Wildlife and their environment must continue to be protected.
All wild birds, including birds of prey, are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which provides a powerful framework for the conservation of wild birds, their eggs, nests and habitats. I know that my ministerial colleagues take wildlife crime very seriously, with most wildlife crimes carrying an unlimited fine and / or a six-month custodial sentence.
To address concerns about the illegal killing of birds of prey, senior government and enforcement officers have identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sits on the police-led Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, which takes forward activities to raise awareness and facilitate intelligence and incident reporting, leading to increased prevention and enforcement activity. I know that the group focuses on ‘hotspot’ areas of the country rather than specific species, although the golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, peregrine and white-tailed eagle have been identified as being of particular concern.
Further, the Hen Harrier Action Plan seeks to secure the long-term future of the hen harrier as a breeding bird in England. This plan includes measures to stop illegal persecution, and an action to reintroduce the hen harrier in the south of England. 2022 has seen another encouraging increase in the breeding population of one of our rarest birds of prey. Natural England and partners reported that a total of 49 hen harrier nests were recorded, and 119 chicks took to the skies. This is the first time in over 100 years that more than 100 hen harrier chicks have successfully fledged in England, showing real progress in efforts to protect and restore their numbers.
For many years, Natural England (NE) has been involved with monitoring, tagging and satellite tracking hen harriers. When a bird goes missing, it may be due to natural causes, an issue with the device, or there is a possibility that it could have been illegally killed. In the first instance, NE staff communicate with the police and will attempt to retrieve the bird to establish the cause of death. If there is evidence of illegal killing, I am assured that the police will investigate, assisted by NE.