“They all know what is going on, and they cover it up” – police inspector’s view on gamekeepers & raptor killing

Timed to publish on the same day as the RSPB’s Birdcrime report, documenting how 2020 was the ‘worst year on record’ for crimes against birds of prey in the UK (see here), National Geographic has just published a lengthy article, written by journalist Rene Ebersole who visited the UK earlier this year specifically to research the subject of raptor persecution on grouse moors.

Rene visited quite a few field sites and interviewed a lot of people for this piece, including Mark Thomas (RSPB Investigations), Mark Avery (Wild Justice), Caroline Middleton Gordon (Moorland Association), Matt Hagen (North Yorkshire Police and RPPDG), Mark Cunliffe-Lister (Swinton Estate & Moorland Association), Steve Downing (Northern England Raptor Forum), the witness who saw ‘gamekeepers’ shooting buzzards on the Bransdale Estate last year, and some others.

I could spend a long time analysing the contributions from these people but unfortunately I don’t have the time today. I will try and come back to it at some point though, because some of it, especially Cunliffe-Lister’s comments, deserve ripping to shreds. If you’re going to read the article, and I’d urge you to because it’s very, very good, I’d recommend you don’t have a hot drink anywhere nearby when you read Cunliffe-Lister’s predictable denials and diversions. For example:

Grouse shooting had some bad times when raptors were being controlled illegally historically, but now we’re all being responsible and working a way forward, so we can still keep somebody living in this house and working up here, rather than giving up“.

What a prat. It’s these constant denials from senior figures in the shooting industry, in the face of decades worth of overwhelming science and evidence, that provide the raptor killers with the confidence to continue their crimes on the shooting estates, safe in the knowledge they’re probably going to be protected.

North Yorkshire Police Inspector Matt Hagen deserves a medal simply for being prepared to stand up and say it how he sees it, at great risk to his personal and professional life knowing how the nasty brigade has turned on previous officers who’ve dared to form and express an opinion based on evidence and experience.

He talks about knowing the identity of the Nidderdale poisoner, of how the Bransdale gamekeepers all gave ‘no comment’ interviews when questioned about the five shot buzzards found buried on the estate, how ‘shocked and disgusted’ he is about the high level of raptor persecution in the UK, how it’s ‘more likely than not‘ that hen harrier River was shot on the Swinton Estate, despite the ridiculous and largely implausible explanations of estate owner Cunliffe-Lister, and how gamekeepers “all know what is going on, and they cover it up“.

He’s not wrong. This pie chart from the latest RSPB Birdcrime report shows that almost three-quarters of those convicted of raptor persecution crimes in the last 30 years worked in, or had connections to, the game-shooting industry.

The National Geographic article is free and open access. You can read it HERE

Well done, journalist Rene Ebersole and her photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind – it’s a very good piece and it’s excellent that these disgraceful crimes are being featured by a highly respected organisation such as National Geographic, being exposed to a much wider international audience.

UPDATE: A PDF of the article can now be downloaded here:

19 thoughts on ““They all know what is going on, and they cover it up” – police inspector’s view on gamekeepers & raptor killing”

  1. Yes well done Inspector Hagen…be nice if a member of the judiciary would be equally impartial and ensure that when these savages come to court, their punishment truly does fit their vile crimes….

  2. This quote from Inspector Hagan’s is particularly telling: “Hand on my heart, I have never heard of a single gamekeeper or estate owner picking up the phone or writing an email to the police, saying, I’ve got some information for you,”

    And there was me thinking that all the shooting organisations are cooperating to prevent wildlife crime?!

  3. Yes Jenny..a level playing field in court would makea nice change..all I ever saw were over worked public prosecutors fighting against highly paid and resourced QCs, defending estate workers….and that was after all the hard work by police officers, often fighting against their own colleagues and superiors, managed to get a handful of cases that far….what a bloody shambles.

  4. I wonder when Inspector Hagan will be found guilty of some professional misconduct? How is Nick Lyall doing these days? He was such a refreshing change from the usual police platitudes and seemed really focused on the job in hand, until he was brought down by the powers that be.

  5. Well I thought that was a very good article and especially liked the plain speaking of Inspector Hagen. The only tiny criticism is that the author (given that it was written primarily for an american audience) could have made mention of the fact that at least two of the areas known as hotspots – and which I think (but could be wrong) – featured in the RSPB’s case statistics for raptor crimes this year – have american owners. And also the Middle Eastern ‘tourists’ bit doesn’t describe the correct nature of that tangled web, and focusses on the wrong recipients of gifts and big tips. On that point there is a lot of work for some very brave investigative journalist(s) to do to unpick the connections between raptor crimes in the UK and one or two owners with immense wealth and some serious geo-political sway over the british establishment. On the whole though very encouraging and great to know this is going to reach a big audience.

  6. I would like to read the article but it is not freely available as I would like it. NG requires you to sign up to accept any intrusive marketing crap from any Disney company. I don’t want that. Perhaps some helpful soul could make it truly open?

    1. If you have reader view (on iPad) or something similar, activate it. It stops all pop ups and ads and you can read the piece freely

  7. Excellent article and a special commendation for Inspector Matt Hagen for saying it how it is at great risk to himself. As I’ve said all along, it is absolutely impossible that any gamekeeper or informed shooter cannot know what is going on. For a very long time the circumstantial evidence has pointed to raptor persecution on some level being widespread across most grouse moors, and likely widespread to some extent on many other larger managed shoots. For a long time the shooting industry, very convincingly tried to convince us that it was just a few bad apples, and those engaging in this organized crime were dwindling in numbers. The satellite tag data analysis shows that in fact this raptor persecution was very widespread. As I’ve been trying to explain for a long time this means large numbers of people must be in the know. To so reliably kill newly tagged Hen Harriers means a lot of gamekeepers putting in a lot of time and effort to kill these birds. Any birder knows how rare it is for a Hen Harriers to come within shotgun range of you, 50 yards or less, or any other raptor. If any gamekeeper is putting in the sort of time needed to achieve this sort of efficiency, a whole chain of other people have to be in the know, from the gamekeepers family, friends, employers, to all the other estate workers. This level of knowledge must mean it is widespread knowledge amongst all gamekeepers, estate owners, land agents, local communities and the shooting fraternity. No one dare speak out because they would endanger themselves. It is not a dissimilar model to other organized crime like the mafia. It shows how unprincipled they are, that they peddle these knowing lies about it just being a few bad apples.

  8. National Geographic reaches a worldwide audience. It’s also a highly respected publication, which will make it very hard for the game shooting industry to discredit the article. No doubt they will try. But when it comes to deciding on whom to believe, readers will no doubt find it very difficult not to come down on the side of a police inspector, RSPB staff and investigators, and the evidence provided by satellite tagging equipment.
    This is just the sort of media attention raptor persecution needs, and the article raises some very awkward questions for the game shooting industry, and those who participate in it.
    It will be worth watching how the various game shooting associations respond.
    I suspect – silence- as trying to deny raptor persecution isn’t still a problem, will simply be like a child, face covered in chocolate who then denies that they haven’t been eating sweets!!!

  9. Disappointingly although the article is open it cannot be read without giving an email to subscribe. Is there any way you can provide this article without having to subscribe please?

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