HL Deb 03 December 1984 vol 457 cc1103-4
Lord Dulverton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will state how many inspections of registered keepers of birds of prey have been undertaken by the panel of inspectors during the breeding season of 1984, how many offences and irregularities were discovered during the course of inspections, and how many of these have or will result in prosecutions.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, between March and July this year, inspectors from the Department of the Environment Voluntary Inspectorate undertook over 1,000 unannounced inspections, mainly of those breeders who claimed to be breeding birds of the most sensitive species—the Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Merlin and Peregrine.

No central numerical record of possible offences and irregularities is kept, but 78 witness statements have been provided to enforcement agencies this year. At least a dozen cases have, or will, come to court this year where the department has provided information.

Lord Dulverton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. There will be some concern on the part of some of us that so few of these cases lead to action. May I ask my noble friend whether he is aware of the scale of nest robbing of the protected raptores, especially peregrines, that is known to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and I think also to the Nature Conservancy Council? Is he also aware that over 30 per cent. of peregrine nests were robbed this year in addition to those of a number of kites, ospreys, goshawks, and eagles? Moreover, does my noble friend feel that the present maximum fine when, as so rarely happens, the miscreant is caught, is adequate when it is known that falcons can be sold for £5,000, if not more?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I was aware of the state of robberies from nests, especially of peregrines, as referred to, from information from the RSPB. But there is no evidence that illegally taken eggs find their way into the registration system, which of course is what the regulations under Section 7 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act are designed to cope with. So far as penalties are concerned, the maximum fine is, of course, £2,000. Until the courts impose the existing fines in full it is difficult to judge their deterrent effect. So far as the number of cases is concerned, this scheme has been in operation since only 1st January, and with the delay in cases coming to court it is really far too early to say how well, or how badly, this is working.

Lord Gibson-Watt

My Lords, as I come from an area where there are probably more of this type of bird than in most other parts of the country, may I support what my noble friend has said in his question? May I ask my noble friend the Minister whether he would agree that those who spend a lot of time both in the day and at night, often in quite horrible weather, trying to watch out for these people who steal from nests deserve a great deal of commendation from all concerned?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords. Again, I am grateful to my noble friend. We are all delighted that the unofficial watchdogs (if I may put it like that), principally drawn from the RSPB, feel able to take on this job and are doing it with such success.

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