North Yorkshire’s Shame, one of England’s worst counties for bird of prey persecution.

Persecution by poison of Red Kites reintroduced onto the Harewood estate near Harrogate in North Yorkshire are reported a  “national disgrace.”  as it emerges 14  Red Kites had been killed with deadly poisons. North Yorkshire has been named one of England’s  worst counties for persecution in England and Wales since 1991, with the RSPB reporting 87 raptors have been confirmed shot, poisoned, or trapped.

Red Kite dead

Poisoned Red Kite

Since the reintroduction and protection scheme was initiated on the  Harewood  estate in 1999, aimed at returning Red Kites back into the English countryside, it has emerged 21 Kites have been poisoned – with 14 being killed in Nidderdale alone.

“The scale of poisonings is a disgrace for North Yorkshire,” said RSPB Investigator Howard Jones. “People travel great distances to see red kites. We are so fortunate to have these birds in our area. “But some people will not tolerate them and will go to great lengths to ensure they are not in our skies any more.”

Red Kite Flying

The best way to see a Red Kite, in the sky flying free.

All together the Harewood scheme has seen the reintroduction of 69 young Kites between 1999 and 2003. The project was widely acclaimed and was hailed a national success with currently an estimated population of 300 in the North Yorkshire area. Sadly despite huge public support, Red Kites are becoming a target for persecution.

In North Yorkshire, 21 red kites have been found poisoned. Fourteen were in areas surrounding the far south and north of Nidderdale, around Blubberhouses and Masham.

These deaths aren’t as a result of misuse of poisons, said Mr Jones, but are targeted attacks. “In Blubberhouses recently a red kite was poisoned with a substance banned since 2001,” he said. “We believe it was stockpiled. “It’s extremely toxic – even a few granules can kill a human. A bird of prey will die instantly. “There’s a very clear difference between abuse and misuse. These are targeted abuses.”

Red Kite in nest

Red Kites are scavengers, why would anyone wish to kill them? Improved deterrents urgently required.

The red kite deaths are indicative of a wider problem, he said, with birds like peregrine falcons also being killed.

Buzzards have been shot and poisoned in Nidderdale and once a peregrine falcon was found flying with a trap still attached to its leg.

The situation is so bad that the hen harrier – which traditionally breeds the heather uplands – failed to breed in England last year for the first time.

“We see it as the tip of the iceberg,” said Mr Jones. “Bird of prey levels are not what they should be.

“There has long been a historical conflict on grouse land. They are seen as a threat.

“There are several upland areas in Yorkshire used intensively, mainly for shooting. We believe there’s a growing intolerance for birds of prey.

“The biggest indicator of the problem is an absence of upland birds like the hen harrier and the peregrine falcon, which should be thriving in Nidderdale.”

There have been so many birds of prey killed in unusual circumstances in the county that every one found must now be sent to a Government scheme for analysis.

And the RSPB is calling for stricter penalties to act as a deterrent against perpetrators, even asking for landowners to be held responsible for crimes committed on their land.

“It’s a disgrace that we have a species in England like the hen harrier on the verge of extinction as a breeding bird,” said Mr Jones.

“People talk about conservation and think about far-flung issues. We have, on our doorstep, an issue where the main limiting factor is persecution that is ultimately avoidable.

“These are hard statistics,” he added. “There’s not enough deterrent. We would like stricter penalties and stronger sentences for prosecutions.”

Hen harriers on verge of extinction as a breeding bird because of persecution and lack of protection.

Hen Harrier

Because of persecution on Red Grouse moors, the Hen Harrier is on the verge of extinction in England.

Investigators say one of the biggest indicators that birds of prey are being targeted in the district is a distinct lack of breeding hen harriers.

There should be at least 300 pairs in England, 10 pairs in the Yorkshire Dales, and another 15 pairs in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland say experts, but last year, for the first time, there wasn’t a single successful breeding pair anywhere in England.

“It’s a national scandal,” said expert Paul Irving, chairman of the North East Raptor Forum and the Nidderdale AONB for the Yorkshire Dales Upland Bird Study Group.

“As a breeding bird, they have essentially disappeared.”

Hen Harrier chicks dead in nest

Hen Harrier chicks all dead in the nest, wings ripped off  and trampled on. At one point 39 breeding pairs were established in England’s core breeding location-The Forest of Bowland. So far this season only two Harriers have been seen.

Mr Irving studies birds of prey in the district and carries out most of his field work in Nidderdale.

There have been 11 attempts to introduce breeding pairs in North Yorkshire since 2003, he said, but almost all have failed.

Birds disappear, eggs are destroyed, and chicks killed.

“There’s no natural explanation,” he said.

Police trap discovered

An illegal spring trap, branded ‘barbaric’ by the RSPB and banned in this country for more than 100 years, was discovered in the district last year.

A gamekeeper at the Swinton Estate, Ryan Waites, was caught on film setting the trap by investigators who installed a covert cameras in the bushes nearby.

Waite, who admitted two charges of illegally setting a spring trap, said it was for catching squirrels and not birds of prey.

Magistrates in Harrogate, ruling that his conduct had been reckless, fined him £250.

Bowland Betty

One of the last surviving hen harriers in the North of England was found illegally shot dead in Nidderdale in 2012.

Bowland Betty, as she was known, was fitted with a satellite tracking device at the nest in the Forest of Bowland ,with Natural England following her progress as she flew around the country.

When she disappeared off the radar in June that year, she was tracked to land near Pateley Bridge where she had last been seen.

Her body was found on a grouse moor in Nidderdale. Examination showed that she had been shot.


– 21 red kites have been poisoned in North Yorkshire since the re-introduction of the species at Harewood House in 1999

– 14 out of these 21 birds were found inside the Nidderdale AONB designation

– The poisons used included carbofuran, alphachloralose and strychnine. A few granules of carbofuran could kill a human being

– Since 2002, 17 nesting attempts made by hen harrier in east Nidderdale. Only four were successful. No breeding attempts have been made since 2009

– No breeding peregrine falcon on East Nidderdale grouse moors since 1994

– North Yorkshire has consistently been the worst county in England for bird of prey persecution offences since 1990-2012

– There have been 87 confirmed bird of prey persecution offences between 1990-2012

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