Raptor Persecution on our doorstep – Alan and Saffra

Alan Smith and Saffra Wright attended the BMC Peak Area Meeting as we had a particular interest in seeing the presentation by the RSPB and Derbyshire Police Wildlife Crimes Unit on Raptor persecution.
PC Emerson Buckingham of Derbyshire Wildlife Crime Unit gave an overview of different types of traps which are used in the Peak District some of which are legal and some of which are illegal.The context of how the trap is set sometimes determines if the trap is legal or not. For example a wire snare can legally be used to trap foxes but it is illegal to snare badgers. If the snare is set too low (in general under 9″ is considered too low) then it is probably illegal as the intended quarry is not foxes. Snares and other traps should be checked every 24 hrs and if this is not being undertaken then again it the traps are being used illegally.
PC Buckingham also emphasised that traps, such as the Fentrap – Mark 4, which may be set perfectly legally on the ground become illegal if placed (set) on a fence post. This is all connected with the target quarry of the trap, as if a trap on a fence post is discovered it is likely that the intended quarry is a raptor. His advice was that if a trap is found on a fence post to knock it off with a stick and photograph (and an OS grid ref is probably useful also). It is very important not to touch the traps as they can snap shut forcefully and damage fingers and hands. There are traps which are completely legal and these cannot legally be unset but a trap on a fence post will always be illegal. If in doubt he stated that he does not mind being contacted and sent a photo and neither would any other staff member of the wildlife crime unit. Snares can only be used for foxes legally. It
gets more complicated when it has to be considered if the snares are free-running (legal) or self-locking (illegal – due to animal welfare). So it’s worth contacting the unit if in doubt as obviously it is quite complicated and worth verifying before taking any personal action.
Mark Thomas of the RSPB emphasised the covert nature of operations of his unit and how they work with the Wildlife Crime Unit. Most of their work comprises collecting evidence for the CPS and assisting with police investigations. Mark emphasised that ring ouzel and even dipper have been found dead in Fentraps on posts as well as raptors. Mark also pointed put the stark contrast between raptor numbers in the White Peak, where they thrive, in comparison with the dark Peak where raptors are virtually absent. Obviously the significant correlation being with the location of grouse moors being in the Dark Peak.
The evidence that Mark presented showing that gamekeepers are responsible for many raptor deaths was compelling and graphic. A very interesting example showed that raptors die of natural causes in West Africa, in very remote locations, they are always found (the body is found) due to the satellite tag still be able to transmit even when the bird has died. That has been contrasted with raptors going missing on grouse moors where the tag simply stops transmitting so that even the dead bird can’t be found. Clearly the tags are being removed and destroyed in order to hide the criminal evidence.
Both speakers emphasised strongly that wildlife crime and specifically raptor persecution was a major problem in Derbyshire, with the Dark Peak, in particular, being a hotspot for it. Many members of the audience raised examples of traps they had found and asked questions about what could be done. Both speakers were clear that 999 should be called without hesitation should a definite wildlife crime be being witnessed. If the witness is less sure or it is evidence collecting rather than an active crime happening (perhaps if you find a suspicious raptor carcass or suspected poisoned bait) then PC Buckingham can be emailed with the details (probably with photos as appropriate) or there is a confidential Raptor Crime Hotline 0300 999 0101. This is very useful for people who perhaps work on an estate already or are perhaps on the property for another reason, with landowners permission, and might not want to jeopardise their current status. This is a free number and can easily be found with a simple google search.
In addition to the above the discussion it is timely in that a new study (published in Nature Communications on 19th March 2019) has recently revealed that a 10 year study has shown that hen harriers are ten times more likely to die or disappear on grouse moors than elsewhere. The data is compelling, highly statistically significant and is considered to represent irrefutable science based evidence of illegal persecution on grouse moors. The data set comprised a suitable large sample size over a suitably long study period to show this beyond reasonable doubt. More details on this report can be found at www.rarebirdalert.co.uk  or raptorpersecutionscotland

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