A BUZZARD has been safely returned to the wild – after being found caught in an illegal cage trap.

The incident was the latest in a series in which birds of prey have been found dead in the area of the North York Moors – and police believe they are just the “tip of the iceberg.”

The buzzard was found feeding on a dead pigeon inside a cage trap which had been placed inside a pheasant pen.

It was released and flew off unharmed and a second, smaller cage trap was found nearby which contained a live pigeon.

Such traps are designed to catch members of the crow family - however they are sometimes illegally baited with pigeons in order to trap birds of prey.

Following the find a search was carried out by police, in partnership with Natural England, of a gamekeeper’s house and business premises and a man was arrested.

Investigating officer PC Stewart Ashton said; “Police are receiving a growing amount of intelligence that raptors are being routinely shot, trapped and poisoned by gamekeepers, throughout the area.”

“This is just the latest incident in what appears to be a persistent breaking of the law by a significant number of gamekeepers.

“This is a hidden crime that usually goes unreported. Sadly what we are seeing is just the tip of a very big iceberg.”

In March a poisoned red kite was found near Cropton, Pickering, and subsequent inquiries revealed that a dead goshawk had also been found in suspicious circumstances in the same area.

In 2010, a dead goshawk was found in Bransdale near Helmsley and a post mortem revealed it had been both poisoned and shot.

In May 2012, a walker hiking across moorland in Bransdale found a dead sparrowhawk. It had also been shot.

Police claim that because of its number of shooting estates, North Yorkshire has one of the highest number of reports of raptor persecution in the country.

Anyone with any information regarding wildlife persecution should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101.