County worst in the country for attacks on birds of prey – RSPB
Devon was the worst place in England for confirmed cases of bird of prey persecution in 2011, according to the RSPB's annual Birdcrime report.
After a year that saw four goshawks, a peregrine and a buzzard killed by illegal poisons in Devon, the wildlife charity is calling on the Government to tackle the illegal killing of birds of prey through reforms of wildlife law and policing.
Another two peregrine falcons were poisoned in Cornwall while another was shot.
Tony Whitehead, from the RSPB in the South West, said: "There were 15 reported incidents of crimes against birds of prey in Devon in 2011. Amongst these were the confirmed poisonings of four goshawks, a buzzard and the poisoning of a young peregrine at Buckfastleigh.
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"In 22 years of working for the RSPB in the Westcountry, I have never known a year as bad as this.
"Although it's natural to speculate on who might carry out such attacks, for me the simple answer is the people that do this are nothing but common criminals and deserve to be treated as such, no matter what their motivation."
The RSPB believes a review of wildlife protection legislation by the Law Commission – currently being consulted on – provides a golden opportunity to address ongoing persecution of bird of prey in England and Wales.
This month will also see the publication of the House of Commons environmental audit committee's inquiry into wildlife crime.
RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to tackle the illegal shooting and poisoning of some of our most magnificent birds.
"I hope that tougher laws and penalties for wildlife offenders will help consign their crimes to the pages of history where they belong.
"We need Defra and Home Office Ministers, and the Welsh Government to step up for nature and make the right decisions. An essential first step is to secure the future of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which only has guaranteed funding until March next year.
"It's been over 100 years since poisoning of wild birds was outlawed in the UK and yet our report shows we're still witnessing the slaughter of kites, eagles and buzzards.
"Fewer incidents were recorded last year, but as our report highlights birds of prey continue to die at the hands of those who want to remove them from our countryside.
"Thankfully, vastly more people are inspired by the homecoming of eagles, ospreys and peregrines and recognise these charismatic species bring huge enjoyment to people and benefits for tourist economies."
The report – Birdcrime 2011 – catalogues 202 reports nationally of shooting and destruction of birds of prey, with the confirmed shooting of 30 individual birds in 2011.
There were also 100 reports of poisoning incidents involving the confirmed poisoning of at least 70 individual birds or animals.
Devon and Cornwall Police Inspector Nevin Hunter, the new head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: "In my police career, I have investigated many offences, including the deliberate persecution of birds of prey.
"It is unacceptable and there is a need to work to address it across the UK with the help of all partner agencies. The unit will support the taking of preventative measures and in addition will work to gather intelligence and take robust enforcement action to tackle persecution wherever found."