Red kite found poisoned on Swinton Estate – North Yorkshire Police refuses to investigate

Last November I was reading an online article on the Teeside Live website about the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in North Yorkshire being dubbed ‘the bird poisoning capital of the UK‘ (here).

The article was illustrated with various photographs, including this image of a poisoned red kite that was reportedly found dead at Roundhill Reservoir, near Masham in 2021:

The given location caught my eye as I understand the Roundhill Reservoir is surrounded by the Swinton Estate, a notorious grouse-shooting estate that has been at the centre of police investigations into confirmed and alleged raptor persecution for years.

For example, this is the estate where hen harrier ‘Bowland Betty’ was found dead in 2012, later confirmed to have been shot (here & here) although it has never been established whether she was shot on or off the estate. It’s also where a Swinton Estate gamekeeper was convicted for twice setting an illegal pole trap in 2013 (here) and where another hen harrier, ‘River’, was found shot dead in 2019 (here). Around the same time as River’s demise, an unidentified gunman had been filmed with two dogs walking through a hen harrier roost on the estate (here). There have also been reports from local raptor workers of the ‘mysterious disappearances’ of many raptors on this estate for over a decade.

The owner of Swinton Estate is Mark Cunliffe-Lister, Earl of Swinton, who in 2020 became the new Chairman of the grouse moor owners’ lobby group, the Moorland Association (here). This is a high profile position and in recent years Mr Cunliffe-Lister’s estate has become somewhat of a poster child for DEFRA’s ludicrous hen harrier brood meddling trial, where the estate has championed the removal of some hen harrier chicks in return for permitting others to remain and to be diversionary fed by estate staff, although this hasn’t been without controversy either after it emerged that Natural England had appeared to ‘bend the rules’ in favour of estate activities (e.g. see here). Controversially, in 2021 a Guardian journalist described Swinton Estate as the ‘hen harrier’s friend’ (here), supported by a statement from Stephen Murphy (Natural England) about the estate’s head gamekeeper, “What he’s done for harriers, word’s can’t describe“. Murphy also claimed that hen harrier Bowland Betty had definitely been shot elsewhere and merely flew on to the estate to die – an unevidenced claim that was later amended in the article. Last year the estate won what was described as ‘a prestigious conservation award’ for its involvement in the hen harrier brood meddling trial (here).

So, back to that article I was reading in November 2022. I didn’t recall hearing about a poisoned red kite being found on the Swinton Estate in 2021 and I’m pretty sure I would have remembered, given the location, so I did some digging to make sure the poisoning had been confirmed and the location verified, just in case the journalist had cocked up (she’d already mistakenly described Nidderdale as a ‘village’ instead of a region so I couldn’t rely on her account of the poisoned red kite to be accurate).

The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), North Yorkshire
Roundhill Reservoir in the Nidderdale AONB

I found details about this crime on the HSE’s Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme spreadsheet, which confirmed the kite had been found poisoned on a Right of Way footpath in November 2021. The poisons found in the kite’s stomach included Bendiocarb, Carbofuran, Chloralose and Isofenphos – this highly toxic combination has become known as the ‘Nidderdale Cocktail’ as it’s so frequently used to kill birds of prey in this region, especially red kites (e.g. see here, here, here).

The red star denotes the approximate location of the poisoned red kite found in November 2021, close to Roundhill Reservoir and surrounded by the grouse moors of Swinton Estate

However, I couldn’t find any media coverage of this crime, nor any police appeals for information, nor any warnings to the public about the continued use of poisons so dangerous that some of them have been banned for years. Given that a year had already passed since the poisoned kite was discovered, I found this puzzling. So I contacted North Yorkshire Police’s rural crime team and asked them about the status of the investigation:

Here’s the astonishing response I received:

This North Yorkshire Police Inspector admitted that this poisoned red kite “unfortunately slipped through the net” but then went on to justify the police’s decision not to investigate by accusing the RSPB of failing to notify the police about this incident when the poisoned kite was first picked up. He claimed the police only found out about it five months later, in April 2022, whilst chasing the lab for the results of another investigation.

