A poisoned sparrowhawk, a poisoned bait, and a Royal estate in Norfolk

A couple of months ago an article was published in the Mail on Sunday about the ‘mysterious’ death of a satellite-tagged goshawk on the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk (see here).

We blogged about it (here) and mentioned a number of other raptor-related police investigations that had been undertaken on or near the estate. On the back of that blog, somebody contacted us and asked why we hadn’t included on our list ‘the confirmed illegal poisoning of a sparrowhawk a few years ago’? We hadn’t included it because we didn’t know anything about it, so we thought we’d do some digging.

First of all we did a general internet search. If there had been a confirmed raptor poisoning on the Queen’s Sandringham Estate then surely that would have made a few headlines, right? We didn’t find any record of it.

So then we started looking at the government’s database on pesticide misuse and abuse (the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme, often shortened to ‘the WIIS database’). In that database we found the following entry:

Although this entry showed that a poisoned sparrowhawk and a poisoned bait had been discovered in Norfolk in October 2009, as usual, no specific location was given. We were, however, intrigued by the ‘Notes’ column, that said even though a confirmed poisoning had occurred, the police were ‘not taking this forward’ and instead the CRD (Chemical Regulation Directorate, which is part of the Health & Safety Executive) had ‘sent a warning letter to the estate’.

So we thought we’d submit an FoI to the CRD to ask for a copy of that warning letter, because it might reveal the name of the estate where the poisoned sparrowhawk and poisoned bait had been found. We were also curious about the content of that warning letter – if there had been a confirmed poisoning, why was a warning letter considered to be a preferred option to a prosecution?

We’ve now received the FoI response and have been working our way through the various files.

The first file we looked at was a series of correspondence letters between the CRD and the estate. The estate’s name had been redacted throughout. Hmm. The letters are really worth reading though – there are some pretty hostile attitudes on display and there’s clearly no love lost between CRD and the estate manager! Download here: CRD correspondence with Estate_2010

There’s also a letter from a Natural England officer to the estate, asking for various documents relating to pesticide risk assessments, gamekeeper contracts, and gamekeeper training certificates: Natural England letter to Estate 19Oct2009

We gathered from the CRD/estate correspondence that no further evidence of Bendiocarb had been found during a Police/Natural England search of the estate which is presumably why Norfolk Police didn’t charge anybody for the poisoned sparrowhawk and poisoned bait, because there was no way of linking it to a named individual. Anybody could have placed the poisoned bait. But a series of alleged offences relating to pesticide storage had apparently been uncovered and it was these issues to which the CRD warning letter referred, although it’s clear from the estate’s letters to CRD that the estate disputed the alleged offences.

While that’s all very interesting, we were still in the dark about the name of the estate where all this had happened. That is, until we read another file that had been released as part of the FoI: CRD_lawyer discussion of FEPA exemption

This file contains correspondence between the CRD and a number of lawyers. They were discussing whether the estate had exemption under Section 20(5) of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (FEPA). This exemption applies to land that is owned ‘in Crown interest’. There was a great deal of discussion about whether this estate (name redacted) was owned by the Crown or was privately owned by the Queen.

The lawyers decided that this estate (name redacted) was in fact privately owned by the Queen, and therefore exemption under Section 20(5) of FEPA did not apply. The lawyers had reached this conclusion after several internet searches on the status of this estate (name redacted) had been completed. What the FoI officer failed to do was redact the search phrases that had been used to reach their decision. Those search phrases included:

Now, if you Google the exact search phrase listed under (a) above (“the private home of four generations of British Monarchs“) you are directed to this website:

And if you go to the Crown Estates website and search for the exact search phrase listed in (b) above (“according to the Crown Estates website – one of Her Majesty the Queen’s private possessions handed down from previous generations“), you find this:

It’s all very interesting, isn’t it? This isn’t conclusive evidence that it was Sandringham Estate, of course, and there is no suggestion whatsoever that anyone associated with the Sandringham Estate was involved with placing a poisoned bait, although it is clear a poisoned sparrowhawk and a poisoned bait were found on a Royal estate in Norfolk (how many Royal estates are there in Norfolk?).

But what this does highlight, again, is the complete lack of transparency when the authorities investigate the discovery of highly toxic poisonous baits laid out on private estates with game-shooting interests, or the discovery of illegally killed raptors on privately owned estates with game-shooting interests.

Why has this case been kept secret since 2009?

37 thoughts on “A poisoned sparrowhawk, a poisoned bait, and a Royal estate in Norfolk”

    1. There was a prosecution of a gamekeeper here in 2006 – he pleaded guilty to setting an illegal pole trap that maimed a tawny owl. He was fined £500, ordered to pay £470, and although ‘subject to unspecified disciplinary action, did not stand to lose his job’. Amazing.

      1. Oh – congratulations on this work. This website and your work is outstanding. You’re an inspiration. Thank you.

        Have you thought about going to the press? The unravelling of thus take is a masterpiece of detective work.

  1. The only thing that puzzles me is why is this lady, Her Majesty The Queen, in any way, shape or form qualified to be the Patron of the RSPB?? If there were to be a parallel organisation for the persecution and random shooting of birds by ones family, then that would be understandable, given the facts so eloquently reported on this website and by the Mail newspaper.

