THE new head of a national group looking at the persecution of birds of prey - including the hen harrier and the red kite - visited the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Police Superintendent Nick Lyall, chairman of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (PPDG) met up with the chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, David Butterworth, and also with park wildlife officers and rangers.

The north of the country has an ‘unenviable reputation’ for the persecution of raptors, and a young tagged hen harrier recently went ‘missing’ from the Cumbria area of the national park.

Supt Lyall, who is based in Bedfordshire, says the group - one of six PPDGs in the country - will focus on the persecution of six birds of prey - the golden eagle, the goshawk, the hen harrier, the peregrine, the red kite, and the white-tailed eagle.

But it is the persecution of the hen harrier, he says, that will be a priority.

“I think it is fair to say that of the six species, the biggest controversy I have seen surrounds the hen harrier,” says Supt Lyall in a blog about his new role. “The disappearance of so many hen harriers across England and Wales in suspicious circumstances will be an absolute priority for all members of the group to tackle head-on.

Supt Lyall goes on to say he hopes to change the way the group currently responds to reports of both confirmed persecution incidents and persecutions.

He has spent his first weeks in his new role meeting with people, groups and organisations, including the Department for Farming and Rural Affairs, the National Wildlife Crime Unit, the RSPB and the Moorland Association.

He plans to set up an ‘enforcement’ sub-group, including the police, the RSPB and prosecutors, to focus on those people known or suspected of killing birds of prey. He also attended a meeting, hosted by the Moorland Association, and which included a senior policy advisor for DEFRA and the head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

“The Moorland Association are committed to working with me to eradicate unlawful activity and to release joint statements, in an attempt to breakdown the `them and us` that currently exists, and highlight the good work taking place that currently goes unreported,” he says.

“We had a number of focused discussions and I left reassured that we could start to build a strong partnership to tackle those involved in persecutions offences, including but not exclusively rogue gamekeepers, who tarnish the name of those who add so much to rural life.”

He added that the PPDG would become ‘much more balanced in its membership’.

“Raptor conservation groups will have a stronger voice, and the group will focus on delivering activity against the three clear strands of prevention, intelligence and enforcement which will all be governed by a newly created Action Delivery Plan,” he said.

“ Community engagement activity will be key if we are to make a difference and every member of the PPDG has a key role to play in delivering real, sustainable change,” he said.

Supt Lyall stressed: “I will give my all to ensuring the work of the Raptor Persecution PDG becomes focused on genuine and meaningful partnership and community activity to combat raptor persecution across England and Wales. I know this isn’t going to be an easy task, I absolutely know the challenge ahead, and can’t wait to start delivering change.”

Following his visit to the dales national park, David Butterworth, chief executive, said the police and the national authority were working ‘hand in glove’ to stamp out the criminality of raptor persecution.

The heavily persecuted hen harrier nested successfully in the national park for the first time in 11 years this spring, but one of the chicks, satellite-tagged by Natural England, has already ‘gone missing’ and is the subject of a police appeal for information.

The female hen harrier - called Mabel - was one of four chicks that fledged in July from a nest site in the Cumbrian area of the national park. Along with her sibling Tom, she was fitted with a satellite tag on July 10 by Natural England.

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey, with just three successful nests recorded in England in 2017. Like all wild birds, they are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. However, despite full legal protection, their numbers remain consistently very low.

Mr Butterworth urged anyone with any information to get in touch with police.

“There was delight from all right minded people when four hen harrier chicks fledged earlier this year in the national park. That has been matched by the despair felt that one of the birds, Mabel, has now gone missing.

“The North of England has an unenviable reputation for criminal activity in terms of raptor persecution, so it’s hard not to think the worst in this case. However, for the moment we would strongly support the efforts of North Yorkshire and Cumbria Police to find Mabel, and would urge anyone with information to contact the police as soon as possible.”

Anyone with any information about the hen harrier’s disappearance should contact Cumbria Constabulary or North Yorkshire Police on 101. Alternatively, speak to the RSPB in confidence, by calling the Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.