His allegations about the RSPB aside (and which I’ll come to, below), I was still stunned that he thought that launching an investigation, and issuing a public appeal for information, let alone issue a warning to the public about the use of poisons in the countryside, wasn’t worthwhile due to the ‘passage of time’ (five months), especially given the location where the poisoned kite had been found.

A couple of years ago a previous North Yorkshire Police Inspector had issued a public appeal/warning, ten months after the discovery of another poisoned red kite in Nidderdale (see here), so it seemed to me that there was no reason not to issue one after a five month delay.

I wrote back to North Yorkshire Police asking for an explanation:

Apparently, it wasn’t up for debate. Here’s the response I received:

Meanwhile, I contacted the RSPB and put to them the allegations this Inspector had made, that the RSPB hadn’t notified the police about the discovery of this red kite. It turns out those allegations were utterly unfounded/untrue. The RSPB DID contact North Yorkshire Police, on the day the poisoned kite was discovered, and took instruction from the police about submitting the corpse for toxicology analysis. Furthermore, they had the email correspondence to prove it:

So what are we to make of North Yorkshire Police’s refusal to investigate a confirmed poisoning incident (a so-called national wildlife crime priority), on an estate with a long history of alleged wildlife crime, that has enjoyed recent adulation from Natural England staff and the media, that has played a significant role in the hen harrier brood meddling trial, and whose owner is a high profile representative of the grouse-shooting industry?

Does Mr Cunliffe-Lister even know about this poisoned kite being found on his estate? Given the Moorland Association’s claimed ‘zero tolerance’ of raptor persecution, and Mr Cunliffe-Lister’s widely-reported apparent welcoming of birds of prey on his estate, I’d have expected him to speak out and condemn this disgraceful poisoning incident, as any decent landowner would. It’d be interesting to know whether North Yorkshire Police have informed him, or not.

Whatever, North Yorkshire Police’s refusal to investigate this crime is wholly unacceptable. In the first instance, I’ll be writing a letter of complaint to the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Zoe Metcalfe.

In her Police and Crime Plan 2022-2025 (here), she details an objective of ‘an improved [police] response to crime in rural areas, especially wildlife crime...’ as this had been identified as a major concern for North Yorkshire residents in the recent PCC consultation.

I would urge blog readers who reside in North Yorkshire to also submit a complaint and to request she conducts an inquiry into why North Yorkshire Police refused to investigate this serious crime.

Please send your (polite and respectful) emails to:

I’ll provide an update on this blog when a response has been received.

UPDATE 23.30hrs: Natural England’s senior management team has a lovely day out…on Swinton Estate!! (see here).

30 thoughts on “Red kite found poisoned on Swinton Estate – North Yorkshire Police refuses to investigate”

  1. Well done for pursuing this. All illegal killing should be investigated before a child is killed by these illegal poisons and firearms offences are often committed XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

  2. Brilliant exposé of the trail of lies and ineptitude issuing from North Yorkshire Police. They should be ashamed of themselves. You’d think they’d be going the extra mile
    to reverse the stinking reputation North Yorkshire has for raptor persecution.
    Is it worthwhile complaining even if you live outside the catchment?

  3. Was it poison or are we assuming did the rspb so a test along with the e mail I think if it was poisoned this should certainly be looked in to [Ed: the rest of your comment has been deleted Graeme because I’m not providing you with a platform to make unsubstantiated rants against the RSPB. If you’d bothered to look beyond your prejudices and read the blog properly, you’d know that this poisoned red kite was CONFIRMED by a Govt lab to have been poisoned]

    1. Maybe you can help us, as you seem to know so much, by informing us how it is that so many shooting estate employees have access to banned chemicals? Curious people would really like to know that one…

    2. Obviously you don’t want anyone else actually knowing the truth Ruth there was no reason at all to not post my whole e mail and how would I know how people would get poisons from I didn’t even refer to that you just twist words to make you look good and everybody that you think is against you look an idiot if we’re going to discuss these issues please don’t hide facts

      1. Graeme, you’re talking nonsense. Your comment descended into an unsubstantiated rant/slur against the RSPB. If you’ve got genuine, evidence-based criticism, I’ll happily publish it. If you just want to slag off those working to address the illegal killing of raptors, your comments will be deleted.

