Police launch crackdown on crimes against birds of prey

A hen harrier. Photo: Bernard Stam.

Police are urging visitors to North Yorkshire’s countryside to get involved with Operation Owl – a new initiative to reduce the number of illegal attacks on birds of prey in the county.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take wild birds.

Nevertheless birds of prey are still shot, poisoned and trapped – especially in areas where the land is managed for driven grouse shooting.

North Yorkshire has more confirmed incidents of raptor persecution than any other county in England – a situation that North Yorkshire Police is determined to tackle.

Launching today, Operation Owl is a joint initiative by North Yorkshire Police, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the RSPCA, together with the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks.

As part of the pperation, police will carry out surveillance checks on known raptor persecution hot-spots at random times to disrupt offender activity, and work with local landowners to make them aware of the legal position on raptor persecution.

National park volunteers will be trained to spot poisoned bait and illegal traps across the parks and the police are also calling on the public to be the eyes and ears of the police when out in the countryside.

North Yorkshire Police’s Chief Constable, Dave Jones, is the national lead on wildlife and rural crime, and the Force has what is believed to be the largest dedicated rural taskforce in the country.

Sergeant Kevin Kelly is part of that rural taskforce.

He said: “Our wonderful countryside is host to many specially-protected birds of prey such as peregrine falcons, red kites, buzzards and owls.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that people think they can ignore the law and subject these birds to poisonings, shootings, nest destruction and the illegal use of spring traps without consequence.

“We will be doing everything in our power to catch these offenders, supported by our colleagues in the RSPB and the volunteers in the national parks.

But the area is huge, so the more eyes and ears we have on the ground the better.  That’s why we’re asking the public to help.”

In particular, the police are asking the public to spot pole traps.

Sergeant Kelly explained: “Trappers are using spring-loaded traps on top of posts to capture birds of prey that land on top of the post.  The bird can struggle for many hours before the trapper returns to kill them.  These pole traps, as they are called, are illegal.  We want the public to help us find these traps.

We’re advising that anyone who sees a pole trap should “spring” it if they can do so safely, note the location, take a photo, and call the police on 101 to report it.  Our wildlife officers will take it from there.”

Operation Owl will run for the next year, and North Yorkshire Police is hoping that the initiative will become a blueprint for other Forces where there is a high incidence of raptor persecution.

Sergeant Kelly said: “Like other forms of rural crime, raptor persecution is not a problem that the police can tackle alone.

“We need everyone involved.  The weather will soon start to improve and more people will head out to the countryside.  If everyone keeps their eyes open for illegal traps and poisoned bait, it will be a massive boost to our surveillance operation.

“This is a real opportunity to reduce the number of wild birds that suffer and die unnecessarily, and send a clear message to offenders that we will not tolerate this crime in our countryside.”

David Butterworth, CEO of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said:  “The monitoring data, the number of confirmed persecution incidents and the absence of some species from large areas of potentially suitable habitat provide compelling evidence for an uncomfortable conclusion: illegal persecution is limiting the populations of some species of birds of prey in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

“I’d like to appeal to the public to join in Operation Owl to help bring about the changes in attitudes that are so urgently needed.  Only through collective action can the persecution be stopped.”