Nidderdale: Raptor Poisoning Capital of UK

November 27, 2022
Charlie Moores
Poisoned Red Kite Nidderdale RSPB

Nidderdale AONB in the Yorkshire Dales slammed by RSPB as the ‘bird of prey poisoning capital of Britain’.

‍Is the message (belatedly) getting through that the shooting industry is responsible for trying to dictate to the rest of us how many birds of prey we should be seeing and where we should be seeing them? A recent article in Teesside Live by Ellie Shorttle-Kent suggests that may at last be the case.

Ms Shorttle-Kent doesn’t typically appear to write about the shooting industry and its impact on our wildlife, but using data in this month’s new RSPB’s Birdcrime 2021 report she has written a powerful piece about Nidderdale AONB (which she mistakenly describes as an ‘idyllic village in the Yorkshire Dales’ when it’s actually a region) and the now infamous ‘Nidderdale Cocktail’, a local mix of illegal pesticides used to target birds of prey which came to prominence in July 2020 when two spaniels were poisoned after accidentally ingesting it.

A Yorkshire Dales speciality, the ‘Nidderdale Cocktail’ is a deadly mixture of chemicals including bendiocarb, alphachloralose and the banned pesticides carbofuran and isofenphos. Whilst Chloralose is licenced for use in England in a low concentration as a rodenticide, Bendiocarb, Isofenphos and Carbofuran are all banned across the UK. None of these chemicals should ever be used in an environment where domestic animals and/or wildlife could come into contact with them.

But clearly that was of no concern to the gamekeepers who put carrion baits out containing the ‘cocktail’ with the intention of killing protected raptors.

Increased coverage of raptor persecution

Protect the Wild welcomes increased coverage of raptor persecution of course, but one area where we would gently disagree with Ms Shorttle-Kent’s analysis is that Nidderdale’s ‘dark underbelly’ would come as a shock.

Not to anyone who has been involved with highlighting and tackling the illegal killing of birds of prey.

As the graphic below shows, the area – on the edge of numerous grouse moors – has been recognised as being slap bang in the middle of a persecution hot spot for many years..

We also fundamentally disagree that the solution to raptor persecution on grouse moors is to licence them.

As we have repeatedly said, birds of prey are already protected by law but are being routinely killed anyway, it’s extremely easy for a gamekeeper to shoot or poison a raptor and dispose of the body miles from where the bird was last reported, and there is nothing in ‘licencing’ to suggest more officers or investigators on the ground or more resources for better enforcement.

We fully expect that were a licencing model to be put in place, as far as grouse moors are concerned it would be ‘business as usual’.

We know, as indeed grouse moor owners know, the only way to end raptor persecution on grouse moors is to shot down the shooting industry and get grouse moors (which cover an area the size of Greater London) working for biodiversity and the pubilc good.

The idyllic North Yorkshire village dubbed ‘bird poisoning capital of the UK’ (Teesside Live 26 Nov 22)

Nidderdale in North Yorkshire, an hour’s drive from Middlesbrough, is viewed as a rural utopia by the tourists who flock to it, which is why the dark underbelly of this affluent Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), comes as such a shock.

In recent years, the country village has earned a title no region wants. It is, according to the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), the ‘bird of prey poisoning capital of Britain’.

So serious is the problem that a violently poisonous formula, the ‘Nidderdale cocktail’, is named after the region. The mix of two banned pesticides – carbofuran and isofenphos – and three other highly toxic pesticides are inserted into carrion.

Raptors, whose diets are mostly carrion, will eat the bait and suffer a quick but agonising death shortly afterwards. “This combination of poisons is almost like a signature,” says RSPB bird crime investigator Howard Jones, “It’s unique to Nidderdale.”

A poisoned kite was found at Roundhill Reservoir, near Masham, North Yorkshire, last year. The bird of prey was found to have ingested bait laced with the deadly 'Nidderdale cocktail'
A poisoned kite was found at Roundhill Reservoir, near Masham, North Yorkshire, last year.
The bird of prey was found to have ingested bait laced with the deadly ‘Nidderdale cocktail’
(Image: RSPB)

The RSPB has confirmed 15 deliberate raptor poisonings in Nidderdale AONB since 2011. While that doesn’t sound like many there were 80 across the whole of England last year – and it’s the ‘tip of the iceberg’, according to Howard.

Raptor poisonings – in this case, red kites and common buzzards – have been on the rise in Nidderdale since 2020. Of the 15 confirmed poisonings, four and five took place in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Locations include Pateley Bridge, Roundhill Reservoir, near Masham; and Ramsgill.

“There is a coordinated effort to poison birds of prey in Nidderdale,” Howard says. “It’s sad because Nidderdale is an AONB but now people will search it on the internet and they will see it’s known as a place for poisoning birds of prey. And that’s a really bad thing to be known for.”

So why Nidderdale?

The RSPB has found a link between gamebird shooting and raptor poisoning. Nidderdale has a number of estates where legal grouse shooting takes place.

Across the UK in 2021, more than two-thirds (71%) of all confirmed incidents of raptor persecution were linked to land managed for gamebird shooting. Nidderdale and indeed North Yorkshire, which is annually the worst – or among the worst – county for raptor persecution, reflect this grim picture.

“The majority were in areas managed for gamebirds,” Howard says.

Why are birds of prey being deliberately poisoned?

The obvious answer is that raptors prey on grouse. But a concerted effort to kill birds of prey could be the result of gamekeepers under pressure to keep gamebird stocks high for shooting parties.

The Nidderdale cocktail, which the RSPB first recorded in 2011, is indiscriminate in what it kills. In July 2020, Chloe Ambler was walking her two spaniels at Two Stoops, a pair of follies near Pateley Bridge, when her dogs ingested bait laced with the cocktail. Poppy against the odds survived but Molly died.

Chloe told the BBC in 2020: “I need someone to be held responsible because at the end of the day we’ve lost amazing Molly. It’s been so awful for us and I don’t see why people should get away with that.” And carbofuran isn’t just poisonous to raptors and dogs; a couple of granules can kill an adult human.

Howard says: “There’s no reason why a member of the public couldn’t come across poisoned bait, pick it up and later put their fingers in their mouth.”

What can be done to stop it?

Because of the vast area, the relatively low chance of a poisoned bird being discovered and a code of silence among the ‘poisoning community’, such crimes are difficult to prosecute. On the rare occasions when someone is prosecuted, it’s usually a gamekeeper at the bottom of the chain.

Howard says: “The British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) publically say they condemn all forms of persecution but this has been going on for years and not enough has been done by the shooting industry to stop it. We would like to see the law strengthened.”

“Managers of estates where gamebird shooting takes place need to be made accountable,” Howard says.

The Scottish Government has announced it will be introducing legislation to regulate grouse shooting next year. The RSPB has said it would like driven grouse shoots in England to be licensed. Estates, where raptor persecution is found to have taken place, would be stripped of their shooting licences.

What is North Yorkshire Police doing?

North Yorkshire Police launched Operation Owl last year to combat the persecution of birds of prey across the county. NYP also has a rural task force with officers trained in tackling bird of prey persecution.

What should I do if I witness a bird crime?

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take wild birds. There is more advice and numbers to call to report incidents on the Operation Owl webpage.

(From article in Teesside Live by Ellie Shorttle-Kent)

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