Pathetic penalty for man who felled active goshawk nest on private estate

Gloucestershire Constabulary has issued a bizarre press release today about the felling of a tree that held an active goshawk nest and how the man who admitted to felling it with a chainsaw ‘had completed a successful restorative justice outcome’ by paying £100 to the RSPB.

Eh? Since when has ‘restorative justice’ been considered an appropriate sanction for felling an active raptor nest? This is supposed to be a national wildlife crime priority! Why wasn’t he charged? In my opinion restorative justice in this case is a massive let off for the offender and the estate – it’s informal, unenforceable and fails to recognise the seriousness of this offence.

[A young goshawk chick in the nest. Photo taken under licence by Ruth Tingay]

Here is the police press release – my commentary on it is below that:

Restorative justice used following tree felling incident which led to destruction of bird nest

A man who unknowingly destroyed a bird of prey nest after cutting down trees has completed a successful restorative justice outcome.

Officers from Gloucestershire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team were called to an estate on the outskirts of Gloucester on Saturday 5 June where it was reported that a tree had been felled causing an active Goshawk Nest to be destroyed.

The man, who is an agricultural labourer, was identified after admitting that he had felled the tree without checking for any bird’s nests.

He attended for a voluntary interview and was ordered to pay a £100 donation to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

A condition was also put into place which allowed Glos Raptors Monitoring Group to access the site so that they can monitor the existing birds of prey, monitor active nests and put cameras up to protect bird of prey habitats.

PC Phil Mawdsley oversaw this saying: “Bird nesting season generally takes place from March to August, however can fall outside of this period and during this time you shouldn’t cut down trees or trim hedges without checking for the presence of birds and it is an offence under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 to disturb birds or damage their nests and unfortunately this happened after an act of recklessness.

Advice around cutting hedges or trees at this time of year can be found here“.

A spokesperson for the RSPB said: “It appears that this was the only tree in the wood to be felled and then completely removed at a time when it contained an active goshawk nest. Goshawk nests are huge structures and the contents of the nest would be equally obvious.

Goshawks are rare breeding birds and have been subjected to regular persecution through the years, which sadly continues today. To intentionally damage or destroy the active nest of a goshawk, or any wild bird, is against the law. Raptor Persecution is a National Wildlife Crime priority, and the goshawk is a priority species.”

More information on restorative justice in the county can be found here.


The press release states that the man claimed to be unaware that the tree held an active goshawk nest. I’m sorry but that is just not credible. This guy is a forester. Anyone who’s spent any time in a wood with an active goshawk nest in the breeding season cannot fail to notice it, and if you’re a forester that spends most days out amongst the trees, there should be absolutely no way you’d miss it. They are huge structures, the ground underneath is littered with white splash and prey remains, and the breeding adults are very, very, very vocal when they alarm call. This is not a cryptic species that cowers down and maintains silence by playing dead when under threat. I would argue that it would be virtually impossible to stand next to the nest tree, fell it with a chainsaw and remove the trunk and all the branches without noticing there was an active goshawk nest in it.

Here is a classic example of a goshawk nest [Photo taken under licence by Ruth Tingay]

I think it’s also interesting to compare Gloucestershire Constabulary’s approach to this crime with that of North Wales Police earlier this year when an active osprey nest was felled with a chainsaw on a nature reserve. The police in that case were, quite rightly, all over the press saying ‘Ospreys are a very rare, highly protected schedule 1 bird – the greatest protection in the UK. We’re pulling all the stops out to try and catch the person or persons responsible for this. Believe me they will receive the full force of the law if we do catch them‘ (see here).

Well, the goshawk is also a very rare, highly protected schedule 1 bird – the greatest protection in the UK. So why this inconsistent approach between police forces to dealing with an offender, especially when in the goshawk case the man who felled the tree has been identified? Is it because goshawks aren’t viewed as being as ‘popular’ as ospreys? Is it because the goshawk nest tree was felled on a private estate (I’m guessing an estate that shoots gamebirds and doesn’t want a pesky goshawk hanging out near the poult release pens)?

