Operation Owl assembles in Helmsley, North Yorkshire

RSPB staff took arms against the ongoing problem of raptor persecution in North Yorkshire last weekend as our Investigations team joined North Yorkshire Police on a mission known as ‘Operation Owl’.

On Saturday 18 February, we joined police officers and staff from the RSPCA, Yorkshire Dales National Park and North York Moors National Park at Brimham Rocks, a beautiful tourist spot in Nidderdale, with the aim of raising public awareness and rooting out those responsible.

It looked like half the police in the county had turned up that morning, along with a number of local press – a really great result. We demonstrated how pole traps catch raptors and ran a video about raptor persecution on a big screen. Later we paired up to take posters to local vets, hand out leaflets to visitors and generally spread the message throughout the community.

We were back out again on Sunday, starting in Helmsley town square (putting posters in local shops and cafes) then heading up to the North York Moors visitor centre.

Police and RSPB outside Helmsley's Thomas the Baker, who were more than happy to display our posters

North Yorkshire has long been a blackspot for the illegal killing of birds of prey: in 2016, 20 of the UK’s 83 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution took place here. And over the last five years, North Yorkshire has notched up more than twice as many of these incidents than any other county.

Strikingly, not many people we spoke to knew this. Most were shocked to see images of trapped or shot birds, and had no idea that this sort of thing was happening on their doorstep. The question most people asked was ‘Why?’.

Locals show their support for Operation Owl

To illustrate the issue we’d prepared a short video, featuring recent Wildlife Law Enforcer of the Year Acting Inspector Kevin Kelly and RSPB Senior Investigations Officer Mark Thomas speaking about the different methods of illegally catching raptors, what signs to look for and how to report anything suspicious.

We ran the video on a loop on a big screen, which we moved from location to location. It drew quite a crowd!

Have a watch of it here: