New report details birds of prey 'persecution' in Yorkshire Dales

A Red Kite.
A Red Kite.

Fresh evidence showing North Yorkshire to be a “persecution hotspot” for birds of prey has been released.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) this week published a report which assesses the populations of a number of key upland raptor species nationally and in the 64-year-old park.

The document also quantifies the confirmed incidents of persecution – which could include shooting, poisoning, trapping birds and other such illegal activity.

Forty-six “raptor persecution incidents” were confirmed between 2007 and 2016 across 10km, based on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) recording criteria.

Seven further incidents were recorded in 2017 – six of them shootings of marsh harriers, a red kite, a sparrowhawk and two buzzards.

The report reads: “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.”

“Despite large areas of potentially suitable nesting habitat, there has not been a successful hen harrier nesting attempt in the National Park since 2007. In addition, 11 (19 per cent) 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.”

Hen harriers are threatened with extinction in England because of illegal persecution, according to Natural England.

YDNPA chief executive David Butterworth yesterday said: “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.”

North Yorkshire Police last month urged visitors to its countryside to get involved with Operation Owl.