Howard Jones, RSPB investigations officer, gives police officers and national park staff an insight into illegal trapping methods at the wildlife crime seminar day in Bainbridge

Howard Jones, RSPB investigations officer, gives police officers and national park staff an insight into illegal trapping methods at the wildlife crime seminar day in Bainbridge

A report compiled by national park bosses in the Yorkshire Dales points a finger at the management of grouse moors for the decline in birds of prey in their areas.

North Yorkshire, a large part of which falls under the national park authority, has the dubious distinction of the worst county in England for raptor persecution.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority hosted a wildlife crime summit at its Bainbridge office, at which the findings of the report were shared.

The report said: “The collation of breeding data, the number of confirmed persecution incidents and the absence of some species from large areas of potentially suitable habitat provide compelling evidence that illegal persecution is limiting the populations of peregrine and hen harrier in the national park, and is preventing the colonisation of the area by red kites.

“There has not been a successful peregrine nesting attempt on any of the monitored grouse moor sites since 1997, with birds now absent from the majority of sites that were occupied in the 1990s.

“This is in stark contrast to the success of nest sites away from grouse moors. There is no natural explanation for this difference.”

More than 50 people attended the event last month, including police officers from the North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire forces. They heard that almost one in five of satellite-tagged hen harriers had mysteriously disappeared.

“Despite large areas of potentially suitable nesting habitat, there has not been a successful hen harrier nesting attempt in the national park since 2007,” the report said. “In addition, 11 of the 59 hen harriers that were satellite tagged by Natural England at sites across northern England and Scotland between 2002 and 2017 are classed as ‘missing, fate unknown’ in the Yorkshire Dales.”

Sergeant Kevin Kelly and Guy Shorrock of the RSPB launch Operation Owl last month. Photo: North Yorkshire Police

Sergeant Kevin Kelly and Guy Shorrock of the RSPB launch Operation Owl last month. Photo: North Yorkshire Police

The Yorkshire Dales authority’s chief executive David Butterworth said: “The wildlife crime seminar has trained staff to know how to assess and deal with incidents – and when to report them to the police.

“I need to be absolutely clear: bird of prey persecution is a criminal offence and is foremost a police matter. If you suspect it, or wish to report any information, you need to dial 101 or in an emergency 999. But it is also is a matter for us, as the authority exists to conserve and enhance the natural beauty and wildlife of the national park.

“During the coming weeks, the training that staff have received will also be handed on to our Dales Volunteers. They will be briefed on how to spot and report suspected wildlife crime incidents.

“North Yorkshire has gained an unenviable reputation as England’s bird of prey persecution hotspot. The problems are well documented but, as yet, there are no widely accepted solutions to the conflict between some land management practices and bird of prey populations.

“People need to be clear that the national park authority does not own the land, and that there are no legislative powers to regulate game shooting.

“This does not mean that we are sitting idly by doing nothing. We are helping North Yorkshire Police with Operation Owl – a scheme to get people who are out and about enjoying the magnificent countryside to look out for and report suspected wildlife crime.

“With the help of residents and visitors we can make a difference. We want birds of prey back in this iconic national park.”

The full report can be read online.

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