      2. Strewth, I’m not descending into trolling, but please stick a comma or something somewhere, I get short of breath reading your ‘posts’.

            1. Not at all what would I be dishonest about, I have made it very clear my love for raptors as I keep them myself
              also made it ver clear that if someone has killed a raptor illegally by any means I would hope they are prosecuted regardless of who it may be so please tell me where my dishonesty comes in since you seem to know me

              [Ed: Graeme, please stick to the topic. This blog isn’t about you]

  4. Unbelievable! So, they want to blame the RSPB? Thank goodness they kept the correspondence: shame the cop wasn’t under oath, As it is, it is contempt for the truth, shame that carries no genuine sanction.

    1. I don’t know if it still is an offence but I believe lying from a position of trust and authority in a public office certainly used to be.

  5. Its deplorable that the North Yorkshire Police want to blame the RSPB for not informing them when there is clear evidence with the emails to prove that is not so.
    Well done Ruth for pursuing this matter; I hope that the truth will come to the fore soonest and it will prove that North Yorkshire Police are not telling the truth about this abhorrent poisoning of a Red Kite [Ed: ‘found’] on a notorious grouse-shooting estate

  6. Utterly scandalous, not something that should be happening and certainly wouldn’t under the previous incumbent in that post, but then some of us believe that is why he is no longer in that post. Swinton has XXXXX XXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXXX for years and years, before brood meddling, harriers routinely disappeared during the breeding season and nests failed with all the hallmarks of persecution. Has Swinton changed, my information would suggest only as far as harriers are concerned. I shall be writing to the PCC and encouraging others still in yorkshire to do the same.

  7. Well done Ruth again for your tenacious digging into this case. I’ve emailed the PFCC as you suggested about why this case wasn’t investigated as it should; that future wildlife crime will be properly investigated; and what steps NYP and other authorities are taking to crackdown on the use of these lethal poisons. Don’t forget, two dogs were poisoned by the same cocktail in 2020. I will let you know what she says in reply

  8. What a disgraceful situation-the (lack of)action from the North Yorkshire Police Force is disgraceful in this blatant Raptor poisoning incident-I really can’t believe that they tried to say that the RSPB didn’t tell them about the incident. It is really quite disturbing that people in power(I won’t mention names but it’s obvious isn’t it) have enormous influence over the so called establishment. I would be very interested to know whether the Police and Crime commissioner for North Yorkshire will be forthright and honest -I will watch this space. Shame on you, North Yorkshire Police!

  9. I may be wrong – if so please correct me, but [Ed: Thanks, Spaghnum Morose, I don’t think that has ever been verified and it would be difficult to do so, so I can’t publish it]

  10. After many years of paying lip service to bird of prey persecution issues it appeared that, with the launch of its much vaunted and copied Operation Owl and a new Rural Task Force, North Yorkshire Police had finally recognised that its words and actions needed to properly reflect the county’s unenviable status as long-term league leaders in the persecution stakes. Unfortunately and regrettably this appears to have been a false dawn.

    Early in Covid lockdown there had been a surge in Police activity – a reflection of the increase in bird of prey offences associated with grouse moors. There was increased media interest, notably from Channel 4, and it appeared that, at long last, NYP was really getting to grips with the problem. However, things suddenly changed. The Police Inspector who was leading the charge apparently suffered an attack of Dorset Disease and disappeared from view.

    What is going on? What malign influence has been brought to bear to produce this turnaround in fortunes? It is to be hoped that the furore around the present case will prompt a full enquiry by the PFCC into the machinations which appear to have significantly reduced North Yorkshire Police’s level of interest and effectiveness in wildlife crime cases.

  11. If memory serves me correctly July 2019, I happened upon this grousemoor and overlooked the reservoir, during bit of leg stretch before dinner whilst over-nighting nearby- I hadn’t heard of the Swinton Estate or it’s reputation. What I observed was a monoculture of lawn-like heather, and a complete lack of birdlife apart from grouse on the moor, or surrounding farmland and wood blocks.

