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Fears raised over increase of wild bird crime in northern England

[Monday 26 February 2007]
clint and gryke
Clint and Gryke: the young Malham peregrines
Photo: Carl Watts/RSPB

THE withdrawal of a scheme requiring bird keepers to register the most threatened species held in captivity could lead to an increase in the number of birds of prey plundered from the wild in northern England.

That is the bleak assessment from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which says the government's bird-registration scheme has been pivotal in preventing 'laundered' wild-caught birds being passed off as those bred in captivity.

Despite the scheme's success in protecting wild birds, the RSPB fears the government may axe the scheme to reduce bureaucracy and save costs. A consultation on its future ended earlier this month and Defra is now reviewing the options.

The RSPB believes the withdrawal of the scheme could have a major impact on two species of birds in particular - goshawks and peregrine falcons.

Both species have had a chequered history in the UK. Following centuries of persecution, the peregrine falcon population crashed in the 1960s, disappearing from many areas in the UK. The population has recently recovered to about 1400 nesting pairs - including a pair nesting at Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales,

The goshawk was persecuted to extinction in Britain. However, in the 1960s it became re-established as a nesting bird, largely as a result of individual goshawks escaping from collections or deliberate releases.

David Hirst of the RSPB Northern England region, said: "We believe that if the scheme is axed it could risk an increase in nest robberies in the north of England, especially of birds of prey. Peregrines and goshawks command a high price on the black market and the lure of turning a quick profit might encourage unscrupulous nest robbers to illegally take chicks from the wild and try to launder them as birds bred in captivity."

Without this scheme the police will struggle to enforce the law

Duncan McNiven - RSPB Investigations Officer

The RSPB says that Defra is right to examine the level of bureaucracy associated with the scheme but believes that its importance to bird conservation should not be compromised by a paper-cutting exercise, especially as reported peregrine nest robberies are at an all-time low.

Evidence from the bird registration scheme in combination with DNA testing has led to the successful conviction of 15 people found guilty of offences involving wild birds.

RSPB Investigations Officer Duncan McNiven added: "The registration scheme is an essential enforcement tool which enables the police to trace individual birds and use DNA-profiling to establish whether captive breeding claims are true or not. It has proved a powerful deterrent against nest robberies.

"The number of wild peregrine thefts and the number of convictions are both down as a result. Without this scheme the police will struggle to enforce the law."

Your views:

  • Absolute rubbish - as a falconer / breeder I don't want to see the regestration abolished, but not for the reasons mentioned above. Both the Peregrine and the Goshawk are at an all time high in the UK at the moment, and it realy angers me to see statements like this.

    There are more negative effects caused to the young bird population in the UK through nest site disturbance, ringing and banding chicks ect: ect: than any alledged black market it,s about time the RSPB were brought to task over this type of propoganda.

    I am happy to pay the REGISTRATION fees at a realistic amount but it appears it costs alot more money to produce a document in the UK than any other EU country.

    I think it's important to know were all captive birds are in the uk at any given time, but I can appreciate the hundreds of thousand of ££££ this costs.

    Surely the RSPB could afford to subsadise these costs by giving back some of the money it has made on the backs of the wild raptors in the UK.

    S.Field - Hants.

  • When the wildlife and countryside act was introduced in the early 80s the government never believed that falconers would be as successful as they have been with captive breeding, Removal of the need to register birds with the government will be seen as a godsend by some breeders, as this will cut down on the amount of paperwork that they need to fill in at a very busy time.

    I do not breed birds of prey, but I am a consumer of birds of prey, The article above wrongly says that there is a 'black market' for birds of prey in england, This is a false statment in that due to the pressures on feild sports falconers have been very careful since the inception of the registration scheme to abide by any and all laws that we have been presented with.

    Many of us live and breathe our sport, we cannot live without our daily fix as it were, so to risk being banned from keeping birds is, in my veiw, a life not worth living.

    What high price are we talking for peregrines and goshawks, prices for these 2 species are fantasticaly exagerated by the media, and I remember reading an article several months ago that claimed that peregrines fetch prices in excess of £10,000. If peregrines cost this much then I would be breeding them, you can pick up captive bred peregrines that will do all the things that a wild caught one will do for about £700-£1000, a wild one would not fetch more than this, and would fetch considerably less without the necessary paperwork that it requires.

    It would be far better if the government required falconers and keepers to be registered as this would not only cut down on paperwork, but then they would have an acurate idea of how many people there are keeping birds of prey in captivity, and also what birds they currently have on there premises.

    I would also like to point out that in the picture that accompanied this article the peregrines are not the youngsters that you say they are as they are both in adult plumage.

    Matthew Alan Patching - North Nottingham/North London

  • Editors note: The picture used in the article shows Clint and Gryke, the name given to the two Malham chicks born in early June 2006. The shot was taken in July 2006 after the pair left the nest for the first time. At this point the birds were no more than two months old - and despite having developed their plumage they were essentially still young birds.

  • The registration system is vital to prevent illegal trade. A quick glance at relevant bird trade publications shows just how many birds of prey and other species are available for sale - no registration will mean unregulated trade and the suffering of many animals.

    Chris - Horsham, Sussex

  • These people are probably also polluters, of air, water and land. Governments have to start getting tough on all people that take from the earth without regard to the Domino effect to the environment.

    Some of these "captive" bred birds could pass along parasites pick up from the wild and transferred to captive breeding stocks.

    It's a shame, but this sneaky practise is seen all over the world, and some local governments just turn a blind eye to the almighty dollar, or thier votes to office.

    Linda Woods - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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