THE PUBLIC are being urged to help the police protect birds of prey.

North Yorkshire Police has just launched Operation Owl in a bid to cut the number of attacks on raptors - including owls, kites, buzzards and hawks - in the county.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild birds.

Birds of prey, however, continue to be persecuted - especially in areas, like parts of Wharfedale and the Washburn Valley, where the land is managed for grouse shooting.

North Yorkshire has had more confirmed incidents of raptor persecution - through poisonings, shootings and the use of traps - than any other county in England.

Six dead red kites were been found in the Washburn Valley between 2012 and 2016, while in 2014 one of the birds was found shot dead near Harewood.

North Yorkshire Police has teamed up with the RSPB and the RSPCA, along with the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, in a bid to end the practice.

Operation Owl will see officers carrying out random checks at known raptor persecution 'hot-spots' while working with landowners to ensure they know the legal position.

National Park volunteers are also being trained to spot poisoned bait and illegal traps - and the police are asking residents and visitors to be their eyes and ears.

Sergeant Kevin Kelly, who is part of North Yorkshire Police's wildlife and rural crime taskforce, said: "Our wonderful countryside is host to many specially-protected birds of prey such as peregrine falcons, red kites, buzzards and owls.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that people think they can ignore the law and subject these birds to poisonings, shootings, nest destruction and the illegal use of spring traps without consequence.

"We will be doing everything in our power to catch these offenders, supported by our colleagues in the RSPB and the volunteers in the national parks.

"But the area is huge, so the more eyes and ears we have on the ground the better.

"That’s why we’re asking the public to help."

In particular, the police are asking the public to spot and report pole traps. Sgt Kelly added: "Trappers are using spring-loaded traps on top of posts to capture birds of prey that land on top.

"The bird can struggle for many hours before the trapper returns to kill them.

"These pole traps, as they are called, are illegal.

"We want the public to help us find these traps.

"We’re advising that anyone who sees a pole trap should 'spring' it, if they can do so safely, note the location, take a photo, and call the police on 101.

"Our wildlife officers will take it from there."

Operation Owl will run for the next year, and North Yorkshire Police is hoping the scheme will become a blueprint for other forces to follow.