Operation Owl is raising awareness of how to spot evidence of crimes against birds of prey and encourages people to report offences to police to help bring offenders to justice.
In the UK, all wild birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law, and it is illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take wild birds without a licence, with offences carrying a prison sentence of up to six months.
Rural and wildlife crime officer PC Chris Bird said: “Thankfully Northamptonshire has low levels of raptor persecution, but sadly offences do still happen here, such as the fatal shooting of a buzzard in Hargrave in March.
“We’re proud to work with our local partners to support Operation Owl and raise awareness of the issue of the persecution of birds of prey, to help protect the beautiful wildlife of our county.
“Both this weekend and all year round, we’re asking people to be our eyes and ears in the countryside and to let us know about suspicious activity and possible wildlife crimes, such as the use of poisoned bait and illegal pole traps.
“Our wildlife-trained police officers and PCSOs can then examine reports and scenes to establish if a crime has been committed, gathering evidence and hopefully bringing those responsible to justice.”
Supporting the Northamptonshire launch of Operation Owl at Salcey Forest was charity Raptor Rescue, which rehabilitates birds of prey found hurt or injured, as well as representatives from Forest England and the RSPCA.
Daniel Burns, South Northants beat forester at Forest England, said: “As well as providing interest and enjoyment for visitors, our woodlands are home to wildlife that contributes to healthy natural ecosystems.
“Some of our best-loved wildlife, including birds of prey, depends on our careful and sustained land management for its survival, so we’re very happy to support Operation Owl to help protect raptors.”
Operation Owl was originally launched by North Yorkshire Police after the county recorded high levels of crimes against birds of prey.
Backed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, it has now been rolled out across the country, with more than 25 forces signed up for this year’s weekend of action.
Spot the signs of raptor persecution:
- Dead birds of prey lying next to dead pigeons, rabbits, pheasants, or other poisoned bait. If you find dead animals, do not touch them
- Live birds of prey caught in any trap
- Any spring traps set out in the open that are not within a cage tunnel or other enclosed tunnel structure
- Any pole traps – these are spring traps set out on top of a post, and are used to catch birds which are later killed
What to do if you think you’ve found a wildlife crime scene:
- If you come across a dead bird or suspicious object, every piece of information may be crucial in prosecuting an offender. Operation Owl is asking people to follow this advice:
- Don’t disturb the scene by walking around it unnecessarily and trampling possible evidence
- Don’t move anything
- Don’t touch any traps, dead birds, or suspected poison baits. Many poisons (e.g. carbuforan) are extremely dangerous even in very small amounts and can be absorbed through the skin
- Don’t approach anyone you suspect of committing crime, as they may become violent or aggressive
- Do take photographs if you can, or make a sketch as soon as possible
- If photographing an object try to use a coin or notebook for scale – providing it won’t disturb anything
- Also take photographs of the surroundings and any landmarks to help officers relocate the crime scene
- Note the location as accurately as possible by grid reference, GPS, or what3words
- Note a description of any suspect(s) and any vehicle registrations
- Note the time and date and what happened
- Report what you’ve found to police – if you think a crime is in progress use 999, or report after the event by calling 101 or online via the local police force’s website
- Information can also be shared anonymously with Crimestoppers on 0800 555111, and the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101
- Suspected pesticides and poisoning incidents should be reported to the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) hotline on 0800 321600