THE UK's highest number of confirmed persecutions of birds of prey are in North Yorkshire, a report reveals.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is now calling for the introduction of a licensing system for driven grouse shooting to ensure it operates legally and sustainably.

Persecutions refer to the number of killings as well as the number of incidents designed to kill, such as traps.

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The report revealed close to two-thirds (53) of the confirmed incidents took place in England, with particular concern for raptors in North Yorkshire.

Over the last five years, the county, home to vast grouse moors, recorded the UK's highest number of confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents, with 54 incidents since 2012 and 19 last year.

This included four shot buzzards, four shot red kites, two poisoned red kites, a shot peregrine, destruction of a buzzard nest and seven incidents relating to illegal spring traps.

Elsewhere, the North-East clocked numerous incidents, including a shot hen harrier and the persecution of a peregrine in Northumberland, and shot red kite in County Durham.

Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said: “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.”

The charity calls for better police enforcement, a licensing system for grouse shooting and implementation of vicarious liability – making managers and employers responsible for the actions of their gamekeepers.

The RSPB’s Birdcrime report revealed a minimum of 81 confirmed incidents of persecution in the UK during 2016. Despite this, there were no prosecutions for the first time in 30 years.

“Birds of prey bring our skies to life. There is nothing like seeing a diving peregrine or a sky dancing hen harrier.

“The sights of these birds are something we should all be able to enjoy; unfortunately illegal activity is robbing us of this and preventing them from flourishing.”