Police appeal after goshawk killed on grouse-shooting estate in North York Moors National Park

Press release from North Yorkshire Police (15 July 2020)

Police appeal for information after goshawk killed near Goathland

North Yorkshire Police is appealing for information about an incident in which a goshawk appeared to be killed after becoming caught in a cage trap.

Video footage, which was passed on to North Yorkshire Police, shows the bird becoming caught in the trap in the early hours of 2 May 2020. Shortly afterwards, an individual with their face obscured is seen entering the trap and appears to deliberately kill the bird before removing the body in a bag.

The trap was located on Howl Dale Moor near Goathland in the North York Moors National Park.

[The goshawk trapped inside the cage trap prior to being killed, photo via North Yorkshire Police]

North Yorkshire Police Wildlife Crime Officer, Jeremy Walmsley, is urging anyone with information to come forward:

The goshawk is one of the most protected species of bird in the UK and it is extremely distressing that an individual would choose to kill any bird of prey. I appeal to anyone with information about this horrific crime to get in touch with the police and help us to find the person responsible for the death of this magnificent bird.

We see far too many incidents of birds of prey killed or injured in North Yorkshire and as a police force we are doing all we can to put a stop to this inhumane and callous crime.”

Andy Wilson, Chief Executive of the North York Moors National Park Authority said:

We are deeply saddened to hear about this incident. Goshawks were persecuted to extinction in the UK in the late 19th century and, despite an improvement in numbers, persecution and habitat loss remain a constant threat to their survival.

Killing or injuring a bird of prey is illegal, cruel and must be prosecuted wherever possible. We are working alongside the police to support them in their investigations and we would strongly urge any witnesses or anyone who has any information to come forward. With your help the offender(s) can be brought to justice.”

A cage trap can be used to catch certain species of birds and is designed to trap birds alive and unharmed, in case of any non-target species becoming caught. Any non-target birds, such as birds of prey, should be released as soon as possible after being caught. Killing a bird of prey is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

If you have any information which could help this investigation, please call 101 quoting reference: 12200073462 or if you wish to remain anonymous contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


UPDATE 20 July 2020: Queen’s grouse moor named at centre of wildlife crime investigation in North Yorkshire (here)

47 thoughts on “Police appeal after goshawk killed on grouse-shooting estate in North York Moors National Park”

  1. Instead of appealing for information every week when one of these horrific crimes is committed why dont they treat it as a crime scene , fingerprints or footprints or DNA its fkn obvious nobody will come forward with information , basically who ever the trap belongs to , hold them responsible and charge them .

    [Ed: Hi David, how do you know the police haven’t undertaken forensic work already? Unfortunately it’s not as simple as holding the trap owner responsible – unless this offence was to be made in to one of strict liability]

    1. That’s exactly what we need. A law of vicarious liability and a ban from operating a gamekeeping business.

  2. Why can’t they prosecute the landowner? Vicarious liability.

    [Ed: Hi Kevin, there are two main reasons:

    1. Vicarious liability for raptor persecution crimes is currently only an option under Scottish legislation, not in England.

    2. Even if vicarious liability was a legal option in England, first the prosecutor would need to know who had committed the crime and then prove a hierarchical relationship between the offender and the supervisor, who may not even be the landowner if, say, there is a sporting lease on the land managed by an agent]

    1. OK. I just believe in natural justice that is so obvious it shouts in your face. Clearly what I meant to say is thet the person(s) responsible should be brought to justice, prosecuted and fined and/or imprisoned as appropriate. THIS (ALMOST) NEVER HAPPENS!!

  3. It is normal in relation to a clear incident of criminal behaviour for any pictures of the criminal to be circulated; this would seem to be an exception to that practice; maybe the relevant authorities can clarify why this is ?

  4. Is the trap not registered to an individual keeper? I thought they had to be.

    [Ed: In Scotland, yes, but not in England]

    1. Unless the Police can add detail explaining the delay, folk will have their own opinions. And please don’t think I’m anti-police, a close relative is a copper at the sharp end.

