AN appeal has been made to tackle the soaring number of deaths among the North-East’s bird of prey population.

According to the RSPB, the region is one of the worst in the UK for bird of prey persecution.

In April 2013, a dead buzzard was found on farmland in Northumberland. Post mortem analysis revealed that the bird had been shot in its wing and it is thought to have starved to death as a result of its injury.

In September another shot buzzard was found in Northumberland and later died from lead poisoning.

In County Durham in December, a merlin was discovered caught in an illegal spring trap.

According to the Birdcrime 2013 report, there were 164 incidents in the UK of shooting and destruction of birds of prey including confirmed shooting of two hen harriers, two marsh harriers, five peregrines and 28 buzzards.

It also included 74 reported incidents of wildlife poisoning and pesticide-related offences.

Confirmed victims of poisoning include 30 buzzards, 20 red kites, a golden eagle and a white-tailed eagle.

The RSPB argues that these figures are believed to represent only a fraction of the illegal persecution in the UK, with many incidents thought to be going undetected and unreported.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “Witnessing a hen harrier’s dramatic skydancing display flight, or seeing the world’s fastest animal in action as a peregrine stoops over the moors is enough to take your breath away. These are sights that we should all be able to enjoy. Unfortunately, we are being robbed of the chance to see these beautiful birds flourish because of illegal persecution.”

He was supported by Mike Pratt, chief executive of Northumberland Wildlife Trust.

“It is totally unacceptable that in the 21st Century we still see active persecution of protected raptors and it’s sad that populations of birds the public love like buzzards and kites are being targeted,” he said. “Even the totemic golden eagle has been prevented from re-colonising North Northumberland through persecution it seems.

“Everyone in conservation must work together to make sure we stamp this out once and for all; it brings a dark cloud over the landscape of Northumberland where farmers, landowners and conservation bodies continue to work so hard in partnership for wildlife. We need to shine the light on the few mavericks who are still perpetuating this wildlife crime.”

The RSPB says more action is needed in the uplands of England, where illegal persecution associated with grouse moors suppresses the population of several bird of prey species.

It states that attempts to bring about change through self-regulation have proved ineffective and says tough decisions are needed to combat these crimes.

Mr Harper said: “Awareness of illegal persecution is increasing. This year we have seen people taking to the streets to demonstrate against the killing of these birds, and hundreds of people joined rallies in northern England in support of Hen Harrier Day.

“This shows that public desire for the return of our cherished birds of prey populations is at an all time high and we will continue our efforts to highlight this to the shooting community and DEFRA.”