The sudden appearance of a bearded vulture in the Peak District National Park – a known raptor crime hotspot – has brought joy tinged with apprehension to birdwatchers and nature-lovers who have come to see the impressive raptor.
This is only the second time the species, usually found in southern Europe, has been seen in the UK and is part of an international conservation initiative in the Alps.
However, a number of shooting, suspected poisoning and nest robbery incidents involving birds of prey in the Peak District National Park have come to light since lockdown, raising fears for the bird’s safety and once more bringing into focus the ongoing problem with raptor persecution in the Peak District.
In the north of the National Park, the remains of a short-eared owl, an amber-listed species, were found on a grouse moor near Glossop on 7 May. A post-mortem recently concluded that shooting had been the cause of death. No leads were forthcoming from police enquiries.
On 11 May, a buzzard was found mortally wounded on land managed for gamebird shooting near Diggle. It was found alive but with terrible injuries and sadly had to be euthanized. An x-ray revealed six pieces of shot lodged in the bird’s body.
Near Agden Reservoir, an area dominated by driven grouse moors, four raven chicks were found dead in a nest also on 11 May. The parent birds had been seen bringing food to the young, then vanished without explanation. The chicks were almost at the point of fledging, and the RSPB say the adults were exceptionally unlikely abandon the nest at that stage. The incident is being investigated by South Yorkshire Police. Finally, in the north, test results are awaited in connection with an adult peregrine found dead in the Upper Derwent Valley.
In the south of the Park, a buzzard and two peregrines are being tested for poison after being found dead in Staffordshire.
In mid-June, Derbyshire Police issued an appeal for information after three peregrine nests were robbed of their eggs, all within the National Park. The RSPB alerted the police about one of the incidents.
Finally, two further incidents occurred in Derbyshire just outside the Park. On 1 April 2020, an eyewitness reported seeing two buzzards being shot near Ashbourne. A member of the public was watching the two birds circling a wood, on land managed for pheasant shooting, when he heard a shot and saw the birds fall. A dead kestrel and a buzzard have also gone for poison testing: they were found near Glapwell, where several buzzards were found poisoned in 2016.
All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence, punishable by an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.
The RSPB’s data shows the northern Peak District to be one of the UK’s worst bird of prey persecution blackspots. In 2018, a scientific article published in the journal British Birds, cemented the link between raptor persecution and land managed for driven grouse shooting in the Peak District National Park.
Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said: “Parts of the Peak District National Park have a notoriously bad reputation for raptor persecution, especially those areas which are dominated by land used for driven grouse shooting. These further incidents, many which occurred during lockdown, add yet more evidence and weight to the calls for tighter regulation. National Parks should be safe havens for birds of prey, as well as places for people to enjoy nature. We need the public to be our eyes and ears and report anything suspicious to the police.
“For this magnificent bird to have turned up in such a dangerous location, a month before the start of the grouse shooting season, is like a turkey spending Christmas at a butchers’ shop. But we hope this number of watchful eyes on the bird will ensure its safety.”
Tim Birch, Director of Nature’s Recovery, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, said: “The recent sighting of the bearded vulture has drawn hundreds of nature-lovers to the Peak District National Park, many who were previously unaware of the ongoing issue of raptor persecution. We join the RSPB in voicing our concerns for this bird and hope it avoids harm. It is clear from the catalogue of raptor persecution incidents from this spring alone that meaningful change is needed in the Peak District urgently.
“The sight of this spectacular bird gives a glimpse of the potential future the Park could have in hosting a range of species, including top predators, creating a healthy, balanced ecosystem where wildlife could flourish for the benefit of all.”
If you have information about any of these incidents, please get in touch with the police on 101 or call the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101.