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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The more birds of prey there are the more they are targeted by criminals"
 real 56k

Monday, 9 October, 2000, 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK
Call to jail bird persecutors
dead red kite
A dead red kite, victim of the poisoners (Photo: R.F.Porter/RSPB)
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Wild birds in the United Kingdom are reported to be facing rising levels of harassment and persecution.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says crimes against birds show a marked increase on last year's total.

It is especially concerned at the number of reports of birds of prey being poisoned.

The RSPB believes the existing laws on wildlife crime need urgent reform to allow the imprisonment of the worst offenders.

In a report, Birdcrime 99, the RSPB says 681 crimes against wild birds were reported across the UK last year.

Poisonings mount

These included 153 incidents of shooting or other forms of destruction, 70 poisonings, 245 nest robberies and 63 reports of the illegal taking, possession or sale of wild birds.

golden eagle
Three golden eagles died last year
It said: "Alarmingly, the figures so far for this year show a considerable increase, particularly the number of poisoned birds of prey.

"These include 14 red kites, compared with four last year; 11 peregrine falcons, though there were no reports in 1999 of any poisonings; and three golden eagles, up from two."

One explanation for the increase in red kite deaths is that the birds are now far more widespread than they were, thanks to the success of schemes to reintroduce them.

Overall though, the RSPB says immediate reform of the laws protecting wildlife is the only way to lift the risk of poisoning, trapping and egg-stealing from many birds.

It wants to see far tougher penalties for the criminals, and more latitude allowed to the police.

Imprisonment call

The head of its investigations section, Graham Elliott, said: "On 11 October, the House of Lords will be continuing their debate of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill.

"In particular, their attention will be focussed on those aspects of the Bill concerned with wildlife crime.

"In our submissions the RSPB has been calling for the provision of custodial sentences for the most serious offenders, which we believe would be a far greater deterrent to wildlife criminals than the current low levels of fines.

"Additionally, we have called for proposals to give police officers a power of arrest to prevent the destruction of evidence.

peregrine falcon
Peregrine falcon deaths are soaring
"Police have previously relied on arresting wildlife offenders for other ridiculous offences such as the alleged possession of a stolen telephone directory or the suspected possession of a stolen car.

"From our regular dealings with the national network of police wildlife liaison officers, we know that these proposed measures would be popular with all those working hard to stamp out this shocking level of wildlife crime."

Lack of consistency

The RSPB is also concerned that the existing law is not always applied rigorously or fairly.

Graham Elliott told BBC News Online: "We have been disappointed in the past over the sentences some courts have imposed, and over the consistency of sentencing policy.

"For a very similar offence, you can face a fine in one court of 50, while in another you'll be charged 5,000."

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03 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
New hope for birds of prey
29 May 00 | Scotland
Birds of prey face 'worrying future'
20 Sep 99 | UK
Bird crimes on the increase
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