THE North of England has been listed as a blackspot for crimes against birds of prey. The RSPB’s annual bird crime report identifies Northumberland, Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Shropshire as the worst areas for reported persecution in England.
There were 78 reports from North Yorkshire, 22 from Northumberland, and 16 each in Cumbria and Shropshire.
James Leonard, Newcastle-based RSPB investigations officer, said yesterday: “It is a shocking indictment that some areas of the North are blackspots especially as birds of prey can prove valuable to local economies through eco-tourism.
“The figures are the tip of the iceberg because there are large areas of open land where incidents are difficult to detect.
“A lot of the problems relate to upland areas which are managed for grouse shooting.
“Wild birds have been fully protected for more than 50 years and it is shocking that in today’s society a minority continue to flout the law and threaten to destroy part of our natural heritage.”
Mike Pratt, chief executive of Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said: “For Northumberland to be seen as the second worst area in the UK for this sort of appalling persecution is shameful.”
The Journal reported on Saturday how various projects in the North East were working to tackle persecution.
A 24-hour watch was kept this year by 30 volunteers on the only nesting pair of hen harriers in the North East, who raised their chicks in North Tynedale in Northumberland.
Nationally, reported crimes against birds of prey reached an all-time high in 2007, increasing by 40% on the previous year.
The RSPB said it received 262 reports of incidents of illegal shooting, trapping and nest destruction of birds of prey during the course of last year.
This compared with 185 reports in 2006, a figure which prompted the society to launch a campaign calling for an end to the illegal killing of birds of prey.
The RSPB said that in Northumberland, buzzards were found shot and there was poisoning of birds of prey including buzzard, kestrel and barn owl.
Last year a gamekeeper in Northumberland was convicted of possession of the illegal poison carbofuran – the most commonly abused pesticide for illegally killing protected wildlife.
In County Durham there were suspected shootings of buzzards and a kestrel, a buzzard found dead contained 18 pieces of shot, and the discovery of a rabbit bait laced with poison
In Cumbria five buzzards were shot and there was a case of an illegally set trap and the reported shooting of two hen harriers.
In the Borders four buzzards were poisoned by the banned carbofuran.
In Tyne and Wear incidents included the shooting and killing of mute swans.
Mike Pratt said: “This is appalling and disturbing news. Northumberland Wildlife Trust owns and manages over 60 nature reserves in the county, many of which are important sites for birds of prey.
“We also work closely with many partners and landowners to record and manage habitats for these and many other birds and wildlife generally.
“Despite our efforts there is a minority of people intent on persecuting these beautiful and essential birds. These birds are so vitally important as they represent the top of the food chain and are valuable in controlling rodent and other populations. In addition, they are simply some of our most stunning birds.
“We should all be proud of having on our doorstep birds such as harriers, buzzards, and red kites.”
The report also covers crimes against all wild birds. There were 165 reports of possible offences involving the use of pesticides, resulting in the deaths of at least 104 birds and animals, including 49 birds of prey.
These included the death of one half of the only breeding pair of golden eagles in the Scottish Borders, along with 17 red kites – the highest number recorded in a single year.
In County Durham there were nine bird of prey crime reports and 13 against other birds.
For Northumberland, the figures were 22 and 10, for Cumbria 16 and 14, and Tyne and Wear zero and five.
Reports of crimes against all wild birds were at record levels for a second year in a row, with 1,208 separate incidents reported to the RSPB’s investigations department in 2007.
The RSPB believes the true figure is much higher still, with many crimes taking place in remote areas where they remain undetected and unreported.
The RSPB is urging the Government to make tackling the illegal persecution of birds of prey and other wildlife a higher priority for the UK’s police forces.
For Northumberland to be seen as the second worst area in the UK for this sort of persecution is shameful