The RSPB’s quote in the police press release is quite damning. It is clear that the RSPB Investigations Team doesn’t accept the ridiculous explanation that the forester was ‘unaware’ of the goshawk nest in the tree and they also highlight that this tree was apparently the only one felled in the wood. It’s reminiscent of the felling of the white-tailed eagle nest on Invermark Estate in the Angus Glens a few years ago (here).

The only positive thing about this case is that Gloucestershire Raptor Monitoring Group now have access to the estate to monitor any other raptors that may be present. From the wording of the police press release, this access seems to be ‘a condition’ of the restorative justice process, although whether that’s enforceable if the estate decides to be uncooperative, who knows.

40 thoughts on “Pathetic penalty for man who felled active goshawk nest on private estate”

  1. If it was the only tree felled how the hell can it be anything but a targetted attack on a schedule 1 nesting bird. Would be good to know if any senior police officers hold shotgun licences and shoot there and also which estate this is, who the owners and agent are and who they have connection to. Seems to me at best police incompetence, at worst blatant corruption.

    1. I would put forward a case for a national Wildlife Crime Force, with full police powers.

      1. Bang on. Would get round the problem of assistant chief constables and the like who are in bed with shooters picking and choosing what crimes are important. This country is totally broken and it all comes back to one word, TORIES

        1. Apologies, but the moment anyone brings a political party into an argument, you potentially risk alienating a LOT more people who genuinely abhor, detest wildlife crime; are adamant about having significantly harsher penalties, stricter laws, joined up cooperation with wild life groups, rural/wildlife crime officials, etc. A cessation of DGS & the sort of activities that my family,friends, myself,(formerly US, raised in hunting/fishing family via NA Indian ethics/traditions), referred to with utter contempt as “Canned Hunts”. Woe to anyone who intentionally disrespects wildlife, ESPECIALLY Raptors, which are held in the highest of esteem, by anyone who claims to be a hunter, who would unsurprisingly find themselves on the wrong end of several guns in a party. Whilst I’ve posted a rare few times, as many still struggle to understand that combined conservation, hunting, ethics, shooting CAN and IS possible; often citing the different UK/US hunting cultures (NOT gun culture, entirely different, I detest rabid NRA, pro stricter laws, control). My point is, that in deriding select groups, just because you don’t believe in their political, religious, culture etc…will hurt the VERY cause we should be standing stronger TOGETHER. Not every Tory is an estate owning, DGS, ejit, not every Labour/Lib a frothing, violent protestor, not every US hunter, contrary to media propaganda, is a trophy hunting redneck with a beer in one hand, a loaded rifle in the other. A majority of US hunters belong to clubs w/strict ethics, moral codes, and from N,S,E,W, every hunter I’ve known, has a story in which they spent a day in their tree stand, and whilst return empty handed, their heart and soul is full, with memories of which Eagle, Hawk, Raptor they had the pleasure of seeing. We hold them in awe, and whilst I gave up my guns, in spite of being allowed to keep them, it doesn’t mean I’ve left my ethics, beliefs, and life devotion to wild life. Indeed, I’ve spent my like in the UK devoted to my wildlife rehab facility, from nursing/raising baby bats to creating additional breeding ponds for the farms wide spread GC newts colonies. Lucky to have has appropriate authorisation, yet above all, my most cherished, beloved rehab assist, is a female Kestrel named Robbie. She went on to successfully breed the next spring. Not all gun/hunters are political, not all Raptor Persecution supporters are Labour/Lib dem. You may be pleasantly surprised to know how many lean or are avid Tory, (I can’t vote yet, but lean independent). My illness ceased a lot of my activity, but it didn’t stop my fervor for protecting our most cherished, glorious birds of prey. Of any wildlife, they hold my heart dearest. The more of us together, the better. As always to everyone here, thank you for keeping up the good fight! Warmest regards and respect to all. Mrs Robin Elizabeth Budd aka ladybudd

