Heads below the parapet – RSPB Investigations.

[singlepic id=291 w=118 h=118 float=left]For over 20 years I’ve dealt with the dirty world of bird of prey persecution offences. In addition to dealing with a depressing catalogue of magnificent birds which have been shot, trapped and poisoned it has also provided an insight into why this problem won’t go away.

In the last couple of decades there has been much to celebrate with increases in buzzards and marsh harriers and successful re-introductions of red kites and white-tailed eagles. However, in the uplands of northern England and Scotland, where land is managed for red grouse shooting, the situation remains depressingly bleak. Species like golden eagles and hen harriers continue to be badly affected by illegal persecution. Last year a perilous four pairs of hen harriers bred in England, despite habitat for over 300.


My job is to try to get those persecuting raptors into court. Whilst very difficult crimes to investigate, the RSPB have been instrumental in many convictions. This has understandably made us rather unpopular with the criminal element within the shooting industry.

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Shortly after this image was taken Terry Pickford caught an estate gamekeeper

below the nest with a loaded shotgun.

Just this month gamekeeper Glenn Brown from the High Peak Estate in Derbyshire lost his appeal at Derby Crown Court. This followed a conviction for the illegal use of a cage trap baited with a live pigeon (a ‘hawk trap’) after he was covertly filmed – see recent blog posts on the court case and appeal for all the details. His failed appeal brought his costs to an eye watering £17,000, though the defence bill for employing a QC would no doubt have already dwarfed that figure. It seems somewhat unlikely that Mr Brown will be covering these bills and is a sign of the resources available to fight these cases.

Held to account

So another gamekeeper in the dock, now over one hundred since 1990 for raptor persecution related crimes. Of those how many of their employers or managers have been held to account? – well none that I’m aware of. In many ways the gamekeeper is something of a fall guy. The gamekeeper is man who does the dirty work whilst those in charge keep their heads well and truly down. If caught, he will get a good defence, keep his job and probably have his fine paid. In return, he keeps those in charge out of the frame.

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Goshawk and Peregrine have been persecuted almost to extinction

in Derbyshire’s Dark Peak.

Gamekeepers themselves have told me that raptor persecution on upland grouse estates is routine and that it is something they are expected to do if they want to keep their jobs. I have no doubt it is the shooting industry itself, the managers and employers who run these wealthy shooting estates, who are at the root of this pernicious problem.

Much of the shooting world remains in denial about the extent of raptor persecution. It is this lack of accountability for those running the show which means catching a few gamekeepers every year has limited deterrent effect. Encouragingly, Scotland has taken a step forward and introduced new legislation and an offence of vicarious liability. This seeks to make managers and employers more accountable for the criminal actions of their staff – this has to be a step in the right direction.

What can you do to help?

An e-petition is currently running to try to persuade the government to adopt similar legislation in England. Please step up for nature and take just a moment and to sign the vicarious liability e-petition to add your support.

Despite over 50 years of legal protection there seem to be little sign of the shooting industry getting its house in order. It is about time those crouched behind the parapet are finally made to stand up and be held to account for the damage being inflicted on our countryside.

wildlife crime, vicarious liability, Sign the e-petition here.

This article written by Guy Shorrock has been reproduced here with the permission of the RSPB


9 comments to Heads below the parapet – RSPB Investigations.

  • John Miles

    Now it is up to the top of the RSPB to ask all its members to sign the e-petition. If not, they can forget the word ‘protection’ from their title.

    • Ann Cardwell

      John, what Guy Shorrock has written shows up a large problem, there simply are not sufficient experienced people on the ground to combat the increasing persecution taking place, particularly on grouse moors. Take as an example the northern Pennines, no harriers and the few peregrines that are seen these days disappear all too often. The small number of Goshawks in the part of Cumbria where I live are treated with similar disregard where ever they attempt to nest. I do not expect any improvement, especially when Natural England are seen to undermine the work being carried out by long standing experienced raptor workers who’s only crime is to tell the truth.

  • Ian Campbell

    Isn’t this what people have been asking for, the RSPB encouraging members to sign the petition, and I can’t understand why so few have signed so far as so many people profess an interest in all things wild.
    Cheers Ian

    Editor’s comment, thanks for that Ian, we are also finding it difficult to understand, especially when the RSPB raptor petition presented to the government several years ago raised over 230,000 signatures. Where we could ask are all these people now?

  • paul williams

    Paul Williams shared a link.
    10 seconds ago
    Thieves steal three birds of prey from Loch Lomond visitor centre – The Daily Record
    THREE birds of prey have been stolen during an early-morning break-in at a visitor centre.

  • Maybe people have started to see the big picture. Of how the RSPB under estimate their numbers and don’t listen to people who may suffer as a consequence.

    Look at the demise of our songbirds, look at the demise of our small mammals. Look at the plight of the pigeon fancier. In fact I think it’s time everyone sat up and saw the big picture.

  • Jock Scott

    It’s an interesting question as to why the RSPB campaign gathered so much support in such a short time when the vicarious liability online petition has been somewhat of a damp squib at least so far.
    I think the broad “support for birds of prey” agenda the RSPB petition offered along with this charity’s incredible publicity machine would be key to its success. The public are led to sign (perhaps unwittingly!) by a name which is recognisable and reputable on a very simple question.
    On the other hand the V.L online petition is run by an unknown lady who is apparently owner of some sort of owl sanctuary. The petition is publicised as “her” petition which implies that you are signing for her not to save birds of prey or to protect our own natural heritage.
    After speaking about this petition to many people who actually work with raptors it would appear that it is viewed as a one woman crusade not as a serious campaign.
    If this is the case within the “raptor world” then the petition has very little chance of gaining wider support.

    PS. I have signed this petition and would urge anyone else with the slightest interest in the natural world to do the same.

    • TerryPickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

      Jock Scott many people I am sure will be comforted to know you have at least signed the e-petition Mrs Harper had the courage to submit. However I feel it is important to point out an e-petition can only be submitted by an individual member of the public, submissions made by groups or organisations are not acceptable. I agree with the points you make regarding the RSPB’s raptor campaign, and your view as to perhaps why this generated so much public support are also on the mark. This is why the RSPB should now place the full might of their membership fully behind this petition regardless of who submitted it don’t you think? One additional point, the RSPB campaign was supported and signed by many individuals who were not members did you know that?

  • Jock Scott

    Terry, yes I did know that many people who signed the RSPB campaign were non members, I was one of them.
    I also did my bit to campaign for the introduction of VL in Scotland.
    I feel your response was rather defensive. I can assure you that my comments were simply observations not criticism.


  • Falcoscot

    Protection is not enough, the raptor populations of the British Isles need “management”, 80% of young raptor die in their first winter, there is a huge surplus available to address the persection.
    There must be something like 200 to 300 dead Golden Eagle chicks in Scotland every year due to the Cain and Abel syndrome in this species and yet instead of utilising this surplus SNH grant licenses to take 6 week old chicks from nests with twins which have survived the Cain and Abel stage and would likely both fledge.
    With the correct management and England following Scotlands implementation of vicarious liability shooting estates would have to address the issue of grouse numbers through breed and release instead of persecuting a raptor population that was being managed.