CUMBRIA is one of the worst counties in England for birds of prey being persecuted, a new RSPB ‘birdcrime’ report has found.

Buzzards and Sparrowhawks have been trapped inside crow cages and poisoned meat has been left out to kill birds, it says.

Investigators found meat laced with carbofuran – a banned substance commonly used to poison the protected species.

Several studies suggest that the reason birds of prey are targeted is to protect grouse shooting populations, said the RSPB.

Statistics from 2012 show there were 15 reported inci-dents in Cumbria and 15 in Northumberland– making them the joint second worst counties in England. North Yorkshire was worst with 34 incidents.

In Cumbria, confirmed cases involved a live buzzard and dead sparrowhawk both inside a crow cage trap.

There were three confirmed poisoning incidents involving carbofuran. A raven was also shot, said the RSPB.

One of the difficulties investigators faced was the remote location of the carcasses and gathering evidence.

Despite 2013 being the 60th year of legal protection for wild birds, nationally there were 208 reports of the shooting and destruction of birds of prey, including 15 buzzards being shot, five sparrowhawks and four peregrine falcons.

There were also more than 70 reports of poisoning – inc-luding nine buzzards and seven red kites.

The RSPB says the numbers may be higher as it is sure many incidents go unnoticed or unrecorded.

The Birdcrime report follows on from news that hen harriers have failed to breed successfully in England for the first time this year since the 1960s, despite enough suitable habitat to support over 300 pairs.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s director of conservation, said: “There are few sights in nature as breathtaking as witnessing a peregrine swooping or hen harriers sky-dancing. “These are sights we should all be able to enjoy when visiting our uplands. However, these magnificent birds are being removed from parts of our countryside where they should be flourishing”.

The RSPB has welcomed some recommendations by the Law Commission including the recognition of the seriousness of some wildlife crime – inc-luding one that some cases may be tried at the Crown Court, where higher penalties are available.

The charity believes tougher legislation is needed to punish employers whose staff commit wildlife crimes and is calling on Government to make employers legally responsible for the wildlife crimes committed by their employees.