          1. Dear editor, apologies for lengthy post, even an added addendum;) I should mention I’ve also retained the contact details for Raptor Rescue, as whilst my circumstances have changed, I’ve been given permission and have the support of my landlord (and our capable builder/handyman) to create facilities to resume rescue/rehab for wildlife, focused primarily on raptors. Slow and steady, but every educated, experienced, wildlife devoted set of hands UK wide is a plus. To hear an occasional year report re Robbie my fave kestrel, is worth more than a lifetime of accolades for any other venture or project. She is who led me to Raptor Persecution, and here I shall remain. With the warmest of regards, always, Mrs Robin Elizabeth Budd aka ladybudd

  2. xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx The circumstances surrounding this have a distinct malodour. How can they claim to be a “Rural crime Team” when they clearly have no knowledge of what constitutes a crime against wildlife?

  3. Poor birds, disgusting idiotic human. Apparently these birds are NOT protected in any way then…..

  4. As this resolution is apparently an informal process, is it not too late to bring formal charges for what appears to have been a serious instance of intentional nest destruction involving a Schedule 1 species?

  5. The only tree felled and perchance it was the one that had the breeding goshawk nest in it!
    The man was a forester for goodness sake, obviously not a very good one, if he failed to notice such a construction. Don’t tell me he never looked up before felling it. Oh, I expect he did to make sure it was that particular tree he had been told to fell.
    The RSPB statement is excellent. And for the law to ‘sort of’ come down on their side they will benefit by the princely sum of £100.00 for this man’s deplorable actions. This country and its laws are going down the drain.
    He should have been given a lengthy prison sentence, to hopefully put off others, and a far, far greater fine.
    How Gloucestershire Police think this is a good result is beyond me also.
    Let’s hope that Gloucestershire Raptor Monitoring Group are able to visit this estate regularly without any conditions – and firstly allowed to do a thorough check to make sure that if there are any other raptor nests they will have record of it and where exactly it is. And that they can turn up unannounced at any time to make sure that no further destruction of nests has taken place ‘accidently’.

    1. I half-remember reading that the RSPB turned down a donation from an organisation opposed to the purpose and intent of the RSPB. And this made headlines. It might have been an oil company trying to make up for a crude leak from their pipeline. For the law does (did) not allow them to accept donations from opponents.

      I hope they will turn down this in the same way, with much publicity. And I’m sure a crowdfund for legal action, if such is possible, would be well supported.

  6. The contrast with the sort of sanctions dished out for broadly similar crimes in Spain is telling. There I suspect a fine in four figures (at least) would be quite likely and a custodial sentence couldn’t be ruled out.

  7. Foresters are fully aware of the illegality of felling trees with active or in some cases otherwise bird/mammal nests. To plead ignorance or recklessness is not a plea at all and clearly the forester is not fit to be such.

  8. Utterly appalling this is quite clearly a deliberate targeting of the tree/nest, any other explanation is totally implausible. If said “forester” genuinely didn’t see the nest or was unaware of it or the birds he is probably both blind and deaf and should not be allowed out on his own never mind with a chainsaw! This is hardly restorative justice it would only be so had the payment to RSPB be somewhere near the maximum fine had the case gone to court, destruction of active nest and presumably the young lets say somewhere in the region of £5000-8000 plus the guaranteed access for future monitoring. Raptor persecution is supposedly a crime priority what would have happened were it not a bloody caution? A total and complete bloody disgrace Gloucester Police you should be ashamed and have new leadership over this. I wonder who in the police etc shoots on this estate or is pals with those who do?

    1. Forestry workers are supposed to follow clear felling instructions – these are prepared in advance. This includes leaving taped off areas (badger setts etc) alone yet routinely these instructions are ignored damaging wildlife. Some folk just don’t care or are too stupid…

  9. Contact the Gloucestershire Police & Crime Commissioner and ask them to investigate this clear failure to deal with this crime properly. He should, at the very least, have a record because it is hard not to conclude, given the RSPB comments, that his actions were deliberate.

    1. The Gloucestershire PCC has recently changed from Independent to Tory. I don’t understand why elections for these posts have to fought along party political lines but they seem to be.

