MORE than a quarter of all bird of prey persecutions in the UK happened in Yorkshire during 2017, according to a Birdcrime report by the RSPB.

The report details there were 68 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK in 2017, but there are many suspected illegal killings going undetected.

More than a quarter of all the incidents took place in Yorkshire, with 15 in North Yorkshire alone, meaning the county retains its shameful title as the worst place in the country for bird of prey crime.

Between 2012 and 2017 there were 71 confirmed bird of prey crime incidents in North Yorkshire, nearly three times as many as Powys in Wales, the second worst county during this period.

Crimes against birds of prey in North Yorkshire in 2017 included the shooting of five buzzards, the destruction of a marsh harrier nest and the poisoning of a red kite. Other victims of raptor crime included a kestrel and two goshawks.

Evidence suggests these figures are just the tip of the iceberg with many illegal killings going undetected or unreported.

Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said: “Birds of prey are part of our heritage and inspire us. We should all be able to enjoy seeing these magnificent birds, however illegal activity continues to put species at risk.

"There are laws in place to protect these birds, but they are clearly not being respected or adequately enforced.

"We need governments across the UK to do more to tackle illegal killing to protect our raptors for us and for future generations to enjoy.”

Previous research has shown that illegal killing of birds of prey is associated with land managed for intensive driven grouse shooting, leaving vast areas of our uplands without typical breeding raptors. A Natural England study revealed ‘compelling evidence’ that persecution of hen harriers – associated with driven grouse moors - was the main factor limiting their recovery in England.

Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, said: “North Yorkshire has plenty to be proud of but its notorious reputation for raptor persecution must be addressed.

"The persecution of birds of prey is a widespread problem in the UK and is affecting some of our most loved and vulnerable species, like owls and eagles.

"Every week the RSPB’s Investigations team get reports of yet another raptor being shot, trapped or poisoned. But for every report we receive, scientific studies suggest there are many more that go undetected and unreported.

"As such, these figures only scratch the surface of the true extent of raptor persecution in the UK.”

The Moorland Association, whose members manage 190 upland moors in England and Wales said it was committed to eradicating all forms of wildlife crime.

Director Amanda Anderson said: “It is encouraging to see that the number of persecution incidents, both across the UK and in North Yorkshire specifically, continue to decline significantly. This is what we all want to see.

"Of course, more can be done and the best way to achieve progress is for people, including RSPB, to continue to work together constructively. The Moorland Association is committed to the eradication of all forms of wildlife crime.”

“Any incident of bird of prey persecution is unacceptable and the full force of the law should be felt by those breaking it."