Derbyshire: urban peregrine shot

On the 5th of March Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (DWT) issued the following statement about the illegal shooting of a male Peregrine at Belper, Derbyshire (a small town about 7 miles north of Derby on the River Derwent):

Yesterday morning, a male peregrine falcon was spotted injured at Belper’s East Mill in Derbyshire and taken by a local resident to a vets in Ashboune where a single shotgun pellet was removed. A second pellet will be removed later today and the bird continues to be monitored. 

East Mill is a very well-known location for breeding peregrines – the stunning views of the birds and easy accessibility make it one of the most popular places in the UK to watch them. 

Tim Birch, Director of Nature Recovery at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust said; “This is appalling news – the Belper peregrines are famous, it’s one of the best places to watch and enjoy these amazing birds as they fly at top speed, perform acrobatic aerial displays and  raise their young high on the ledges of the Mill building. They are a huge draw for people and it’s shocking that anyone wants to harm them. Thanks to the quick response by a local resident and the vets, we are hopeful that this bird will recover.”

“Derbyshire sadly continues to see some of the UK’s highest levels of bird of prey persecution. We encourage anyone with any information about this or any wildlife or suspected wildlife crime to please contact Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111.”  

The bird was about four years old and was ringed in Dorset where he was found after having fallen from a collapsed nest.  After a check over he was released and made a home in Belper.  Without the support of the male at the start of the breeding season, any attempts to nest this year could sadly fail.

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust 5 March 2020

In an update on the 6th, DWT wrote that the peregrine had died following surgery to try and remove a second lead pellet from his shoulder.


Urban Peregrines

Peregrines are fully protected by law (the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes killing or injuring a Peregrine – and all other birds of prey – a criminal offence which could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail), but this is the second time in five years that someone has shot a Peregrine falcon in Belper, Derbyshire. Just a few weeks ago we reported that a Peregrine had been shot near Ossett in the notorious raptor persecution hotspot of North Yorkshire.

Peregrine persecution is ridiculously widespread: they’ve been persecuted out of the northern part of the Peak District National Park (known as the Dark Peak), and pairs regularly fail to breed successfully (eggs and chicks disappear or birds ‘mysteriously’ fail to return to the nest) in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland, once a stronghold for Peregrines. Recent estimates by the Scottish Raptor Study Groups indicate that around a quarter of peregrine nests in southern and eastern parts of Scotland are subject to interference and killing. In fact, this species, so symbolic of the wild, is now more successful in urban areas (where prey is abundant, nest boxes are provided, and – generally speaking – they’re not being shot) than the rural landscapes they evolved in.

Peregrine expert and author Ed Drewitt (who lives in south-west England and literally wrote the book on Urban Peregrines) was part of the team that ringed the bird shot in Belper, and his current research has noted that in many cases birds wandering from the west country (where many territories are held) are ‘replacing’ birds in the north of England.

Ed gave The War on Wildlife Project a statement this morning which reflects his sadness and anger at yet another case of persecution.

This male peregrine was known as CK as we gave him a blue colour ring on his left leg when he was a chick. He came originally from West Bay, Dorset. In 2013, he and his sister fell from a collapsed nest and were taken into care by the RSPCA. After a check over he was released and ringed by Paul Oaten, RSPCA.  He was resighted in Belper near Derby two years later when the breeding male there was suddenly found dead. He quickly paired up with the female and has been breeding there ever since.

I was only looking at photos of him last week feeling very pleased he has done well to not get shot, unlike the two previous males. To know he was shot, and that this is what likely led to him being found grounded and eventually die, makes me feel incredibly sad, angry and frustrated. Someone knowingly shot him with complete disregard to the bird, the law and to the wider community. I just hope they or someone who knows them slips up one way or another, the police and RSPB Investigations are tipped off or find out who did this, and that they face the full consequences of the law.

Ed Drewitt, 06/March/20


How can we protect Peregrines?

What are the chances that anyone will be prosecuted for this crime? Pretty low, unless – as Ed suggests – “they or someone who knows them slips up one way or another“. The crime took place away from the town centre of course so it’s unlikely there will be witnesses or video that could identify the shooter. Pigeon-fanciers tend to go in for poisoning Peregrines, so chances are this was someone connected with shooting and there is pretty much an ignoble ‘code of silence’ amongst the minority of people who might do this – though perhaps the whole ‘barrel of rotten apples’ spoiling it for everyone else is starting to change that. It’s likely that the individual who committed this crime specifically targeted this bird, so perhaps they’re local. Just how many people in the local area will be licensed to use a shotgun? Probably surprisingly many, but just owning a shotgun doesn’t make someone a wildlife criminal of course, and the police or investigators simply can’t randomly take away firearms without good cause.

Suggestions have also been made online that as we’re now outside the so-called ‘shooting seasons’ hearing a gunshot should surely alert someone who heard it that something was amiss. The problem is that, for example, shooting Wood Pigeons under the ridiculous ‘general licence’ goes on year-round. Rabbits and foxes can be shot all year round. (Shooting UK published an article some years ago which included the nasty observation that “Springtime is fox time. For the foxing calendar, March is the most important time of year, as the annual crop of cubs is due to be born this month.”). Many people wouldn’t blink hearing a gunshot in the countryside, and many others wouldn’t want to get involved with someone with a gun anyway.

It will take a huge shift in attitude to get whoever did this. Raptor Persecution UK tweeted this morning that names of suspects are being forwarded to them, and absolutely correctly state that the Derbyshire Rural Crime Team should be contacted instead – but even with a suspect’s name it will be incredibly difficult to prove a case against the person that pulled the trigger without robust evidence. What’s needed is making shooting protected birds of prey absolutely unacceptable in the first place. The shooting industry could help here: rather than parroting the same platitudes of ‘not tolerating wildlife crime’ etc etc as they have for decades they could actively use their connections to stop raptor persecution (which is not to suggest that anyone within the various lobbyist groups for shooting knows who did this, but a general urgent and explicit campaign would help).

The legal profession needs to step up too. Sentencing needs to reflect the crime. We’re in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, a war on wildlife, and fines or the length of prison terms are rarely (if ever?) more than just a slap on the wrist.

Perhaps the most important thing we could do – and what so many raptor groups and wildlife organisations up and down the country try to do every day – is help the public fall in love with birds of prey. The War on Wildlife Project is looking at developing a campaign with Lush colleagues at the moment, and the upcoming Hen Harrier Day events will play their part hopefully. We need to make sure that we’re as inclusive as possible and explain the problems as clearly as possible.

And we absolutely need to find a long-term way to fund and support the people on the frontline who are trying to protect our wildlife from the criminals who think absolutely nothing of pointing a gun at a magnificent and highly protected bird – and pulling the damn trigger…