De-regulation and Birds of Prey

Why Government Should Continue Protecting all Birds of Prey

The recent Government proposal to review a wide range of laws – to reduce regulation – could have removed legal protection from wildlife and habitats. Any de-regulation might have focused on birds of prey because of a vociferous minority lobbying for a reduction in raptor numbers.

Even though the proposals have been dropped for the moment, the Hawk and Owl Trust has decided to make its position absolutely clear.

A year ago the Trust’s President, Chris Packham, launched our manifesto for birds of prey in the UK, outlining our robust stand against any form of persecution (here’s what Chris said earlier). The Trust wants to see birds of prey reaching their full potential as a vital and beautiful part of the UK environment. We are opposed to any relaxation in current protection for birds of prey and call on the Government to reinforce efforts to reduce the levels of illegal persecution, which are still high.

A leaflet, outlining the Trust’s position, can be downloaded by clicking here.

Whilst some raptors, like buzzard and red kite, are doing well, what was once our most common bird of prey, the kestrel, is declining due to habitat deterioration and lack of nesting sites, barn owls still occupy a fraction of their former range and are vulnerable to bad winters, and hen harriers in England continue to hover on the verge of extinction.

Claims that sparrowhawks are responsible for the decline in populations of small birds have not been scientifically substantiated. Many other factors, especially modern farming practices and wider changes in our countryside, all have an effect. Basic population biology underpins the principle that populations of wild predators cannot rise above a level that can be sustained by the population of their prey.

Sitting at the top of the food chain, our birds of prey are the most sensitive indicators of the health of our environment. The decline of the peregrine falcon alerted us to the risk – not just to wildlife but to people, too – of the now-banned pesticide DDT. Facing an uncertain future, our raptors are a vital barometer of the environment that we as humans share with them

Bell et al., 2010; Newson et al., 2010; Thomson et al., 1998; Newton et al., 1997

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