    2. It would be very interesting to have the full story here. In particular, if the forester genuinely didn’t know the nest was there (which I don’t believe for one second) what was his explanation for cutting down this particular tree at this particular time and apparently removing all the evidence?
      Looking at it from the Police perspective, their hands will have been somewhat tied by the fact that there was apparently no evidence of the crime – other than the residual tree-stump. What would the CPS response have been to an attempt to pursue a prosecution in such circumstaces?
      We need to be very wary of the use of restorative justice in wildlife persecution cases.

  10. The word ‘mockery’ is absolutely the correct one for this shambolic ‘success’ of the Gloucestershire police !!
    It does not need the detective skills of Poirot to deduce that is an act of deliberate nest destruction , even Cousteau would solve this in a heartbeat !!
    What reasons were given that ‘that’ tree had to be felled ?? It’s beyond comprehension that this man got way with a £100 donation to the RSPB, who I hope return it with a big ‘no thanks’ letter!!
    I am livid about this to be honest, if I were a criminal I would head to Gloucestershire as the police seem a little gullible, if you are to believe the press release !!
    I intend to point this out to them in a letter to their chief, I would not be surprised if he isn’t a shooter because this blatant flaunting of the law must have passed over his desk and been approved !!

  11. Gloucestershire Police should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves-I have deep concerns about them-this is a blatant wildlife crime and this employee is a wildlife criminal-it horrifies me and I am concerned that it sets a precedence. This is the most ridiculous and impotent response that I ever seen to a hideous crime against a rare raptor.Is it a shooting estate-oh I expect so! I wonder what the legal situation is with regards to shoddy sentencing-is there recourse to an appeal-what if this police force or indeed any other one that takes a pathetically lenient approach to a serious wildlife crime can be investigated. It is possible to speculate why on earth Gloucestershire Constabulary issued a ludicrous “punishment”and previous comments are I am sure correct on this matter This needs to properly go through a court of law-the perpetrator and in my opinion, this estate should be properly punished-otherwise any idiot could do this and say that they were not aware of the importance of the tree for a schedule 1 bird-is this April 1st!!!!

    It is unfortunate that I have to be political here, but lets be honest-when the party of Government is very supportive of the shooting lobby, to put it mildly-this is bound to be reflected in the way wildlife crimes are dealt with by the Police-we need decent legislation to protect our precious and dwindling wildlife against especially, wildlife criminals and we need a Police force that does it’s job properly in ALL parts of the U.K.

    1. The hefty fine and/or 6 months in jail should be allocated to this as reckless disturbance doesnt need to be intentional. Also i thought ignorance was no defence in law.

      We have a government who have demonstrated they dont care about human deaths so a goshawk isnt going to excite them.

      Police officer who decided this was a fitting penalty wants reprimanding and reminding they work for US the taxpayer

  12. As with the Osprey nest, I wonder if the culprit was trying to make a point with such an obvious stunt? A canny old keeper or someone wanting to stay under the radar would more likely have just quietly ‘dissappeared’ the parent birds at first light, with shotgun, .22 rifle or some sort of larsen / clam trap combo set under the tree during the night.

    1. I am afraid that the chainsaw approach is them blatantly saying that they have no intention of staying under the radar and will use whatever means they deem fit to carry out ” removals .”
      Co-incidentally, Ruth. In regards to the photo of the Goshawk nest which you have included in the article. Presumably, this site is monitored regularly. I would suggest that, in the winter, it might be an idea for the lower branches to be removed because, as it looks now and speaking from experience from 40 odd years ago, it would be no more difficult to climb than a step ladder and height is no deterrent for anyone determined enough. I live not far from Haldon forest in Devon and we used to freehand climb trees like that for fun when we were ( a lot ) younger.

  13. I think Gloucestershire police have some explaining to do.
    This incident as currently reported is incredulous.
    If the fact that the only tree which was felled was the one containing a Goshawk nest is correct, then without further explanation, the only conclusion which can be reasonably drawn is the act of felling the tree must have been deliberate?
    It is common knowledge amongst those qualified as tree surgeons that it is an offence to disturb nesting birds, and that any work during the nesting period needs careful scrutiny to ensure nesting birds are not disturbed. Within plantations there is usually some planning into which trees are to be felled and removed. So how can the removal of the only tree containing a Goshawk nest have been a “reckless” act? This needs further explanation.

