No prosecution for 5 shot buzzards found hidden on Bransdale Estate, North York Moors National Park

In April 2020, during the first lockdown, North Yorkshire Police conducted a search of Bransdale Estate in the North York Moors National Park where they discovered five dead buzzards that had been shoved in a hole under a large rock, presumably to conceal them.

X-rays confirmed that at least four of those buzzards had been shot. A later post-mortem suggested the 5th buzzard had also been shot.

Eight individuals were interviewed under caution.

North Yorkshire Police issued a press statement in May 2020, including an appeal for information (see here).

The following day, Channel 4 News featured the crime in a six minute film (here) which included shocking footage from the police officer’s body camera of when the dead buzzards were being pulled from the hole.

In early June 2020 I blogged about the game-shooting industry’s response to these abhorrent crimes – see here. Remember, this is the industry that has professed to supposedly having a ‘zero tolerance’ policy when it comes to raptor persecution. I’m not quite sure how a wall of silence from the main shooting organisations reflects this policy.

One group did comment (the North York Moors Moorland Association), some of whose members may well have been among those interviewed under caution by the police in the course of this investigation, but I’m not sure that the group’s decision to slag off the police was all that bright or did them any favours (see here).

Fast forward one year and four months to August 2021, and Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police revealed during an online interview about the difficulty of investigating raptor persecution incidents, that this particular criminal investigation is not going any further:

There was one estate on the North York Moors National Park, there were five dead buzzards that were found. Four of them had definitely been shot and from the post mortem it suggested that the 5th one had been shot as well.

We’ve analysed mobile phones and all this takes such a long time and costs a lot of money and ultimately at the end of it all we are not going to be able to progress this case because we have to be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt, to a court, who is responsible, and on this case we’re not able to do that, unfortunately“.

It’s been suggested to me from several locals that a number of gamekeepers have since ‘moved on’ from this estate (to work on game-shooting estates in other parts of the UK) and also that the shooting rights have changed hands since these crimes were uncovered. If true, all coincidental, I’m sure.

I don’t know whether the estate is still lauded as an accredited member of the British Game Alliance, the industry’s so-called official marketing board, which now appears to have changed its name to British Game Assurance. Ironic really because the BGA doesn’t seem to do transparency (e.g. here and here).

So there we have it. Yet another disgraceful raptor persecution crime uncovered on a UK driven grouse shooting estate, inside a National Park no less, where armed culprits have got away with committing wildlife crimes without suffering any consequence whatsoever. And in this case, not through lack of effort by North Yorkshire Police.

[X-ray of one of the five shot buzzards found concealed in a hole on the grouse shooting estate]

18 thoughts on “No prosecution for 5 shot buzzards found hidden on Bransdale Estate, North York Moors National Park”

  1. Ban it NOW! We need proper vicarious liability with proper penalties. Any criminal act that leads to the illegal destruction of wildlife, which the landowner cannot prove was committed by external agents, or in which the landowner cannot show they had taken every available measure to protect said wildlife, should lead, as a minimum, to immediate confiscation of the land, without compensation for the loss. Fines & imprisonment should also follow if they or their estate manager fails to identify the staff that carried it out – in the same way that failure to identify the driver of a car committing a road traffic offence leaves the car owner open to an enhanced penalty.

    1. What you’re proposing is effectively “guilty until proven innocent” which will rightly be struck down as unlawful by any court in the land.

      What you have to ask yourself is this: if the situation were reversed and I was the landowner, how would I feel about having to try to prove a negative? I had done nothing wrong, no criminal act could be shown to have occurred even on the balance of probabilities, yet I am on the receiving end of the law having to demonstrate innocence rather than the prosecutors demonstrate guilt?

      The law is as it is for a reason.

      1. There is an assumption in law of -innocent until proved guilty.
        But the law doesn’t always deliver justice, and many guilty parties are able to walk free, able to carry on committing further crimes.

        The failure of the law to protect birds of prey, and bring those responsible for criminal acts, like this one where 5 buzzards have been killed, to justice is simply not acceptable.

        This failure to bring offenders to justice is very much a feature of the majority of raptor crimes.

        The question in my mind is- just who would have the means, and motivation to kill 5 buzzards on a grouse moor situated in a National Park? Who would have access to that moor and be able to freely roam about on that moor with a firearm and shoot at wildlife, and then conceal what they had killed all in one place?
        It is very unlikely that these buzzards were all shot at the same time. This suggests whoever was responsible for these crimes was able to access that moor in possession of a firearm on numerous occasions.

        Are you suggesting that those who manage this moor would have been totally unaware of such activities happening right under their noses? This would be very strange, when most of us who go up onto the moors are very aware of the presence of those employed to manage those moors; and the public who do stray off the rights of way are often challenged and reminded about protecting vulnerable ground nesting birds (a perfectly legitimate challenge in order to protect vulnerable wildlife). But something which demonstrates those managing the moors frequently observe just who is on those moors and what they are doing. I can not imagine that someone in possession of a firearm and shooting at birds, would not be noticed!

