Watchdog reassured over police Yorkshire Dales wildlife crime actions

File pic of a hen harrier.

A watchdog charged with holding to account a police commissioner responsible for one of Britain’s worst wildlife crime hotspots has been reassured more effective actions to tackle offenders have been launched.

Chairman of the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Panel, Councillor Carl Les, said his committee of elected members of York, North Yorkshire and district councillors as well as experts, welcomed progress being made over offences such as hare coursing, poaching and raptor persecution.

The comments come just weeks after it was revealed four hen harrier chicks had been stamped to death in their nest on an unnamed grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park near Whernside.

In November, the RSPB said its latest figures showed North Yorkshire as the country’s third worst bird of prey persecution hotspot, with ten recorded incidents in 2021.

A report by the commissioner to illustrate to the panel the actions being taken by North Yorkshire Police stated although changes to legislation to tackle hare coursing were welcome, further measures were still needed to better enable the police to target and deal with offenders.

It stated to improve the use of sanctions against offenders, North Yorkshire Police was among several forces taking “a creative approach to the use of alternative legislation; anti-social behaviour legislation”.

A meeting of the panel heard over the past two years, the force has utilised problem-solving oriented responses to tackle poaching, such as Criminal Prevention Warnings and Criminal Prevention Notices to track the behaviour of offenders.

The meeting heard it was too early to assess the full impact of the approach, but initial analysis had shown crimes of poaching had fallen by nearly 55 per cent when comparing the year to October and the same period the year before.

Panel members were told North Yorkshire Police was taking the persecution of birds of prey seriously, recording every incident where other forces did not.

Chief constable Lisa Winward said rather than having to prove each individual offence, Criminal Behaviour Orders meant the force could take action when someone breached a described behaviour.

She said: “It broadens the opportunity to tackle the criminality of that person where walking down a track or being with a dog is not an offence in itself, but if you put them on an order that says they can’t do that thing you then criminalise that behaviour.”

After the meeting, Councillor Les said after reading the commissioner’s report members of the panel had initially had concerns that sanctions and prosecutions were not keeping pace with the crimes that were being identified.

He said the panel had been concerned that there did not appear to be many prosecutions, but a recent high-profile prosecution of an attack on a moorland raptor nest had demonstrated the force was heading in the right direction.

Coun Les said: “We will keep actions to tackle wildlife crime on our agenda until we feel it is being dealt with.

“We appreciate the force is starting to get to grips with wildlife crime as part of rural crime, and for those of us who represent rural communities, crimes that are committed in rural areas are very important to us.

“I was a little disappointed until I heard the chief constable’s explanation about the effectiveness of behaviour orders speeding up the prosecution process, so that there is no need for an laborious evidence sift to prove that a crime has been committed.”