Gamekeeper convicted of wildlife crime on Yorkshire grouse moor (where Marsh harrier nest attacked in 2017)

Today at Skipton Magistrates gamekeeper Austin Hawke was convicted of a wildlife crime that took place on a Yorkshire grouse moor in May 2018.

The offence related to a dead badger found caught in a snare close to a stink pit on Denton Moor on 28 May 2018. Hawke was found guilty of failing to check the snare contrary to section 11 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act.

[Photos of the dead snared badger and the stink pit, contributed by a blog reader who wishes to remain anonymous]

On conviction, Hawke was given a 12 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay a £20 victim surcharge and £625 costs.

A pathetically feeble penalty, again, but well done to North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force for pursuing this case and to the Crown Prosecution Service for securing the conviction.

What’s particularly interesting about this case is the location. This offence took place on Denton Moor and within one mile of the location of a Marsh harrier nest that was illegally attacked on several occasions in May 2017. The Marsh harrier nest was under video surveillance by the RSPB and the camera captured a number of armed gunmen, dressed as gamekeepers, who appeared to be shooting at the adult harriers and removing the eggs from the nest.

Despite a thorough investigation by North Yorkshire Police, nobody was ever charged for these alleged offences. As we’ve come to expect, the police received little help from the grouse shooting community when trying to identify the armed suspects.

Here is the map we created at the time, and below that is the RSPB’s video footage of the repeated attacks on the nest.

UPDATE 27 Feb 2019

North Yorkshire Police have issued the following press statement today:

A gamekeeper found guilty of committing a wildlife crime received a conditional discharge at Skipton Magistrates Court.

Austin Hawke, 51, of Ilkley, failed to check a snare following an incident at Denton on 29 May 2018 where a badger was found dead.

The offence is listed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Following a trial on Tuesday (26 February 2019), Hawke was found guilty and received the conditional discharge. He was also ordered to pay £645 costs and surcharge.

Sergeant Kev Kelly, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force, said: “This case was reported following a member of the public who was aware of our proactive work under Operation Owl.

From the evidence collected, it was apparent that the badger had suffered before it had eventually died after being caught in the snare. Therefore this case was fully investigated to ensure other animals didn’t undergo the same fate.

If the defendant had been using breakaway snares it is less likely that he would have killed the badger.

I am disappointed as we have been doing some really good partnership working with local Nidderdale keepers who want to show the public good practice and accountability.

Hawke’s conviction will no doubt have an impact on how his profession is viewed. I think he has done his wider colleagues a disservice.”

Geoff Edmond, RSPCA National Wildlife Coordinator, said: “The RSPCA continues to work closely with the North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force and this result highlights the strength of partnership working under Operation Owl.

“This badger will have suffered a horrific and prolonged death having been snared in this way.

“The RSPCA is against the use of snares because they are indiscriminate in what they catch and they cause tremendous suffering. But while they remain legal we hope we can work together with the Police and National Gamekeepers’ Organisation to raise awareness of the good practice guide so as to improve accountability.”


19 thoughts on “Gamekeeper convicted of wildlife crime on Yorkshire grouse moor (where Marsh harrier nest attacked in 2017)”

  1. Despicable folk, and a law unto themselves in open barren countryside.
    Makes me very angry that they’re rarely brought to account.😡

  2. I suspect I have to be very careful here or I will get x’d. I spoke to the police about the Marsh Harrier incident sure I could identify one of the men concerned as between 88 and 96 I used to beat with him about two or three days a week. I remain convinced although because of the time gap the police were not. [Ed: sorry, Paul, can’t publish the rest of your comment. You’ll understand why!]

  3. How long will they continue to get away with wild life crime?

    I suppose a conviction is something to be pleased about.

    Let us hope the end is nigh for these despicable folk.

    I attended a Mark Avery talk recently and found it very interesting. Several of the shooting crowd were in attendance with little to say. Except for criticising re-wilding as an impossible idea, (it must be controlled by the stalwarts of society). Criticising RSPB, Mark and any other non-shooting body, on the basis that they know nothing. Things didn’t get as heated as I expected because Mark kept control throughout the talk. There were several very grumpy folks around. Well done Mark.

  4. Wonder if he is a member of the NGO and BASC , I think he probably is. If so will they kick him out as they should.

    1. Of course not, the tip of the iceberg of such crimes are discovered and get to court. It stands to reason it is unlikely to be any keeper in courts first offence, he would in terms of chance be very unlucky if that were the case. Much of course that we would wish every wildlife criminal to be caught the very first time he or she broke the law. xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

  5. These people are truly inadequate in their outlook on life; totally anarchic in their behaviour towards our natural heritage. They cause anguish in the minds of nature-caring people whose mental wellbeing is upset every time a report such as this is aired in public. I just hope that we eventually see a government that is forward thinking enough to stamp out a Victorian sport that so few are involved in yet have a devastating effect on the fauna and flora of our moorlands.

    1. Hi Andy, Your comments reflect how I feel. Its very distressing to learn about how these folk cruelly despatch wildlife with evil instruments of death and toxins etc without a care in the world, In fact I strongly believe they enjoy it.
      It will be extremely difficult changing these folk given they are supported by corrupt individuals, powerful
      organisations and to some extent the UK Government.

      1. I agree that no-one would actually carry out this kind of destruction/persecution unless they enjoyed it; it is part of their DNA. That is why any ‘necessary’ culling, killing for whatever reason should be in the hands of people who hate killing, (wildlife). Assuming there was a consensus of scientific opinion that it was necessary for the greater good, rather than just for the good of the Harris tweed and 12 bore brigade etc.
        i.e. the application for a licence to kill badgers, taken up presumably by trigger happy thugs who would do so with or without licence, with no worries about an actual swift kill, as long as it eventually died.

  6. I’m finding it really difficult to stay in control whilst talking about these thoughtless killers , Everybody please keep up the good work , I’m out every week now walking the moors in North Yorkshire , I’m sure their time is coming to an end.

  7. I wonder what the NGO have to say about this member of their profession? Was he one of their own members? Is he still one of their members? Were they defending him up to the point he was found guilty?

  8. Did the criminal have any gun licences revoked? At least that would be a punishment more appropriate for the offence.

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