    It is also very strange that following what is reported as voluntary interview by the police, when presumably there was some form of admission to felling the tree, that the perpetrator was offered disposal by way of a restorative justice process.
    Firstly as covered in the blog. The disturbance of a Goshawk nest is a crime under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Raptor persecution is national wildlife crime priority. So it seems to make no sense than rather than charge the offender, a restorative justice disposal was offered.

    The Crown Prosecution Service have produced guidance on the restorative justice process. Their website clearly states that aims of restorative justice are:-
    Victim satisfaction: To reduce the fear of the victim and ensure they feel ‘paid back’ for the harm that has been done to them.
    Engagement with the perpetrator: To ensure that they are aware of the consequences of their actions, have the opportunity to make reparation, and agree a plan for their restoration in the community.
    Creation of community capital: To increase public confidence in the criminal justice system and other agencies with a responsibility for delivering a response to anti-social behaviour

    Since the Goshawks which were disturbed can not have formed part of this process, who acted on the birds behalf?
    The RSPB?
    But the RSPB statement doesn’t appear to be in accord with this.

    How does paying £100 to the RSPB ensure the perpetrator fully understood the consequences of his/her actions?
    The sum of £100 is comparable to that for a parking ticket. Hardly a sum which reflects the gravity of disturbing a nest of a protected species and recognition that raptor persecution is supposedly a national wildlife crime priority.
    It is interesting that the Gloucestershire Raptor Monitoring Group have been allowed access to the estate.
    Is this some form of admittance by the estate on which the incident occurred, that they had a role to play in what happened?

    The reaction on this blog by those with an interest in raptors and wildlife crime does not appear to support the view that by using a restorative justice process, Gloucestershire Constabulary have increased public confidence in how the police deal with raptor crimes. In fact the reverse would appear to be the case.

    So what decision making process was applied by the police to arrive at the conclusion to deal with this matter by way of restorative justice rather than pursue a prosecution through the courts? Who was involved in this decision making process and what other influences were there on reaching this decision?
    Some transparency in how this outcome was reached might be helpful.

    As Simon points out in his comment, it might be worthwhile contacting the Gloucestershire Police & Crime commissioner to enquire whether the investigation meet the required investigative standards and why despite the matter being a national wildlife crime priority, a restorative justice process was followed.
    There might be a plausible explanation, but at the moment the press release by Gloucestershire police doesn’t help readers reach this conclusion.

    it is not the first time the police have been criticised for how they dealt with a raptor persecution incident. North Yorkshire Police were criticised in 2016 when they cautioned a game keeper for placing illegal spring pole traps on a grouse moor.

    When we factor in the woeful number of prosecutions for raptor crimes, the issues regarding the police making timely appeals for witnesses following a suspected raptor persecution incidents; then without further explanation this incident just serves to further undermine the credibility of the police in investigating wildlife crimes and bringing offenders to justice.

    Let’s just hope there is more to this than reported by Gloucestershire police in their press release.

  14. On 9 July John L said:-

    “When we factor in the woeful number of prosecutions for raptor crimes, the issues regarding the police making timely appeals for witnesses following a suspected raptor persecution incidents; then without further explanation this incident just serves to further undermine the credibility of the police in investigating wildlife crimes and bringing offenders to justice.”

    That goes to the heart of the problem and is why there is such a lack of trust in the police (and the entire criminal justice system) in respect of wildlife crime.
    The law abiding public and our wildlife are being failed. Those responsible for providing protection cannot, or will not, perform their duties in a satisfactory manner.

    The term “criminal justice system” is frequently demonstrated to be incongruous due to the ‘justice’ part being an absurdity.

  15. This whole affair stinks of either incompetence, stupidity or corruption and it’s impossible to come to any other conclusion. Actions like these erode any confidence one may have had in the rule of law, natural justice and those supposedly upholding them.

