The appeal follows three separate incidents over a three-week period during Covid lockdown.
On Saturday 16 May, a common buzzard and peregrine falcon were sadly discovered dead in a wooded area of Longnor. On Tuesday 19 May a second peregrine falcon was found dead at Beeston Tor near Wetton. On Thursday 4 June, a third peregrine falcon was found dead in a quarry near Waterhouses.
Two of the incidents occurred in the Peak District National Park, and a few of the locations are believed to be near peregrine falcon breeding sites.
As there were no visible signs of injury, and following contact with Natural England the birds were submitted for post mortem examinations and toxicology tests to establish the cause of death as part of the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS). The scheme investigates the death or injury of wildlife and companion animals that may have resulted from pesticide poisoning.
The results show that all four birds of prey were illegally poisoned by the same pesticide, and that at least two of the incidents involved a pigeon bait which had been laced with the pesticide.
A police investigation into the circumstances is underway as all birds are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in jail.
Officers are asking local residents and visitors to these areas to report any suspicious behaviour they may have witnessed in the days leading up to the discovery of the birds and to continue to be vigilant for the signs of criminal activity, including dead or injured birds, poisoned bait and traps.
Detective Inspector Tim Boulton, of the Staffordshire Police Rural and Wildlife Crime Unit, said: “To find out that these birds have been deliberately targeted and poisoned is truly dreadful. We are working to ensure those responsible are identified and brought to justice.
“It is extremely concerning that a harmful substance has been placed in the countryside putting not only wildlife, but also people and pets at risk too.
“If a member of the public comes across a dead bird or suspicious object, please do not touch or move anything. Please take photographs if you can and make a note of your surroundings and landmarks to help officers to locate it. Every piece of information may be crucial in prosecuting an offender.
“We would like to thank Natural England and the Peak District Natural Park for their assistance so far and we are incredibly grateful for the reward offered by the RSPB.
“Any information, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, could help with our on-going investigation. Someone out there knows who poisoned these birds, so please do the right thing and get in touch with the police directly or any of our specialist partners.”
Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations, commented “Peregrines are the fastest birds in the world, yet all too often the lives of these magnificent creatures are cut short by illegal persecution like poisoning.
“For incidents like this to repeatedly happen in a National Park is all the more alarming. If you have any information about any of these cases, or if you come across what you believe may be a poisoned bird of prey, please call the police immediately. You are our eyes and ears.”
Sarah Fowler, chief executive of the Peak District National Park, added: “I would to thank those individuals who have reported these incidents to the police, and it remains completely unacceptable that illegal activity against wildlife is taking place in and around the Peak District. The nature of poisoning witnessed in these cases is deeply worrying for species both within and outside our National Park boundary.
“These incidents are particularly concerning in a year where many birds of prey – including the peregrine falcon – have successfully bred in other areas. We will continue to support the police in their investigations, and welcome any information from the public that may help capture those involved and bring them to justice.”
Dave Slater, Natural England’s Director for Wildlife Licensing and enforcement cases, said: “Raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority and a priority for Natural England. We are a committed partner with the Police and NGOs in tackling these despicable crimes. We would urge anyone witnessing or suspecting persecution to contact the police.”
Anyone with any information is asked to call one of the services listed below;
Staffordshire Police: 101 quoting incident number 232 of 16 May. You can also report online at www.staffordshire.police.uk/report or by sending a private message to Staffordshire Police on Facebook and Twitter.
Crimestoppers: 0800 555 111
RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime hotline: 0300 999 0101.
Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme hotline: 0800 321600.