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.”