Rare marsh harriers illegally targeted on North Yorkshire grouse moor

Chris Collett

Friday 11 August 2017

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 reward of £1000 for information leading to conviction of those responsible.

This spring the pair of marsh harriers started breeding on Denton Moor near Ilkley in North Yorkshire. This species is typically associated with marshes and agricultural areas in the south east of England. It is rare for the bird to nest in North Yorkshire and this is believed to the first breeding attempt in the uplands of the county for many years.

Unfortunately, this area of North Yorkshire has a particularly 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.  Consequently, RSPB Investigations staff had concerns about the safety of the nest so they visited the site under licence and found five eggs. They then installed a camera to monitor the progress of the nest.

On the 19 May, the RSPB returned to the nest to find all the eggs had gone, though a pair of marsh harriers was still in the general area. 

A review of the video footage showed a disturbing series of events, with regular human activity at the site. 

On 17 May the female marsh harrier is seen leaving the nest, immediately followed by a volley of gunshots. It is believed this was a failed attempt to shoot the bird. A couple of minutes later, two men carrying firearms walked into the nest site.  One of them is seen bending down and, as they leave, a white object - thought to be at least one marsh harrier egg - can be seen in his hand.

On 18 May 2017, the camera recorded another visit by an armed individual to the nest site and, again. it is believed at least one marsh harrier egg was removed.  The RSPB has no doubt from the nature of the incidents that the individuals are not egg collectors and these were deliberate acts carried out to stop the birds from breeding.

The footage, unfortunately partially obscured by vegetation, was passed to the North Yorkshire Police and two men have been interviewed.  North Yorkshire have now issued an appeal for further information about the incident and any intelligence that may help confirm the identity of the men in the video footage.

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 these 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 urgently needed. It is calling for the introduction of a licensing system, which would not only tackle the illegal killing of birds of prey but also halt damaging management practices such as 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 job reference 165 27 05 2017 or call the RSPB Investigations team confidentially on 01767 693474.

Video footage relating to the incident can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-iyycvvcBU

For further information: 


Chris Collett, Communications Manager, 0191 233 4317 / 07885 834889

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: UK Topic: Marsh harrier Topic: Upland Topic: Birds and wildlife Topic: Birds of prey Topic: Northern England