Gamekeeper convicted for killing two short-eared owls on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park

A gamekeeper was convicted at Lancaster Magistrates Court this morning for the killing of two short-eared owls on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Timothy David Cowin, 44, pleaded guilty to shooting the owls on the Whernside Estate in Cumbria (inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park boundary) and to being in possession of a calling device that held the calls of several raptor species.

[Gamekeeper Cowin trying to leave the moor after shooting two short-eared owls. Photo by Guy Shorrock, RSPB]

His sentence? A pathetic £1,210, broken down as £400 for killing each short-eared owl, £200 for possessing the calling device, £170 costs and a £40 victim surcharge. The court heard that Cowin was suspended by the Whernside Estate pending the prosecution but then he later resigned and now apparently works as a joiner in Sedburgh.

Cowin committed these offences in April 2017 and was witnessed doing so by three members of the RSPB’s Investigations Team who just happened to be on the moor. The crimes were videoed (from a distance), and Cowin was observed shooting the owls, then stamping on them, and then disposing of the bodies – one hidden inside a stone wall and one stamped in to the peat. The quick-thinking RSPB team called the police, carried on filming, and one of them made his presence known to Cowin as Cowin tried to leave the moor, resulting in a chase across the hills before the police arrived to arrest him and retrieve the corpses.

For full details, have a read of this RSPB blog here.

And then watch this remarkable RSPB video:

We’ve blogged about this case previously (here), as it’s been dragged around five courts in north west England over a six-month period. At several stages it looked as though it was going to be abandoned on a legal technicality (paperwork issues this time, instead of contesting the admissibility of video evidence), as we’ve seen so often with other cases in recent years, and it is testament to the dedication of all those involved in the prosecution (RSPB, North Yorkshire Police Rural Taskforce, and the Crown Prosecution Service, who all put in extra hours) that it stayed on track and resulted in a conviction.

Of course it wouldn’t have got to court in the first place if it hadn’t been for the RSPB’s Investigations Team being on that grouse moor to install a covert camera for what had looked to them like previous suspicious activity. But just being there wouldn’t have been enough. The team was also skilled enough to recognise what Cowin was up to, quick-witted enough to film him, sharp enough to call the Police as the crime was in progress, and fit enough to chase Cowin across the moor when he was trying to escape. Added to their outstanding efforts was the swift response from North Yorkshire Police to get up to the grouse moor in time to arrest him. And then the dedicated, committed efforts of both the RSPB and the police to return early the next day to search for the second owl corpse before Cowin had an opportunity to get back on the moor and remove the evidence. In court, CPS prosecutor Rachel Parker was forensic in rebutting the attempts by the defence solicitor to have the case thrown out.

The actions of all involved in this successful prosecution were exemplary. Will the grouse shooting industry praise their efforts and encourage them to continue routing out the criminal gamekeepers known to be routinely committing these offences?


We’ll no doubt hear the disingenuous bleating of the Moorland Association, GWCT, National Gamekeepers Organisation, Countryside Alliance etc, all condemning wildlife crime before swiftly returning to their usual criticism of the RSPB and its efforts to fight the continuing illegal persecution of raptors on driven grouse moors.

There are plenty more ‘Cowins’ out there, and despite the efforts of the grouse shooting industry to deny the extent of these crimes and pay for expensive lawyers to defend the criminals responsible, the public is becoming increasingly aware of how big a problem this is, through the efforts of the RSPB and its genuine conservation partners.

Today’s verdict doesn’t help those two short-eared owls; it’s too late for them, but Cowin’s conviction is yet another nail in the coffin of the driven grouse shooting industry. Kudos to all involved.

UPDATE 29 August 2018: Whernside Estate retains membership of Moorland Association (here)

UPDATE 31 August 2018: Whernside Estate: more reaction to gamekeeper’s conviction for shooting owls (here)

[PC Carr retrieving the pitiful corpse of the second short-eared owl that had been shot then stamped in to the ground. Photo by Guy Shorrock]

47 thoughts on “Gamekeeper convicted for killing two short-eared owls on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park”

  1. Well for to the RSPB investigations team involved and to the police. A fine of a total of £1210 is ridiculous, and the RSPB must have spent much more than that in the assistance which they provided to the police. I know life is not fair but….