        [Ed: Thanks, John. You’ll note I’ve removed the last few paragraphs of your comment. I’ve given it much thought this morning but have concluded it’s just too near the mark of being defamatory, even though I can see that was not your intention. For the record though, I agree with most of what you’d suggested!]

  2. Bird shooting bloodsports are underpinned by #OrganisedWildlifeCrime
    Only one way to stop this – a complete & effective BAN on all driven grouse shooting.
    Read more with MarkAverys ‘Inglorious – conflict in the uplands’ and BobBerzins powerful novel (based on Activist’s experiences in our uplands) ‘Snared’ …

  3. Whilst I’m sure someone within the grouse shooting lobby has already claimed that the Buzzards were “planted” by “animal rights extremists” (and probably personally by Chris Packham), for most this horrendous case (and the lack of reaction by shooting organisations) demonstrates beyond doubt that the law is wholly inadequate. As a bare minimum we need vicarious liability backed by sanctions that will hurt even the deepest pockets and a licencing system that will force estates to do more than utter hollow sanctimonious condemnations.

  4. The slaughter on Britain’s shooting estates continues unrelentingly, whether it’s partridge, pheasant or grouse shoots it doesn’t matter, just kill anything legally or illegally. Thanks to North Yorkshire Police for their efforts, such a pity the scum who perpetrated these crimes weren’t convicted. We know what low life occupation they are from.

  5. Unsurprising outcome, as this crime was most likely the work of young lads with guns (more likely than older men or lasses), doing the dirty work for their elders, role models, employers, colleagues, friends. Not enough evidence etc. etc. Frustrating for Police and NGO investigators, who know the score and probably know who the culprits are!

    Sadly, it isn’t unusual for younger ‘suspects’ to be ‘moved on’ within the industry … in fact it seems somewhat commonplace … and can’t be disguised as widening their experience! XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

    How the hell do you solve the problem of wildlife crimes continually being XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX by the ‘powers that be’ within the shooting industry, without restricting / banning the industry itself?

    Surely the industry can see where this ongoing crime-fest is leading?

  6. I cannot think of any other situation where gun crime would be treated in this way. Surely armed men (or women) running around the countryside and breaking the law by firing at protected species are a national threat to the public. Estates where criminals with guns, often wearing camo ,and sometimes masks, illegally discharge those firearms should not be given the benefit of the doubt.
    A nightclub or pub where violence or knife crime regularly takes place will have their operating license removed and put out of business. This means they will employ all methods available to them to prevent violent or weapon crime from occurring.
    If a landowner honestly has no idea who is illegally shooting on their estates then the “we are the best custodians of the land” argument falls totally flat. With ownership surely comes responsibility.
    The law must change!

  7. Absolutely ——– raging right now! The inept and corrupt justice system xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx Bastards.

    [Ed: Sorry, Paul, I can’t publish that, nor support your intentions, although I understand your frustration. We all share it]

  8. Funny how it is always those Estates that are obsessed (from Owner to Agent to Keepers) with continually breaking their Estate’s ‘bag records’ that always end up being investigated for things like this. The ones who are as they say publicly – “turning it around…bringing it back…building it up…” Or as they say amongst themselves (i.e. not publicly!) – “cleaning out the rubbish…getting rid of the shite…dealing with the crap”. Keepers on these types of places are still of the “right sort” to most Owners and Agents, even if they have attracted bad publicity and move on for appearances sake.
    Good effort from the Police though. One day it will happen that they and the RSPB won’t have to investigate with one arm (sometimes both) tied behind their backs & will then be able to pick off the culprits one by one. The only question is how far away is that day? How many more tens of thousands of Buzzards and the rest will have been stuffed down holes, stamped into the peat or cremated in the stove by then? But every time corpses are found like this – even if they specifically get no justice, it must surely bring that day closer. So I would just urge everyone get yourselves (legally & responsibly) in the right places at the right times of day with your eyes and eyes switched on.

  9. If you think about it, the failure to obtain a prosecution, never mind a conviction, in these circumstances probably does the shooting industry more harm than good.

    It shows that the current system isn’t working and that fundamental change is necessary.

  10. “this is the industry that has professed to supposedly having a ‘zero tolerance’ policy when it comes to raptor persecution. I’m not quite sure how a wall of silence from the main shooting organisations reflects this policy.”

    The goons on the shooter’s planet conform to a different version of zero tolerance than law abiding people. Like the mafia, they have a code of silence.

  11. This is as good an example as any that a ‘gamebird’ licensing scheme which revoked licenses upon successful prosecutions alone would likely be insufficient to stop raptor persecution (other measures not withstanding). But a licensing scheme which revoked licenses because estates simply could not independently demonstrate a natural predator/prey relationship might work. However, would their unnecessary, bloodthirsty, business survive such a requirement?

    What will the Greens do in Scotland, I wonder?

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