A wide-ranging inquiry examining why North Yorkshire has the country’s worst bird of prey persecution record and efforts to crack down on the crime have failed is set to be launched.
A move has been proposed to create a select group of the county’s Police and Crime Panel to collect evidence from bodies ranging from the Crown Prosecution Service to the RSPB to find potential solutions to the persistent issue.
One of the possible solutions the inquiry will focus on is expected to be ‘vicarious liability’, where landowners are deemed responsible for the actions of their gamekeepers.
Another key line of inquiry will be resolving how to bolster prosecutions, as defendants’ specialist lawyers are regularly seen to “outgun” prosecutors, using legal loopholes.
The latest Government maps of recorded bird of prey shootings, trappings, poisonings and cases where nests have been destroyed between 2011 and 2015 show there were 39 in North Yorkshire – the same number as the next worst three counties, Norfolk, Cumbria and Derbyshire.
The county has been named as the worst area in the UK for criminal attacks on birds of prey for more than a decade.
A report by the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner to the panel outlined a range of actions North Yorkshire Police were running to tackle the issue, but did not highlight any successful prosecutions.
The report states to address wildlife crimes issues, the force had increased the number of wildlife crime officers from 14 in 2015 to 20, and would further increase the number of officers looking at wildlife crimes in November.
It said while the county’s “abundance of natural habitat which suits
raptors” contributed to its bird of prey persecution ranking, it would be “naive to believe this was the sole cause of the problem”.
The report also highlighted Operation Owl, a joint initiative launched by the force, the RSPB and the RSPCA, and the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales national parks in February, which features surveillance checks on known raptor persecution hot-spots to disrupt offender activity.
Councillor Peter Wilkinson, deputy chairman of the police watchdog, said a change of culture was needed on a minority of shooting estates, alongside more effective prosecutions.
He said the Government figures represented just the tip of the iceberg and more solutions that got to the root of the issue were desperately needed.
The Northallerton politician, who is a keen ornithologist, said: “Birds of prey persecution is a disgrace for North Yorkshire, but my view is the police are taking it very seriously.”