Police and national park chiefs have called on local residents to report illegal persecution of birds of prey after two buzzards were shot on a Yorkshire Dales grouse moor.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority said it was “shocked, but sadly not surprised” after footage was released by the RSPB of two buzzards being lured by the use of a live eagle owl, before being shot.
The charity has revealed how staff undertook covert surveillance of the grouse moor, which they have chosen not to name, in 2019 and 2020 after receiving a tip-off the previous year.
They filmed a live eagle owl being used as bait to lure in a pair of buzzards which were then shot by a man concealed nearby.
A third buzzard managed to escape, the charity said.
The suspect was intercepted by police arriving back at his home with the owl in the back of his vehicle.
However, police say they were unable to prosecute because the man could not be conclusively identified from the footage taken on the moor.
The footage was filmed in April 2020 but details have only now been released by the RSPB.
An earlier incident where an eagle owl was tethered to a stone structure was filmed in 2019 although no buzzards were shot.
Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer: “We are increasingly getting reports of eagle owls being used on grouse moors in order to deliberately draw in wild birds of prey close enough to be shot.
“Use of a tethered decoy is completely illegal, as is killing a bird of prey. Yet the killing continues, even during lockdown.”
He added: “This latest evidence is further proof that the government must act now to implement a system of licensing for driven grouse shooting, to bring more accountability to estate owners and managers.
“We believe that, had licensing been in place, the events we witnessed on this moor would be more than enough to revoke the estate’s licence to operate. If nothing is done, birds of prey will continue to pay the price.”
Inspector Matt Hagen, from North Yorkshire Police, said: “We conducted a search warrant and interviewed an individual in relation to this incident.
“Ultimately, however, the identity of the suspect on the film could not be proved, and it was not possible to bring about a prosecution. However this does not mean the event didn’t happen.
“We know that a gamekeeper on a grouse moor has been shooting buzzards, using a live eagle owl decoy to bring those buzzards into a position where they could be shot.
“We urge the public to report incidents like this to the police, and to come forward if they have information about this or any other incident involving the illegal killing of birds of prey.”
Neil Heseltine, chair of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority said: “This shows a callous disregard for the law and birds of prey that is all too familiar from some within the community.
“The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority condemns raptor persecution in the strongest possible terms and continues to work closely with partners and others to stamp out this crime once and for all.
“This incident, and the continuing issue of bird of prey persecution in the county demands maximum exposure. People need to know what is happening here and the devastating impact this is having on our protected species.
“All birds of prey are protected by law and killing them is a criminal offence.
“If this activity continues it is difficult to see how the Government in England will not be forced to examine other ways in which to prevent this criminality. Certainly the actions of the individual involved in this case can only be assisting those who wish to see the end of driven grouse shooting.
“For that reason, if no other, you would hope someone in the community might expose their obnoxious criminal activity.
“Finally, I would encourage anyone, local or visitor, who witnesses any suspicious activity while they’re out and about in the countryside, or anyone who is made aware of it through their networks, to contact the police”.
For concerns about a possible wildlife crime, call 101.
If you witness a suspected wildlife crime in action, call 999 immediately and ask for the police.
You can speak in confidence about raptor persecution directly with the RSPB on 0300 9990101.