Norfolk gamekeeper convicted after shooting & poisoning multiple birds of prey

Press release from the RSPB today (5th October 2022):

Gamekeeper escapes jail after killing birds of prey

*Six buzzards and a goshawk were found illegally killed on a gamebird shoot near Thetford, along with lethal poison baits.

*Gamekeeper Matthew Stroud pleads guilty to multiple offences

*The RSPB is increasingly concerned about raptor persecution linked to pheasant and partridge shoots, and the impact of large-scale gamebirds releases.

Today (5 October 2022) at Norwich Magistrates’ court, gamekeeper Matthew Stroud received a 200 hour community order and was fined £692 for offences connected with raptor persecution. Stroud was ordered to pay £145 costs, £288.72 compensation and a £95 victim surcharge.

[Convicted criminal gamekeeper Matthew Stroud and one of his victims, a shot buzzard. Photos via RSPB and Eastern Daily Press]

Offences included shooting five buzzards and one goshawk, the poisoning of another buzzard, the laying of poison baits and illegal possession of poisons including strychnine.

Stroud also became the first person convicted for the unauthorised release of gamebirds on a Special Protection Area (SPA) – an internationally important site for conservation under the Habitats Regulations.

[Another of Stroud’s victims – he shot this goshawk. Photo via RSPB]

[Two containers of the banned poison strychnine found in the glovebox of Stroud’s all-terrain vehicle]

Sentencing Stroud, Magistrates said that he was lucky to escape jail today.

The court heard from the defence that Stroud was under pressure to produce game birds for the shoot after two poor years, that he had taken no pleasure in killing the buzzards and that he should have been informed that the law had changed around pheasant releases.

This is one of many incidents of raptor persecution identified on lowland pheasant and partridge shoots, which the RSPB says is an area of increasing concern. There is also evidence that large-scale releases of pheasant and partridge for shooting is having a detrimental impact on native wildlife.

The RSPB Investigations team conducted lengthy enquiries on an area of land managed by Stroud for pheasant shooting at Fengate Farm in Weeting, within the Breckland SPA. Following a number of visits, on 19 August 2021 they discovered a pheasant carcass – later found to contain the banned toxic chemical strychnine. The use of a poison bait such as a pheasant, laced with pesticides, is one of the most common methods of illegally killing birds of prey.

A subsequent search with Norfolk Police and partners uncovered further poison baits plus shot and poisoned raptors. Stroud’s phone also contained the photo of a goshawk and several buzzards which he admitted to shooting. They also found the deadly banned poison strychnine and phostoxin, a dangerous fumigant which was stored improperly.

In 2021 it became illegal to release gamebirds on or adjacent to an SPA without a licence, which Stroud had not sought, making him the first person to be prosecuted and convicted for this offence.

In 2020, Wild Justice issued proceedings in the High Court challenging the annual release of millions of non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges into the countryside and their potential impact on sites designated for nature conservation. DEFRA conceded the case and introduced General Licence 43 in an attempt to ensure that the impacts of those birds on those sites would be regulated.

Mark Thomas Head of RSPB Investigations UK, said:

It is difficult not to be disappointed with the outcome today considering the significance of the offences and combined efforts of the agencies involved. Laying poison baits out in the open is not only illegal but extremely dangerous and irresponsible. Baits like those being used at Fengate Farm present a deadly risk to any animal or person that might come across it. It is particularly troubling that this was happening on an SPA, a designated area where wildlife and nature should have the highest legal protection.

The RSPB’s most recent Birdcrime report in 2020 made clear that raptor persecution is not just an issue confined to grouse shooting estates: it is increasingly correlated with pheasant and partridge shoots.”

Mark added: “We would like to thank Norfolk Police for leading such a thorough investigation, and to Natural England, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Crown Prosecution Service for their support”.

Guilty pleas were entered to the following charges:

· Six charges in relation to killing of six different buzzards (five by shooting and one poisoned) during August and September 2021

· One charge in relation to killing a goshawk listed under schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside act 1981 in August 2021

· Three charges in relation to laying poison baits in August and September 2021

· One charges in relation to the possession of the banned pesticide, strychnine in September 2021

· A charge in relation to a firearm being an item capable of committing an offence in September 2021

· A charge in relation to the usage of the chemical phostoxin in September 2021

· One charge in relation to releasing pheasants illegally during 2022

ENDS

UPDATE 6th October 2022: Conviction of gamekeeper Matthew Stroud – statement from Norfolk Constabulary (here)

UPDATE 4th November 2022: RSPB Investigations Officer reflects on conviction of Norfolk raptor-killing gamekeeper, Matthew Stroud (here)

30 thoughts on “Norfolk gamekeeper convicted after shooting & poisoning multiple birds of prey”

  1. Pathetic and inadequate sentence given the wide ranging nature of the crimes and the preperation required to carry them out. But they always are, are they not? The only sacrificial lamb to date was a gamekeeper in Aberdeenshire who was imprisoned for four months in January 2015 for the killing of a goshawk and the placing of a dead buzzard in a bag.

