Dozens of birds of prey were illegally shot, trapped and poisoned in 2019, according to the latest bird crime report from the RSPB.
There were 85 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution last year, involving birds such as buzzards, red kites, peregrine falcons, golden eagles and hen harriers, the report found.
The highest concentrations of crimes were in the north of England and Scotland, with North Yorkshire the worst spot, and half the confirmed incidents occurred within protected landscapes, the conservation charity said.
The RSPB said its data, peer-reviewed science and population surveys showed persecution was concentrated on and near grouse moors, and called for tougher action on the industry to end the killing of protected species.
It also said a growing number of satellite-tagged birds of prey such as hen harriers were vanishing in suspicious circumstances – leading conservationists to believe they had been illegally killed.
And persecution continued during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to the RSPB, with its investigation unit seeing its busiest ever spring dealing with reports of bird of prey crimes and helping police with investigations.
The charity is urging the Government to act to address “environmentally damaging practices” by grouse moors including persecution of birds of prey and burning of moorland vegetation on peat soils.
All birds of prey are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, but the RSPB warned the law was failing to protect them.
Mark Thomas, the RSPB’s head of investigations UK, said: “Once again the bird crime report shows that protected birds of prey like hen harriers, peregrines and golden eagles are being relentlessly persecuted, particularly in areas dominated by driven grouse shooting.
“At a time when the world – and the UK in particular – is seeing catastrophic declines in wildlife populations, the destruction of rare wildlife looks like the opposite of progress.”
He said that there could be 12 times as many hen harriers breeding in England if illegal killing stopped and said the shooting community could not “control the criminals within their ranks”.
“UK governments must implement tougher legislation to bring the driven grouse shooting industry in line with the law, stamp out environmentally damaging practices and deliver on the UK’s nature recovery targets,” he said.
Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, which represents moor owners and managers in England, said bird crime figures were down compared to those issued by the RSPB last year.
And she said: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms all forms of wildlife crime, including any incidents of bird of prey persecution, and the moorland sector has a zero tolerance approach to such activity.
“The Moorland Association and its members are committed to restoring bird of prey populations to sustainable levels, and are delighted to have helped achieve the recent increases in their populations.”
She pointed to a record breeding season for hen harriers in England with 12 out of the 19 successful nests located on grouse moors, producing 40 out of the 60 chicks which fledged.
“Grouse moors are welcome habitats for a wide range of wildlife and we work diligently alongside local police groups to tackle any criminal activity,” she added.
A Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance of tackling wildlife crime, which is why we directly fund the National Wildlife Crime Unit who provide intelligence and support to police forces protecting our precious wildlife – including birds of prey.”
“We are clear those found guilty of killing these majestic animals should be subject to the full force of the law.”