By Lucy Siegle
It’s time for us to get tough on wildlife crime
This summer three rare breeding Montagu harriers were fitted with lightweight tracking devices. Last week two of them migrated to West Africa. The third, nicknamed Mo (after the wife of Mark Constantine, founder of ethical cosmetics chain Lush, who sponsored the tagging programme), is missing. The experts who fitted the tag think it is unlikely that the signal system failed. The fear is that she was shot and her tag removed – a criminal offence. Anyone with information should call Crimestoppers. There is a £5,000 reward.
This awe-inspiring raptor might be yet another wildlife crime statistic: 1,200 birds of prey are shot, poisoned or persecuted each year in the UK. Twenty-two raptors (red kites and buzzards) were found dead in Conon Bridge, Scotland, in March in what looked like a poisoning. Six hundred badger-related offences were dealt with in 2013 (just 16 made it to prosecution). Salmon poaching is also a growing problem. Globally it is thought that wildlife crime is worth £5bn to £6bn annually, but most crimes remain undetected.
Wildlife crime is cruel and harms efforts to stop species decline. Painstaking efforts to reintroduce species fail because the animals, birds and fish are illegally killed for profit or sport. The moors of England have the conditions to support 320 pairs of nesting harrier hens, but in 2011 there were just four successful nests – and by 2013 none.
Many point the finger at driven grouse shoots – big business for rural areas, they are culturally obsessed with killing more grouse each year. This puts them in direct competition with hen harriers, which hunt grouse chicks and other prey. In 2013 tagged hen harrier Bowland Betty was found shot on a Yorkshire moor. Conservationist Mark Avery called for a total ban on driven grouse shooting.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation claims grouse moors hold the key to conservation through diversionary feeding (providing carrion for hen harriers) and removing competing chicks to aviaries. The RSPB seems ideologically opposed to this.
Wildlife crime remains lucrative, while the penalties are low – that must change. Birders Against Wildlife Crime was made for you, Sandy, so you can agitate for more legislative powers against wildlife criminals and crimes. Also, support the National Wildlife Crime Unit.