A SECRET war is being waged against a large bird of prey that has experienced a dramatic resurgence in northern upland areas, according to the RSPB.

The charity’s North England investigators believe scores of buzzards are being shot, poisoned and trapped in the region annually and say the persecution is often focused near pheasant release pens.

RSPB officers have called for courts to impose custodial sentences on people caught flouting the Wildlife and Countryside Act, following the discovery of a dead buzzard in Richmondshire, North Yorkshire on Easter Sunday.

The raptor, killed with a shotgun, was found near Scar Spring Wood, near Reeth.

Due to the extent and nature of the injuries it is not believed the bird travelled far from where it was shot.

North Yorkshire Police described the crime as shocking in a county which consistently has the worst record in England for bird of prey persecution.

PC Julian Sutcliffe said: “The persecution and killing of birds of prey is not something which we will tolerate.

“I believe that someone in the local area will know who is responsible for this wholly unnecessary act of cruelty and urge them to contact the police straight away.”

The RSPB has described areas of the Yorkshire Dales as a “no fly zone” for birds of prey.

Investigations officer Alan Firth said he believed it remained socially acceptable in some parts of the county to kill birds of prey and that buzzards were bearing the brunt of the persecution.

He added: “Rarely does a week go by when I don’t pick up a dead buzzard, they are really getting hammered.

“The number of buzzards, which has increased considerably in the past few years, we recover is probably a small minority of the number being persecuted.”

The RSPB said while buzzards are generalised predators, they often kill game birds.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) said it is committed to the ending the persecution of birds of prey and was working with the RSPB to promote legal forms of game and wildlife management.

A BASC spokesman said it would not hesitate to expel any of its members found to have persecuted protected birds, but disputed the RSPB’s claims about the number of buzzards being persecuted, saying only two buzzards had been shot in North Yorkshire in 2012.

He added: “There is no excuse, this is a crime. No member of BASC is unaware of what our stance on this issue is.”