  2. All those offences some of them with potential fatal consequences to humans and he gets a fine, what have these wildlife killers got to do to go to jail where they belong? Pathetic and not important is the message this sends.

  3. “It is difficult not to be disappointed with the outcome” .. I find it bewildering, frustrating and furiously amazing!

  4. Damn justice system in this country needs an overhaul. Time and time again our raptors are let down by the Courts, despite meticulous work on the ground bringing these bastards to the dock. It isn’t just the keepers with raptor blood on their hands.

  5. Do we infer that is the end of the enforcement of the illegal pheasant releases? The Lynn News says that 3400 pheasants were illegally released. The estate will be shooting them this season and charging punters the usual rates, to keep the cash rolling in. Surely NE must have some mechanism of preventing them from continuing to generate income by running shoot days on birds from that illegal release? I would make the estate pay for an approved contractor to catch-up and remove those pheasants, it is their “mistake”.

    1. Good point. The estate’s shooting income will clearly represent proceeds from crime, and ought to be confiscated.

  6. “The court heard from the defence that Stroud was under pressure to produce game birds for the shoot after two poor years, that he had taken no pleasure in killing the buzzards and that he should have been informed that the law had changed around pheasant releases.”

    If that above statement read something like “The court heard from the defence that Stroud was under pressure to sell drugs for the crime boss after two poor years, that he had taken no pleasure in selling the drugs and that he should have been informed that the law had changed around drug use.”, I somehow don’t believe that the criminal would have been issued a paltry fine.

    There is a clear inequality in the UK when it comes to criminal proceedings, and this is a perfect example of it. When will it ever change?

  7. This article makes me seethe with anger that such a light weight sentencing policy is being followed by the justiciary. Every day, I, and many like me, spend considerable time researching wildlife crime and efforts for the conservation of endangered species, along with making donations to save rainforests and other essential habitats. It is embarrassing that the UK has such indifference from those who govern it, towards properly implementing wildlife protection laws, or weakly doing so. How can we lecture other countries on conserving their wildlife, when such atrocious killing of our birds of prey and other creatures is allowed to go on? Rees-Mogg announced he was not implementing the laws, hard fought for, regarding the import of trophy shot animal parts and fur materials, stating that they were restricting freedom. We now have the new premier, Ms Truss, ranting against Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace as being enemies of economic growth, indicating allowing development free-for-all on supposedly protected sites. A new political party has to arise that will take the plight of the Earth seriously, as the present set-up is risible and blind to reality.

  8. The only conclusion one can draw from this pathetic outcome, that the perp will construe as getting away with his crimes scott free, is that, the only way our poor persecuted wildlife are likely to be able to live free is for this disgusting industry to be banned completely. Apart from the obvious cruelty both in using living creatures as target practice and the associated and pro-active murder of raptors and other wildlife…I am so tired of having to drive along roads where pheasants have been released nearby and are fed near the road, so that they hang about every morning waiting…and being killed by unconcerned passing drivers. It is a veritable kiliing field at certain times of the year and though I have tried several times to help injured birds left abandoned, they always always pass away…it is heartbreaking and in the 21st century completely unnecessary. I dont care how much money would be lost if these vile businesses had to close…let these usually already wealthy people find other ways to make money….to me they are all cruel monsters in expensive suits.

  9. How many of these shooting estates do the Royals have jurisdiction over. If they do nothing about it, isn’t it time to drop the ‘ R ‘ from RSPB ?

    1. It doesn’t need the RSPB to appeal. Anyone in England has the right to appeal lenient sentences. But only those charges outside of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, because those within the Act are exempt from appeal. So, besides complaining about leniency, it does no harm to complain that wildlife crime is exempt from public appeal.

  10. Quote: The court heard from the defence that Stroud was under pressure to produce game birds for the shoot after two poor years, that he had taken no pleasure in killing the buzzards and that he should have been informed that the law had changed around pheasant releases.

