North Yorkshire Police frustrated at ongoing raptor persecution

Following on from the news that yet another shot raptor has been found in Nidderdale AONB (see here), there’s a topical news feature in today’s Yorkshire Post about the ongoing illegal persecution of birds of prey in North Yorkshire.

The article starts off well and focuses on quotes from Inspector Matt Hagen, who leads the North Yorks Police Rural Task Force and also from Supt Nick Lyall, Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG – the so-called partnership approach to tackling raptor persecution).

Here’s an extract:

The shooting, poisoning and trapping of birds such as red kites and buzzards is a crime previously described by the RSPB as “a stain on our countryside” and has risen in recent years after they were introduced to Yorkshire in the late nineties.

It is thought the offences have been happening for a long time, although increased awareness from the national police campaign Operation Owl has led to a rise in reports from the public.

Nidderdale in particular has been highlighted as a hotspot for the crime, while shootings of birds of prey have also been reported around West Yorkshire.

Disturbingly, there have also been reports of pets being killed after eating poisoned meat left out in suspected attempts at targeting scavenging birds of prey.

Between November 2018 and March of this year, there were 15 crimes recorded in North Yorkshire alone of birds being shot, poisoned or trapped, or tagged birds reported missing. Of these, nine had been shot, including a barn owl found shot in Ryedale in December 2019.

[A shot buzzard found in North Yorkshire in 2018, photo via North Yorkshire Police]

Inspector Matt Hagen, who is Head of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: “These crimes are very difficult to investigate because they happen in isolated places and there is often no one around to witness them.

“From what I have seen, some of the people that persecute birds of prey are of the opinion that they diminish the numbers of pheasants, grouse or partridges.

“Many gamekeepers are very pro-conservation, but it just takes one or two individuals in that industry to make a real impact. This is especially the case with hen harriers because they are so endangered. Many birds of prey that are persecuted we find that they were on a grouse moor, or at least near to one of those areas.

“I do know that with the hen harriers, there are not many left in this country, and if this carries on it may well be that they disappear.”

Poisoning is also an issue, where perpetrators leave out poisoned rabbit carcasses for carrion-eating birds such as red kites to find. This poses a risk to local wildlife, pets and even children, police have said.

Insp Hagen added: “We recently had two dogs poisoned in Pateley Bridge, one of whom sadly died. This is still being investigated, but it happened in an area known as a hotspot for these crimes.”

Operation Owl is a campaign originally spearheaded by North Yorkshire Police which has since been made into a national campaign urging the public to be eyes and ears for crimes committed against birds of prey, as most occur in remote areas.

Superintendent Nick Lyall of Bedfordshire Police currently leads the campaign, and has been meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service and senior Government ministers to urge for the crimes to be upgraded from summary-only offences – which can only be dealt with by magistrates and have more lenient sentences – to either-way offences, meaning they can be tried in a crown court.

Supt Lyall said: “We can do search warrants linked to wildlife crimes, but we can’t use our serious crime tactics of covert policing, such as surveillance, to catch these offenders. So for example, if we knew of a nest that was being targeted, we currently can’t put cameras in to see who was disturbing that nest.”

Supt Lyall added that only one or two people are convicted each year for crimes against these birds, with police relying mainly on witnesses as evidence.

“With the remote places these crimes are happening in, that makes it very difficult to prosecute,” he added.

The impact of these crimes is not just felt by the community, but on the environment as well.

A report published by the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in September revealed that red kites were failing to expand breeding territory from Wharfedale into neighbouring Nidderdale.


It was pretty accurate reporting up to this point but then it descended in to farce, first with this statement from the journalist:

‘Despite this there is hope, and most gamekeepers and landowners are now strongly committed to conserving all species, with 2019 being a record year for endangered hen harriers breeding’.

There’s a short, but crucially important, word missing from this statement, and that word is ‘say’. As in, ‘…..most gamekeepers and landowners say they’re now strongly committed to conserving all species……’

Of course they’re going to say they’re against raptor persecution – they’ve been saying that for 66 years, ever since the Protection of Birds Act 1954 was enacted. However, all the evidence, of humongous proportions, suggests otherwise!

The article then continues with contributions from Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association) and John Clarke (National Gamekeepers Organisation) both churning out the familiar patter about supposed ‘zero tolerance‘ of raptor persecution and Amanda particularly focusing on the so-called ‘enthusiastic’ support of moorland estates for hen harriers!

She ‘forgot’ to mention the two current police investigations in to the alleged witnessed shooting of hen harriers on two grouse moors and the game shooting industry’s subsequent silence (see here). She also ‘forgot’ to mention the 31 (at least) hen harriers believed to have been illegally killed since 2018, the year when grouse shooting industry reps would have us believe that hen harriers were welcomed back on the grouse moors. She also ‘forgot’ to mention the 2019 research paper that demonstrated that at least 72% of satellite-tracked hen harriers tagged by Natural England were believed to have been illegally killed on British grouse moors.

[This hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set spring trap (which almost severed his leg) on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate last year. He didn’t survive. Read his grim story here. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Meanwhile, back in the real world unofficial reports from around the UK but particularly from areas managed for driven grouse shooting in the north of England indicate that raptor persecution crimes are still being committed, and that includes hen harriers being targeted yet again.

