Above: The Operation Owl team together before they head out on their patrols. Part of the campaign is to tackle species’ decline in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, which has become a hot-spot for bird crime in recent years

NORTH YORKSHIRE POLICE have pledged to carry out random surveillance checks on known raptor persecution hot-spots, as part of a new initiative to reduce illegal attacks on birds of prey.

Operation Owl launched on February 17 and is a joint initiative by North Yorkshire Police, the RSPB and RSPCA, together with the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, to tackle illegal killing of raptors in the county.

The operation will run for the next year after the police force stated that North Yorkshire has more confirmed incidents of raptor persecution than any other county in England. Of the 83 confirmed incidents in 2016, 20 occurred in North Yorkshire.

Case examples include last May, where two buzzards were discovered shot in the county. One was found dead near Malham and a second was found alive in Norton Malton with multiple lacerations to its head and both feet. In August 2017, another buzzard was found shot near Barnsley. Police say that, despite appeals, no information has been forthcoming for any of these incidents.

As part of the operation, police will undertake area checks at known raptor sites at random times to disrupt offender activity, and officers will work with local landowners to offer advice.

The operation will also fund the training of National Park volunteers to spot bait and illegal traps across the parks. Police also seek the public to help boost its surveillance operation.

David Butterworth, from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said only through collective action from the public, police and organisations can this persecution be stopped. He explained: “The monitoring data, the number of confirmed persecution incidents and the absence of some species from large areas of potentially suitable habitat provide compelling evidence for an uncomfortable conclusion: illegal persecution is limiting the populations of some species of birds of prey in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. 

“I’d like to appeal to the public to join in Operation Owl to help bring about the changes in attitudes that are so urgently needed.”

In particular, the public is asked to report pole traps. North Yorkshire Police sergeant Kevin Kelly said: “Anyone who sees a pole trap should ‘spring’ it if they can do so safely, note the location, take a photo, and call the police on 101 to report it.”

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