In the months leading up to this year's grouse shooting season - which begins on August 12 - there have been several police investigations into raptor persecution after the bodies of protected birds of prey were found in suspicious circumstances.
In the latest incident, police have confirmed that a buzzard found dead on Live Moor, near Swainby in the Hambleton area, in March was killed with rat poison following the results of toxicology tests.
Buzzards are one of the most common species of raptor targeted by those associated with commercial shoots, who kill the birds because they prey on grouse.
The Live Moor buzzard was found by a member of the public on March 20 and reported to the RSPB. A post-mortem examination revealed it had ingested a high concentration of the toxic chemical chloralose, but had no other injuries.
Inspector Matt Hagen, who heads up North Yorkshire Police's Rural Task Force to tackle wildlife crime, said: “A low percentage of chloralose was commonly used in rodenticides to kill mice but is only currently permitted for use indoors and at a small dose. As such, there is no way this buzzard could have come into contact with such a high concentration of this poison by accident and we believe someone deliberately set out to kill this bird by poisoning.
“Unfortunately, this is the latest in a number of similar cases where birds of prey have been subjected to cruel and illegal persecution here in North Yorkshire. We are doing everything we can to try and find those responsible but we really need the public’s help as they are acting as our eyes and ears around the county. Anyone with information about this or any other incident of bird of prey persecution should contact the police on 101, we all have a part to play in putting an end to these unacceptable crimes.”
Further concerns were also raised because the amount of poison found in the buzzard was enough to kill a child or a pet.
The RSPB believes North Yorkshire is the county with the highest rate of raptor persecution, and they describe the targeting of buzzards in particular as 'relentless'. Rarer species such as goshawk, peregrine falcon and hen harrier are also locally extinct in areas close to grouse moors.
The North York Moors have a particularly notorious reputation, raising fears for the safety of two extremely rare sea eagles which have been in the area since the spring. They were bred on the Isle of Wight as part of a reintroduction programme and have since migrated north.
North Yorkshire Police currently have several ongoing investigations into raptor persecutions open, including the killing of a goshawk which was caught on camera near Goathland in May. The nearby shoot is owned by the Queen's Duchy of Lancaster estate and three gamekeepers were suspended after being questioned by police. One has since resigned and forensic analysis is still being undertaken.
Eight people have been interviewed over the burial of five dead buzzards, four of which had gunshot wounds, near Bransdale Moor in April, and the case is still active.
In March, a passer-by saw a buzzard fall from a tree near Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale, and it died soon after. Tests revealed it had eaten four different pesticides, three of which were banned substances. A rabbit carcass had likely been baited with the chemicals.
Raptor persecution is difficult to investigate because the crimes often take place in isolated rural locations with no witnesses or CCTV coverage. Offenders can be fined in court, but the offence is not considered serious enough to be dealt with by a Crown court, so prison sentences cannot be handed out. However, police will move to revoke a convicted person's shotgun licence, rendering them unable to work on a shoot.
The most high-profile conviction came in 2018, when gamekeeper Timothy Cowin, 44, was proven to have shot two short-eared owls on the Whernside estate in the Yorkshire Dales. He had resigned his position before the case went to court.
In 2016, a 23-year-old man from Hawes received a police caution after admitting using spring traps - which have been illegal since 1904 - on Widdale Fell on the Mossdale grouse shooting estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. A hen harrier had been seen on the same day a member of the public found the three pole traps - which crush a bird's legs - out in the open.
Anyone who has information which could assist with the Live Moor buzzard investigation should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101 or if you wish to remain anonymous, you can call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. Quote reference: 12200116641
North Yorkshire - a black hole for raptors
- January 2018: Body of buzzard poisoned with chloralose found deliberately placed on a wall at Percy Rigg in the North York Moors
- February 2018: Sparrowhawk found with fresh lead shot wound in the village of Nidd, near Knaresborough
- October 2018: Red kite found with gunshot wounds in Wath, near Harrogate
- October 2018: Tracked hen harrier named Arthur goes missing near Hutton-le-Hole in the North York Moors and is feared dead
- November 2018: Buzzard euthanised after being found with infected gunshot wound in Riccall, near Selby
- September - October 2019: Two tagged hen harriers that are part of a tracking programme go missing and are feared to have been killed. One vanished near Semerwater and the other was last located near Askrigg Common
- October 2019: Buzzard shot near Sherburn-in-Elmet
- October 2019: Hen harrier shot on moorland near Keasden
- January 2020: Hen harrier witnessed being shot at Threshfield Moor, near Grassington. One man arrested and released pending further investigations
- March 2020: Buzzard survives after being found at Shipton Grange, near York, with gunshot wounds
- March 2020: Buzzard found in Pateley Bridge having ingested four different pesticides
- March 2020: Buzzard found poisoned with chloralose at Live Moor, near Swainby
- April 2020: Buzzard found with gunshot wounds near Kirkby Malzeard
- April 2020: Five buzzards found buried in a hole near Bransdale Moor in the North York Moors. Four had been shot
- May 2020: Goshawk trapped and killed by a man whose actions were caught on camera at Howl Moor near Goathland
- July 2020: Buzzard found with gunshot wounds and injuries consistent with having been caught in a cage trap in Appleton-le-Moors