A pair of protected birds were found dead near the body of a rabbit which police suspect was laced with poison.

A joint investigation by North Yorkshire Police and The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has been launched to find out how the red kites, along with a crow and a fox, were found dead on open land near Otley.

The rabbit was covered in dead bluebottle flies at the time of the discovery - an indication it had been laced with poison.

PC Gareth Jones, the Harrogate and district wildlife crime officer, said: "A joint investigation has started and the carcasses are currently being examined by the Centre Science Laboratories in Thirsk.

"We suspect that the rabbit was being used as bait to attract pests and had been contaminated with poison to kill these pests.

"If this turns out to be the case it will be yet another example of the indiscriminate nature of poisons as a method of pest control.

"And because this happened on open land it is therefore an illegal use of poison, as is the killing of red kites which are protected by Schedule One of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

"This is a summary offence which carries a maximum fine of £5,000 or six months in prison."

Anyone with information about the incident should contact PC Jones on 0845 6060247 or the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme free on 0800 321600.