Birds of prey are being killed – PETER FROST investigates

The sight of a goshawk hawking for small mammals or birds over open moorland is always one to lift the spirit. It’s an integral part of the wild and windswept high moorland country – but for how much longer?

It may be eighty years since the Kinder Trespass but it seems that rich landowners are still paying their gamekeepers to do their dirty work for them.

Today, it seems, unscrupulous shoot managers, land agents and owners are encouraging their gamekeepers to kill birds of prey which might reduce the profitability of posh shoots and exclusive £1000 per day grouse moors.

In the Peak District National Park very recently we have seen the wanton destruction of the nest of one of Britain’s most persecuted and rare birds of prey – the goshawk. The RSPB is offering a reward of £1000 for information leading to a conviction in this case.

The crime is the latest in a long-running series of attacks on birds of prey in the Peak District. It leaves only one active goshawk nest in the entire Derwent Valley, which previously has held six pairs of these amazing birds of prey. There are only about 400 pairs in the whole of the UK.

Mark Thomas, investigations officer with the RSPB, told the Morning Star: “Once again we’re faced with the destruction of birds of prey in Britain’s most visited national park.

“The sight of goshawk eggs smashed, only days from hatching, is heart-breaking, and proves that this bird is being systematically wiped out in the north of the Peak District.”

The Derwent Valley has been subject to a catalogue of bird of prey persecution incidents, with the most recent confirmed case being Glen Brown, a gamekeeper convicted of using a caged pigeon to lure birds of prey to a trap. Derbyshire Police have launched an investigation of this crime.

In Scotland both gamekeepers and their bosses can be prosecuted if the estate has a policy for the killing of birds of prey. In English we are still campaigning for such a law.

As English law stands the gamekeeper’s employer can encourage him to kill birds of prey but the boss cannot himself be prosecuted. Cameron’s Government has no appetite to change the law – but then most posh boys enjoy a day’s grouse shooting.

No gamekeeper has ever gone to prison in England for killing birds of prey although since a change in the law that sent egg thieves to prison that crime has been hugely reduced. Over one hundred game keepers have been prosecuted for destroying birds of prey in recent years.

Convicted gamekeepers are not usually sacked just moved on to another estate but there is always another keeper to take his place at the slightly better wages paid by unscrupulous shoots.

The goshawk is one of our larger hawks, almost as big as a buzzard and the female is substantially larger than the male.

Get up close if you are lucky and you will see its fierce expression and bright blood red eyes below a distinctive white eyebrow.

Its broad wings enable it to hunt at high speed, weaving in and out of trees, and its long legs and talons can catch its prey in flight. That’s why it has been such a popular bird with falconers over the centuries.

Historically this was not a rich man’s elegant sporting falcon but rather a bird used by ordinary country folk to fill the pot.

Shakespeare certainly knew all about hunting with goshawks. In the Taming of the Shrew he asks. “Dost thou love hawking ?

Thou hast hawks that will soar above the morning lark.”

On late winter and spring walks look out for this amazing bird and its distinctive ‘sky-dance’ display. The goshawk can seem to own the sky.

Let’s make sure we keep it that way and not let the greedy shooters and their keepers persecute this wonderful bird in the quest for grubby profit and so called sport.

This article first published in the Morning Star, 2012


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