How has the game-shooting industry reacted to the conviction of gamekeeper John Orrey?

Gamekeeper John Orrey’s conviction was secured in December 2021 when he pleaded guilty to five wildlife crime offences and four firearms offences. Sentencing was deferred until yesterday when he was handed a suspended custodial sentence and a small fine (see here) – nowhere near as severe as he deserved for deliberately baiting a trap to attract buzzards and then casually but brutally beating those buzzards to death with a stick as if it was part of his daily routine.

[Screengrab from the RSPB’s covert footage of criminal gamekeeper John Orrey killing buzzards at Hall Farm, Kneeton, Nottinghamshire]

At the time of his guilty plea I checked around the websites of the five game-shooting organisations that claim to have a ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution to read their statements of condemnation and see what efforts they’d made to distance themselves from this criminal gamekeeper, e.g. expelled him from membership (if he is a member) or blacklisted him to prevent future membership, blacklisted the pheasant shoot at Hall Farm in Kneeton, Nottinghamshire where Orrey is employed etc.

I found absolutely nothing about his conviction on any of the shooting org websites.

Perhaps they were waiting for sentencing before they took action?

Well let’s see. At the time of writing this blog, 24 hours after Orrey was sentenced, and with the story being covered widely online and in local, regional and national press, of the five shooting organisations claiming zero tolerance of raptor persecution, the National Gamekeepers Organisation has remained silent, the Countryside Alliance has remained silent, the Moorland Association has remained silent, and the CLA has remained silent. So has the GWCT. How telling is that?

The only shooting organisation to have published a statement is BASC, although it’s so weak and heavily disguised it really needn’t have bothered.

Here it is:

Note there is no mention of gamekeeper John Orrey or that he’s just been convicted of committing 5 wildlife crimes and 4 firearms offences on a pheasant shoot in Nottinghamshire. There are just generic statements suggesting, as BASC always does, that it’s a ‘tiny minority’ responsible for the wide ranging criminality found within the game-shooting industry, even though the most recent report shows the number of raptor persecution crimes is at a 30-year high.

Any casual visitor to the BASC website will struggle to know what the article is even about, and I’d argue that that is exactly what the BASC press team intended when it decided on what the headline and text would be. ‘Yeah, let’s make it look as though we’re condemning this gamekeeper’s actions without actually referring to him or his case or providing any details, because that would be too embarrassing/damaging for our industry‘.

BASC has added a link at the foot of its statement but this is a link to an article in the Newark Advertiser! No disrespect to the Newark Advertiser, but why on earth didn’t BASC include a link to the RSPB blog and the RSPB video? BASC even mentions in its statement its so-called partnership work with the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), a group on which the RSPB is also present, so why not share the work of an RPPDG partner that’s been at the centre of this criminal investigation, if BASC is genuinely interested in dealing with raptor persecution?

I’ll tell you why. Because the publicity about gamekeeper John Orrey’s criminality is highly damaging to the game-shooting industry’s reputation. BASC even admits this in its own press statement. BASC needs to be seen to be condemning the criminality because otherwise it looks to be supportive of the crime at best, complicit at worst, but it will go out of its way to avoid providing the abhorrent details that a casual visitor to its website will rightly associate with the game-shooting industry.

Orrey is the 4th gamekeeper to be convicted of wildlife crimes/raptor persecution since November 2021. The three others were gamekeeper Shane Leech (33) in Suffolk (here), gamekeeper Peter Givens (53) in the Scottish Borders (here) and gamekeeper Hilton Prest (58) in Cheshire (here). I didn’t see any publicity/condemnation from any of the shooting organisations in relation to these other convictions.

So why has BASC responded to Orrey’s conviction and not the others? Simply pressure to be seen to be doing the right thing, because Orrey’s case has been high profile and drawn plenty of media attention due to the brutality of his crimes that were laid bare in the RSPB video. That footage is shocking and has caused revulsion amongst the general public. How else do you explain BASC’s silence (and all the other shooting organisations’ silence) about these three other convictions?

I’ve asked whether Orrey was/is a member of these organisations and if so, whether he’s been expelled. I haven’t received any responses.

And what now of John Orrey?

We know that his firearms were removed from him by Nottinghamshire Police back in January 2021 when his house was raided but there is no indication that he lost his job at that time. Indeed, in court his defence solicitor highlighted the fact that Orrey had managed to go a whole year without killing any more buzzards (see here).

Orrey was (is still?) employed by Hill Farm in Kneeton, Ruchcliffe, Nottinghamshire. This is a working farm with an ancillary pheasant shoot. It’s been reported that Orrey’s role is a mixture of farm labourer and gamekeeper. His firearms certificates have now been revoked for an indeterminate period (it’ll be up to the Chief Constable to decide whether Orrey is fit to have them returned) and as a result of his fine and suspended sentence, it seems he will not be allowed to use the General Licences for two years until his conviction is considered ‘spent’ and he is considered to have been ‘rehabilitated’ (in the eyes of the law, at least).

This should restrict Orrey’s gamekeeping activities considerably assuming he’ll abide by the law (and if he doesn’t he’ll find himself in jail because the suspension on his custodial sentence will no longer apply). If anyone happens to be walking in the Kneeton area and particularly in the vicinity of Hall Farm (there are public footpaths) it will be worth keeping a look out to see whether any traps are being deployed to catch and kill so-called ‘pest’ birds such as crows, magpies, rooks, jays, woodpigeons etc. If you find anything that looks suspicious please report it to Nottinghamshire Police immediately.

