Devon & Cornwall Police Launch Operation Wilderness to tackle bird crime.

Led by Wildlife Crime Officer PC Josh Marshall the new scheme involves the introduction of 24-hour motion detection camera’s set up near to rare raptor nests that will help collect evidence of anyone illegally disturbing some of the county’s rarest bird species.

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The poisoning of this imature Peregrine found near Buckfastleigh brings the total number of raptore related poisoning incidents in Devon and Cornwall last year to eight.

RSPB has welcomed a major operation by Devon and Cornwall Police to tackle wild bird crime in Devon. Spearheaded by county Police Wildlife Crime Officer Josh Marshall Operation Wilderness will use covert cameras to collect evidence on the illegal disturbance of some of the county’s rarest and most vulnerable birds.

The Operation is a response to last year’s shocking series of crimes against birds of prey in the county. In separate incidents four goshawks, a buzzard and a peregrine were all found poisoned.


Tony Whitehead of RSPB South West said: “Crimes against wild birds continues to be a problem in Devon and Cornwall. In a survey recently the area was identified as the fifth worst in England. We remain particularly concerned about the spate of bird of prey poisonings last year and persistent threat from a small but obsessive community of egg collectors. There is also growing concern about a small number of reckless and irresponsible wildlife photographers who disturb sensitive species.”

The cameras were kindly donated by The Devon Bird Watching and Preservation Society. The intention is to place them at pre-identified locations within Devon at the nest sites of previously targeted species and of species that are considered vulnerable to persecution or disturbance.

Volunteers have been identified who will locate the difficult to find nest sites and place the camera in situ. All of these persons will be acting under the necessary license. The camera will be left in place for the duration of the nesting attempt. The cameras will not be able to stop an attempt on the nest or birds. However, it will hopefully be able to provide sufficient evidence to assist with a prosecution.

Great initiative

Tony Whitehead added: “This is a great initiative by the police and we hope that the knowledge that key species are being watched in the places they nest will deter the people that carry out these crimes. And make no mistake, killing or disturbing threatened species is a crime. If convicted such crimes will result in either a fine and, or, a prison sentence.”

“We also hope it will remind people to remain vigilant themselves and report to the police anything they think suspicious.”

If anyone has information regarding bird crime they can call the Police on 101 and then the RSPB on 0845 466 3636. All information is handled in the strictest confidence.

What can I do?

Nature is in trouble – so millions of people are stepping up to help. Our wildlife has been disappearing at an alarming rate. But small steps make a big difference. If we all act together and get stuck in, we can save our wildlife.


6 comments to Devon & Cornwall Police Launch Operation Wilderness to tackle bird crime.

  • What a complete waste of time and money. How are camera’s at nest sites going to prevent the shooting and poisoning of adult birds? Hawks and falcons hunt a long way from the nest and therefore are most likely to come to harm miles away. Likewise, it is soon after fledging that any young are at their most vulnerable. I can envisage innocent bird watchers, dog walkers, and ramblers being picked up by the camera’s, then later being accused or questioned while the real killers of hawks are having a good laugh.
    Hundreds of nests have been watched and filmed in the past, some year after year, and yet to my knowledge no criminal activity has ever been filmed. This kind of activity is never going to stem the persecution of our birds of prey and is therefore quite pointless.

    Editor’s comment, Point taken and it’s a very valid one. Since the North West Raptor Protection Group lost their licenses to visit and monitor nests we are aware similar cameras have been installed, not to catch the nest robbers and persecutors. but to trap members of this group ensuring they would never receive their licenses ever again. No doubt a number of cameras will be deployed once again this year at specific nests in the Forest of Bowland.

  • Seb Loram

    I would like to say that this is a fantastic example of proactive action to protect birds in general. Devon has a wide diversity of schedule 1 species which are all persecuted in various ways. Most of the persecution and disturbance is happening in the immediate vicinity of nest site by people who clearly think that they cant be caught. These cameras have been covertly located at nesting sites as explained in the article. This will hopefully make people think twice before approaching nests, there is no reason for innocent people to be anywhere near these sites so as far as that concern goes, it doesnt carry much weight.

    For a change, why dont people welcome and support a proactive approach which in my opinion is far better than reacting to incidents when it is too late.

    This may stop some people from persecuting birds, which is better than sitting back and letting it happen. This isnt a perfect solution but it is a start.

  • Just to reply to the comment from Doug.

    Devon and Cornwall police rightly or wrongly do not employ full time WCO’s. They do it off there own back and many of us in our spare time. We have no funds and very little time to spend proactively trying to protect, not just raptors, but any wildlife that is vulnerable to persucution.

    I put together this Op to publicise the fact that we are at least doing something to attempt to stop what happened last year. I agree that many birds are probably shot or poisoned away from the nest. The 4 Gos that I found last year were just yards away from the nest site.

    Isn’t it valid then that your point being that hundreds of nests have been filmed and no criminal activity has been filmed, that cameras actually put people off going for the birds? I hope we don’t record any criminals at the nest, the whole point of the operation is to make a those interested in persecuting these birds aware that this year they may get caught and not go anywhere near the sites. I am not publicising the locations of the cameras for that very point.

    Obviously you fail completely Doug to realise that these cameras will record any persons wanting to rob the eggs of these birds. Something we do have a problem with in Devon. last year a compete clutch of Gos eggs were taken on the day of the royal wedding. Hopefully with the installation of these cameras we will obtain the evidence needed to obtain a successful prosecution. Instead of like last year people moaning about nothing being done. What would you like us to do Doug, 24hr helicopter surveillance of a woodland?! Not likely. There are bigger issues here obviously and persucution of Raptors needs addressing on a bigger scale, but come on, don’t be so negative about a scheme that very well could work.

    The issue with members of the public being entrapped is ignorant of any police ivestigation methods and therefore not a valid point. Special authorisation is needed to place the cameras in locations that the public have access to. A person walking past the nest site I can envisage wont be questioned, however someone with climbing irons scaling a tree will, as with a person putting his hand into a Dartford Warblers nest. Do you get my point Doug?

    For a site interested in the welfare of raptors I am a little suprised to see your comment to Dougs pint that he has raised. But hey, everyone’s initialed to their opinion… P.S nice to see your balanced positive comments Seb, thanks.. Hopefully we have a persucution free year this year, it’s what this Operation is designed for, but like you say, it’s far from perfect…

    Editor’s Comment. Thanks Josh for taking the touble and time to forward this update.I am sure we all hope things relating to raptor killing in your area begin to improve this season. Anytime you wish RP to provide publicity to what you are attempting to do please get in touch. Thank you. Editor.

  • Just for the editor, quite interested to know how that was a valid point and not just a negative comment with no helpful suggestions?

  • Rick Blundell

    Not a waste of time Josh, as reported in the Western Morning News and Herald Express this week two men were cautioned after being captured by cameras two days after they were set up as part of operation wilderness, well done Josh

  • Rick Blundell

    oops first Josh should read Doug.