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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 06:00 GMT 07:00 UK
Birds of prey face persecution
Wild birds of prey are being poisoned, shot and caught in traps across Britain.

Red Kite
Red kites have only recently been reintroduced to parts of the UK
Owls, red kites, peregrine falcons are being targeted while their eggs and chicks are being routinely stolen from nests, according to new figures.

Cumbria and Devon recorded the highest numbers of crimes against birds of prey.

Other hotspots include Northumberland, North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Wales and parts of Scotland.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which released the findings on Thursday, warned the rate of destruction showed no signs of abating.

These crimes belong more to the Victorian era than today's supposedly more enlightened times
Graham Elliott, RSPB
The charity said the figures meant the law protecting birds of prey must not be weakened.

Graham Elliott, head of the RSPB's investigation section, said: "Birds of prey, such as the red kite and peregrine falcon, are among the best loved birds in Britain, but the persecution of these protected species ranks as some of the most serious of wildlife crimes.

"These crimes belong more to the Victorian era than today's supposedly more enlightened times."

The RSPB's Birdcrime 2002 report shows that more than half of the 591 incidents involving wild birds reported across the UK were crimes against birds of prey or owls.

Of these, 141 involved shooting and destruction of birds of prey, 42 of which were confirmed by the recovery of a body or illegally-set trap.

Egg collectors

There were 102 reported incidents involving the use of poison, which resulted in the deaths of 32 birds of prey.

The spectacular red kite continues to fall foul of illegal poisoned bait laid in the countryside while peregrine nests continue to be plundered for their eggs and young.

Mr Elliott added: "We were alarmed by the number of reports last year of birds of prey persecution and this year is shaping up to be just as bad.

"It is especially worrying that, against a trend of declining nest robberies following the imprisonment of several egg collectors, peregrine nest robberies continue at such a high level."

A total of 33 offenders were prosecuted last year for crimes against wild birds, and six of those received custodial sentences.

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