A protected goshawk has been illegally killed on one of North Yorkshire’s most iconic grouse moors owned by Her Majesty The Queen.

North Yorkshire Police launched an investigation into the Duchy of Lancaster’s Goathland Estate, nestled in the heart of the North York Moors, after being handed footage (available here) by Wild Moors showing a man entering a cage trap containing a goshawk and appearing to kill the bird, before removing the body in a bag.

Goshawks were persecuted to extinction in the UK in the late 19th century and, despite an improvement in numbers, persecution remains a constant threat to their survival in Northern England.

So far, three individuals have been interviewed under caution in connection with the incident and police inquiries are ongoing.

Luke Steele, Director of Wild Moors, said:

“It is a clear illustration of how deeply ingrained bird of prey persecution is on grouse moors when not even the Queen’s wildlife is safe from criminals illegally destroying it to boost game bird populations for shooting.

“Grouse moors continue to be implicated in a salvo of wildlife crimes. How many more birds of prey have to suffer and die before the government introduces regulatory reform of grouse moors to end the wave of wildlife crime?”

The illegal persecution of birds of prey on moorland managed for grouse shooting continues to be a serious issue more than sixty years after laws were passed making the practice illegal.

Despite the game shooting industry pledging in January to exercise better self-regulation, a salvo of persecution incidents associated with grouse moors have been reported over the spring and summer by police forces across Northern England. This includes five dead buzzards—four of which had been shot—discovered hidden in a hole on Bransdale Moor in April, a poisoned buzzard in Nidderdale in March, and a buzzard found shot on Saddleworth Moor in May.

PC Jeremy Walmsley, Wildlife Crime Officer for North Yorkshire Police, said in an appeal for information:

“The goshawk is one of the most protected species of bird in the UK and it is extremely distressing that an individual would choose to kill any bird of prey. I appeal to anybody with information about this horrific crime to get in touch with the police and help us find the person responsible for the death of this magnificent bird.

“We see far too many incidents of birds of prey killed or injured in North Yorkshire and as a police force we are doing all we can to put a stop to this inhumane and callous crime.”

North Yorkshire has been named by the RSPB as 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 its grouse moors.

Scotland has committed to introducing mandatory licensing of grouse shooting moors within the next five years after facing a similar wave of wildlife crime, although it is anticipated that ministers could move sooner.  Despite the National Wildlife Crime Unit having long briefed government and law-enforcement agencies since 2013 that “intelligence continues to indicate a strong association between raptor persecution and grouse moor management” there has been no similar pledge in England or Wales.

Luke Steele adds:

“Pressure is brewing for England and Wales to follow Scotland’s commitment to introduce mandatory licencing for grouse moors. Now is the time to significantly reform the country’s ecologically-restrictive, outdated grouse moors to restore the full suite of wildlife and habitats to our uplands.”

– ENDS –

Notes for editors:

  • Wild Moors campaigns to free up moorland for conservation from exploitation for grouse shooting. By working with society, companies and government to create change, we secure effective protection for wildlife, habitats and local communities.
  • An undercover investigation was performed by Wild Moors over six days between 27 April and 2 May 2020 following a tip-off.
  • Killing a bird of prey is an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, although it has been illegal to target or kill a bird of prey for over sixty five years since the passing of the Protection of Birds Act 1954.
  • Goathland and Wheeldale Moor is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, which has leased it on a 25 year term to W&G LLP, a commercial grouse shoot, through its sporting agent, BH Sporting Ltd (Source: Land Registry Title Deeds NYK363068 and NYK373909).
  • W&G LLP has since made an application to Companies House to close the company down. It is unclear if the Duchy has terminated the lease.

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