Fascinating new details emerge about investigation into raptor persecution on Shaftesbury Estate in Dorset

Earlier this year, criminal gamekeeper Paul Allen was sentenced for multiple wildlife, poisons and firearms offences committed on the Shaftesbury Estate in Dorset in 2021 (see here).

He first came to the attention of the police after a member of the public discovered a dead red kite on the estate in November 2020. Tests revealed it contained the poison Bendiocarb and this triggered a multi-agency raid in March 2021 led by Dorset Police’s (now former) wildlife crime officer Claire Dinsdale.

The poisoned red kite found on the Shaftesbury Estate by Dorset resident Johanna Dollerson

Officers found the corpses of six dead buzzards by a pen behind the gamekeeper’s house (tests later showed they had all been shot, including one that was was estimated to have been shot in the last 24hrs). Officers also found the remains (bones) of at least three more buzzards on a bonfire.

A loaded shotgun was found propped up behind a kitchen door (!) and 55 rounds of ammunition were found in a shed. Both the gun and the ammunition should have been inside a locked, specifically-designed gun cabinet, by law. The gun and the ammunition were not covered by Allen’s firearms certificate.

Officers also found a number of dangerous, and banned, chemicals, including two bottles of Strychnine, two containers of Cymag and a packet of Ficam W (Bendiocarb) in various locations, including in a vehicle used by Allen.

Some of you may also recall that Allen was initially charged with killing the red kite, but court records showed that this charge, along with two others, was subsequently dropped minutes before the hearing (see here), probably as some kind of bargaining agreement between the lawyers.

Allen was sentenced in February 2023 and escaped a custodial sentence due to his personal circumstances (see here).

If you recall, the Shaftesbury Estate was also where a young satellite-tagged poisoned white-tailed eagle was found dead, a year later, in January 2022. Tests revealed the eagle’s liver contained seven times the lethal dose of the rodenticide Brodifacoum but Dorset Police refused to conduct a search of the estate, despite already running an investigation into gamekeeper Paul Allen’s crimes on the same estate(!), and they still haven’t provided a credible explanation for that appalling decision (see here).

Now new details have emerged about what was found during the investigation into gamekeeper Allen, thanks to Guy Shorrock, a member of the PAW Forensics Working Group and a former Senior Investigator at RSPB. Guy has written a guest blog for Wild Justice to demonstrate how the Raptor Forensics Fund, initiated by Wild Justice in 2020, has been used to help bring a number of criminal gamekeepers to court.

In that guest blog, Guy discusses the forensic testing undertaken on a ‘cut open’ dead rat that had been found next to the red kite’s corpse. Tests revealed it, too, contained the poison Bendiocarb – in other words, it had been placed as a poisoned bait. Forensic testing also confirmed that the kite had consumed part of a brown rat. You don’t have to be Poirot to piece it all together but even though Allen’s vehicle contained multiple pots of Bendiocarb, this still isn’t sufficient evidence to demonstrate without reasonable doubt that he was responsible for placing the poisoned bait that killed that red kite. This is a very good example of just how high the criminal burden of proof is and why so many prosecutions against gamekeepers have failed.

What has also been revealed is that in addition to being poisoned by Bendiocarb, that red kite also contained NINE times the lethal level of the rodenticide Brodifacoum in its system!! Sound familiar? The dead white-tailed eagle, found on the same estate a year later, contained seven times the lethal dose. To me, this makes Dorset Police’s decision not to search the Shaftesbury Estate even more non-sensical than previously thought.

Wild Justice has asked its legal team to examine Dorset Police’s botched handling of the poisoned white-tailed eagle case and expects to have more news on that in due course.

Meanwhile, I’d really encourage you to read Guy’s guest blog on Wild Justice’s website (here), published this morning, for a fascinating insight into the pain-staking forensic work that goes in to prosecuting those who continue to kill raptors.

The Raptor Forensics Fund, initiated by Wild Justice and supported by donations from the Northern England Raptor Forum, Tayside & Fife Raptor Study Group, Devon Birds, and a number of generous individuals who wish to remain anonymous, is now running low (because it’s been used so often!). Wild Justice intends to top up the fund shortly. If you’d like to donate to Wild Justice’s work, please click here. Thank you.

12 thoughts on “Fascinating new details emerge about investigation into raptor persecution on Shaftesbury Estate in Dorset”

  1. I don’t for a moment think that it is not very difficult to obtain evidence for conviction in wildlife cases.
    The main impediment is however corruption by a few people in all aspects of prosecutions. There should be far more successful prosecutions in all nations of the UK were it not for those seeking to prevent them.
    All the indviduals and organisations prepared to keep trying despite the power of those preventing and minimising prosecutions have my highest regard.

  2. Was the dead rat tested for brodifacoum ?
    So easy for any number of legally-poisoned rats to be ‘accidentally’ left around as bait for Red Kite.
    Are there enforceable guidelines for the disposal of poisoned rodents?

    1. “Was the dead rat tested for brodifacoum ?”

      Probably. From the blog: “Sure enough, following an initial post mortem at APHA to collect samples, the toxicology work by Fera confirmed abuse of the pesticide Bendiocarb in the red kite. The rat liver was negative…

      …Thankfully, the body of the rat was still safely stored in the vet’s freezer and the Health & Safety Executive kindly agreed to submit it for further toxicology tests at FERA, which confirmed the presence of Bendiocarb.”

  3. Great work by the Scientific personnel. A new donation made today to help with this work. Many thanks to all who help our raptors.. Still much work to do sadly.

  4. I think your work is wonderful and I love reading these updates – although they’re usually infuriating! However the white writing on a black background is terrible for my eyes (am I the only one?) and I’d really love a change, if at all possible.

    1. “However the white writing on a black background is terrible for my eyes”

      That is (easily) controllable by you: invert colours on your display screen, will turn white on black into black on white, and can be immediately reversed at the click of a button.

  5. There is rarely much mention of dogs being used on police searches. Does the PAW group utilise or have access to any dogs trained to scent for corpses as evidence on these cases? I can’t imagine there being enough time & money for people to have searched through very many of the dense hedgelines on the estate, and I bet there will be other poisoned things still there now. If the WJ forensics fund was sufficient, might it be useful in some cases to hire in the services of a trained dog & handler, or sponsor training a specialist dog up from scratch to work with future police searches?

  6. Good work by you all. It really is laughable the way that the authorities apply such a high level of ‘proof’ in prosecutions of bird-killing-for-fun estates and shoots XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX I’m sure I’ve come across lots of other prosecutions, which have been successful, where enough evidence was deemed to be circumstantial but clearly pointing towards guilt of an individual.

    Isn’t there the possibility of pursuing a non-criminal action XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX where the burden of proof barrier is NOT so high?

    Donation sent.

  7. p.s. I think it’s ‘pains-taking’ (taking, undergoing effort [pains] to achieve something); although I do like ‘pain-staking’… conjures up a fine, gruesome image!

    p.p.s why did all those xxx appear? nothing was cut/edited/censored.

    1. Hi kayakgreg, the xxx denote words that were deleted from your comment because they were libellous. Even though I’m sure libelling the estate owner wasn’t your intention, the inference from your comment could easily have been interpreted as such.

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