Leading police officers have met with senior government ministers to seek stronger powers for investigating and prosecuting bird of prey persecution.

It comes as a wave of wildlife crime continues on grouse moors with birds of prey having been found illegally shot, poisoned and trapped. Incidents have included five dead buzzards—four of which had been shot—discovered hidden in a hole in the North York Moors and a buzzard found poisoned in Nidderdale. In one incident two dogs fell ill, one of which died, after eating suspected poisoned baits near Pateley Bridge.

North Yorkshire is the top spot in the UK for bird of prey persecution—accounting for 10% of all incidents nationally since 2007—because of the prevalence of wildlife crime on the county’s grouse moors. However, persecution has also been reported by police on moorland in West Yorkshire, including two owls found shot at Wessenden Head and an owl found dead in a gamekeeper’s trap near Bingley.

Inspector Matt Hagen, Head of the Rural Task Force at North Yorkshire Police, told the Yorkshire Post:

“These crimes are very difficult to investigate because they happen in isolated places and there is often no one around to witness them.

From what I have seen some of the people that persecute birds of prey are of the opinion that they diminish the number of pheasants, grouse or partridges.”

All birds of prey are protected by law and it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild birds. Despite legal protections having been in place for more than sixty years, shortcomings in the law often leave police forces unable to bring prosecutions, even where there is evidence of illegal persecution having been performed on grouse moors. This can often include for reasons such as a lack of witnesses or offenders wearing balaclavas to avoid identification.

Penalties for those convicted for bird of prey persecution are also lax, not exceeding six months imprisonment, and there is no punishment for grouse shooting operators where wildlife crimes are suspected as having been committed on their land.

Luke Steele, Director of Wild Moors, said:

“Birds of prey are being illegally eradicated by trap, snare and gun across Yorkshire’s iconic moors to the extent that whole landscapes are being deprived of cornerstone species like hen harrier, red kite and goshawk.

Whilst there is indomitable will from police forces to investigate and prosecute bird of prey persecution, outdated laws often leave officers without the tools they need to effectively do the job. We are calling for significant regulatory reform of grouse moors to end the wave of wildlife crime.”

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Notes for editors:

  • Wild Moors campaigns to free up moorland from exploitation for grouse shooting for conservation. By working with society, companies and governments to create change we secure effective protection for wildlife, habitats and local communities.
  • Scotland has committed to introducing a grouse moor licensing system, with the option to revoke permission to operate where wildlife crime is reasonably suspected, and has vicarious liability laws allowing for grouse moor owners to be prosecuted for offences committed on their land.

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