Investigating wild bird crime

Despite legal protection, offences against wild birds continue and every year the RSPB receives over 500 reports of wild bird crime, with many more incidents reported to the police and other agencies.

The RSPB’s Investigations Section’s main role is to support the statutory authorities by providing advice, expert witness and investigative help on wild bird crime. It works closely with the police Wildlife Crime Officers (WCOs), the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Procurators Fiscal and HM Revenue and Customs. The RSPB has not taken a private prosecution since 1992.

The RSPB actively supports the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) by chairing the Publicity Sub-group and sitting on the Forensic Working Group

The RSPB Investigations Section has been involved in a range of issues to improve wildlife law enforcement and has had many successes, for example:

  • Creation of the police WCO network. The Section had a major input into the development and subsequent success of this network.
  • Organising the police WCO annual conference. The Section organised the WCO conference every year since its inception in 1989 until handing it over to the police and Defra in 1997.
  • Maintaining a unique wild bird crime database
  • Taking the first case involving DNA genetic fingerprinting of birds. In 1991 the RSPB used a commercial laboratory for DNA testing to prove a genetic link did not exist between four young goshawks and a captive adult female claimed to be their parent. Since then DNA testing has become established as an important tool in the investigation of wild bird offences
  • Production of Legal Eagle, a quarterly newsletter for police WCOs and others involved in wild bird law enforcement.
  • Production of Birdcrime, an annual report that monitors trends in wild bird crime and highlights major issues of concern. This is the only national record of wild bird offences in the UK.
  • Working in Europe. The Section was instrumental in forming the Eurogroup Against Bird Crime, which is a network of organisations across Europe that works to improve wild bird legislation enforcement, particularly in cases of cross-border offences.

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Image: Chris Gomersall