  2. Yet again, the punishment does not fit the crime, as in the case of Allen Lambert. It seems the judiciary go for minimum sentencing at every opportunity. You have to ask how many judges and magistrates go shooting or ride to hounds and how many recuse themselves from cases as a result. One could ask the same for senior policemen and CPS barristers.

    1. It’s not unique to raptor persecution, minimal sentencing happens for all manner of crime, housebreaking and dangerous driving for example. I’ll hazard a guess that lack of prison space might be significant.

  3. So it is possible for gamekeepers to be successfully prosecuted for wildlife crimes, that’s a relief even if the actual punishment seems rather feeble.

    So he is now working as a joiner? Well that helps alleviate fears put forth by DGS advocates that convicted gamekeepers will be out of work forever etc.

  4. Given illegal activity was with a gun.
    How about revoking shotgun licence (forever) given he now has track record of using gun to commit crime.
    Confiscating his gun(s)?
    What an abolutely pathetic punishment, a real kick in the teeth for those who gathered the evidence & collared the criminal

  5. The criminality in this case is not just the miserably low fine but also the pathetic levels of the cost award. Surely 3 RSPB officers and police time are worth more than £170?

  6. I wonder how many other raptors he killed during his time as a keeper, and got away with it. Thank God for the RSPB.

  7. Why can’t Police issuing shotgun certificate now revoke it in this case? Proven to have been used illegally,

  8. It is a good day. We should all be pleased. Cowin has been convicted.
    To succeed with a “CO-WIN” is to be victorious with the fight against Upland and Moorland Wildlife Persecution.
    I look forward to reading of more “CO-WINS” in the future.

  9. This gamekeeper left a shotgun in an unattended and unlocked vehicle. If I did that what would be my punishment?

  10. So what do we know about the sentencing magistrate? I assume there will be a follow up investigation on them, who their friends and social links are?

  11. Excellent work by the RSPB, and good for the police responding. However, the sentence it completely inadequate on many grounds and not a deterrent.

    First of all there was huge culpability here. It was carefully planned, and the equipment says that this gamekeeper almost certainly killed raptors on a regularly basis. Given the planning, and the fact that most of these culprits have probably been killing raptors on a regular basis for many years, this type of offence should be dealt with like medium level drug dealing. I say this because it has a similar level of culpability, planning and it is done for possibly quite substantial financial returns. We are not talking about someone who got tempted to shoot a raptor on the spur of the moment, otherwise they wouldn’t have got a calling device, decoy etc, and they seemed to be there for this purpose. Also the fact that they are killing raptors that don’t usually prey on game species, all says this is part of a regular thing. Sentences of at least several years for medium level drug dealing take into account that what someone is convicted of is the tip of the iceberg.

    If substantial prison sentences were given for this type of crime and were only likely to be reduced for cooperation with the authorities, such as naming those who put them up to it, then this type of illegal raptor crime would soon become drastically reduced. Gamekeepers would be very reluctant to take the risk, and landowners, land agents, estate managers would not only not push their employees towards this type of crime, but they’d take steps to prevent them doing, for fear of them being dragged into the prosecution.

    All I’ve said is well known, and is a very tactic used to deter and tackle other sorts of persistent crime, where those perpetrating it are doing it in a planned and calculating way for financial return. This is not being done by those living on the edge, driven by addiction and social circumstance, or impulsively.

    There is absolutely only one reason why the standard approach I’ve outlined above has not been used to tackle this crime, and that is because the politicians failing to pass adequate legislation, know that establishment figures could be dragged into, because gamekeepers would be unlikely to keep quiet if they were facing a substantial prison sentence.

  12. It beats me why any gamekeeper would want to kill short eared owls because they are harmless to grouse.

    He fully deserved to be convicted so well done to all involved. I bet he was as sick as a parrot at being caught red handed. Great pics of the ongoing crime.

    1. They have hooked beak and talons, that is all gamekeepers need. Actually, all they need is for them not to be grouse. Everything except grouse has to go, that is their mindset.

  13. Next time Our Mandy starts complaining about people wasting time and money in the courts with judicial reviews (Ravens). Let’s throw this at her. Originally no plea, then not guilty, but only after it went through umpteen courts and wasting court time did he plead guilty . Since he pleaded guilty then why waste courts time and money with the charade that preceded the last plea.

    1. No doubt playing the usual game, hoping the case would fail on a technicality. The costs should have been more like £1700 than £170. All that wasted expenditure will, one way or another, have come out of our pockets. Let’s hope that any joiner colleagues he might have will ostracise him on account of his cruel behaviour.

