Police investigation into bird of prey persecution

male marsh harrier

6:02am 11th August 2017
(Updated 11:50am 11th August 2017)

North Yorkshire Police is investigating an incident in which a pair of marsh harriers were disturbed whilst nesting on moorland north of Denton near Ilkley.

The site was monitored by RSPB investigators who photographed the nest containing five eggs.

The adult birds were observed at the nest and a camera was set up to record activity.

Video images recorded by the camera show that at least two people, who appeared to be men, wearing dull, brownish green-coloured jackets, traditional country caps and carrying what looked like shotguns and a brown game bag, approached the nest site on six occasions between 12.40pm and 9.30pm on 17 May.

The sound of several shots fired in the vicinity of the nest were recorded, as was the noise of an engine, believed to be a quad bike.

One of the men stood over the nest, bent down and appeared to pick up something from the nest before walking away.

The following day, another visit by a man wearing similar clothes, and carrying a green rucksack, was recorded at around 9.40am.

He stood over the nest, bent down and appeared to remove something from the nest.

An RSPB investigator checked the site on 19 May and discovered that the nest had no eggs in it, with no sign of any debris from damaged eggs.

It is believed that the culprits attempted to shoot at least one of the parent birds before removing the eggs.

The people shown on the video at the nest site have not been identified.

A number of men have been spoken to by police as part of the investigation.

Nest on Denton Moor

The nest before it was disturbed

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) makes it an offence to take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird.

Marsh harriers are a scarce species, listed on schedule 1 of the WCA, and have additional protection.

It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb birds listed on schedule 1 whilst they are at, or near, a nest with eggs or young.

Marsh harriers are birds of prey and they normally breed in marshes and reed beds.

It is unusual to find them breeding in heather on a moor.

PC Bill Hickson said: "The video evidence provided by the RSPB shows illegal activity around a marsh harrier nest, and the activity shown speaks for itself.

"The pictures on the video are, unfortunately, too small to produce an image from which any of the individuals shown could be identified."

The RSPB is offering a reward of £1,000 for information leading to the conviction of those responsible.

Investigations Officer Howard Jones said: "North Yorkshire is consistently the worst county in England for the illegal killing of birds of prey, with recent confirmed reports of a poisoned red kite and buzzard, as well as a shot tawny owl and kestrel. It's therefore not surprising that this rare breeding attempt of a marsh harrier has also succumbed to human persecution.

"We are grateful for the efforts of North Yorkshire Police who investigate these crimes and who rightly take them very seriously. If anyone has information about this incident, we would urge them to contact the police."

Anyone who has information about the incident, or can help to identify who was responsible, is asked to call North Yorkshire Police on 101, choose option 2 and ask for PC 820 Bill Hickson or e-mail bill.hickson@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk

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