RSPB quits Yorkshire Dales National Park's bird of prey conservation group over leadership concerns

The country’s largest nature conservation charity has withdrawn from a partnership aiming to end the Yorkshire Dales being among the country’s worst bird of prey persecution hotspots, amid concerns over its leadership and effectiveness.

The move follows concerns over government agency Natural England’s leadership of the Yorkshire Dales Bird of Prey Partnership, whose members also include the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, The Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers Organisation and Northern England Raptor Forum.

Jim Wardill, RSPB operations director for Northern England said as a charity with limited resources it had to balance its work to ensure it was delivering “maximum benefits for nature and people”.

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He added: “Unfortunately, we did not feel the partnership was helping to fulfil our ambition of recovering bird of prey populations in the Yorkshire Dales but as an organisation we still remain committed to the National Park and working together with partners more broadly.”

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Picture: LDRSThe Yorkshire Dales National Park Picture: LDRS
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Picture: LDRS

A meeting of the park authority heard while some species of birds, including lapwings, sandpipers and curlews were seeing close to record numbers in the national park, persecution which led the area to be labelled a “no fly zone” for birds of prey was continuing with insufficient challenge.

The authority’s head of conservation Gary Smith said a steering group had concluded “some progress” had been made over the past year, as between 2010 and 2018 there had not been a single hen harrier next in the national park. He said since 2020 there had been significant numbers breeding, with about 20 such fledgings in the designated area.

Mr Smith said: “We have still seen occasional cases of pretty horrific persecution taking place, including a recent case involving a satellite tagged bird. The steering group took the view that while we are obviously not on course to end raptor persecution there had been progress compared to where we were before 2020.”

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Post-mortem examinations of a nest of hen harrier chicks last year showed each had suffered multiple fractured bones, including humerus in one chick, both femurs in a second chick, and in a third chick, the humerus and a crushed skull.

The authority’s natural environment champion Mark Corner told members progress on tackling the wildlife crime was being overstated and the partnership was “ineffective” and “poorly led” by Natural England.

Mr Corner said while there had been modest improvement on fledging of birds, some 21 hen harriers had disappeared from North Yorkshire last year.

He said: “We have had some horrific cases of some chicks being trampled to death and birds being decapitated. We are fooling ourselves if we think this is some progress.

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“I see an increase in public awareness and revulsion of the sickening stuff that’s happening inside the national park. I am personally ashamed of what is happening.”

After the meeting, the authority’s chief executive David Butterworth saidwhilst the authority was disappointed to see the RSPB formally withdrawing from the Yorkshire Dales Bird of Prey Partnership, it was “not surprised” the RSPB have chosen to do so.

He said: “As the largest nature conservation charity in the country they, like us, want to see a change in the fortunes of birds of prey on our moorlands and the ending of persecution incidents.

“And while we have seen some tentatively encouraging results in recent years in terms of successful breeding of hen harriers – thanks to the efforts of a number of local landowners – the sad reality is that we’re taking two steps backward every time another persecution incident comes to light.

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“Despite their withdrawal from this partnership It is our intention to continue working closely with the RSPB on conservation initiatives in the national park.”

A Natural England spokesperson said: “We are aware of RSPB’s decision to leave the Yorkshire Dales Birds of Prey Partnership. While a key member and voice, Natural England are not the lead for this partnership – which includes members from a range of organisations and representative groups all working towards the same goal of protecting birds of prey.

“Natural England remains committed to pushing forward the recovery of these iconic species – and will continue to work to with our partners and local police forces to take the strongest action against those who illegally persecute raptors.”