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 would like to reassure you that my ministerial colleagues and I are committed to ensuring the protection afforded to birds of prey is effectively enforced. I am pleased that there are strong penalties for offences committed against birds of prey, including imprisonment.
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.
Additionally, the Hen Harrier Action Plan seeks to secure the long-term future of the hen harrier as a breeding bird in England. It is encouraging that this plan includes measures to stop illegal persecution, and an action to reintroduce the hen harrier in the south of England. The long-term plan was published in January 2016 and I believe that it remains the best way to safeguard the hen harrier in England. It is welcome that this year has seen a further increase in the number of breeding hen harriers in England; I understand that 84 chicks fledged from nests across the uplands in County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire. These are the highest numbers for hen harrier breeding in England since the 1960s.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.