Tougher penalties for bird crime

Following the publication of the RSPB’s Bird Crime Report 2015 (published February 2017) farmers, land owners and gamekeepers need to be aware of the tougher penalties for bird crime which are being applied across the country.

In 2015 almost 200 birds were illegally shot, up from 187  and 178 in 2014 and 2013 respectively. There were also 50 reports of poisoning and use of poisoned baits and 27 reports of taking, sale and possession of birds of prey. The number of illegally shot birds has dropped since the high figures of 2011 where 243 were reported, but the penalties are on the increase regardless.

In November 2015 an estate in rural Norfolk lost 75% of its single farm payment under the cross-compliance rules after the Rural Payments Agency investigated the estate’s gamekeeper who had been found guilty of killing 10 buzzards and a sparrowhawk. The penalty amounted to around £185,000, the largest penalty to be applied under the scheme for wildlife crime. The gamekeeper received a 10 week suspended sentence and was ordered to pay costs.

The penalties can go beyond suspended sentences as demonstrated by an Aberdeenshire gamekeeper who received a four month prison sentence after being found guilty of killing a Goshawk amongst other illegal trappings in January 2015; the first custodial sentence of its kind to be handed down in connection with the killing of birds of prey.

Eastern England was a mid-table offender in comparison to Northern England and Scotland but nevertheless the penalties handed down should be a stern warning that reports are treated seriously and attract heavy penalties which, by all accounts, appear to be getting tougher.

Katy Moss is a solicitor in the Property department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.

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