There’s a famous quote that springs to mind that some journalists would do well to consider:

If someone says it’s raining, and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the f***ing window and find out which is true“.

18 thoughts on “North Yorkshire Police frustrated at ongoing raptor persecution”

  1. One of the proposed changes to legislation in Scotland, yet to be enacted, is that the maximum offence for certain wildlife crimes is increased to 2 years, which does, as I understand it, enable covert surveillance to detect these crimes. It is a shame that England is unlikely to follow. Although I am unhappy about other aspects of the legislation, this, at least, will give extra weapons for the Scottish police to use to stop these heinous crimes.

    1. Hi Fight for Fairness,

      The proposed legislative changes in Scotland propose 5 year custodial sentences for some wildlife crime offences. If passed, this would definitely open the door for covert surveillance although certain criteria would still need to be met. In short, it means the police would at least have the authority to request permission for surveillance; at the moment, even that is beyond their reach as these wildlife crimes don’t have the minimum 3yr custodial sentence required to trigger such authority.

      See this earlier blog for details:

  2. ‘The shooting, poisoning and trapping of birds such as red kites and buzzards is a crime previously described by the RSPB as “a stain on our countryside” and has risen in recent years after they were introduced to Yorkshire in the late nineties.’ Red kites re-introduced, buzzards found their own way back but both native birds unlike pheasants!

  3. This is a never ending story which shames the proud county of Yorkshire. We do not seem to hear anything from the MP’s for Nidderdale (Julian Smith) or Richmond/Swaledale (Rishi Sunak). Would it be possible, via this blog, to encourage ordinary voters to register their concerns formally. Eventually there will be a debate in Parliament and these two gentlemen need to be fully involved, in my opinion.

  4. Your last quote is totally accurate. Although evidence based reporting is a bit cutting edge for most journalists!!!

  5. Love that quote. Nails it.

    Just sickening. Crazy that those murdering bastards are let loose on the moors whilst Moorland Monitors and Raptor Study Groups are told to keep off.

    Hope there will be a comparative study of raptor populations prior to and after lockdown.

  6. One dispairs at the standard of journalism with the implication that Buzzards were reintroduced, as if that makes a difference. One hopes that letters will flood to YP pointing out the nonsense in this article and the real levels of persecution as witnessed by Hen Harriers or that there have been no successful Peregrines on the grouse moors of Nidderdale or the YDNP for over twenty, yes twenty years. The utterances of Anderson and Clarke are so much hogwash, either they represent utterly ineffective organisations unable to control or influence their potentially criminal members or it is damage limitation. We of course know it’s utter insincere shite but the public may still be confused and want to believe this message. Good journalists should research enough that they know this for the hollow words it contains.

  7. Well, we’ve seen poor journalism many times before and no doubt we’ll see it again. It is probably understandable in some small parochial rag (sorry Y.P.). But having watched the government briefings over the last couple of weeks I’m of the opinion that most ‘journalists’ don’t even rate the higher accolade of ‘reporter’ and even then could not prefix that with ‘investigative’.

  8. What you have to understand about the YP is that it’s roots are akin to the Telegraph, but it has had to start to recognise that sports like northern rugby union and association football are very popular in the vast county, more popular than the bastion of Corinthian values that is rugby football.

    The headline at the fact that the story has been run is a major change of direction for this publication. Itis slowly realising that the general population of Yorkshire work for a living and value the count and wildlife surrounding their villages, towns and cities.

  9. If you report the raw truth you will either loose your job or get locked out, or worse, locked up (Julian Assange). The corruption- control sits just abve our heads and runs all the way to the top.

  10. I confess I have not read a copy of the Yorkshire Post in several years, but always assumed it was an Establishment / Harry Enfield’s “The Yorkshireman” type of paper. But this would seem to be a bit of an about turn in their approach to the topic. I do remember them doing a feature interviewing a couple of gamekeepers who were whinging that all their “hard work” was underappreciated by the public, and that “Mr. Packham” was behind a conspiracy to blacken their reputations.

  11. Much of the regional press is having a really hard time at the moment. I would be genuinely sad if they went to the wall. But they themselves need to do a bit of work. Pretending to be like the BBC is supposed to be, neutrally presenting yet again sundry raining/not raining questions, is probably not the way to sell a regional newspaper. Especially, in this case, if you aim to respect the intelligence of your readership before publishing the usual nonsense from the MA and others. What journalistic rule tells them they should do that? My (obviously limited) experience is that the surviving regional press around the world understands that its main task and main route to survival is to speak to the concerns of its readership rather than to some lofty journalistic aether.

  12. Also “forgot to mention” the attempts to move [brood meddling] harriers away from their grouse moors – not exactly a sign that they are welcoming to raptors now is it?

  13. This is very sad, i’m discusted to read that mindless yobs (yes posh people can be yobs too! ) are bent upon exterminating beautiful birds. This needs everyone everywhere to put pressure on our government to stop this.

  14. Not in Yorkshire but Suffolk–In todays Daily Mail a report of someone in a car park being shot and hospitalised by two men out shooting rabbits.Not much hope for birds of prey if these idiots with guns cant tell difference between a rabbit and a man!

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