    1. I’ve mentioned before that in his book ‘Fighting for Birds’ Mark Avery wrote that she had made a personal donation to Songbird Survival, and her eldest son seemed to hint at a RSPB event that raptors needed controlling, plus we know about the Sandringham harriers business, but something I forgot was that she’s also a keen pigeon fancier! Doesn’t add up to someone (or a family) who cares about birds of prey and detests their persecution by the selfish and ignorant does it? Would they be prepared to come out and say just how wonderful raptors are, an important and key element of our ecosystems, why their full recovery from centuries of persecution should be wholeheartedly welcomed and supported, why killing them to enable people to shoot more birds for fun is morally abhorrent to any decent person? If they aren’t anti birds of prey that would help prove it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  2. [Ed: comment deleted. If you’re talking in general terms you need to make this clear. The way your comment is currently written it implies you’re referring to Sandringham Estate and thus your comment is libellous]

  3. I say overthrow the lot of them, stick their heads on pikes, and leave their bodies in the fields for the kites and corbies to feed on. In general, that is, not any specific aged monarch, aged and racist remark making prince consort, adulterous heirs, and associated hangers on.

    In specific though, the establishment looks after the establishment and in the UK this will never change because we are all too concerned about the image we present in our protests and not about actually forcing change in an environment where the law is actively set against the populace.

    I’m not just saying that because I know how to build a guillotine, either.

  4. Explains why certain factions seek to prevent wildlife crimes being properly investigated and deny the amount of crime.

    If it is happening on a Royal Estate and convicted offenders don’t lose their jobs stands to reason it may be happening in a lot more places.

    Tip of a very dirty iceberg.

  5. We need a law that says “killing a raptor is an act of treason.” Personally I am all for a witch-hunt here.

  6. This is most excellent work, and more congratulations are in order. It is clear that al the official bodies have managed to keep this under wraps as far as possible and many people will be wondering why we are so open (This shows we are most definitely not). After your endeavour I wonder if any responsible media will break ranks as we all know the public is interested in raptor persecution.
    Dare we hope that someone from a Royal palace might give a statement condemning raptor crime and making clear that it wasn’t us Guv, must have been one of those bird zealots, as everyone knows they are behind raptor crime. Or what about the RSPB?
    Please keep up the good work. It will pay off in the end, but perhaps after I’m 6 feet under.

  7. A good little piece for Country File…….! And the subsidies they receive ! Good old BBC etc etc not managed to get around to any of this, a knighthood for John Craven (sic)…..Arise Sir John, Sir David.

    1. This is the point how do we break the institutional wall of silence and get these crimes into the public domain ,wasn’t it at Sandringham that whats his face, the ginger parasite shot the Hen Harrier(allegedly) and that was totally hushed up. Only one way to bring down this feudal state, cut it off at the head. I think I might just have committed treason.
      Well done again RPUK for a brilliant piece of investigative journalism , really deserves a wider audience.

      1. Yes it was alleged that Harry and William Van Cutsem were in the area when two harriers were shot, there was not enough evidence to prosecute anyone. Interestingly the Van Cutsem family own Mossdale Estate in the Yorkshire Dales where a keeper was cautioned for setting pole traps. Old dna on these traps was of Kestrel and another falcon. That didn’t make Countryfile either, they like grouse moors.

  8. In my youth, and brought up at a time when ‘the Establishment’ was respected, ( before investigative journalism!) I used to appreciate, even admire, the Royals. How times change! Now it seems to me that the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ and Tradition may be the only reason for their present roles, and, as we well know, some ‘traditions’ have no place in our society. It appears to me to be so two-faced to support wildlife initiatives abroad, but to continue taking part in activities that cause such damage in our country. I am extremely disappointed in the ‘new’ couple, future monarchs. But I don’t suppose they could care less, even if they knew!

      1. What has that got to do with anything , just an another example of making excuses for the dysfunctional Germans .If I had been born the spaver (ask your Scottish granny) relation of some Anglo Saxon toff I would be out killing something not writing this . Grow up .

      2. No, his mother was quite happy to be one of the hunting, shooting and fishing brigade

  9. Well done RPUK .. your a credit to all right minded people who value the countryside and all that is in it. A great piece of detective work.

  10. Quite fascinating – great work ! What struck me in particular is that it isn’t just raptors at risk – keepers have been killed by their own poison in the past and the badly stored Phostoxin – which turns into a poisonous gas on release to the air- looked like a straightforward offence under Health & Safety at Work, let alone pesticide or wildlife legislation. Altogether, an accident waiting to happen to people as well as wildlife.

  11. I don’t know if this fact which has been keen to escape from my head is permissible, but several years ago I happened to be introduced to a prominent member of the Royal family as “Hen Harrier Adviser” to a public body, and her response was surprisingly frank. With a smile on her face she said clearly “I’m afraid we don’t approve of harriers”! I’m not sure whether this was a personal opinion, “the Royal we”, or whether she professed to be speaking for the entire Royal family. Which ever it was, it certainly reinforced my own opinion that it is time the RSPB ditched their Royal connection.

    1. The British Society for the Protection of Birds with David Attenborough as Patron would get my vote.

  12. Watched several pairs of Buzzards displaying over Sandringham as well as 2 pairs of Sparrowhawks this spring but no sign of the breeding Goshawks. One Buzzard entered the air space of a pair showing considerable ‘shot’ damage and was chased away but that bird could have been shot at well away from the estate.

  13. While I understand the desire to delete as libelous some comments, I think the alternative of publish & let them sue has some attraction here. Would they really want to sue an organisation such as RPUK?

    1. While I think RPUK does err a little too far on the side of caution, I do have to agree that of course many in the industry would want to sue. Money is just another one of their weapons of suppressing dissent. I hold no grudge when one of my posts gets censored, that is for sure. It is hard to know where the line is on a lot of this, so RPUK are probably doing the right thing to keep themselves and us safe.

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