THE head of the Yorkshire Dales National Park has described a report by the RSPB which singled out the area as the worst for the persecution of birds of prey as 'shaming'.

The wildlife charity's annual Birdcrime Report highlighted the scale of bird of prey persecution and revealed the hotspots of confirmed and suspected illegal killing in the North of England.

The report, published last week, said 38 Hen Harriers, a protected, bird of prey and one of the most endangered species of raptor in the UK, have been persecuted or vanished across Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumbria, Durham and Northumberland since 2022.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park currently has the highest density of proven and suspected persecution in the UK.

Eight satellite-tagged hen harriers have been confirmed as having been illegally killed or have suspiciously disappeared in this area alone since January 2022, with most of these birds sending their final data in the national park before vanishing.

In May 2022, the body of a male satellite-tagged hen harrier, called Free, was recovered by Natural England staff. A post-mortem examination confirmed he had been illegally killed and his head had been pulled off while still alive.

North Yorkshire Police carried out an investigation, but insufficient evidence meant no-one was charged. The investigation has since closed, but hen harriers have continued to vanish in the area.

Also in 2022, a hen harrier nest near Whernside which was being monitored by Natural England was attacked.

Four chicks in the nest were killed with a post mortem concluding they had suffered multiple fractured bones. Police, after considering all the evidence, strongly suspected that someone had approached the nest after dark and had deliberately killed them.

David Butterworth, Chief Executive Officer of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “It is yet again hugely embarrassing that this part of the country has been shamed as being the worst for proven and suspected bird of prey persecution in the UK.

"An end to the illegal killing of birds cannot come soon enough. Some of the instances of criminality highlighted in the report beggar belief: the stamping to death of four hen harrier chicks and one harrier having its head pulled from its body while still alive. Truly shocking levels of depravity."

He added: “It’s all the more galling because there are signs of positive change. Some local land managers are doing great work to conserve birds of prey in the national park. We are currently preparing a new evidence report on bird of prey populations in the national park on behalf of the Yorkshire Dales Bird of Prey Partnership.

"We hope this report will be published in the coming weeks. Sadly all of this will count for little whilst the persecution of birds of prey continues.”

Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said: “Despite being fully protected by law, and a threatened species in the UK, hen harriers are being illegally persecuted on a relentless scale."

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, which represents grouse moor operators, said: “Where there are incidents of persecution of birds of prey, we condemn this illegal killing.

"The number of incidents being reported this year has nearly halved compared to the same report last year, indicating a dramatic downward trend. Furthermore, we understand the number of incidents linked to grouse moors is a low percentage of the overall figure.

“Grouse moors are already subject to wide-ranging legislation and regulation. From our experience with the Hen Harrier brood management trial, working in partnership is a much more productive way forward rather than introducing another layer of regulation through licensing.”

If you notice a dead or injured bird of prey in suspicious circumstances, call the police on 101 and fill in the RSPB’s online reporting form: