North Yorkshire regularly emerges as the worst county in England for the illegal killing of birds of prey. In the past seven years, RSPB data shows that more protected raptors like red kites and buzzards have been shot, trapped and poisoned here than anywhere else.
Within North Yorkshire, the countryside around Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale – which is heavily dominated by driven grouse shooting – is a particular blackspot, as recent events continue to show.
Pateley Bridge is nestled in the heart of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: a quintessential Yorkshire town, with the Dales to the north-west and the towns of Ripon and Harrogate to the east. But sadly there’s a darker side to the picture-postcard charm.
Despite legal protection, birds of prey are being targeted in this pocket of North Yorkshire with alarming regularity. This hasn’t abated, even during lockdown.
Unsurprisingly, this is causing growing anger among local residents who are as motivated as any to end the destruction of wildlife taking place on their doorstep. Businesses too are understandably worried that the bad reputation for raptor killing, in a place where visitors come to enjoy wildlife and nature, could impact on the rural economy.
Keith Tordoff owns The Oldest Sweet Shop in England, dating from 1827, in Pateley Bridge’s historic high street. He recognises that wildlife and the countryside is part of the attraction for visitors. Along with another business owner, he is offering a cash reward to anyone who provides information about raptor crime which leads to a successful conviction.
“North Yorkshire has a major problem with the persecution of raptors, and this is both saddening and very disheartening to all law-abiding citizens,” says Keith. “I hope that, by offering a reward, it will encourage someone out there to ring the police and provide information which might help identify those responsible.
“Birds of prey like red kites are not a threat to landowners or the shooting fraternity and, importantly, raptors are protected by law.”
Buzzard found poisoned by two Pateley Bridge residents
In recent weeks, North Yorkshire Police have been dealing with a number of incidents involving the targeting of raptors in Nidderdale. On 3 March 2020, a couple in Pateley Bridge witnessed a buzzard fall from a tree in their garden. It was taken to a vet but sadly had to be euthanised. Tests revealed it had ingested chunks of meat laced with a deadly combination of pesticides. North Yorkshire Police issued a public appeal for information today, warning residents to be vigilant. Later that month, a red kite found illegally poisoned in the valley.
In April 2020, another buzzard was found shot at Kirkby Malzeard, about 8km from Pateley Bridge.
Adds Keith: “It is amazing to look up into the sky and see these magnificent birds of prey flying overhead… they should be able to fly freely. Visitors will not want to come to an area where they believe some people have the mindset that the destruction of wildlife and breaking the laws of the land is acceptable.
“People come to North Yorkshire to enjoy the countryside and what it has to offer, whether walking or to take in the scenery and its wildlife. It is a beautiful part of the world, and birds of prey are part of this. Residents and visitors have the right to feel safe in North Yorkshire, but the poisoning of birds of prey is dangerous to all including our children and family pets.”
In early May 2020, North Yorkshire Police issued a public notice about some potential poisonous baits near Pateley Bridge, following the suspected poisoning of two dogs.
Last year, in 2019, a red kite was found poisoned just outside Pateley Bridge; it had ingested two highly-toxic pesticides, one of which is banned in the UK.
Hen harriers, a rare species on the brink of extinction in England, are notable by their absence in Nidderdale, despite the plentiful heather moorland on which these birds like to nest.
In April 2019, the hen harrier River – which had been fitted with a satellite tracker by the RSPB and subsequently disappeared in suspicious circumstances – was found dead on a Nidderdale grouse moor, following a search by North Yorkshire Police and the RSPB. River had been illegally shot.
Hen harrier River as a chick
There is a long history of failed hen harrier breeding attempts around Nidderdale, most in circumstances suggesting human persecution was responsible. In 2019 two pairs produced young in the area, the first successful breeding in North Yorkshire since 2007. However, this was tempered by two other failed breeding attempts where once again human persecution was strongly suspected.
The raptor persecution problem was also highlighted in the Nidderdale AONB’s Birds of Prey in Nidderdale AONB Evidence Report, published in September 2019.
There are a number of other incidents going further back in time. The RSPB has recorded over 40 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution within the AONB area since 2000 involving the shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey. In 2013 a grouse moor gamekeeper from the Swinton Estate was caught on surveillance camera setting an illegal pole trap – the same estate on which hen harrier ‘Bowland Betty’ had been found shot the year before. Another Nidderdale grouse moor gamekeeper was also prosecuted in 2007 for possession of illegal pesticides.
This persistent, deeply-rooted criminality is truly a dark side to these rolling hills.
Adds Keith: “I want to make it clear that we will not be bullied or frightened off tackling this problem. I am a proud Yorkshireman born and bred, and the community of North Yorkshire I know will not tolerate indiscriminate breaking of the law. The message must be loud and clear: if you are breaking the law and killing raptors protected by law, you are going to be caught.
“My message to the people who are killing birds of prey is simple: please stop immediately, because you will be caught. If you have any information which may help identify the perpetrators of these barbaric, abhorrent acts please phone the police. You will be helping society and doing a service to North Yorkshire, and helping safeguard these birds for future generations.”
Mark Thomas, Head of RSPB Investigations UK, commented: “It is clear that current laws protecting birds of prey are being ignored by some individuals, and this is having a devastating effect on birds of prey populations and the local ecology. We welcome the recent excellent work undertaken by the North Yorkshire Police Rural Taskforce in tackling this issue , particularly the persecution linked with driven grouse shooting, where moorland is intensively managed purely for the benefit of red grouse, at the expense of other wildlife.
“Equally, we all need more people, like Keith, to step up and make it known that killing birds of prey will not be tolerated. We encourage anyone with information to come forward – either by calling the police on 101 or calling the RSPB’s Raptor Crime Hotline in confidence. Your call could make all the difference.”
If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact the police on 101, then email RSPB Investigations (firstname.lastname@example.org) or fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx
Alternatively contact the RSPB’s Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.
TUNE IN: Channel 4 will be covering this story tonight from 7PM, Friday 29 May.
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