What are crimes against birds?
Poisoning - Poisoning, specifically the setting of poison baits in the open, was first outlawed by the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act in 1912 (although this didn't cover birds). Despite this, and our strengthened modern day legislation, the activity of illegal poisoning continues and incidents are noted every year. Over the years golden eagles, white tailed eagles, owls, buzzards, cats, dogs and many other species have been found dead after eating poisoned baits.
Shooting and Trapping - Birds of prey are particularly vulnerable to being caught in traps illegally set on fence poles or on the ground. The use of these traps in this way has been outlawed for many years. Small songbirds are caught illegally in nets and by the use of glue on twigs or branches. Although the breeding and keeping of finches is a lawful pursuit, provided the birds are legally held in captivity, the trapping, possession and sale of wild finches is an offence and remains a problem in Scotland. Birds are illegally shot in urban and rural areas of Scotland every year. The illegal killing of fish-eating birds, particularly cormorants, grey herons, red-breasted mergansers and goosanders continues to be a problem.
Egg Collecting - Even though taking wild bird eggs has been illegal since at least 1954 this practice continues today. These eggs are also traded between collectors.
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Why does it matter?
Wildlife crime, especially that against birds, remains a significant threat to the conservation of a number of species in Scotland.
Several bird of prey species are particularly vulnerable to this kind of activity, due largely to their slow reproductive rates; that is when birds are killed they are only slowly replaced in the overall population. Persistent human killing can therefore result in local population extinctions, and if carried out more widely, in regional and national extinctions. This problem is increasingly well documented in the scientific literature and deliberate human killing has been demonstrated to be one of the main threats to species such as golden eagles, hen harriers and the reintroduced red kites. Illegal killing damages Scotland's reputation and its vital tourism industry. Most incidents of illegal killing are discovered by chance by hill walkers in remote areas of Scotland.
In poisoning cases the toxicity of illegally held pesticides can be very high, potentially lethal to humans, and it is worrying that some poisoned baits have been found laid out close to public footpaths. Indeed, in one incident, children in Dumfries and Galloway recovered a dead red kite, later found by toxicology analysis to have been poisoned, in a school playground.
It is likely that those bird or mammal victims that are found each year are a small proportion of the actual deaths. Those engaged in this activity have a good opportunity to conceal evidence and the chance of finding evidence that hasn't been removed is slim. That is why we need the public to remain vigilant.
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What does the law say?
The essential basis of Scotland's wild bird legislation is that all wild birds, their nests and their eggs are protected.
The most important legislation for wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. In Scotland, this has been updated by various acts of both the Westminster and Holyrood parliaments. The most recent and significant changes were made by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. This is a Scottish Parliament law that has now made the Wildlife and Countryside Act significantly different in Scotland from the version that applies elsewhere.
The basic principle - that all wild birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law - remains in the amended Scottish legislation. There are various key exceptions to this. Some rare species are afforded extra protection.
Some species, notably wildfowl and a few other traditionally hunted species, may be shot in season. Various species that may cause problems may be killed or otherwise controlled all year round in certain clearly defined circumstances and under licence. Where birds may be lawfully killed, there are certain methods of doing this that remain illegal (e.g. the use of poisons). Individuals may apply for licences to carry out work like this and, in addition, some General Licenses are issued to cover certain circumstances.
- Further information on licensing
Certain spring-traps may be used legally to kill rats and weasels etc. These traps have to be set under cover to prevent injury to other animals. If a spring-trap is set out in the open, particularly if mounted on a pole, or if you come across a spring-trap of any sort with a dead bird in it, call the police as quickly as possible. If you have a camera, take a photograph of it.
Rare and endangered species are also protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This is an international treaty aimed at controlling or preventing trade in species threatened by trade. The protection given to a species depends on the Annex it is listed in.
Further information on CITES and illegal trade in wildlife
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What can I do?
If you come across what is suspected to be a dead bird or object related to a wildlife crime:
- Take photographs using mobile phone, stills camera or video. Make a rough sketch if a camera is not available
- Note the location preferably using a map grid reference, or if in an urban area the address or other recognisable description of the place
- If possible try to cover the items, perhaps with vegetation, to make them safe
- Write any vehicle registration numbers down related to the incident
- Inform the police as soon as possible and ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer. The RSPB Investigations Team are available for advice if needed
- Disturb the scene by moving items or walking around unnecessarily
- Touch any dead birds or animals. They may be poisoned baits or victims of poisoning. Many poisons are extremely dangerous and can be absorbed through the skin
- Do not approach anyone you suspect of committing a crime
- Remember that certain cage-traps may be used legally to trap certain 'problem species'. These are legal providing any specified conditions are complied with. This normally includes a requirement for any decoy bird to be supplied with adequate food, water, shelter and a perch plus the trap needs to be checked daily.
You should not interfere with such traps, but if you are uncertain about their legality then contact the police or other agency for advice
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