Sparrowhawk dies in suspected poisoning incident in North York Moors National Park

North Yorkshire Police press statement (24 August 2020)

Police urge vigilance after sparrowhawk shows symptoms of poisoning

Police are warning residents near Kirkbymoorside after a bird of prey died in circumstances that could suggest poisoning

A very unwell sparrowhawk was found by members of the public in woodland, just off Gillamoor Bank, close to Gillamoor village near Kirkbymoorside in Ryedale.

The bird appeared to be experiencing seizures and clenching its talons, and was taken locally for care, but died shortly after.

The symptoms shown by the bird suggest that poisons could have been involved in its death.

[Sparrowhawk, photo by Markus Varesvuo]

Officers from North Yorkshire Police are investigating the incident, and the dead bird has been accepted onto the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) for testing to establish the cause of death.

The WIIS investigates the deaths of wildlife and pet animals and beneficial invertebrates in the UK if there is evidence to suggest that they may have been poisoned or put at risk by pesticides.

The sparrowhawk was found earlier this month in a location very close to the village of Gillamoor, in woodland which includes a public footpath.

A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police said: “At this time, we are keeping an open mind as to the cause of death. However, toxicology results may not be known for a number of weeks, so we want to make the community aware so they can take precautions to keep pets, children and themselves safe.

Once the results of the tests are known we will update the community, but for the time being dog owners should take care to keep their dogs on leads when in this area, and remain vigilant.”

If you have any information about this incident, contact North Yorkshire Police on 101 quoting reference 12200142198.

If you find a dead animal you believe may be contaminated, do not touch it – poisons can transfer through contact with skin – and keep children and pets well away. Instead, take photographs, obtain an exact location (for example, a grid reference or a What3words location) and contact the police.


Here’s the location of Gillamoor village and the surrounding woodland, right next door to an area that appears to be managed for driven grouse shooting on the edge of the North York Moors National Park:

Obviously, the results of the toxicology tests are awaited before this incident can be confirmed as an illegal poisoning but let’s be honest, given North Yorkshire’s appalling reputation for the illegal killing of birds of prey, including inside its two National Parks, either by shooting, trapping or poisoning (e.g. see here, here, here and here), yet another victim would come as no surprise whatsoever.


If you’re concerned about the level of illegal raptor persecution in the UK, especially the high incidence of killing that takes place on or close to driven grouse moors, you can sign this e-action which urges your politician to take note and actually do something about it.

Launched two weeks ago by three organisations: Wild Justice, the RSPB and Hen Harrier Action, so far over 84,000 people have signed up. All you need to do is enter your postcode and a polite, pre-written email will automatically be sent to your parliamentary representative asking them to stop ignoring this issue.

If you want to add your voice and give your elected politician a polite nudge, please sign up HERE and pass this link on to others.

Thank you

16 thoughts on “Sparrowhawk dies in suspected poisoning incident in North York Moors National Park”

    1. It is an almost impossible task, Chris, especially as covert surveillance is – I believe – not permitted for this level of crime.

      1. Does anyone know? If for example, a child became very ill or died as a result touching a deadly poisoned bait, would the court still rule that surveillance film captured as “inadmissable evidence” . I would assume that the law would change. Then what about if a dog or a horse died ?

        1. It’s related to the severity of the crime, that is to say the maximum penalty for it. So I think (but do not know) that if a child were involved that surveillance evidence would be admissible. The point is relevant in Scotland where (I believe) the current increases in penalties mean that surveillance evidence will be more readily admissible than before in relation to wildlife crime. But it’s all pretty arcance stuff (and someone will know the detail much better than me) and more radical change in the law is needed across the UK.

  1. Looking at the nearby grouse moor, and adjacent land on satellite there are dozens of what appear to be regularly spaced mounds. Looks possibly like very intensive grit mounding. Finding it hard to believe that anyone would spend that sort of money, but then I’m a long way from the bonkers business of grouse shooting in Yorkshire!

