One of the buzzards killed in North Yorkshire. Photo: North Yorkshire Police

One of the buzzards killed in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire. Photo: North Yorkshire Police

North Yorkshire has again topped the league table of shame for raptor persecution – the seventh year in a row.

Conservation charity RSPB said 26 of the 137 confirmed incidents where birds of prey were illegally killed in 2020 happened in the county.

The organisation said, of these two thirds were directly related to grouse shooting and a further four incidents to other types of shooting. Victims in the county included 16 buzzards, two peregrine falcons, two red kites and one goshawk.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, whose area is mainly in North Yorkshire, said the report made grim reading.

The RSPB said: “Wildlife crime data, court convictions and peer-reviewed studies based on satellite tagging and bird of prey populations show that raptor persecution has the most negative conservation impact on raptors on land managed for driven grouse shooting.

“In order to support the largest possible number of red grouse for clients to shoot, the RSPB says that some estates kill protected birds of prey despite all birds of prey being protected by law in the United Kingdom.

“In April 2020, North Yorkshire Police officers found five dead buzzards on a grouse moor on the edge of Bransdale in the North York Moors. Four of the birds were confirmed to have been shot, and the injuries of the fifth were ‘suggestive of damage from a shotgun pellet’.

“Based on population studies for significant species, it’s believed the true number of raptors killed is far greater, with many crimes going undetected and unreported.”

The charity is calling on the UK’s governments to act now and implement a system of licensing for driven grouse shooting, to create greater accountability and ensure all estates operate to legal and high environmental standards.

“Failure to comply with licensing requirements should result in licence revocation for a defined period and therefore removal of the right to shoot as a meaningful deterrent to illegal behaviours,” it said.

Mark Thomas, head of investigations UK, said, “Although we have become used to the illegal killing of birds of prey, the figure for 2020 is truly shocking.

“We continue to work with police on many joint investigations and are grateful for their support in tackling these awful crimes.

“We are in a climate and nature emergency. All land must be managed legally and sustainably for people and for nature, and not accelerate the worrying loss of UK wildlife we are already experiencing.

“The RSPB welcomes the announcement by the Scottish Government to licence driven grouse moors there, but this has to happen now in England as well. Licensing should be conditional on compliance with wildlife protection laws, and if breached, should result in removal of the right to shoot. Those shoot operators who behave legally and responsibly should have nothing to fear from this sanction.”

Raptors in particular are targeted with poisons, such as Carbofuran and Bendiocarb, which can kill indiscriminately. The RSPB said poison baits laid out to target birds of prey also put other wildlife, people and pets at risk. A spaniel died and another became ill in April 2020, after consuming a cocktail of poisons in Nidderdale – a known blackspot for bird of prey persecution. The area lies just outside the Yorkshire Dales national park.

The charity added: “Poisoning isn’t the only danger posed to birds of prey. Shooting and nest destruction are also significant threats to wildlife. The RSPB is aware of 14 confirmed buzzard shootings in North Yorkshire in 2020, as well as the destruction of a tawny owl nest. Other methods include the use of live decoys, to lure birds of prey into the open before shooting them.”

Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority chief executive David Butterworth said: “This report makes grim reading for all landscape authorities, landowners, managers and other partners who are working hard to call out and tackle illegal raptor persecution, and it’s embarrassing and humiliating to see North Yorkshire yet again topping the league table with the highest number of confirmed incidents.

“As we’ve said before, the continuing issue of bird of prey persecution in North Yorkshire demands maximum exposure, as do the activities of those who take part in this criminality.

“People need to know what is happening here and the devastating impact this is having on our protected species. This report lays that bare.

“The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority condemns raptor persecution in the strongest possible terms and, as highlighted in this report, we will continue to work closely with partners and others to stamp out this crime once and for all.

“I would appeal to anyone, local or visitor, who witnesses any suspicious activity while they’re out and about in the countryside, or anyone who is made aware of it through their networks, to contact the police.”

The RSPB said figures in the 2020 report are the highest number recorded since the first Birdcrime report in 1990.

The Yorkshire Dales authority said, for concerns about a possible wildlife crime, you should call 101. If you witness a suspected wildlife crime in action, call 999 immediately and ask for the police. You can also speak in confidence about raptor persecution directly with the RSPB on 0300 999 0101.

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