12 thoughts on “How has the game-shooting industry reacted to the conviction of gamekeeper John Orrey?”

  1. A very fitting sentence which fits the crime. I sincerely hope John Orrey has learnt his lesson and his wrist is sore for a couple of days.
    As far as the BASC’s response is concerned they could have written it prior to the sentence was disclosed – the same old Blah Blah Blah. We are the good guys looking after the UK’s wildlife and all we get is bad press.
    When will the authorities wake up and smell the bloody coffee???

    1. They did – it is just the usual cut and paste template they trot out every time wit ha few small modifications.

  2. Just been scratching my head trying to think what the ratio of deaths might be in the system of so-called legal corvid traps across the country year in year out, regards legal ‘target’ corvids versus raptors, owls and ravens. Tried to be fair-minded and to factor in as much as I could, but still only came up with a vague figure of between 5:1 and 15:1. To make an overwhelming case for strict regulation the RSPB needs to set up an online reporting / mapping portal and we (the concerned public) need to get out there and gather the data / keep an eye on crow traps (legally and discreetly), to one day bring to an end this free-for-all farce.

    ps. silly me I nearly “forgot the birds” – you know the ‘little birds’ – like thrushes and blackbirds (and the even littler ones that your average Gun can’t even put a name to) that end up stuck and starved in many a carelessly managed larsen / crow trap.

    1. I have used these traps for 25 years for conservation purposes regarding wading birds on a local wetland area. The waders and duck species have all fared much better since I started legal control of carrion crows, I have the data to show the increase in surviving brood sizes etc. I MUST express that wishing for an outright ban on Larsen traps would have a devastating effect on many species that are not linked to shooting. I can also add that in twenty
      five years of using Larsen traps correctly I have had only a small number of non targets enter the traps, which I have released unharmed. To say the least none were thrushes and blackbirds, I think even suggesting these species is stupid from the outset and anybody who has any experience of these traps will know it’s utter nonsense. As I have stated before I use the Larsen trap for conservation purposes not for producing game to shoot so PLEASE be careful of what you wish for as species will suffer from a ban on the use, on the back of some peoples views on game shooting.

      1. Hi Paul, not sure if you were replying directly to me (above) or not. To be clear I am talking about a solid system of regulation, not an outright ban. I well know that there is often a compelling case to kill crows and magpies, although to me not if the reason for killing them is simply to enable gratuitous driven game shooting. I would however ban the use of live decoys of any species in any type of trap, and I would ban clam traps entirely in an instant. Sime keepers will always say one needs those measures to get that one “tricky” crow or pair of crows, but I just don’t accept that and there are effective methods of shooting them in both lowland and hill situations. It just requires more time and some skill.
        You do not seem to me to be somebody who is abusing and / or misusing corvid traps and therefore you and others like you would have nothing to fear from any regulatory system that I might dream up. I can quite believe that a responsible trapper like yourself has never killed any non-target species such as raptors or owls, thrushes or blackbirds * in their traps. I bet if you did accidently kill a non-target species, you are genuine and decent enough to be quite gutted about it. Sadly I wasn’t…
        Yes, I do have experience too – this * is far from “utter nonsense”. With traps left up on remote high ground near big forestry with no realistic practical intention of checking them more than every two or three days, it is surprising what creatures both bird and mammal find their way in to a baited trap in hard weather. They inevitably get soaked though and freeze or starve to death along with the decoy, if using one.

        I do hear you concern about the responsible use of corvid traps being lost to true conservation – but that isn’t my position. I am wanting to curtail the typical pig-headed “war against vermin on an industrial scale” attitude of most Estates and most keepers (for me) in the grouse regions – where the collateral damage to lots of other wholly innocent species in said war isn’t even given the slightest second thought.

  3. We shouldn’t underestimate the individual and collective “sensitivity” about ANY criticism of the trade (I won’t call it industry). Others must have experienced, as I frequently have, that ANY actual or implied criticism online is immediately met with extreme sensitivity, at best, and verbal abuse, as a routine.
    “They can’t take it up ’em”, as we used to say. Mere mention of the RSPB is met with a verbal torrent of angst or abuse.

    1. I just find that any criticism gets you blocked. The irony of Tim Bonner blocking me on Twitter but continuing to send me his puerile CA newsletter always tickles me. Still, I do enjoy a good laugh (at his expense).

  4. BASC has certainly shot itself in the foot by issuing a lily-livered statement which not only fails to condemn these brutal deaths but does not even mention them! An opportunity missed and worse than no statement at all.

  5. How has the game shooting industry reacted to the conviction of gamekeeper John Orrey? – must probably by those who operate these type of trap going out and carefully checking to ensure there are no covert cameras monitoring their traps!

    This conviction will not stop the illegal and criminal use of these traps.
    That will only happen when they are banned and illegal to posses.

    This conviction doesn’t for one minute change the mindset of the wildlife criminal who only sees any species which interferes with their game birds as something which needs eradicating.

    There is no place for such people in our countryside- they have deeply ingrained views, and a complete intolerance for animals such as foxes and stoats, or birds such as crows, magpies and many raptor species -which no amount of education will change.

    My views on people like John Orrey, who go out and commit these abominable crimes can’t be published on this website!!

  6. I’ve been reading about bird of prey persecution for years and years and will continue to do so for many more years as there is nothing to deter these people from their actions. And remember these cases we read about are only the ones who get caught, there will be far far more raptor persecutions that take place that we never get to find out about. If these awesome birds were left alone and respected there would be many more to be seen in our countryside

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