  16. The Gloucester Police Commissioner changed in May 2021 from Martin Surl (IND) to Chris Nelson (CON). When was this feeble fine imposed? I’m assuming it was before May?

    From Mr or ” Colonel ” Nelson’s background in the army & weapons training/security, I would doubt that his sympathies lie with raptors.

    [Ed: Given the police were called to the estate in June, I presume the investigation/subsequent outcome was June or July. I’m not sure your prejudicial assumptions about Chris Nelson’s sympathies are helpful here, let alone accurate. Please don’t make this personal]

    1. “When was this feeble fine imposed? I’m assuming it was before May?”

      Well, don’t. The report states clearly “Officers from Gloucestershire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team were called to an estate on the outskirts of Gloucester on **Saturday 5 June** where it was reported that a tree had been felled causing an active Goshawk Nest to be destroyed.”

      I wonder who called the Police?

      Also, the report states “A man who unknowingly destroyed a bird of prey nest after cutting down trees” (plural) conflicts with the quoted RSPB statement “It appears that this was the only tree in the wood to be felled”, but which the RSPB then make ambiguous by added further clauses.

      So, was it really the only tree to be felled, or was it the only tree with an active nest to be felled, or the only tree which was then cleared away, with an active nest, to be felled? It is impossible to know.

      I do wonder whether the RSPB will accept the paltry ‘offer’ in exchange for a nest full of Goshawks? I sincerely hope not. They can contact me and I’ll happily compensate them…

      As for questioning the Police and Crime Commissioner about the failure of a Police force to properly investigate a crime… When I have done this I was ignored for two years. I then involved my MP, whereupon I was informed by my (Tory) Police and Crime Commissioner that they do not question/investigate operational matters. Their role, it was explained/claimed, was to question the personal behaviour of the Chief Constable only.

      I wonder if the ‘not so secret’ handshake still applies? The ‘firm within a firm’?

      All very unsatisfactory.


        “The role of the PCCs is to be the voice of the people and hold the police to account. They are responsible for the totality of policing.

        PCCs aim to cut crime and deliver an effective and efficient police service within their force area.

        PCCs have been elected by the public to hold Chief Constables and the force to account, effectively making the police answerable to the communities they serve.

        PCCs ensure community needs are met as effectively as possible, and are improving local relationships through building confidence and restoring trust. They work in partnership across a range of agencies at local and national level to ensure there is a unified approach to preventing and reducing crime.

        Under the terms of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, PCCs must:

        secure an efficient and effective police for their area;
        appoint the Chief Constable, hold them to account for running the force, and if necessary dismiss them;
        set the police and crime objectives for their area through a police and crime plan;
        set the force budget and determine the precept;
        contribute to the national and international policing capabilities set out by the Home Secretary; and
        bring together community safety and criminal justice partners, to make sure local priorities are joined up.”

        There seems to be a universal problem with many public body jobs. People are appointed then just ignore the actual duty list.

    2. OK – I retract my personal opinion as to where his sympathies might lie – apologies.

      But the information about his background was put in the public domain by Mr Nelson himself and therefore is presumably factual. Giving this information to those who may be writing to the Commissioner may at least help them understand his possible position on this episode.

  17. I`m desperate to do or say something that could help make a difference. But it seems that the judicial system is grid-locked with corruption. It is clear to me that “transparency” cannot be allowed in order to keep it “murky” and protect the “scum” hiding out there. “Justice my arse”

    1. Brilliant Conor!
      I’ve not had time to read all the details re making a complaint, residency or other requirements that fall within the remit, but I HAVE saved the link on my BlackBerry home screen! As such if in future one is able to make a complaint without nudging across any legal parameters, I will very happily in future do so! Thank you for this VERY helpful link! I am not inclined to search out and find the version of this in the most “appropriate” other counties, villages, city, town, parish etc. I already have a folder on my onscreen dedicated to Raptors, persecution, rehab, advice, sources, and contacts, delighted to add a few more! Warmest Regards, ladybudd

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