THE North-East and North Yorkshire have emerged as two of the worst blackspots for the persecution of birds of prey.

The news comes as the Government launches a new country-wide team to target crime against wildlife.

Figures from the RSPB show that Northumberland has the highest number of confirmed incidents of bird persecution in England, with 41 in the past ten years.

North Yorkshire is the fourth worst in the country, with 29 confirmed incidents between 1995 and 2006.

The charity's director of conservation Dr Mark Avery said such incidents were a real blow to efforts to save threatened species.

"Persecution of birds of prey is holding back the recovery of several species," he said.

"The hen harrier, golden eagle and red kite are all too frequently the victims of illegal persecution."

He added that he hoped the creation of the National Wildlife Crime Unit would help to finally stamp out crimes which were outlawed decades ago..

The RSPB's crime database has revealed that between 1995 and 2006, there were 1,113 confirmed persecution incidents against birds of prey.

Scotland had the highest total of recorded incidents with 494, while England suffered 454 incidents. Wales and Northern Ireland recorded 142 and 23 incidents respectively.

The new NWCU is a multi-agency police-led operation to be based in Edinburgh which will gather, analyse and co-ordinate wildlife crime intelligence and to support enforcement activities.

It is being set up to target and disrupt serious wildlife crime on a regional, national and international level *The ten worst counties in England with confirmed crimes against birds of prey between 1995 and 2006 were: Northumberland, (41); Devon, (34); Norfolk, (30); North Yorkshire, (29); Cumbria, (29); Derbyshire, (24); Lancashire, (20); Nottinghamshire, (17); Shropshire, (16); and Merseyside, (15).