Red-backed Shrikes have fledged two youngsters from the UK’s only nesting pair of red-backed shrike in 2013. The birds, at a secret location on Dartmoor, have been under close watch to guarantee their safety in a project managed by the RSPB with support from Devon & Cornwall Police, Dartmoor Study Group, Devon Birds, Forestry Commission, Dartmoor National Park Authority and Natural England.
As in previous years a combination of volunteers, staff and sophisticated wildlife surveillance equipment as part of site protection and monitoring. Although it’s been hard work, the efforts have been rewarded with two youngsters fledged. The project is grateful to the volunteers involved and to Devon Birds for funding some of the cameras used on site as part of Devon & Cornwall Police’s Operation Wilderness.”
Police Wildlife Crime Officer, PC Josh Marshall has been directly involved in the protection scheme since the birds first bred on Dartmoor in 2010. Operation Wilderness cameras were deployed to assist with the protection of the birds. The Cameras were downloaded at regular intervals to ensure the security of the site.
Red-backed shrikes were driven to extinction in the UK at the end of the last century and egg collecting remains a major threat. Operation Wilderness is a Devon and Cornwall Police operation that was instigated by PC Marshall in an effort to combat the persecution of Devon and Cornwall's rarest birds after 5% of Devons breeding population were wiped out in a single poisoning incident in 2011. The operation involves placing covert cameras into a number of locations in Devon where birds such as the shirke and other rare birds breed. The operation has been successful in bringing offenders to justice but also with the prevention of the criminal activity.
Kevin Rylands from the RSPB said; “This is now the fourth year they have returned to Dartmoor, but they failed to breed successfully last year, probably due to the awful weather. A lone male visited the previous breeding site in May this year but failed to find a mate. Fortunately though a pair was found at a new site in June and this bodes well for the future of the species on Dartmoor.” Kevin Rylands (RSPB) concluded “We hope red-backed shrikes will continue to re-colonise Dartmoor but that is dependent upon birds returning next year, finding suitable habitat and not being disturbed. In addition to facing threats from egg-collectors, red-backed shrikes, along with many other migratory birds, are in great danger when travelling between the southwest and wintering grounds in Africa, with many trapped and killed en route. The extent of habitat and amount of large insects and other available prey on Dartmoor has no doubt contributed to the recent success of this species. Surveys have shown that Dartmoor (and other SW uplands) holds a wealth of species previously widespread in lowland areas such as cuckoo, meadow pipit and whinchat and the RSPB is working with conservation partners to ensure that this important upland and its fringes can provide the food and nesting sites that birds need.” .