Environment Minister Richard Benyon has vowed to stamp out the persecution of birds of prey after maps published by a wildlife agency revealed more than 100 incidents across England and Wales in five years.
“I am appalled that these crimes continue to be committed and I am determined to stamp them out,” said Mr Benyon as the maps from the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) highlighted cases across the country.
“Those responsible have no consideration for what they are killing or the impact their activities are having on wildlife and the wider environment.”
He urged people to be alert to illegal poisonings and report suspicions to the police. “It is about time we put an end to this cruel and barbaric crime,” he said.
Conservationists and shooting enthusiasts – often unfairly blamed for the poisonings – also lined up to condemn the crime as the maps revealed the number and location of confirmed poisonings of birds of prey between 2007 and 2011. Six incidents in the South West, from Land’s End in Cornwall to Somerset, were among those identified.
Across Britin there were 19 incidents in 2011 alone. A total of 30 birds of prey were poisoned, bringing the total number of confirmed cases over five years to 101.
But wildlife charity the RSPB warned the confirmed incidents were the tip of a much bigger iceberg, as many cases were discovered by chance.
It was also revealed that the majority of poisonings were carried out using the chemicals carbofuran or aldicarb, pesticides which have been banned in the UK and can be dangerous to humans.
The partnership said the maps showed that the problem of illegal poisoning continued to be a real threat to wildlife, particularly birds of prey.
It also said there was no reason of anyone to have chemicals such as carbofuran, which were not approved for use in England and Wales, and putting substances dangerous to both animals and humans into the environment was totally irresponsible.
It alleged birds of prey continue to be persecuted because they are predators of game birds, with some species such as hen harriers teetering on the brink of extinction.
Bob Elliot, RSPB head of investigations, said the maps illustrated the problems faced by birds of prey.
“We need to remember, however, that these dots represent the tip of a much bigger iceberg as these criminal offences are often discovered by pure chance.”
“These aren’t just points on a map. Each dot represents a crime where a bird of prey has been killed in a calculated way.
“Birds of prey have suffered centuries of persecution, and these maps prove those attitudes still prevail today,” he said, adding the RSPB would work in partnership to bear down on the acceptable crimes.
Glynn Evans, head of game and gamekeeping at the UK’s largest shooting organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), said: “The use of illegal poisons to kill birds of prey has no place in modern land and wildlife management.
“BASC welcomes the publication of these incident maps which will be valuable tools in combating those who persist with this unacceptable practice.”
Last October, the Environmental Audit Committee said hundreds of birds of prey had been killed because the Government had failed to fully implement laws designed to protect them.
Rules brought in in 2006 made it an offence to possess poisons used to kill birds of prey, but an order listing which poisons it was illegal to have was not introduced.
The Government should criminalise possession of carbofuran and other similar substances which have no legal use in the UK, the EAC urged.
But Mr Benyon said existing laws could be used for prosecution and he favoured a voluntary approach encouraging landowners to hand in stocks of pesticides no longer approved for use.