  5. Do you have any more commentary on this RPUK, there must be more to this story than a single police press release?

    How can the police release this with a straight face? Two and a half months after the event, with no other supporting information (Police op? Private monitoring? RSPB?) – and a place which doesn’t appear to exist. Perhaps locals could shed light but I have found “Howl Dale” and “Howl Dale Wood” (NOT near Goathland), and “Howl Moor” and “Howl Moor Dike” (near Goathland). If you Google “Howl Dale Moor”, the only time this place name has ever been used online is in this press release! How is anyone supposed to provide information which might help?

    And presumably what the Police actually could say is “we know exactly where this trap is and whose land it’s on, we know the gamekeepers who are responsible for checking this trap, we have spoken to the land owner, agent and gamekeepers and no one will tell us/we can’t prove which individual was responsible (but we know it was one of them)”.

    Am I missing something? What a farce.

    [Ed: Hi Will, yes, there’s more to come on this case, before the weekend]

    1. Thanks, sorry for the ranty tone, just frustration, I know you will have to moderate/respond to a lot of replies like this, appreciate your work!

      [Ed: No worries, Will, we’re all frustrated by what’s going on]

  6. Have North Yorkshire Police released the video footage (or photographic still taken from the video) showing the individual responsible for killing this bird?

    Okay, so the face may be covered, but the video footage of the offender might help in identifying that individual, if it was circulated to the general public?

    Surely, it would not be too difficult to identify on whose land the trap was set, and who is employed on that land in a gamekeeper capacity?

    With the video footage and information as to who was employed on that land, hopefully a culprit could be identified and raised to “suspect status” and then the investigation progressed?

    As I have said previously, the police need to stop treating wildlife crime as simply “wildlife crime” to be dealt with by police wildlife officers, but to bring into the investigative process fully trained detectives, who can use their expert knowledge in criminal investigations to bring these offenders to justice.

    The police really do need to use the same tactics for investigating wildlife crime as they do for other crimes like theft, drug dealing and burglary.

    It is very apparent North Yorkshire has a serious problem with raptor persecution, and perhaps its time the Chief Constable had a review of how best to tackle this problem to ensure that the dedicated wildlife officers are getting the best possible support in investigating these matters, and that may necessitate bringing detectives into wildlife crime investigations?

    Hopefully, this will be happening??? I will wait with interest to see how this story unfolds.

    1. I strongly suspect that whilst North Yorkshire has an unenviable record for raptor persecution it is in part because it has a good police force as frustrated as we are by the lack of progress but more simply because it has lots of scrutiny, two NPs, 2 AONBS and plenty of knowledgeable birders and raptor workers. The Peak District has the same levels of scrutiny and also plenty of proven wildlife crime, the answer is that they are both full of damned grouse moors, the problem is DGS, one wonders about the levels of such crime in Durham and Northumberland grouse moor areas but then they don’t get the scrutiny or public visitor pressure, perhaps they should.

      1. Durham and south Northumberland? They represent the iceberg of which the NY Dales is just the tip. Just my own opinion.

    2. I would love to await with with interest to see how this story unfolds.
      However, based on never ending narratives of similar events I will await with anticipation to see how this story never unfolds.

      Bird shown being killed in the trap on 2 May ……… police go public on 15 July. Methinks this raises questions.

      Perhaps the camera was of the type that can be left unattended for a long time and the police felt that they should check out the usual suspects before making a general appeal. Perhaps there were still other similar cameras in the area that were active. That could explain some of the delay although the minute the police started making enquiries all the game-criminals would be on the bush telegraph.

      A great many people will find it not only find it odd how the police can let two months go by before making an appeal, but also feel that the police should give some explanation for the delay.
      The police are taxpayer funded and have no right not to expect that they do not need to account for their performance (that applies to all who receive public funds). If the police can show that they could not resource a faster performance then that is fine. What is not fine is not to explain the delay.

      I would be embarrassed to call for public help after over 2 months without simultaneously providing some clarification for the delay.

