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
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)