Well done to the BBC’s Countryfile programme last Sunday for doing a 12-minute feature about the poisoning of the white-tailed eagle on an unnamed shooting estate in Dorset in January, and Dorset Police’s fiasco of an investigation which was brought to an abrupt halt when the police decided, astonishingly, that they ‘didn’t have sufficient evidence’ to execute a search warrant on the estate. This decision was made shortly after local MP Chris Loder argued on Twitter that the Police shouldn’t be investigating it and that eagles weren’t welcome in Dorset anyway.
Countryfile isn’t generally renowned for its hard-hitting investigations but I’ve got to say I was pleased with what they produced. Sure, a lot of material was left on the cutting room floor and they studiously removed all the discussion about the scale of illegal raptor persecution in the UK and the ingrained raptor-killing culture amongst some of the game-shooting industry, who still refer to these protected species as ‘vermin’, but I think for millions of viewers, who generally aren’t a specialised audience, this piece would still have been an eye-opener.
I’ve spoken to a few people since it aired who didn’t even know that eagles could now be found in southern England, let alone that they were being poisoned. They do now.
I was also impressed that they managed to get Chris Loder MP in front of a camera and the Assistant Chief Constable of Dorset Police, Rachel Farrell. Remember this is the police force that has repeatedly refused to respond to Freedom of Information requests on this matter. Personally, I don’t think either of them gave convincing explanations that there wasn’t any undue political pressure placed on the police to close down the investigation (asking a senior officer from the same force to effectively ‘mark the Police’s own homework’ doesn’t cut much ice with me), but you can draw your own conclusions.
I think a lot of credit needs to go to Countryfile’s researcher James Agyepong-Parsons, a former journalist from the ENDS Report and the instigator for Countryfile running this piece. He was meticulous in ensuring that the facts of this case were accurately presented, and Charlotte Smith did a brilliant job in pressing for answers.
It’s now available to watch on BBC iPlayer for the next 11 months (here – starts at 09.50 min).
There’s still much more to come out about this case, including the name of the estate where the eagle was found poisoned. It hasn’t yet been made public because there is another, separate, ongoing investigation into alleged raptor persecution that I understand is nearing a charging decision. Nobody wants to name the estate for fear of giving Dorset Police any excuse to drop this other case. We shouldn’t have to be concerned about that but such is the loss of confidence in Dorset Police that nobody is taking any chances.