    Good grief – do you need to kill buzzards / other raptors to produce game birds – I thought you just had to let them out of a release pen a few days before the paying gentry turn up?

    The carton of strawberry-flavoured drink on the vehicle seat might suggests that the guilty gamekeeper has children who also ride in the same vehicle (at least that type of drink is not your typical macho-man-with-a-big-gun type of drink). I shudder to think that children have had access to the glove box with two (!) containers of strychnine. How utterly irresponsible.

    The fine are ridiculously low. He pleaded guilty to multiple charges, all of which are serious offences. Clearly one who does not give a toss about wildlife or other innocent victims of his crimes. He has intentionally shot a number of raptors, and used poison to kill others. We will never know how many birds or animals have died from the poisoned baits. And the fine will no doubt be paid from the income from shooting the game birds that have been released illegally in the same area!

    1. The strawberry milkshake might not be totally innocent. I know that one of the problems with some poisons is that the target smells / tastes it and stops eating it. You never know, he may have been using it to mask the smell on the bait? Maybe someone with investigation experience might know if this is likely or if it was of no significance.

  11. Lenient sentence because he was under pressure from his employers?
    Having accepted this premise the courts will now be pursuing his employer for prosecution as an accessory to the crime. If not, those facts should not have been taken into account in sentencing.
    Anything in the sentence perfecting him from Worthing as a gamekeeper? Removal of gun licences?
    “Expletives suppressed” ridiculous (as usual)

  12. I can’t express my thoughts any better than those contained in the previous comments. We’re constantly told being in the natural environment, amongst nature, is good for our mental health….well, the way our habitat and wildlife is treated by so many people, Government included, so depresses me that it is becoming bad for my mental health!

  13. The proceeds generated by the shoot should surely be confiscated.
    This pathetic sentence will not only not deter such crime but will embolden the criminals (and that includes the land owner) further. Has the game keeper’s gun licence been revoked?

  14. I sense a new tactic from these gamekeepers is to plead guilty in the magistrates court to prevent a full trial in Crown court. This is presumably so that they cannot be cross examined to establish who gave them orders to commit these crimes or to reveal any further details of other crimes they may have committed that relate to the ones they have been charged with. I’m guessing their fines and costs are paid by their employers (as they are with hunt staff who end up in court) so as to keep as much of a lid on the goings on at these estates as possible.

    I also note the increasing frustration of the RSPB as it becomes clearer every day that there is nothing about the shooting industry that isn’t in conflict with their charitable aims and objectives. The claims of the shooting industry regarding ‘conservation’ are entirely bogus. They practice ‘land management’ with the specific aim of creating environments conducive to raising and shooting game birds for ‘fun’. They are a service industry for a narrow but wealthy clientele who enjoy killing things for fun or sociocultural reasons (class, tradition etc.). The fact that some species benefit from this activity (while most others do not) does not make it ‘conservation’. The industry hides its horrors behind a mask of ‘respectable’ pseudo stewardship and pretend conservation.

    The RSPB therefore has to be careful that it does not passively endorse this industry by being drawn into the conservation debate from the wrong perspective by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. I am very aware that the RSPB is constrained by an historic paragraph in its constitution prohibiting it from taking part “in the question of the killing of game birds and legitimate sport of that character…” but this comes with the caveat “except when such practices have an impact on the Objects.”

    This case and the many of the other cases and revelations highlighted on this blog, and those of other organisations such as HIT and Wild Justice, have made clear that there isn’t any single redeeming feature of the shooting industry that is not in direct conflict with the RSPB’s aims and objectives. Nor I dare say of most of the readers of this blog and much of the wider public.

    I have addressed this at high level with the RSPB but suspended my activities a) in response to their 2020 consultation, which specifically (and irritatingly) excluded the issue of the paragraph in the constitution and b) because of the impact of the Covid crisis on the RSPBs activities (I’m a member and don’t want it to fail).

    But how much longer do we have to go on reading of these horrific crimes while the RSPB is forced to moderate its response based on a more than century old paragraph in its constitution that was designed to keep the support of middle/upper class patrons who happened to enjoy this ‘sport’? This paragraph and the reasons for its existence are hopelessly past their relevance in our 21st century society. I think it’s time for a serious change of direction.

