A DECADE-LONG scheme to re-introduce dwindling numbers of bird of prey species into Barnsley’s countryside where they once thrived has failed to boost populations, leaders behind the project have revealed.

The initiative - run by the Peak District National Park Authority in areas such as Dunford Bridge and Langsett - is set to end due to its poor results.

Differing views among the group’s stakeholders and continued cases of persecution within the region led leaders to conclude that they are ‘no longer being able to deliver meaningful change’.

Despite more than a decade of the initiative, which included representatives from the landowning and gamekeeping community, experienced raptor surveyors, conservation groups, the police and other bodies, populations of many of the key species have not increased at the rates initially hoped for - with some seeing no improvement at all.

While hen harriers have returned to the area, successful breeding currently remains limited.

Phil Mulligan, chief executive of the Peak District National Park Authority, said: “It is with regret that we are closing the initiative after more than a decade of endeavours to safeguard our charismatic birds of prey that have a rightful place here.

“Featuring at the very top of local ecosystems, species like the hen harrier, peregrine and goshawk should be a flagship for landscapes and habitats at the heart of nature’s recovery.

“The fact that the work of the initiative has failed to reflect those target populations of some 30 years ago remains a cause for real concern, and it is without question that illegal persecution targeted towards some of these species is one factor behind this stuttering progress.

“I would like to extend my thanks to those who have put their time, energy and passion into the painstaking study, sharing of information and analysis of our raptor populations during the initiative’s existence.

“We must now look at alternative ways to ensure our birds of prey have a future locally - free from the risk of illegal actions.”

Set up in 2011, the initiative’s goal was for populations of the region’s key birds of prey or ‘raptors’ to be returned to levels last seen during the 1990s, and the re-establishment of hen harrier as a regularly-breeding species.

The Peak District has historically been home to populations of iconic species such as the peregrine, goshawk, merlin - the UK’s smallest raptor - and the hen harrier, one of the most persecuted birds of prey in the country.

However persecution due to shooting leases - granted on land such as Range Moor - have led to a ‘wildlife crisis’, according to campaigners from the RSPB.

It’s been alleged birds of prey have been eradicated by gamekeepers due to their predatory instincts, which leads to a reduction in grouse stock and less attractive sport.

Incidents of shooting, poisoning, trapping, nest destruction or the disappearance of satellite-tracked birds have featured in every year of the initiative’s monitoring.

RSPB spokesman Mark Thomas said: “Once again protected birds of prey are being relentlessly persecuted, particularly in areas dominated by driven grouse shooting.

“The illegal killing of birds of prey is just one of the symptoms of a wholly unsustainable industry.

“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.”