Illegally-set trap found on van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate in Norfolk

Further to the news two days ago that the van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate in Norfolk was under police investigation for alleged raptor persecution (here), more news about this case has emerged.

According to an article in yesterday’s Eastern Daily Press, police officers attended woodland close to the A1065 at Hilborough at 5pm on 29th April 2022.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

A [Norfolk Police] spokesperson said it [the investigation] came after they “received intelligence” that a bird of prey had been caught in a trap baited with a live pigeon, an offence under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

“While in the wood, officers discovered a trap set with a live pigeon. The pigeon was released by officers and is being looked after by another organisation on behalf of the police,” they added.

“At about 7pm, the officers saw two men in the same wood. The men were stopped and searched, and officers discovered a police-style baton in a vehicle being used by one of the men.

“Four live pigeons, one deceased pigeon and the police-style baton were among the items seized by police. The pigeons are currently being cared for on behalf of the police.”

Well, how interesting. I’m not sure how the EDP article can claim ‘it is understood that police left the estate having found no evidence of wrongdoing‘ when the police found a pigeon-baited trap in the woodland. It’s an offence to bait a trap with live pigeons because this would likely attract certain protected raptor species to the trap (especially goshawks) where they’d be caught and unable to escape. It’s for this reason that trap-users must comply with the General Licence conditions that permit just a few specific species to be used as decoys within a trap.

I’ve got to say, the reporting of this case so far appears to be for the purpose of deflecting all attention away from William van Cutsem and the Hilborough Estate.

The article published a couple of days ago by the Mail on Sunday looked to me like it had been placed by a van Cutsem supporter, perhaps as a damage limitation exercise. It emphasised the estate’s ‘legal methods for vermin control‘ (the use of the word ‘vermin’ was a bit of a giveaway, to be honest!), bigged up the estate’s reported conservation credentials (the late Hugh van Cutsem was well regarded in conservation circles – he died in 2013), and used an unnamed source (‘a friend‘ – typical tabloid tactics) to suggest that the estate’s current occupier, William van Cutsem, suspected he’d been set up by a disgruntled former employee.

Yesterday’s article in the EDP repeats some of this stuff and states that the estate ‘is now regarded as one of the UK’s best game shoots‘, although it doesn’t say who regards it as such or on what criteria this acclaim is based.

Nevertheless, whether you believe any of that stuff or not, the news that the police found an illegally-set trap and that they’d seized five pigeons and a police-style baton from two men in the same woodland suggests to me that there is a lot more to this investigation than the Mail on Sunday and EDP would have us believe.

I look forward to a press statement from Norfolk Police as the investigation progresses.

UPDATE 11th May 2022: Police confirm bird of prey was caught in an illegally-set trap on van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate in Norfolk (here).

12 thoughts on “Illegally-set trap found on van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate in Norfolk”

  1. It is perfectly obvious that given the endless stream of offences that are being reported on this blog that these will represent a tiny proportion of the enormity of the actual problem which is likely to be at epidemic levels.
    When I first read the phrase ‘legal methods for vermin control‘ my initial thought was that it may be a reference to monitoring some people involved in the operation of the estate. Perhaps not, they all may well be courteous and honourable types – especially those that possess batons !

    Well done to the police.

  2. Sadly, very sadly, the responses of all involved is so predictable. Poiwer flows downward and self interest has it’s say.

  3. The law needs changing so that shooting estates are licensed on the basis that the penalty for illegal trapping and persecution of protected species should be confiscation of the land and all associated assets. Termination of employment of all “grounds keeping” / gamekeeping staff should be an automatic consequence.

  4. “Hilborough gamekeepers use legal methods for vermin control…”

    What does this mean? This statement isn’t attributed to anyone, so this is something the journalist himself is putting out there as a fact? Based on what, exactly? His own investigation?! Surely the presence of an illegally set trap on land that gamekeepers manage on behalf of their employer, would suggest that, at the very least, there is a significant question mark over the veracity of this statement.

    Maybe these two men were just taking the pigeons for a ride out, because pigeons enjoy that sort of thing on a Friday evening after a long week at work, you know…

    I look forward to seeing how this develops.

  5. Putting to one side the progress of this interesting case, am I alone in noticing the word “vermin” has made a comeback this last three or four years? In media articles and especially keepers job adverts, Estates seem to be giving up on their reluctant use of the PC term of “pests and predators” and reverting to “vermin”. They are obviously not feeling a need to try and look PC anymore.

  6. I hope the police have the baton forensically examined- if readers are wondering why- remember the case back in January this year when a game keeper was convicted of killing buzzards caught in a trap with a stick.

    It should also be a consideration that regardless of whatever a forensic examination finds- the police baton in itself is an offensive weapon, and it is illegal for a member of the public to possess such an article in a public place.

    Bad people doing bad things comes to mind!!

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