Goshawk dies in ‘mysterious circumstances’ on Queen’s Sandringham Estate

Not for the first time, the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk has been at the centre of a police investigation in relation to a raptor incident.

According to an article in today’s Mail on Sunday (here) a police investigation was launched after Sandringham Estate staff mailed a young goshawk’s tracking tag back to the BTO on 11 August last year, but without the corpse. When the BTO contacted Sandringham Estate to ask what had happened to the bird, they were told the bird had been ‘disposed of’ because ‘it had been dead for a long time’ and was ‘decomposing’. However, the GPS tag data revealed the bird had still been alive on the evening of 8th August, in some trees close to Sandringham House.

During the Police investigation, Sandringham Estate staff changed their story and said the goshawk had been found alive by a gardener beside a perimeter fence but that ‘it was in a poor condition and quickly died’. They told Police the bird had been incinerated.


Estate staff justified these contrasting stories about what had happened by saying there had been ‘a breakdown in communication’ amongst Estate staff.


Norfolk Police issued a statement: “A thorough investigation was carried out and no wrong doing was identified“.

Norfolk Police also told the BTO: ‘There were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the bird’s death‘.

Hmm. Perhaps they’d turned up with a white stick and a dog.

Without having this goshawk’s corpse available for post-mortem it is impossible to determine how it died, so it’s no surprise that Norfolk Police said ‘no wrong doing was identified’. Of course no wrong doing was identified because any potential evidence had been conveniently incinerated!

Sandringham Estate was at the centre of a police investigation in 2005 when a tawny owl was caught in an illegally-set trap. A Sandringham Estate gamekeeper was convicted and fined, but wasn’t sacked (see here, pages 3-4).

In 2007 Sandringham Estate was at the centre of another police investigation after the alleged shooting of two hen harriers. Prince Harry, his friend William van Cutsem (whose family own the now infamous Mossdale Estate), and an unnamed gamekeeper were questioned but denied all knowledge of the incident. The hen harrier corpses were never found.

In 2014, a satellite-tagged Montagu’s harrier called Mo ‘disappeared’ on land next door to Sandringham Estate and police launched an investigation. Mo’s corpse has never been found.

Photo of a young Norfolk goshawk with its GPS tag, part of the Heritage Lottery funded BTO goshawk tracking study (photographer unknown).

32 thoughts on “Goshawk dies in ‘mysterious circumstances’ on Queen’s Sandringham Estate”

  1. A review of the raw data from the tag might give more of an idea about how the bird was behaving (and where) prior to it ‘mysteriously’ dying.

  2. Reading the article in the Mail, I thought it interesting that there was no satellite signal reported on 9 August. Wonder if the BTO would voluntarily hand over all the satellite tracking data for further investigation. Difficult to imagine a bird being in an advanced state of decomposition if it had only been dead a day or so.

  3. Usually when people destroy potential evidence, even of minor offenses and even when they believe they are acting innocently, before examination can be carried out then charge of perverting the course of justice soon follows. That is not an allegation, and I am not accusing Her Maj and her staff of anything at all whatsoever, just noting that it can happen. Obviously the special circumstance of this are indeed very special indeed and I accept that. Just, don’t try this at home with anything else.

  4. I’m sure her majesty isn’t aware of these goings on, or heads would roll. Assuming she isn’t an assiduous reader of this blog, perhaps steps should be taken to bring this apparent conspiracy to pervert the course of her justice to her attention. A question in the House from a friend of raptors?

    1. ‘I’m sure her majesty isn’t aware of these goings on, or heads would roll.’
      Are you kidding?
      ‘To lose one raptor may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose five looks like (*********)’

    2. Are you kidding CB. One (of many) reasons why wildlife crime is considered socially acceptable, in fact desirable, in certain circles is the attitude of the Windsors – all of the Windsors.

      1. Spot on. Recently read Mark Avery’s ‘Fighting for Birds’ – he mentions that big Liz has made a personal donation to Songbird Survival (!!??!!) and that when Mark was working for the RSPB they had a big presentation where Prince Chas was to be given an award for his efforts for conservation. When he got up on the podium he launched into a little speech congratulating the RSPB for its work trying to remove grey squirrels and made a remark that there were other species whose burgeoning populations needed to be controlled – the feeling of a lot of people there was that this was directed at raptors.

        Another indication of this is that Chas made former Invercauld head Stalker Peter Fraser one of his conservation heroes. Apart from being a proponent of having red deer population so high that there is no tree cover left for shelter and the deer are underweight and unhealthy, Mr Fraser also made comments on a video that the golden eagle was a noble bird, lovely, but then he later said pine martens and goshawks killed for the sake of it (do these people listen to themselves?). I tried to access the video, but it seems it is now restricted…was a bit of an own goal after all. The Royals are traditional (i.e worst practice) Huntin, fishin, shootin through and through – Phil bagged a tiger for eff’s sake. They may do a good job for conservation abroad, but by god they are a disaster for it here. Phil also had to be dissuaded from cutting down a lot of ancient trees in Great Windsor Park in the mid eighties, home to highly endangered wildlife, because he thought they looked scruffy.

  5. The only surprising thing is that the tag was handed in – perhaps those concerned may have recognised the risk of the location where it stopped transmitting being identified.

    Dating back to the early 80s, when I worked in Thetford Forest, the faltering build up of Gos numbers based on the forest has been a cause of concern. We knew productivity was good and that at that time there was egg theft for falconry. However, the overwhelming likelihood for the poor results was juveniles dispersing into the heavily keepered east anglian landscape and failing to make it back to the forest.

