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).