Police lead more multi-agency raids after suspected raptor persecution & poisoning in Durham & Northumbria

Statement from Durham Constabulary (27th May 2022)

Joint operation targets suspected raptor persecution and poisoning of birds of prey

Police have carried out searches at several locations this week in connection with suspected raptor persecution and poisoning of birds of prey. 

Officers from Durham and Northumbria attended the addresses across the two force areas following information received from the public. 

Suspicious substances were seized from some of the locations and taken away for forensic examination. 

[Photo from Durham Constabulary]

The multi-agency operation was carried out with the help and support of Natural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

It also formed part of Operation Owl, which is a national initiative to increase awareness of bird of prey persecution and to seek support in tackling it head on. 

Raptor persecution is one of the UK Wildlife Crime Priorities, which includes poisoning, shooting, trapping, and habitat and nest destruction. 

PC David Williamson, Durham Constabulary’s Wildlife Crime Officer, said: “In the UK, birds of prey are a protected species and any criminal offences committed against these beautiful creatures are completely unacceptable. 

We have acted on intelligence from the local community to carry out this operation and try and disrupt those involved in these activities

We’d encourage anyone with an information on potential criminal activity in their area to call us on 101 or report it via Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”


Well done Durham Constabulary, Northumbria Police, Natural England, RSPB and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

These latest multi-agency raids are the latest in a surge of similar investigations in response to raptor persecution crimes over the last 18 months, including a raid in Suffolk on 18th January 2021 (here), a raid in January 2021 in Nottinghamshire (here), on 15th March 2021 a raid in Lincolnshire (see here), on 18th March 2021 a raid in Dorset (here), on 26th March 2021 a raid in Devon (see here), on 21st April 2021 a raid in Teesdale (here), on 2nd August 2021 a raid in Shropshire (here), on 12th August 2021 a raid in Herefordshire (here), on 14th September 2021 a raid in Norfolk (here), a raid in Wales in October 2021 (here) a raid in Humberside on 10th December 2021 (here), a raid in North Wales on 8th February 2022 (here) and another raid in Suffolk on 22nd April 2022 (here).

So far, only two of these investigations have concluded. These are the Nottinghamshire case (from January 2021), where gamekeeper John Orrey was sentenced in January 2022 for battering to death two buzzards he’d caught inside a trap (here), and the Suffolk case (also from January 2021) where gamekeeper Shane Leech was convicted of firearms and pesticides offences in November 2021 after the discovery of a poisoned buzzard found close to pheasant-rearing pens in Lakenheath (here).

The conviction yesterday of gamekeeper Archie Watson in Wiltshire (here) was the result of another multi-agency raid undertaken in 2020 (here).

I was at a wildlife crime meeting recently when it was announced that at least 12 raptor persecution cases are pending court hearings, some of them also dating back to 2019. That’s indicative of the hard work of these investigators and they deserve full credit for their efforts. It’s been a long, long time since that number of raptor persecution cases have got anywhere near a court room. Well done all.

7 thoughts on “Police lead more multi-agency raids after suspected raptor persecution & poisoning in Durham & Northumbria”

  1. …..excellent reporting and work from all the agencies involved!
    It makes you realise the scale of these crimes going on across the UK (…ohh …and surprise surprise…mainly on hand shoots)….and the time it takes to get people involved convicted!
    I only wish the punishments given out by the courts served as a some sort of deterrent for others not to follow suit…especially in the case of the land and shoot owners….who appear to get off scot free!!
    Keep up the good work all and please keep reporting as you are doing

  2. There seems to be a groundswell of good, honest policing building around wildlife crime. Am I a cynic for expecting to see a rise in long-term sick leave & re-deployment coming in the next year or two?

  3. Whilst it is encouraging to read news stories regarding these multi- agency raids, the reality is these raids probably only deal with a very small percentage of the raptor persecution and illegal activity which is taking place; and even if charges are brought and the criminals convicted the sentences imposed by the courts are so pitifully low they really won’t act as a deterrent to others.
    The raids also highlight the silence from the shooting industry, its various umbrella organisations, and landowners.

    Following the recent conviction of the game keeper Archie Watson for what appears to be his involvement in the systematic killing of a large number of birds of prey. Where were the statements from the National Gamekeepers Association, BASC, GWCT, or the Moorland Association, condemning what had taken place, confirming that Mr Watson would never again work within the shooting industry, blacklisting the shooting estate from membership of any of the various shooting industry associations, and journalists in publications such as the Shooting Times urging its readers not to visit and shoot on the estate involved?

    It should also be of concern that Mr Wilson was only 21 years old. His young age completely rebuffs the claims that raptor persecution is a thing of the past, carried out by aging keepers who knew no better, and the younger generation of keepers coming out of college are far more enlightened and law abiding.

    The multi- agency approach needs to extend to the shooting industry itself, with actions that back up the claims of zero tolerance to raptor persecution, and support the police activity.
    This means those responsible for the actual crimes have to barred from the industry, the estates who are employing these criminals blacklisted by the various associations, and the shooters warned against shooting on those estates.

    The question is why isn’t the shooting industry and its various organisations doing this?
    That is a question they must answer.

    I am sure there must be people within the BASC, GWCT and Moorland Association who are passionate about conserving wildlife, including raptors; and who are dismayed by the criminal activity which is taking place.
    Do these people not have a voice?

    1. I note the National Gamekeepers association have posted an item regarding this case on their news section. Apparently Mr Watson was not a member of the NGA.
      The posting can be found on the NGA web pages, if readers to this blog are interested to read how they have reported the case.
      Whilst it is perhaps encouraging they have posted the story on their news page. I am disappointed that NGA didn’t use this incident of large-scale raptor persecution as an opportunity to urge their members to proactively report illegal activity within the industry.
      The NGA claim a no-tolerance approach to any kind of wildlife crime, and expect their members to adhere to the Code of Good Shooting Practice.
      So why not show support to those gamekeepers who work entirely within the law, and encourage them to report on those in the industry who engage in criminal activity, even if this is anonymously through portals such as Crimestoppers?
      Seems like this failure to transpose words into action just supports my belief that the umbrella organisations of the game shooting industry haven’t really grasped how they could better support the police and authorities in ridding this country of the plague of raptor persecution.

  4. Great work by police,now get the courts to hand out proper punishment. Extract from Birdlife Cyprus news letter-Use of poison baits is illegal and punishable under the law with up to three years in prison and / or 20,000 euro fine. In the case that substantial damage is caused to a protected species, such as the Griffon Vulture, the law foresees punishment with up to ten years in prison and / or a 500.000 euro fine.

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