Posted 11th August
The RSPB and North Yorkshire Police are appealing for information about a rare marsh harrier nest, which failed following illegal human interference on a grouse moor near Ikley
Armed men were recorded visiting the nest on a number of occasions, and are believed to have attempted to shoot at least one of the parent birds before removing the eggs. The RSPB is offering a £1,000 reward for information leading to conviction of those who were responsible.
This spring, the pair of marsh harriers had started breeding on Denton Moor near Ilkley in North Yorkshire. It's rare for the species to nest in North Yorkshire, as they're typically associated with marshes and agricultural areas in the south of England. It's believed this was the first breeding attempt in the uplands of the county for a number of years.
Tragically, this part of Yorkshire has a bad history of raptor persecution, with 12 red kites known to have been poisoned or shot within five miles of the nesting attempt during the last ten years. As a result, RSPB Investigation staff had concerns about the nest's safety, so visited the site under licence, finding five eggs. They then installed a camera to monitor the progress of the nest.
On 19 May, the RSPB returned to the nest to find all the eggs had gone, although a pair of marsh harriers was still in the general area. A review of the video footage showed a shocking series of events, with humans regularly active at the site.
On 17 May, the female marsh harrier could be seen leaving the nest, which was immediately followed by a volley of gunshots - it's believed this was a failed attempt to shoot the bird. A couple of minutes later, two men were seen walking into the nest site, carrying firearms. One of them is bending down, and as they leave, a white object, believed to be at least one marsh harrier egg, can be seen in his hand.
On 18 May, another visit was recorded by the camera, and again, an armed individual is believed to have taken a marsh harrier egg.
The RSPB has no doubt that the individuals were not egg collectors but were carrying out deliberate acts to prevent the birds from breeding.
The footage was unfortunately partially obscured by vegetation, but has been passed to the North Yorkshire Police, and two men have been interviewed. An appeal has also been issued for further information.
RSPB 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 the North Yorkshire Police who investigate the crimes and who rightly take them very seriously. If anyone has information about this incident we would urge them to contact the police."
The RSPB believes more accountability for the management of upland driven grouse moors is desperately needed. It's calling for the introduction of a licensing system, which would tackle the illegal killing of birds of prey, and will also halt damaging management practices, such as the inappropriate drainage and heather burning on deep peat.
Anyone with any information about the marsh harrier incident should call the police on 101, quoting the reference 165 27 05 2017 or call the RSPB Investigations team confidentially on 01767 693474.
Image courtesy of Mike Malpass