NORTH Yorkshire continues to have the highest number of crimes against protected birds of prey in the country.

The RSPB’s most recent Birdcrime report said there had been 81 confirmed reports of attacks on birds of prey in the UK in 2016 - including 40 shootings, 22 poisonings, 15 trappings and four other incidents - but no prosecutions for the offences - the first time this has happened in 30 years.

The report said North Yorkshire had the highest number of confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents in the UK, and the RSPB is calling for police and other enforcing authorities to make full use of their powers to protect birds of prey. The RSPB has also called for the introduction of a licensing system for driven grouse shooting to ensure shoots are operating legally and sustainably.

Over the last five years North Yorkshire has recorded 54 bird of prey persecution incidents.

In the last year alone there were 19, including four shot buzzards, four shot red kites, two poisoned red kites, a shot peregrine and a buzzard nest destruction.

Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said: “Birds of prey bring our skies to life. There is nothing like seeing a diving peregrine or a skydancing hen harrier. The sights of these spectacular birds are something we should all be able to enjoy, unfortunately illegal activity is robbing us of this and preventing them from flourishing.

“There are laws in place to protect these birds but they are clearly not being put into action. We need governments across the UK to do more to tackle the illegal killing to protect our raptors for future generations to enjoy.”

Inspector Jon Grainge, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said the force was working closely with the RSPB and other agencies to tackle the problem.

He said: “Over the past eighteen months, we have trained more wildlife crime officers, established the Rural Taskforce and are currently working with the RSPB on several ongoing investigations. In addition our chief constable, Dave Jones, has taken on the NPCC portfolio for wildlife affairs and rural crime, which the report reflects positively on.”

Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Chairman Carl Lis said: “I am appalled by the continuing illegal persecution and attempted persecution of protected birds in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Birds of prey should be thriving here.

"That they are not, as the RSPB’s ‘Birdcrime’ report rightly makes clear, is a serious stain on the Park’s reputation – and on all those involved in moorland management."

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said: “Thousands of people who are actively involved in grouse shooting fully wish to see the eradication of all forms of wildlife crime.

“These people are working day in, day out delivering a wide range of social, economic and environmental benefits - and this includes the conservation of a wide range of bird species.

“Any incident of bird of prey persecution is unacceptable and the full force of the law should be felt by those breaking it. The statistics in the latest report show that the number of such incidents continues to decline significantly and there has been a very substantial drop in incidents over the last five years. This is what we all want to see.

"Of course more can be done, particularly in the restoration of hen harrier population, and the best way to achieve progress is for people across the sector, including RSPB, to continue to work together constructively.”