  14. Given the weight of the evidence, it beggars belief that he initially pleaded ‘not guilty’ but perhaps that only reflects how confident these criminals are that, as the law currently stands, they have a very good chance of getting away with it on a technicality if they have access to a well-paid and briefed lawyer. It also reminds us just how lucky and ‘on the ball’ the RSPB & police have to be to secure a conviction.

  15. Though a Pathetic Fine, Finally a conviction and a small chink of light at the end of a very long tunnel.Well done to all involved

  16. I don’t know if you will allow this but here is a thought that came to me

    I understand that Cowin resigned. Now this is interesting, if he’d have stayed on and made the employer sack him, what would have happened. The employer would have had to prove in a tribunal that this wasn’t acceptable. I.e prove the training provided covered these laws, prove that regular checks were done on employees equipment etc, prove that this type of action wasn’t covered by ‘customs and pratice’.The onus of proof in these cases are far more subjective than in criminal law. So he resigns and his employer is saved from the difficulties of terminating his employment. Unless a compromise agreement has been made with an ex-gratia payment, which is fairly normal when people resign in difficult circumstances.

  17. tremendous case, well done to all, his arse certainly dropped out when he knew his game was up. He will probably never be a Gamekeeper again, no one wants to employ the like of him. Types like him get the good keepers a bad name. And will be the downfall of shooting. Not much of a fine but probably a lot to him.

    1. Let’s wait and see if he loses his job. Many gatekeepers have been convicted of wildlife crimes and kept their jobs or been moved to other estates but kept their jobs.

      The industry has to distance themselves from these criminals………..only time will tell.

      1. How does an “industry” distance itself from an endemic activity ?
        Driven shoots are mass killing for fun. Producing the flying targets involves eliminating anything that threatens the availability of these targets on shoot days. I cannot see how that is ever acceptable.

    2. “Good keepers”

      Thanks for the laugh. I’m sure he’s just a ‘bad egg’! Have a look at what happened at Moscar and then get back to us.

    1. Hardly a surprise that the MA has not ejected the estate but then they are hardly a reputable organisation!

  18. Good case good result and as usual a great piece of work by RSPB investigations staff. I think steb1 has the right of it when it comes to the way crimes like these come about and the way they should be treated in law, it will happen one day. So a keeper gone but fined pathetically even for a first offence but its still huge progress.
    Keepers don’t like shorties because in bad vole years those that remain to nest do take some grouse chicks ( I’ve seen this at nests with several chicks in the larder) and of course once seen by the dark side all shorties are thus condemned forever. Still its no excuse the law says they are protected end of argument, I personally think they should be schedule one, they are at least as scarce as Barn Owl if not more so.

  19. The most worrying part of this case is that he appears to have retained his gun licence, leaving him free to take pot shots out of pure bloody-mindedness, at any protected birds that happen to cross his path. However, well done to the RSPB team and police who pursued this case, good work!

  20. Absolutely fantastic result for all involved.
    Hopefully wont be able to have a gun ever again.
    However he is not a representation of all keepers just a minority who need catching and dealing with.
    Again.. fantastic result

    1. It’s not a minority it’s a majority clear and simple, a minority would not of been able to reduce hen Harriers to their current low numbers

      1. Indeed.

        Raptor persecution on driven grouse moors can be classified as serious & organised crime, which is defined:

        ‘Serious crime planned, coordinated and conducted by peope working together on a continuing basis. Their motivation is often, but not always, financial gain’.

        1. I think it probably is fair to say a majority of gamekeepers involved with DGS but not overall. I can’t see how the buzzard population would have expanded if the majority of all gamekeepers were still acting in that way.

  21. So, the legal defence tried to have it thrown out, had a large sum of Money changed hands ? Having said this, absolutely fantasic that this arse hole has been successfully prosocuted. This criminal record must be on his file forever and known to all.

  22. I’m a bit slow but it only just occurred to me why some estates pay expensive lawyers for their keepers. Not this estate of course because Amanda Anderson has full trust in this estate and MA are a highly respected organization. But less trustworthy estates will pay for this service of ensuring that their keepers are protected in order to buy the keeper’s silence. Other keepers on other estates know the rules are being followed and know they can continue with their crimes. Another example of why this is organized crime.

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