  12. I should have thought that when the RSPB initially reported the discovery of the Red kite to the police by way of email, then the incident should have been logged on the police’s computerised incident logging system?
    From my understanding of how this system works, the incident should then have been assigned a unique reference number, which I would have thought would have been necessary to create an audit trail for any evidence or subsequent investigation back to the original incident? Certainly in any criminal case, the Red Kite would have been an exhibit, along with any photographs taken at the scene, and I would have though a statement regarding the discovery and seizure of the dead kite would also have been required.
    The original email sent to the police by the RSPB should also have formed part of any subsequent investigation and under the rules of disclosure should have been retained.
    So from reading the chain of emails it would seem whoever took the initial report from the RSPB failed to have the incident logged onto the police’s computer system?
    Whether this was simply an oversight pending the outcome of the post mortem examination, or a failure to follow procedures is perhaps a matter for North Yorkshire Police.

    What I find most concerning from reading the emails is that it would appear that no initial enquiries were undertaken by the police on the discovery of the dead Red Kite, and that it would appear that any investigation would only have commenced once it had been confirmed that the Red kite had died as a result of illegal poisoning?
    This is despite the RSPB investigator clearly stating in their email to the police -“-the bird appeared to be an unnatural position and had clenched talons which concerned us as being possible signs of poisoning”. The second RSPB email to the police dated two days later, clearly states a negative x-ray, which appears to rule out evidence that the bird had suffered other physical injuries.
    Surely these comments and the x ray results should have been sufficient reasoning for the police to create sufficient suspicion that the Kite had died as a result of possible illegal poisoning and was the victim of a crime? Especially since the location where the bird was found has a history of illegal raptor poisonings. (it is worth noting that the police only have to have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed and reasonable suspicion that a suspect may be responsible for that crime to make an arrest)
    If, as suggested it takes approximately 5 months for a post mortem to be undertaken and the cause of death to be established, then that is 5 months since the date of the crime, and 5 months during which time any evidence to help identify potential suspects could be lost.
    Raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority, so delaying an investigation for months pending the results of a post mortem when vital evidence could be lost simply isn’t acceptable.
    So why on receipt of the information that there was some suspicion that this Kite could have died as a result of poisoning wasn’t an investigation started, and initial searches carried out to establish whether there were any other possible explanations for the death? Especially since it would appear that the location of where the Red kite was on a public right of way, and there would have been serious risk that any available forensic evidence would have been contaminated over time as more people used the right of way.
    The way I am interpreting what has happened in this incident might also explain why so few raptor persecution incidents end up with a successful prosecution, especially if it is months after an incident before the post mortem result is known, and months before the police actually start an investigation and undertake any searches. Time during which vital evidence could well be lost.
    For many years I believe North Yorkshire had the infamy of being the worst county in the country for raptor persecution. These are matters the PFCC should really be addressing and discussing with the Chief Constable.
    They are perhaps also matters the NWCU and College of Policing also need to consider, especially if this delay in post mortem results is hindering how other police forces conduct their investigations. If this is a national issue then it needs to be addressed through a nationally agreed investigation strategy so that evidence isn’t lost pending the outcome of post mortems.

  13. Why do bodies such as Natural England (and other similar bodies)exist at all when all they seem to do is allow such dreadful wildlife crimes go on unabated? The poison aspect alone should MAKE them question every proved raptor death due to poison, as well as those shot? Yes I know I’m being naive!!!

    1. “Why do bodies such as Natural England (and other similar bodies)exist at all when all they seem to do is allow such dreadful wildlife crimes go on unabated?”

      Is this rhetorical, or are you asking a real question?

      Natural England (ditto the other devolved nations’ “official” natural conservancy bodies) do a vital job.

      They are the government’s advisor for the natural environment, enshrined in law (this is very wide-ranging advice, covering landscapes, the seas and wildlife (plants and animals)). They are an executive, non-departmental, public body.

      They have legal powers (for example, the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, WWT etc do *not* have legal powers, but the RSPCA do – note current debate in Scotland). Natural England is also responsible for enforcing laws that protect wildlife and the natural environment.