    1. I’d love to see a scheme where Goshawks are reintroduced to areas where they are currently missing, but where they are a long, long way away from shooting estates. Hopefully that would allow the population to build up a wee bit more, their repopulation seems to be hell of a slow, existing population seems to be too close to significant shooting interests. Isn’t Argyll good habitat for them, but there’s little shooting? I know the origins of the birds currently here is a bit contentious, but none the less any reason why we can’t take the same approach with Goshawks as Red Kites? Mentioned this before, but I met a falconer who was asked by a keeper on a border’s estate if he was interested in four goshawk chicks, ‘the nest is going to get shot away anyway’. He reported that, next thing he knows he is barred from flying his birds at other estates where he previously had permission.

      1. Is there anywhere a long way from shooting estates these days? Seems just about any merchant banker with pretensions of snobbery and a desire to look down on the proles and plebs arranges a shoot of some kind, no matter how small their country property is. That is what they do right now, same as at the start of the clearances, buy somewhere in the country and then set about reshaping it for their sport.

  6. I should know the answer to this but I don’t. Can you suggest to whom we should best write to express concern?

  7. “Further signals were sent at 6.27pm on August 10 and 12.26pm on August 11 from exactly the same point in the car park of the Sandringham estate office, suggesting the bird was not moving and probably dead.”

    The movements are shown in the Mail article

  8. Given the immense hoo ha over the infamous Sandringham Harriers one wonders why any member of staff on this estate would have incinerated the corpse of a raptor, surely there would have been strict instructions/protocols on just such an incident happening?….and why would they have done that without informing someone higher up?…the really suspicious statement is that it had been decomposing, when tag info suggests it was alive – later of course retracted…..those pesky tags eh?…Without the tag we would never have heard about this….

    1. I admire your faith in the likelihood of ANYONE in the Royal Household or Estate being wary of bad publicity around raptor persecution, Dave. My recollection of the 2007 incident was 2 days of furor followed by the story falling in the local police’s waste bin. The contempt for public opinion on such issues is led from the TOP in our society, I’m afraid. Until somebody has the guts in the RSPB (with its huge membership) to review the Royal Charter status, nothing will change.

      1. Thanks Alan..but…do you really think the RSPB removing its “royal” patronage would help in any way?..The killers would be delighted!…and my message to several of the recent “why dont the RSPB do anything” comments is to remind you that virtually the only people on the ground do anything practical about raptor persecution [with the welcome exception of the Scottish SPCA] is the RSPB’s investigations unit – a bloody hard and often thankless task where you get clobbered from both “sides” as I well know…If it wasnt for them you would know nothing about this poisoning gamekeeper.

        What is needed is some action from our political representatives – lobby them hard, including, especially Tory MPs and MSPs – they are not all supporters of the criminal shooting lobby. Where are the traditional enemies of the landed establishment these days, have they all gone to sleep?..This is not an insignificant little issue, there are hundreds of thousands of voters out there who want something done.

        1. Thanks for your reasoned response, Dave. That’s why I said “review the Royal Charter status”. It needs a very public airing to attempt to cleanse a charter which enshrines, to this day, kill lists which include several endangered species just because it was considered “fair-game” in the reign of Edward VII ! I am well aware of the very solid work done by RSPB officers. It’s the policy-holders we should chase, not the enforcers!

  9. Does anyone know if it is possible, after a police investigation has concluded, to obtain copies of police investigation notes? I would love to find out what the police found out about this ‘inmicent’ communications mix up.

    1. It occurs to me that the answer is that investigations ‘continue’ so the police or any other public authority will be able to reject any FOI.

  10. When they said la la land has won the Oscars I didn’t think they were talking about Sandringham. Just bought the new version of California it’s a wildlife crime version. There are 10 characters to choose who committed the crime, 8 of them are gamekeepers,1poacher and 1pigeon fancier. The game keeps ending it was the gamekeeper near the release pens with the shotgun. Might be worth getting a quote from natural England or HOTS on this, they might get the one right

  11. Fighting a losing battle against these scum, they are parasites on our society bleeding us of taxes to act out their historical and fanciful lives. They remain an untouchable elite. On the one hand you have Prince William lobbying the world against elephant poaching, on the other there is the rest of the royals xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx. And the elitist politicians who follow suit to be in with this crowd, protect them to the hilt! It is a never ending battle that the just people of the UK will never win. Stop breeding these birds in my opinion and go see them in Europe. They are released and simply shot or poisoned. Is that fair?! No! We can beat the Royals or the elitist government so stop sending these animals to imminent death! If you CAN root out the cause ie the upper classes, fine, release them but that is not going to happen. Sick of seeing these magnificent creatures released only to be slaughtered.

    [Ed: Jack – a couple of things. We’ve edited out a small part of your comment because it implies the royals are involved in criminal activity. This was probably unintentional but nevertheless we can’t publish it as you wrote it. Secondly, goshawks are not being ‘bred and released’ – these are wild birds.]

  12. The fact that the sat.tag was sent to the BTO while the corpse was quickly and quietly disposed of smacks of overweening arrogance, a deliberate smack in the face to people trying to detect and prevent wildlife crime. I feel the owners of the estate should be concerned for their reputation.

  13. Shot hen harrier that wasn’t shot and dead Goshawk and the tag is handed in minus the body………a theme is beginning to appear.

    On the other hand at least the royals are doing their bit for elephants and rhinos.

    Are we really that stupid ?

  14. thank heavens for the police. we can all rest assdured that due to a thorough investigation nothing terrible was done to the goshawks .. I’m sure the police would never lie or cover up anything.

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