Raptors included in Dales priority conservation list

A white clawed crayfish. Photo: Chucholl/Wikimedia.

Proposals to provide focused conservation support to birds of prey in the Yorkshire Dales have been questioned after some life-long residents of the national park questioned the rationale behind including raptors in a list of species to concentrate efforts on.

A meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority saw members approve a draft priority list of 12 birds, 10 mammals, 10 plants, eight butterflies and moths and the white-clawed crayfish for the Yorkshire Dales Nature Recovery Plan, which will set out a long-term plan for wildlife conservation.

The authority’s member champion for the natural environment, Mark Corner, said the body was “keenly aware” its nature recovery target was not going to be met and that there was an urgent need to help to reverse declines in wildlife locally and nationally.

He told the meeting 27 species were going extinct every day across the world and the move would focus work on species the authority could have the most impact on, including red kites, hen harriers and peregrine falcons.

Members heard the list included species being held back by factors other than habitat management, but by improving habitats the whole park could become a nature recovery area.

The meeting was told alongside producing the list, the authority would look to provide extra information and visitors to the park, to tell them what they should not pick and what to look out for.

The move comes two years after the authority’s chief executive pledged to help crack down on raptor persecution after describing North Yorkshire’s top place on the RSPB’s bird of prey persecution table as “embarrassing and humiliating”.

Member Yvonne Peacock said while house sparrows featured on the priority list the Upper Dales area saw “great big sparrow hawks that take every garden bird imaginable”.

She asked: “How do we preserve these birds when we have a conflict?”

The meeting was told numerous factors were affecting garden bird populations and that predators such as birds of prey were necessary in the ecological chain.

Members were told the authority was working with police, Natural England, gamekeepers and moorland owners to stamp out the persecution of birds of prey.

The authority’s senior wildlife conservation officer Tony Serjeant told the meeting while the national park had a lot of red kites prospecting for nest sites and flying over the area, there remained no records of breeding red kites in the national park.

Wensleydale farmer Allen Kirkbride told the meeting the Yorkshire Dales was not a natural habitat for species such as red kites, and that instead of being targeted, the birds of prey were flying off and choosing to nest elsewhere.

Mr Serjeant replied the Dales habitat would be suitable for the raptors and that it was similar to that in neighbouring Bowland, where there was a breeding pair of kites.

He added: “If we manage the habitats well on the moorlands the hope is that birds like golden plover will thrive and others increase.

“We appreciate that sileage and systems of grass management are important to farm livelihoods and we need to find out ways in which we can incentivise and pay so some of those early sileage cuts are left so birds can come back and thrive.”