      The Government say: Natural England aims to use enforcement:

      as a last resort but it is sometimes necessary to make sure that the natural environment is protected, and

      in a consistent and proportionate manner to target illegal activities that have the greatest impact on wildlife, geology and landscapes

      Natural England has a vital part in the nation’s government, but are not part of any government department – which is supposed to mean that they operate ‘at arm’s length’ from any minister. However, Natural England is ‘sponsored’ by Defra.

      These terms ‘at arm’s length’ and ‘sponsored’ are (deliberately?) wooly and ill-defined, in strict legal terms, which allow politicians a degree of manipulation, something we all know and can see all too well. For one thing, it is politicians who control the budget of Natural England.

      How Natural England performs under these conditions depends upon the character of its leadership.

      I have had direct dealings with Tony Juniper from ‘way back’ (one is documented on YouTube) and remain seriously unimpressed.

  14. There are serious issues in this case which go beyond the death of the Red Kite and failure of North Yorkshire Police (NYP) to investigate a crime reported to it. They claim they were not advised of the dead Red Kite by the RSPB. This is a false statement and there is evidence to corroborate it. They then failed to investigate a wildlife crime and a whole range of banned poisons which were used to kill this raptor. They have a duty to investigate wildlife crimes and also a Duty of Care in relation to the poisons. This represents Misconduct in Public Office and it is a criminal offence. I suggest that this is pursued via the official lines of complaint for NYP. The relevant Police and Crime Commissioner should be notified.

    As to the reason for these failings, I suggest Yorkshire Rite Freemasonry. The Masons have a huge influence in that area.

    The use of banned poisons is of huge concern and I wonder how long it will be before another animal, or human, will be killed by one of these. Why doesn’t this be investigated?

  15. I’ve received a reply from the office of the PFCC – no response to any of my specific questions about the lack of an investigation into this case and what is being done to tackle the use of these poisons. Instead it’s the usual twaddle about how she is taking the issue seriously and pressing the Chief Constable on the issue. This approach hasn’t had much success stopping raptor persecution in the past so I fear it will continue…
    “Thank you for contacting the Office of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner. The Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner expects the Chief Constable to enforce the law, and this is no different for wildlife crime as it is for anything else. I can assure you that the Crime Commissioner and North Yorkshire Police take all reports of wildlife crime very seriously and will continue to do everything they can to protect the diverse range of animals and birds which makes their home in our beautiful county.
    On 12 January 2023 this very important issue was discussed at the North Yorkshire Fire and Crime Panel. The role of the police, fire and crime panel is to maintain a regular check and balance on the performance of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner. A copy of the report provided to the panel can be found at The purpose of this report was to provide information to the Police, Fire and Crime Panel to enable it to determine if the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner is sufficiently holding the Chief Constable to account for the delivery of an effective police service, specifically in relation to activity to prevent, detect and prepare files for prosecution in relation to ‘wildlife’ crimes.
    You may also be interested to know that the Commissioner will be hosting her monthly Public Accountability Meeting on Thursday 23 February, there will be a focus rural crime from the police. Meetings are broadcast live online and anyone with questions can submit them in advance to Further details can be found at: Have your say in Commissioner Zoë’s February Public Accountability Meetings – Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner North Yorkshire (”

  16. I wrote to the North Yorkshire Police commissioner as requested and received a very prompt and detailed reply saying how seriously they take wild life crime issues in their extremely large county. I have contacted them again and asked a final but significant question:-

    “There have been many recorded incidents of raptor poisoning in North Yorkshire over the years. Does the Commissioner think that when these are discovered and/or reported to the Police that they should always advise the public without delay? The poisons that are used place children and dogs at particular risk. I for one no longer visit Nidderdale with my dog Alfie as a consequence of this. The Whernside atrocity was only made public 6 months after the crime was committed and the Swinton Estate poisoning was not made public at all. This cannot be right surely.

    The police advising the public in a timely way would enable them to seek help and information from the general public rather than when it is far too late and distant.

    What does the Commissioner expect of the police in this situation?”

    Many thanks to Ruth for her dogged determination. Keep up the good work!

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