On The Wing with Gary Atkins

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Bird watching is a pastime of pure enjoyment for most people – but for a select few it is more than that: from them it may be the basis providing a livelihood through crime against wildlife.

Where we get a warm glow at the sight of a majestic Buzzard circling above a wood, or a Peregrine in daredevil pursuit of its prey, or flocks of finches nibbling away at teasel tops in the autumn, there are a small handful of individuals that don’t experience that same joy in watching birds.

Oh, they are very skilled: experts in their own way, they understand habits and habitats, they know where to look for birds and their nests – and they know the value of birds on a despicable black market that involves catching birds and selling them on, or the value others put on disposing of birds that are viewed as a threat to other assets such as game stocks.

Others are obsessed by wildlife, even establishing their own menageries. And if you think this sort of thing doesn’t happen on our doorstep, think again: a Derbyshire man recently narrowly avoided jail after pleading guilty to 34 offences after being caught with 61 live birds.

He escaped with a suspended sentence after setting traps in his allotment that netted a wide range of wild birds including rarities like hawfinches and marsh tits, food-table favourites like nuthatches, and some of our most delightful summer visitors including whitethroats, wheatears, redstart and blackcap. He was also keeping parrots in filthy conditions and without water.

While such cruelty may not be everyday events, it is common enough for the Derbyshire Constabulary to operate a network of Wildlife Crime Officers right across the county from Glossop to Swadlincote.

Dealing with everything from poisoning wild birds to the illegal trading in protected species, they work under guidance from the National Wildlife Crime Unit and their strategic priorities for 2012 include bird of prey, badger and bat persecution, poaching and the control of the trade in endangered species.

We can all help this valuable work by being vigilant. If you see anything suspicious, call either 999 or 101 (the non-emergency police number) as soon as possible, with details like location, timings, vehicle registration numbers or descriptions of people involved.

To find your local wildlife crime officer, go to http://www.derbyshire.police.uk/My-Local-Police/Wildlife-Crime.aspx

Life for birds and animals is tough enough out there – let’s make sure they don’t undergo undue suffering at the hands of the more callous of the human species.