Published: 10:58, 16 November 2020
| Updated: 11:48, 16 November 2020
A family who were mourning the loss of a loved one were left in shock after they saw a buzzard shot in mid-flight.
The protected bird of prey was flying by the south-west boundary of the RSPB's Northward Hill reserve, near High Halstow, before they heard a loud bang and watched the bird crumple and fall from the sky.
The moment the bird was shot out of the sky
Kent Police and the RSPB searched the area but the body of the creature could not be found.
However, a few days later, a birdwatcher reported seeing a bird with a broken wing close to where the buzzard had fallen.
RSPB reserve staff set out and discovered a badly-injured buzzard on the ground. It was rushed to a vet but couldn't be saved and had to be put down.
An X-ray of the body revealed it had four pieces of shot lodged in its wing, shoulder and leg.
The injury to the wing, which had caused the break, was consistent with the timing of the recent witnessed shooting.
However, three of the pellets were older, indicating that the bird had been shot before on an earlier occasion.
To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.
Yet according to the RSPB's recent Birdcrime report, there were 85 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK in 2019 – with many more likely to have gone undetected.
The witness said: "Northwood is a really special place for my family. We had just lost a loved one, so my dad suggested we take a walk to clear our heads.
"We were watching a buzzard flying together with another bird of prey, and I quickly got my phone out and started filming it. It was a beautiful sight.
"Then suddenly we heard a crack and the buzzard crumpled and fell to the ground. It was a feeling of utter shock; we couldn't believe what we'd just seen.
"My sister was in floods of tears, we were just so shaken. It was not what we'd envisaged for our walk together.
"One moment we were watching something so alive, then the next a human had needlessly and senselessly taken it away – it felt like such a horrific waste."
RSPB head of investigations, Mark Thomas, said: "Nature has the power to lift our spirits, never more so than in these difficult times.
"No-one should have to witness wildlife being killed illegally before their eyes and our utmost sympathy goes out to the family.
"My sister was in floods of tears, we were just so shaken."
"We regularly gather evidence of raptor persecution, either finding bodies full of shot or illegal traps, but it's rare that a bird is killed and filmed right in front of someone.
"This incident really brings home the horrible reality of what is happening to our birds of prey."
Police have spoken with a man in connection with the shooting.
If you have any information relating to this incident, call Kent Police on 101 and quote the crime reference: 11-0064.
You can also call the RSPB's confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.
If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, email RSPB Investigations on firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in the online form.