A man loads ammunition into a rifle© Olaf Kruger/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock

Farmers, landowners and gamekeepers could face tougher penalties for killing wild birds after an RSPB report found nearly 200 birds were illegally killed in just one year.

The charity published its Birdcrime 2015 report on Friday (3 February) which showed 196 birds of prey were illegally shot, poisoned or trapped in the countryside in 2015 – up from 187 in 2014 and 178 in 2013.

The shootings included 16 buzzards, 11 peregrines, three red kites, one red-footed falcon and one hen harrier.

See also: BBC’s Chris Packham ‘sorry’ after lapwing shooting accusations

Fifty reports were of wildlife poisoning and pesticide-related offences, including the poisoning of 15 buzzards, four red kites and three peregrine falcons.

In November 2015, the Stody Estate in Norfolk lost 75% of its single farm payment after its former gamekeeper was found guilty of killing 11 birds of prey (see ‘Estate sees subsidy slashed’, below).

In January 2015, an Aberdeenshire gamekeeper, George Mutch, received a four-month prison sentence for the killing of a goshawk, the illegal use of two cage traps, and the taking of a buzzard and a second goshawk.

Martin Harper, RSPB director of conservation, said: “Our uplands are deprived of some amazing wildlife because of ongoing illegal persecution and it has to stop.

“Public anger is growing stronger over the ongoing persecution of our birds of prey and the state of the uplands, and more voices are beginning to call for change.

“The status quo is not an option and we continue to call, throughout the UK, for the introduction of a robust licensing system for driven grouse shooting and an offence of vicarious liability for employers whose staff commit wildlife crime.”

In England and Wales, anyone found guilty of shooting a bird of prey without a licence could face up to six months in prison and/or a fine of up to £5,000 if found guilty under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Estate sees subsidy slashed

In November 2014, estate gamekeeper Allen Lambert was convicted of multiple poisoning offences involving the killing of 10 buzzards and a sparrowhawk.

Dead birds of prey lie on the ground

Gamekeeper Allen Lambert was convicted of killing protected birds

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) withdrew 75% of the rural subsidy paid to the Stody Estate (which employed the convicted gamekeeper) in Norfolk under the cross-compliance scheme. 

This reduction of €263,308.10 (about £185,000) is believed to be the largest penalty applied under the scheme for a wildlife crime. 

Gamekeepers convicted

In May 2015, James Alfred O’Reilly, a gamekeeper at the Cardross Estate in Stirlingshire, was convicted of four wildlife crime offences

After pleading guilty to intentionally trapping and injuring a buzzard, he was ordered to carry out 240 hours of unpaid work.

Despite veterinary treatment for a severe leg injury the buzzard had to be euthanised.

Seven months later, in December, Graham Christie was fined a total of £3,200 by Stirling Sheriff Court after admitting his liability for the crimes committed by Mr O’Reilly, employed by him as a gamekeeper. 

This is only the second successful vicarious liability conviction in Scotland.