A HUNT has been launched for the killer of 'Bowland Betty', a rare bird of prey which conservationists had tracked across the north of Britain.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is offering a £1,000 reward for details leading to the conviction of those responsible for the hen harrier’s death in Colsterdale, south of Leyburn, in the Yorkshire Dales.

A spokesman for the charity said with hen harriers on the brink of extinction as a breeding species in England, Betty’s death was a significant blow to the species’ future.

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Betty was raised in Bowland, Lancashire, last year before being fitted with a satellite tag by Natural England as part of their Hen Harrier Recovery Project, which tracked Betty’s movements from Caithness, in Scotland, to North Yorkshire in May.

She ranged around the moors in the Nidderdale and Colsterdale areas for a few weeks, but in late June the satellite data indicated Betty had become stationary, raising fears for her safety.

With the cooperation of the Swinton Estate, Stephen Murphy of the Natural England Hen Harrier Recovery Project found Betty dead in July.

Betty’s body was sent to the Zoological Society of London for a post-mortem examination, which revealed that she had a fractured left leg, leading to her death.

Professors at the Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science used a pioneering technique to grind and polish the broken bone until they found a tiny fragment of lead at the site of the fracture, confirming that the bird had been shot which resulted in her death.

Wildlife crime officer PC Gareth Jones said: “The shooting of this rare and majestic bird is against the law, and it beggars belief that in 2012 a bird of this status has been shot and killed.”

Hen harriers hunt small mammals and birds, including red grouse, which has led to conflict with shooting estates.

In the last ten years there have been 11 recorded hen harrier breeding attempts in North Yorkshire, all of which were within a few miles of where Betty was found.

Three of these nesting attempts were successful, with seven of the eight failed attempts being blamed on human persecution.

Bob Elliot, head of RSPB investigations, said: “The Hen Harrier is on the brink of extinction as a breeding species in England and the loss of yet another bird to illegal persecution is sickening.”

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation said: “Anyone shooting a protected species damages shooting and the countryside and has no place among the law-abiding shooting community. We would have no hesitation in expelling any member found guilty of such a crime.”

Anyone with information should call police on 101 or the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0845-4663636.