and frequency of confirmed poisoning incidents over the past five years.

SASA, a division of the Scottish Government's Rural Payments and Inspection Directorate, operates the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme in Scotland. They test suspected poisoned wildlife, domestic animals and assorted paraphernalia to determine what chemicals are present. Using latest scientific technology, bird specimens are analysed to identify cause of death and type of poisoned bait, if any, used.

As well as providing advice to the Government and pesticides industry about the illegal use of products, the science behind the bird of prey poisoning maps helps to highlight the scale of the problem of deliberate and illegal poisoning and is a significant tool in the fight against wildlife crime.

The maps show only incidents involving birds of prey. Other animal or bird species are not included. The species of birds confirmed as poisoned and included in the incidents are:

  • Red Kite
  • Buzzard
  • Sea Eagle
  • Golden Eagle
  • Goshawk
  • Peregrine falcon
  • Tawny Owl

The size of 'spots' on the map indicates the number of incidents in that area. The larger the spot the greater the number of confirmed incidents. Exact locations of incidents are not shown, in recognition of the fact that birds may travel some distance after ingesting poison. The map therefore randomises precise locations of incidents to produce a variation of around 1 kilometre. This avoids any inference being drawn from the exact point of discovery of the bird, but still allows an overview of the worst affected areas.

The incidents refer only to confirmed poisoning cases, not all reported incidents of suspected poisoning. The number of incidents does not indicate the number of birds killed.

The arrangements for dealing with wildlife crime were the subject of a major review in 2008, by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Inspectorate of Prosecution. The Scottish Government is implementing the recommendations that relate to PAW. These involve a restructuring of the organisation to create a broader base, and a revitalisation of effort with work being taken forward through focused sub-groups. The mapping project is a result of the partnership working.