A LEADING conservation charity has described some areas of the Yorkshire and Durham Dales and the North York Moors as “no fly zones” for birds of prey.

The RSPB said despite 2013 being the 60th year of legal protection for wild birds, latest figures showed little improvement in the amount of illegal persecution of birds of prey and that some areas in the North’s uplands had none of the birds.

The RSPB’s Birdcrime report revealed 208 reports of the shooting and destruction of birds of prey, including the confirmed shooting of 15 buzzards, five sparrowhawks and four peregrine falcons nationally, which included more than 70 poisoning incidents.

It said North Yorkshire remained one of the worst counties for bird of prey persecution, while County Durham was also among the top ten hotspots.

The charity said it would not specify which areas it considered no fly zones for strategic reasons.

Several studies have concluded that persecution on intensively managed upland grouse moors is the key issue affecting some bird of prey populations.

The report detailed numerous incidents including a buzzard being found in crow cage trap with freshly plucked pigeon, close to active pheasant rearing pen on the Blansby Park estate, near Pickering and a hen harrier being killed in Colsterdale, south of Leyburn, in the Yorkshire Dales.

He said: “The confirmed number of bird of prey persecution incidents are only the tip of the iceberg as they happen in remote areas where they are likely to go unnoticed and unrecorded and are quite difficult to detect.

“We do find there are certain areas, such as some of the upland areas of Yorkshire and Durham, where there is enough habitat to support many pairs of breeding birds, but there are none.”

The RSPB believes a combination of more effective and enforceable laws, in which suspected wildlife criminals can be brought before a crown court and a change in attitude from some within the driven grouse shooting industry will be essential to restore birds of prey populations.

A RSPB spokesman for the North said there had been relatively few successful prosecutions over bird of prey crime over the last year, and cited a suspect being cautioned in the Consett area last December who was caught with three buzzards in a crow trap.

The spokesman said: “It is time for the grouse shooting industry to prove to the rest of the country that they can leave archaic activities behind.

“They must show their activities are sustainable and don’t rely on the illegal killing of birds of prey to promote ever increasing grouse-bags.”