Press release from RSPB, 28th January 2022
Keeper caught on camera killing buzzards
A gamekeeper has been sentenced to a total of 20 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months and fined £1000 after pleading guilty to killing two buzzards on land managed for pheasant shooting after an investigation by Nottinghamshire Police and the RSPB.
Shocking footage was played in court, showing John Orrey, 63, of Hall Farm, Kneeton, brutally killing two healthy buzzards inside a cage trap, into which they had been lured.
The court heard how, early in January 2021, members of the public reported a live buzzard caught in a cage trap in Kneeton, Nottinghamshire. Following up the report, an RSPB Investigations Officer located the trap on a pheasant shoot. There was a live buzzard inside – later confirmed to be a different bird than the one first reported – along with the carcasses of a pheasant and two stock doves, used as bait to attract the buzzard.
Cage traps can be used legally under license for certain reasons to catch corvids such as crows and magpies. However the law states that traps must be checked at least every 25 hours, and anything caught accidentally must be released unharmed.
The buzzard was released due to concerns for its welfare and the RSPB Officer installed a remote camera.
A review of the footage revealed that the trap had been visited on several occasions by a man – later identified as John Orrey – driving a green 4×4. Two buzzards entered the trap on separate, consecutive days, no doubt attracted to the carrion in the harsh weather. On both occasions Orrey entered the trap and bludgeoned the buzzards to death with the long handle of a slash hook.
[Ed: A five-minute video of these offences has been produced by the RSPB’s Investigations Team. WARNING – it contains distressing footage]
Nottinghamshire Police were notified and swiftly identified the suspect as John Orrey, a gamekeeper on a pheasant shoot on the land in question. A warrant was obtained to search his premises. In a barn near his home was the same green 4×4 with a long-handled slash hook in the boot. The bodies of the buzzards had likely been disposed of. A forensic examination of the two stock doves confirmed they had been illegally shot.
Buzzards and stock doves are legally protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.
Orrey pleaded guilty to all charges in December 2021 and was sentenced today (28 January) at Nottinghamshire Magistrates’ Court. In relation to the killing of the buzzards, for each bird he received an 18-week suspended sentence to run concurrently and a £500 fine for each bird. He was also ordered to pay £650 costs and £50 victim surcharge, and £180 compensation to the Wild Justice Raptor Forensics Fund.
District Judge Grace Leong remarked: “This was a shocking and unnecessary act of cruelty and violence.”
Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “When I first saw the footage I was shocked and sickened. The birds were subject to a repeated torrent of blows before being thrown into the boot of a vehicle. This was clearly a premeditated operation and yet again illustrates that the shooting industry has a serious problem that needs to be sorted. Killing birds of prey has been illegal for decades, and yet it is still commonplace. Why? Clearly the punishments are no deterrent and the courts must look at using the full range of sentences available – including jail – to signal clearly that this sort of behaviour is simply not acceptable.
“Better regulation is needed too. The RSPB has repeatedly asked for the conditions on cage traps to be tightened. The UK Government must follow the recommendations of the recent
UN assessment, which calls for stronger regulation of the shooting industry and to allow for the removal of licences to use these traps.”
Chief Inspector Heather Sutton, Nottinghamshire Police’s lead for rural crime, said: “This sentencing is extremely significant and I hope it demonstrates just how seriously Nottinghamshire Police takes reports of rural crime and how we will work together with our partners to bring anyone committing these horrific offences to justice. It is unacceptable that any wildlife should experience the kind of ordeal John Orrey subjected them to.”
Orrey pleaded guilty to 5 x WCA and 4 x firearms charges:
• Possession of two dead stock doves.
• Intentionally killing a common buzzard on 8/1/21
• Intentionally killing a common buzzard on 9/1/21
• Using a cage trap to kill or take a wild bird
• Possession of an article (slash hook) capable of being used to commit an offence
• Failure to comply with condition of shotgun certificate (weapon not securely stored)
• Failure to comply with condition of firearms certificate (ammunition not securely stored)
• Failure to comply with condition of firearms certificate (weapons and ammunition not securely stored)
• Possessing ammunition for a firearm without a certificate
If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, phone the police on 101, email RSPB Investigations at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx
I understand a blog from the RSPB is imminent, providing more detail and commentary than this press release.
I’ll post both as soon as they become available.
UPDATE 15.20hrs: An article in the Newark Advertiser provides more detail about the case and states that Orrey’s shotgun licence has been revoked (see here).
UPDATE 15.50hrs: The blog by the RSPB’s Investigations Team can be read here
UPDATE 18.50hrs: Photo of buzzard-killer John Orrey from BBC News:
UPDATE 19.10hrs: Wild Justice Raptor Forensic Fund helps secure conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey (here)
UPDATE 21.00hrs: “A shocking and unnecessary act of cruelty and violence” says Judge sentencing gamekeeper John Orrey (here)
UPDATE 23.00hrs: Coverage on Channel 4 News here
UPDATE 29th January 2022: How has the game-shooting industry reacted to the conviction of gamekeeper John Orrey? (here)
UPDATE 24th August 2022: BBC programme ‘Caught Red Handed’ features conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey (here)