    1. Old Long Dog…Thank You for an very educational, informative and thought provoking comment. Whilst I regard almost all comments to be worth merit, often we are all just expressing emotion, frustration, rage, questions, etc. On occasion an comment appears that gives us some genuine, pause for thought issues to consider that we may not have before; as such this one raised a few questions and suggestions to answers, ie the Magistrate vs Crown Court and it is those which are inherently so important. It gives us all the needed boost to have us focus on such things, and that’s important because then it distinguishes us all from “just another protest group full of emotion” to a genuine protest AND focus group, with a lot more behind our protest than what may be considered as a class biased, politically motivated, blind emotion driven driven one.
      I was going to comment on another post but it fits as well here.
      Sometimes there comes along a person so inspirational to a cause, dedicated to making a change, right the wrongs, devoted to challenging an previously accepted sport, one that is slowly being exposed for the disgusting, damaging, out of touch sport it really is, with the public and society also coming on side.
      It’s a bl**dy Long HARD slog what Anne has been doing, and it’s a rare person who could be just as dedicated today, if not more so, after so many years, DECADES of push backs, frustration, feelings of being ridiculed, ignored, and I am beyond impressed, fill of respect and admiration for her and this group of people she has managed to bring together, from all across the UK/world, all walks, with a singular goal and purpose….to save our raptors, and the extra goals of wildlife, conservation that naturally comes with it.
      My next thought does not in ANY way reflect my political or other views, but the comparisons are striking.
      When I moved to the UK from US in 2008 (started commuting in 2003), I noticed a new face in politics…some dude called Nigel…and he was always ranting on about some EU thing…and I thought he was just another independent fanatic nutter. Whether I/We agree with his goal, premise and it’s result; it’s more significantly the one thing that had my attention; the man went from having a small group and banner, to in a very few years, gaining momentum with the public, managed to not only sway a huge percent of the population on side, and with an PM who saw his popularity, chose to use his platform for his own, and so we were promised the thing this Nigel had been advocating /protesting for. Whether we agree with the outcome or not, what is more telling, is that no matter how small, unknown, unpopular, etc that someone is, if their goal is their life’s focus, no matter how hard, long, painful it may be, some people have the tenacity (and right on their side as Anne does), to in time be recognised and finally acknowledged by not just the whole of the public (everyone knows Nigel name now!)…and to be fair….I see her time is coming, as we are now at that turning point that Nigel was; and I see that for Anne and this group, growing bigger and more in the public eye, and with her determined, never failing, bloody mindedness, that it won’t be too much longer before changes really start to happen…it’s all in the momentum and it’s turned. Now we just have to dedicate ourselves to hanging on, because as before, it’s going to be long and bumpy, but it feels already happening now, a VERY FAST ride! I don’t have much time for celebs, sports peeps, people in public eye role models etc , etc. But I have a LOT of time for Anne and this group, my respect, admiration and esteem is hard won, but she has it in full.
      As always longer than hoped, but hope my thoughts are recognised for the intent they are meant to share.
      Warmest regards as always,
      Thank you Anne
      Mrs R Elizabeth Budd

      1. Apologies!! I Meant to say RUTH! not Anne!!
        If ed reads this before publishing, please correct me!! If not, please publish my correction in conjunction with original post,!
        Warm regards,
        Mrs r Elizabeth

  15. …some great comments above….and I totally get the anger from so many…including myself! So much could have ….and should have been done here by the courts!

  16. A pathetically weak sentence: is this meant to deter others? Utterly deplorable.
    He should have received a custodial sentence of at least a couple of years; that way it may help put others off from committing these abhorrent crimes. As well as the fine should have far heavier for so many crimes against nature with both gun and poison that he pleaded guilty to. Is the estate where he worked not culpable in any way either?
    I wonder what the reason was that he was ‘lucky to escape jail’. Especially as he must have been endangering so many lives with the poisons left lying around and used.
    It is beyond belief.
    Our courts and penalties are archaic and need revising

  17. The consequences of committing these horrific crimes are minor, and I doubt they act as any deterrent to people who choose terrifying and killing other species as their line of work.

  18. The magistrate should be called to account to justify such a lenient sentence. Perhaps they should also look into his leisure pursuits for a conflict of interest.

  19. I find the ‘defense’ that he was under pressure and ignorant of the law an insult both to the court and everyone else and surely should have immediately been thrown out by the judge and scratched from the record ! As for the paltry nature of the fines – as ever much more money was spent on the efforts to bring him to court. We can debate whether or not he should have been jailed but hopefully a very substantial fine (£10k+) might give these people (even their rich employees) pause for thought.

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