A peregrine falcon which was nesting on Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s office roof has been discovered shot dead outside the building in Belper.
Police have launched an investigation into the illegal killing after the corpse of the male bird was found by a local photographer and x-rays revealed it had been recently killed by a shot lodged in its shoulder.
“Everybody is devastated,” said Kaite Helps of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. “The nest is in one of the towers of the old mill and it was well-known in Belper. Photographers would come daily to take pictures of the birds.”
It is not known if the killing was a provocation by someone opposed to raptor conservation but Derbyshire Wildlife Trust said it was a deliberate act and there was a “possibility” that the peregrine had been shot on their grounds.
The male was part of a pair which produced four chicks last year and three in 2013 after discovering one of the Victorian mill’s towers was a suitable nesting site the previous year.
Peregrine numbers have slowly recovered in recent decades from near extinction, and birds have found elevated nest platforms put up in many towns and cities, including on the cathedral towers and spires of Derby, Chichester and Norwich.
The fast-flying raptors are still widely persecuted, however, and their range is contracting in northern Scotland. The RSPB has logged 54 confirmed cases of illegally persecuted peregrines in the past six years across the UK.
While people in Belper have been very supportive of the birds, according to the Wildlife Trust, peregrines are absent from traditional nesting sites across large areas of the Peak District national park because of ongoing illegal persecution.
Tim Birch, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s head of advocacy and conservation strategy, said: “We have all been shocked at the Trust by the shooting of the male peregrine at our headquarters in Belper. To have a wildlife crime happening right on our doorstep is both alarming and upsetting.
“Many people from Belper, and indeed from around the whole region, have been thrilled to watch Peregrines around the mill where we work. We feel very privileged to have these birds living alongside us. We strongly condemn the shooting of this bird.”
The shot bird was found on 17 January and veterinary x-rays and further analysis revealed recent shot lodged in its shoulder. The Wildlife Trust immediately reported it to the police.
Darren Belfield of Derbyshire Constabulary said: “Birds of prey, such as the peregrine falcon, are fully protected by legislation which makes it an offence to deliberately kill or injure them. The perpetrators of this cruel and deliberate act have shown a clear disregard for the law surrounding this species.”
The RSPB has offered a £1,000 reward for any information.
Since the bird’s death – before the female could lay eggs this year – another male, from Dorset, has moved into the territory and has been seen mating with the female. The Trust said it would usually be celebrating such an event but now feared for the birds’ safety.
Derbyshire constabulary are asking anyone with information to contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.