      1. Hi Dougie,

        Perhaps worth bearing in mind that this is North Yorkshire, where the police rural crime team is kept busier than many other forces, especially with raptor persecution crimes (remember they were also having to deal with the mass shooting of buzzards on another N York Moors grouse moor just a few weeks prior to this as well as multiple other cases in the Yorkshire Dales NP and Nidderdale).

        It’s also worth bearing in mind that this latest crime occurred on a large estate with multiple employees – evidence will take time to collect, examine and process, plus this was all happening during lockdown when police resources were already severely stretched.

        1. Perhaps then North Yorkshire needs to expand its rural crimes team, if it is a genuine priority for them?

          1. Or perhaps people need to get on to the bastards in government who have a vested interest in dgs and who are making all this killing possible by blocking justice from every angle, get the conservatives out that is a big part of the answer to all this.

    3. Imagine if someone damaged this trap while wearing a mask ,presumably there would also be no protection, especially if the masked individual allowed a protected species to escape ?

  7. The system (or lack of) to protect these magnificent birds in England is even more dire than in Scotland. It’s so bloody infuriating!
    How will this ever change as long as these bastards control vast tracts of land in the U.K.? It’s clear that vicarious liability and licensing will not work as they aren’t sufficient deterrents to raptor persecution.
    Surely the single purpose of all conservation NGOs and anyone interested in upland restoration and biodiversity should be land reform. Get them off the land and the problem stops.
    Banning driven grouse shooting won’t work as the swines will only intensify walked-up shooting.

    1. “Banning driven grouse shooting won’t work as the swines will only intensify walked-up shooting.”

      Perhaps not, Paul. A lot of these people may expect to be driven to the butts. They were provided with legs to stand still waiting for things to be brought to them.
      Some people are taken by helicopter to shoot deer !!

  8. I strongly suspect that any bird of prey finding itself in a Cage trap of any sort set by a shooting estate is doomed to either be beaten to death, shot or left to starve. I have long said to colleagues these traps if they remain legal should be registered to an owner with strict liability to a named person responsible for the daily checks, plus they should not be allowed to be set in or adjacent to woodland, where they are liable to attract and catch Goshawk and Sparrowhawk. Do we know whether the bait was a legal decoy or not?
    It is small wonder that the Goshawk population in Yorkshire outside the NYMNP forests is not growing despite the production of plenty of young, most of them probably die on the edge of the surrounding grouse moors. This is a classic example of why as part of their response to their game shooting consultation RSPB must start to treat the organisations that represent shooting as part of the problem and not as friends with mutual interests in the countryside. Why have the police not named the estate?

    1. Totally agree. It is clear that the person responsible for setting and checking the trap should be liable for what happens to the birds caught in the trap. This is often the responsibility of one or two gamekeepers. The trap should be registered to one person who is responsible and culpable. Seems a straightforward, uncomplicated and easy way forward. Any reason why this has not happened?

    2. Paul V Irving wrote, inter alia :- ” Why have the police not named the estate?”

      A very relevant question.
      Can anyone imagine the reaction if the police appealed for information about a bank robbery in, for example, Sauchiehall St., Glasgow and never named the bank.
      Always seem to be treading on eggshells with these criminals.

    3. The idea of registered traps linked to a licenced operator has merit. The ID number of the operator would need to be prominently displayed on the trap. Any traps found without an ID number would be deemed illegal and could legitimately be permanently disabled (as in crushed beyond all recognition) by anyone who happened to find one. Setting an unregistered trap or setting one with a falsified ID number would be criminal offences carrying a suitably deterrent penalty. Seeking out illegal traps could then become a new outdoor pastime, a bit like geocaching but with an even bigger feelgood factor.

  9. Look the poice know Who owns the estate. Now interview the gamekeepers as suspects. Search their accommodation and put the heat on them. Not necessary to have enough evidence to charge. Start acting!!

    1. But if all the people interviewed under caution just give no comment (which is their legal right) then the police will have very little chance of identifying the person beyond reasonable doubt.