    1. I know the area fairly well, there are archaeological features like that on some of the moorland in the area, which I’m pretty sure is what you’re seeing. Just to the North West of Gillamoor,

      Not familiar enough with archaeology to tell you exactly what they are without looking it up somewhere but they’re nothing to do with grouse shooting.

      1. Ahh, that would make more sense as they are spread over moorland and adjacent grassland. Intriguing. Thank you.

  2. I know this area fairly well, there is a pheasant shoot not far away to the west. There might be some pheasant shoot activity closer to Gillamoor too, but I’m not completely sure what the shooting situation is there. It isn’t just grouse moors in that area.

  3. National parks, along with AONB’s and NSA’s are part of the nationally protected areas in the UK.

    The International Union for Conservation of Nature definition of a protected area is :
    “A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”.
    In other words: A protected area is a location which has a clear boundary. It has people and laws that make sure nature and wildlife are protected and that people can continue to benefit from nature without destroying it.

    The Environment Act 1995 revised the original legislation and set out two statutory purposes for national parks in England and Wales:

    Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage
    Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public

    The raptor persecution problems within both the North Yorks Moors national park, and Yorkshire Dales national park are at such a level, that isn’t it time there was a public enquiry as to whether these two national parks are actually delivering protection to the wildlife, and fulfilling their statutory purpose?
    (The same can probably also be applied to the Peak District national park/ Cairngorms national park )

    Such a public enquiry might throw a very bright spotlight as to exactly what is taking place in the countryside and on the managed grouse moors within the parks.
    It would expose the truth to the wider public, and I should imagine the continuous criminal persecution of raptors would attract such outrage, that the failure of government ministers to act even when presented with overwhelming evidence, might be the catalyst for meaningful change?

    It is very clear just from the raptor persecution reports this year alone, that something is clearly wrong with the way the national parks in the UK are being managed, and the way the legislation is being applied.

    I am dismayed with the continual catalogue of crimes, and the persistent denial by politicians that there is a problem.
    For a country that prides itself on a rule of law independent from political interference, what is going on is nothing other than shameful. Those elected and given the power to do something, but instead choose to do nothing should be compelled to resign. When is enough – enough????

    1. The statutory designated landscape system in England and Wales pre-dates the IUCN definition so, in some ways, the latter is not all that significant. It’s unlikely to be regarded as a relevant consideration if it ever came to a court judgment about whether National Parks are delivering their statutory purposes.

      Nonetheless, our National Parks and AONBs are IUCN Cat V protected landscapes which means that each one is internationally recognised as “A protected area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value: and where safeguarding the integrity of this interaction is vital to protecting and sustaining the area and its associated nature conservation and other values”.

      Basically Cat Vs are living working inhabited landscapes where nature conservation and cultural heritage receive a level of legal protection.

      For legal purposes a more significant question is whether in English or Welsh National Parks the statutory principle that gives conservation priority over recreation (where they are in conflict) is actually being applied. Another question might be how driven grouse shooting “promotes understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the park by the public”. If it doesn’t then its existence is incompatible with the purpose of designation. If it does then it’s an area of conflict between conservation and “recreation” which is covered by the “Sandford” conflict resolution principle under . That principle is binding on any public body, Minister, statutory undertaker or person appointed to public office.

  4. As aways with poisoning, my thoughts always are…How many baits were put out? (its naive to think a keeper just puts out one at a time). And…What else is lying dead or sickly right now within the vicinity? A Sparrowhawk is not really a scavenger so will not have been first to the carcass (unless it was a laced partridge or pigeon corpse specifically put on top of a partridge release pen for the hawks). Doubtless this bird will be among 5 to 10 other victims of varying species.

  5. I appreciate that toxicology tests take weeks but why is there is still such a delay in the police statement to the public? The bird showed signs indicating poisoning when found. Surely a statement indicating possible poisoning and therefore a threat to human and pet life should have been made the same day. A few weeks’ delay is very handy for the poisoner …..

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