Bird of prey poisonings at record low, official figures show

The number of birds of prey being poisoned has dropped to a record low, according to official figures.

Of the nine crimes against raptors in 2017 published by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, just one death was through the use of poison.

Owls, buzzards and a hen harrier were among those killed, while a golden eagle, osprey and merlin were also victims of disturbance cases.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “While I welcome this further reduction in recorded bird of prey crimes, including our lowest ever total for poisoning incidents, reports from early 2018 indicate that this remains a problem in some parts of Scotland.

“It is extremely frustrating that some criminals continue to undermine the good work that has been done by conservationists and land managers in recent years, with much of that work being done through the PAW Scotland.

“We have recently provided additional resources to Police Scotland for the detection and investigation of wildlife crime, and set up a review group to look at grouse moor management, including the potential for licensing this type of business.”

PAW Scotland began compiling data for 2004 onwards.

Despite the drop in recorded incidents, data from satellite-tagged raptors continues to show birds disappearing in unexplained circumstances, with persecution strongly suspected in many cases.

There were also three disturbances, two cases of trapping and two accounts of birds being shot in 2017. One offence has not yet been disclosed.

Incidents took place in locations ranging from the Borders to the Highlands.

Although figures show the overall number of crimes has dropped over recent years – down from 14 in 2016 and 19 in 2013 – campaigners believe deaths are increasing.

Logan Steele, communications secretary for the Scottish Raptor Study Group, said: “We’re heartened to hear the number of poisonings are down but techniques have changed to shooting more than poisoning.

“We know this because of the annual surveys and monitoring we do – populations are still down and there have been several poisonings this year.

“Through the use of satellite tags, we’re finding many disappearing near grouse moors.

“Golden eagles, hen harriers and white-tailed sea eagles have gone missing near or on grouse moors.

“We suspect the number being killed is the same – or higher.”

A hen harrier in flight
A hen harrier in flight

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management for RSPB Scotland, said: “For these grouse moor areas, we believe that a licensing system is required, including firm sanctions to remove licences to operate where wildlife protection laws are not being respected”.

The grouse season – which usually runs between August 12 and December 10 – is estimated to be worth £32 million to the Scottish economy each year.

Some larger raptors target game birds as prey and can have other impacts on land management.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) chairman Alex Hogg said: “In 2010 in Scotland, there were 22 cases of raptor poisoning, which was unacceptable.

“Seven years on, we are looking at one case, with shooting and trapping reduced substantially as well.

“Few, if any, types of crime in this country have declined at such a rate. This is welcomed by the SGA.

“The SGA has expelled six members in six years for wildlife crime convictions.”

David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, said: “Scottish Land and Estates is delighted to see the continued fall in raptor crime recorded by the police in 2017, now down to single figures and its lowest point since 2004.

“This reflects what we are seeing on the ground and illustrates the positive impact of current regulation and all the work done by PAW Scotland in recent years.”