      This is where the NGO and the MA need to step up to the mark. When a wildlife crime is discovered on their land they need, as a policy, to help the police, and if any of their members are interviewed under caution they should give full disclosure not no comment, If they do just give a no comment interview to the police (which is their legal right) then this action can be interpreted as not helping the police and they should be kicked out of their organisations.

      Let’s face it if there was a suspicion of poaching then they would be going out of their way to help the police.

  10. The “will” amongst the people to sort this out is massive. This “will” is constantly crushed at every turn by legal red tape grid-lock. Apart from donating to Wild Justice etc, I feel absolutely deflated as virtually no one ever gets convicted. If I lived closer I would be tempted to start a vigilante team and hunt down these scum down.

  11. Regardless of the police investigation, DEFRA and Natural England should have a role to play in these incidents.

    If the landowner on which the incident has occurred is in receipt of any public funds whether that is a stewardship grants or rural payments- then one has to ask why these are not immediately suspended pending the outcome of the police investigation?

    If it transpires that an employee of the estate/landowner is charged and convicted of a wildlife crime- then surely that should be sufficient for that landowner to barred from any future public money; and should there not be a legal requirement to pay back any previous public funding?

    If the evidence is insufficient to pass the threshold test for a criminal case, then Natural England should be able to bring a civil case, with a lower burden of proof, to look at the matter, and decide whether on the balance of probabilities whether the estate or landowner was complicit in the crime- In which case, if the case is proven, then the estate and landowner should be barred from receiving public money, and they should be required to pay back any public money already received.
    (Surely the State should start treating landowners where raptor crimes are occurring, in the same way it treats people who make fraudulent benefits claims? )

    When we look at how much public money is being paid to landowners, and estates: then surely there has to be an expectation that this money is not being spent on subsidising the criminality which is responsible for raptor persecution? ( I have raised this matter with my MP ).
    When it comes to human behaviour, money is a key motivator – so the risk of loss revenue may well be a deciding factor in how a shooting estate treats raptors. If the funding was stopped- would the raptor persecution also stop?

    The fact that successive governments have failed to bring about the necessary legislation to enable this to happen, is to me an indication of just how deeply entrenched the landowners are in manipulating and influencing the political process.

    It makes me suspect that if we are ever to really tackle the issue of raptor persecution, then we also need to have fundamental change in our political system; so that the way legislation is introduced can not be manipulated by those who wish to influence the process, by ensuring the legislation which would impede their abhorrent behaviour is ever introduced into statute!

    The police and the courts have to be given the right “toolkit” to deal effectively with wildlife criminals, regardless of their wealth or title!

  12. Ideally, the discovery of an offence such as this would be followed up by increased surveillance to seek to identify the person(s) involved. Depending on the location, this should include the approaches to the site and the likely location where a vehicle might be parked. However, I believe that the current state of the law for an offence at this level would preclude Police action along such lines, whilst video obtained by other means, without the landowner’s permission, would be ruled inadmissible. The odds are clearly stacked in the bastards’ favour.

  13. Even if the keeper is positively identified from the (presumably trailcam set up by concerned member of public) footage, will it be admissable as evidence? I am confused about this, especially after the RSPB Bowland Peregrines case.

  14. Even if caught the perpetrator will get a pathetic fine so the solution is to outlaw grouse shooting NOW! Do not bloat about “jobs ” as many fine and talented citizens of the, UK have been made redundant !

