Birds of prey fall victim to crime.
DESPITE 60 years of protection the persecution of wild birds in North East England continues.
This year is the 60th of legal protection for wild birds but the latest RSPB's Birdcrime report tells an ongoing story of illegal persecution of the UK's birds of prey.
Birdcrime 2012 reveals nationally 208 reports of the shooting and destruction of birds of prey including the confirmed shooting of 15 buzzards, five sparrowhawks and four peregrine falcons.
The report also includes over 70 reports of poisoning incidents.
Confirmed victims of poisoning include nine buzzards and seven red kites. The actual numbers are almost certainly higher as many incidents are likely to go unnoticed and unrecorded.
In the North East, incidents included the illegal trapping of three buzzards in County Durham and the death of two cats in Northumberland that had been poisoned by carbofuran, a banned substance commonly used to lace baits to kill birds of prey.
There were 15 unconfirmed reports of bird of prey persecution in Northumberland. These are incidents where the RSPB believes that persecution has been likely but concrete evidence has not been available.
For unconfirmed reports, Northumberland's figure is, with Cumbria, the joint second worst in England after North Yorkshire where there were 34 reports. There were eight unconfirmed reports for County Durham and one for Tyne and Wear.
"We believe that these figures only tell a small part of the story as crimes against birds of prey are incredibly difficult to detect and even harder to evidence, normally taking place in very remote areas. It is a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack," said an RSPB North East spokesman.
The Birdcrime report follows the news earlier this year that in 2013 hen harriers failed to breed successfully in England for the first time since the 1960s despite enough suitable habitat to support over 300 pairs.
Some areas of the UK's countryside including parts of Northumberland have become no-fly zones for birds of prey, says the RSPB.
Several studies have concluded that persecution on intensively managed upland grouse moors is the key issue affecting some bird of prey populations . Martin Harper, the RSPB's director of conservation said: "There are few sights in nature as breathtaking as witnessing a peregrine stooping or hen harriers skydancing. These are sights we should all be able to enjoy when visiting our uplands. However, these magnificent birds are being removed from parts of our countryside where they should be flourishing.
"Current legislation has failed to protect the hen harrier. The absence of successfully breeding hen harriers in England this year is a stain on the conscience of the country. It is therefore vitally important that the Government brings forward changes to wildlife law in England and Wales that deliver an effective and enforceable legal framework for the protection of wildlife."
In its report, the RSPB assesses the Government's progress on implementing changes that will make a real difference to birds such as the hen harrier. A significant development is the publication of the Law Commission's recommendations following a consultation on potential changes to wildlife law in England and Wales.
The RSPB says it is heartened by some of the Law Commission's recommendations including the recognition of the seriousness of some wildlife crimes and the recommendation for an option for these cases to be triable at the Crown Court, where higher penalties are available.
However, the nature conservation charity believes tougher legislation is needed to punish employers whose staff commit wildlife crimes and are calling on the Government to introduce the provision of vicarious liability, where employers would be legally responsible for the wildlife crimes committed by their employers.
Mr Harper said: "The Government must also demonstrate their commitment to enforcing wildlife laws with a strong rescue plan for birds such as the hen harrier. A key test of this will be whether birds of prey are allowed to make their home throughout our uplands once again."
Both the hen harrier, main >picture, and red kite, below, are ongoing victims of persecution