One minute guide: Bird of prey persecution

BBC Environment Correspondent Sarah Mukherjee investigates the recent spate of bird of prey persecution

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Are birds of prey really persecuted? 

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The RSPB say that poisoning birds, particularly in areas where game shooting takes place, is an incredibly serious problem. Late last year a sea eagle was discovered poisoned on an estate near Tayside. RSPB investigators also found 32 cubes of venison laced with three different pesticides and the body of a butchered mountain hare, also laced with poison. A dead buzzard, also a victim of the poison, was found nearby. Bob Elliot, a senior RSPB investigations officer, said: “It’s horrific to think that this sea eagle left the safe haven of Mull only to be poisoned on a mainland sporting estate.”

More widely, a recent report by Natural England on hen harriers in England suggested that: “Persecution accounted for the failure of nearly all [breeding] attempts on grouse moors in the Bowland Fells.” The report was roundly condemned by the Countryside Alliance (CA), who said: “This report is not science, it’s propaganda,” and pointed out that “on moors outside the Bowland area, which includes the RSPB’s own upland reserve at Geltsdale where no hen harriers have successfully bred since 2006, other factors which could play a part in breeding failure, which could include weather, predation, lack of food and fire, have been excluded.”

The CA has signed a pledge with the RSPB and others to support bird of prey conservation.

Are gamekeepers to blame? 

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It is a crime to harm a bird of prey, so it’s difficult to find anyone who will talk openly about it. While many gamekeepers are shocked by raptor poisonings and work hard to manage the land for all wildlife, others admit that they are under pressure to deliver large numbers of game birds for shoots, and the presence of birds of prey can affect those numbers. Despite the huge penalties, some admit they have considered harming raptors.