  15. This is why instead of having the 10,000 pairs we should we have 650 pair of goshawk at most. I’m prepared to be corrected, but I feel the goshawk is a keystone predator in a way the sparrowhawk, kestrel and buzzard just aren’t. There are absolute masses of corvids, wood pigeon and grey squirrel throughout the country and if indeed there is any imbalance re their numbers I am considerably happier at the idea of a native predator correcting it than certain people who arbitrarily decide to wipe out rookeries and see how much they can make from selling jay wing feathers to fly tiers. If there were more goshawk living close to more urban areas I’m pretty positive grey squirrels would take a bit of a bashing, it’s an especially important species for restoring healthy ecosystems and if anything its population is even more unnaturally suppressed than the hen harrier’s is. Speaking of this here’s a petition for another ecologically important species getting a hard time rather than support – please remember to click on the ‘Sign This’ wee black box that is AFTER the ‘I am not a robot’ bit – https://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/beaver?fbclid=IwAR3XOQFsAmRMyq_c7uGmKtoIpyhimhhIs9uP3X22dfbBsrORo9LeA58idCU

  16. With all of the ongoing doubt over the availability of firm evidence, no doubt the NGO guidelines are being applied by all concncerned, we are left with the basic facts.

    The trap caught a Gosshawk, “somebody” was able to enter the trap and kill the bird.

    The trap is clearly in an inappropriate location It cant be supervised and it is within the territory of a specially protected species. The situation could happen again, so as an absolute minimum, NE should be ordering that it should be removed.

  17. This is tinged with even more anger and sadness for me as I’m currently reading the brilliant book ‘Looking for the Goshawk’ by Conor Mark Jameson. I guess the obvious question for me is who owns the trap and for what purpose is it in operation and who has access to it as well as who is meant to be supervising it.
    The days of rich land owning gentry promising the local village bobby that they will have a quiet word with old Burt the keeper about his activities ARE LONG GONE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD !! these grouse shooting businesses are worth millions and profit is the only bottom line!

    1. It is a cracking book and Conor’s suspicions that the goshawks which are more tolerant of people are the ones most quickly found and dispatched by keepers are worth looking into. Berlin has about 40 pairs of these cracking birds, but a big woodland less than three miles from me which should be perfect for them and which buzzard and raven have recolonised has had two brief sightings of goshawk in as many decades. They just haven’t bounced back the way some other species have at least where recreational shooting isn’t dominant. Imaging what would happen to all our bird of prey populations in just five years without persecution is a bitter sweet exercise.

      1. Agreed, packed with good information too. I`m reading it a 2nd time. Here in East Hampshire it`s very well wooded. Goshawks turn up regularly but they never last more than a month or two. Nearly every copse, wood and spinney has feed bins and pheasant pens, and “Strictly Private” signs. Strictly private because what goes on in there is Not for public eyes. My mission is to get to the bottom of these “disappearances”

        1. I have family in the New Forest over in Romsey, they tell me buzzard numbers seem to be down, but think that might be due to red kites moving in and competing for carrion. I’ve heard goshawk disappear there too, which is a bloody shame. A pair have moved onto the Knepp Estate so there is some range extension if painfully slow, over 90% of the goshawks we should have are currently missing. Their persecution should get a lot more attention than it does so very best of luck to you.

  18. The trap is interesting, I can’t see enough detail to tell if it is a variant of a Swedish Goshawk Trap or just a small ladder trap, whichever it doesn’t look to be placed to catch corvids.

    Interesting area, raptors seem to be doing ok in some places locally but the typical backward attitude of keepers and farmers persists, Montagu’s Harrier bred successfully nearby on Lockton High Moor in 2010 but when they returned the following year the male mysteriously disappeared mid-season.

    We need accountability for traps. And an end to use of live decoys under General Licences.
    We need vicarious liability. It’s hard enough to catch the monkeys at the moment with odds stacked heavily in favour of those operating outside the law, but we need to bring the organ grinders to justice regardless of which xxxxx they are from.
    End DGS.

    1. Did the BBC get the program scheduled for the wrong time at 9pm?
      Should it not have been broadcast much earlier – on CBeebies??
      Certainly the clip you mentioned, appeared to have all the hallmarks of coming straight from “The Jackanory Story Book of Magical Science”!!
      Now if I subscribed to certain organisations, and devoured their publications, I would have been delighted that the fairy stories had been made into a tv program!!
      It’s just a shame the program will have mislead so many viewers
      – perhaps if the program had been titled- ” Fairy Tales from the North York Moors”? – those who expect better wouldn’t feel a need to complain???

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