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Sunday, September 19, 1999 Published at 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK


Bird crimes on the increase

Birds of prey, such as this falcon, are most at risk

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Crimes against wild birds in the United Kingdom rose by 10% in 1998, to a total of 738 incidents, according to a leading charity.

A report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds blames "a catalogue of killing, nest robberies and poisoning involving some of the UK's rarest birds".

[ image: Five golden eagles were killed last year]
Five golden eagles were killed last year
Birds of prey were the group most commonly persecuted, being involved in 321 of the incidents recorded.

The number of birds of prey killed was 85: this included 44 buzzards, 15 peregrines, seven red kites (a species which the RSPB is working to re-introduce), five golden eagles and one osprey.

The report, Birdcrime '98, says egg-collecting also increased, from 109 incidents in 1997 to 125 last year.

It says confirmed robberies involved the nests of some of the rarest and most threatened species, including white-tailed eagles, red-necked phalaropes, ospreys, goshawks and golden orioles.

Those convicted of the thefts can be fined up to £5,000 per egg stolen.

Prosecutions last year resulted in fines totalling £34,125, the largest single fine being one of £3,500 for the illegal possession of rare birds' eggs.

Nests robbed

But the RSPB wants stiffer penalties to be available to the courts, including custodial sentences. The society's head of investigations, Graham Elliott, said: "The annual toll of wildlife crime is a catalogue of death and destruction that continues unabated".

"Effective deterrents are needed to stop nest robbers, poisoners and trappers from plundering or persecuting the nation's most valuable wildlife.

"Many persistent offenders appear to treat convictions as no more serious than a parking ticket, to be paid and forgotten."

The RSPB says early indications suggest that 1999 will be a record year for bird crime.

So far this year, three buzzards, three red kites and two golden eagles have already been poisoned, several rare birds have been found shot dead, and many nests have been robbed, including those of four golden eagles.

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