Fatal poisoning of peregrine falcons in North Yorkshire sparks police appeal

Harry Cockburn
·4 min read
The male peregrine was found next to a pigeon carcass believed to have been used as bait (Guy Shorrock RSPB/North Yorkshire Police)
The male peregrine was found next to a pigeon carcass believed to have been used as bait (Guy Shorrock RSPB/North Yorkshire Police)

Two peregrine falcons have been found dead in North Yorkshire after the pair were illegally poisoned.

North Yorkshire police are appealing for information about the killing after a member of public, who had previously been observing the mating pair of birds, found them dead at a quarry near Stutton, Tadcaster, in April.

Both birds were sent away for testing which confirmed high levels of pesticide in their systems and this was found to be the cause of death. The male bird was found next to a pigeon carcass which it is believed may have been used as bait.

The pesticide the toxicology report identified is licensed for use in England but is highly toxic and the police said it “should never be released into the environment where wildlife, such as birds of prey, could be exposed to it.

“The pesticide has been found used to kill birds of prey in North Yorkshire previously and as such, police believe this was a deliberate act of poisoning.”

Inspector Matt Hagen, of North Yorkshire Police, said: “Poisoning a bird of prey is a crime and it is saddening each time we have another incident reported to us. Every investigation is thoroughly carried out with all lines of enquiry followed to try and find those responsible, but we cannot do this without the public’s help, please be our eyes and ears and report this type of incident to the police.

“I’m urging anyone who has any information about bird of prey persecution to get in touch with the police, someone out there knows who is committing these crimes and we need that information to ensure they are stopped.”

The RSPB has repeatedly warned that raptor persecution was continuing unabated during lockdown. Meanwhile North Yorkshire Police has a number of ongoing investigations, as the region has become increasingly associated with illegal killings of protected species.

Guy Shorrock, an RSPB investigator, said: “We believe the pigeon on the ledge was a poisoned bait, laced with the highly toxic substance in order to deliberately kill these two birds. This was a criminal act, at the height of lockdown, resulting not only in the loss of two magnificent birds but any chicks they might have raised.

“North Yorkshire sadly has a diabolical reputation for the illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey. I have been picking up the bodies of raptors for nearly 30 years, and in the current ecological emergency, this cannot continue. Our wildlife needs better protection.”

The female peregrine was found poisoned below her nest ledgeGuy Shorrock RSPB/North Yorkshire Police
The female peregrine was found poisoned below her nest ledgeGuy Shorrock RSPB/North Yorkshire Police

Some 87 raptors were illegally killed in 2018, with just one conviction, and 85 were killed in 2019.

In 30 years, from 181 convictions, only six people have received jail sentences, with five of those suspended, an RSPB report found.

The vast majority of incidents have occurred over grouse moors, and North Yorkshire is currently the county with the highest number of confirmed raptor persecution incidents.

Use of poison and illegal traps remains common in some places, despite signs of improvement elsewhere.

The RSPB is calling for the introduction of licences for grouse shooting, which can be revoked if evidence arises of criminal activity against protected species.

“We now need strong and meaningful deterrents to such abhorrent crimes,” the organisation said earlier this year.

Green Party peer and former leader Natalie Bennett told The Independent she believed “the urgency of the nature crisis demands more immediate action, with a ban on driven grouse shooting”.

She said: “Peer-reviewed research has demonstrated the extremely close relationship between driven grouse shooting and illegal raptor persecution. It also is the motivation for burning on upland peat that continues, as the people of Yorkshire have seen so clearly in recent weeks, despite the government's promises to ban the practice.

“Our uplands need to be carbon stores, nature havens, to be allowed to flourish and develop ecotourism with the charismatic megafauna such as large raptors. Driven grouse shooting has great direct costs in lost carbon stores, dead raptors and air pollution, but it also has huge opportunity costs, meaning our uplands are green deserts, rather than natural havens.”

This year species including golden eagles, goshawks, hen harriers and white-tailed eagles have been among the birds of prey known to have died on grouse moors in the UK.

The police said despite “extensive investigations” into the deaths of the peregrine falcons at the quarry, they are yet to identify a suspect.

Anyone with information about this incident should contact North Yorkshire Police quoting reference 12200057190.

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