Police seize three tawny owls during raid on Cheshire home

Three tawny owls have been seized at a house in St Helens as police carried out a raid as part of an investigation into an alleged wild bird disturbance in Cheshire.

[Photo of the seized owls, by Cheshire Police Rural Crime Team]

Officers in St Helens joined Cheshire Police Rural Crime Team to execute the warrant at an address in Newton-le-Willows on 20th June 2022.

The owls were reportedly found in poor conditions with a lack of documentation and they’ve been passed in to the care of the RSPCA.

The raid was in connection with allegations of possible offences at an unnamed Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Cheshire.

In a statement police said: “A number of partner agencies joined us, including Natural England, RSPCA (England & Wales) and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

At present Cheshire Police are still investigating. During the warrant three tawny owls were seized due to poor conditions and no relevant records being located, along with other related evidence and a quantity of class B drugs.

Wildlife Crime is a growing issue and it is important to tackle it with our partner agencies.

Cheshire Police Rural Crime Team confirmed a warrant was executed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act but added that limited details could be released because it is an ongoing investigation.

In a statement, the team said: “We executed a warrant in the Merseyside area. This was in relation to (possible) offences committed with regard to scheduled and wild bird disturbance at a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Cheshire.

This is now a joint investigation with Natural England and Cheshire Rural Crime Team. We will keep you updated with this investigation, as soon as we are able to release further information.”

Suffolk police remove peregrine from falconer for return to the wild

On Friday, Suffolk Police’s wildlife crime team posted a photo on Twitter of a young tethered peregrine wearing falconry jesses. The photo was accompanied by a statement about how a multi-agency team had executed a search warrant at an unknown address and removed the peregrine with the intention of releasing it back to the wild.

No information was provided about the circumstances of how the falconer came to be in possession of a wild peregrine or whether the falconer would face charges for unlawful possession.

After a bit of digging it turns out that the young peregrine had hatched at a monitored site and had crash-landed in to a lake post-fledging. It had been rescued and sent to a wildlife hospital for assessment and rehabilitation.

Somehow (it’s not clear to me how) two falconers became involved and one of them took the peregrine, perhaps also with the intention of rehabilitation before release, but perhaps not. The falconer had removed the plastic colour ring from the peregrine’s leg (why would you do that if you intended to release the peregrine?) although the metal BTO leg ring was still in place on the other leg (as you can see from the photo).

Somebody obviously had concerns about the falconer’s intentions because a tip-off led to the multi-agency search led by Suffolk Police and assisted by Norfolk Constabulary, RSPB Investigations and the National Wildlife Crime Unit. Search warrants aren’t usually granted without the police being able to show reasonable grounds to suspect a crime has been committed. The peregrine was seized, presumably to ensure it was returned to the wild.

Apparently the police dealt with the falconer by way of a community resolution order, probably because it would have been too difficult (virtually impossible) to prove criminal intent in this case.

Well done to the police and agencies involved in retrieving this peregrine and getting it back where it belongs.

Dorset Police continues its damage limitation exercise re: its botched investigation into the poisoned eagle

Dorset Police is still desperately undertaking a damage limitation exercise in relation to its botched investigation into the poisoning of a white-tailed eagle found dead on an unnamed shooting estate in January.

The following article appeared in the Dorset Echo yesterday, reproduced here:

DORSET Police said it has “never been in any doubt” the poisoning of an “extremely rare” white tailed eagle is a “serious offence”.

An investigation was launched in February after the bird had been found dead in North Dorset.

Despite finding high levels of rat poison brodifacoum in the eagle, named G461, Dorset Police dropped the investigation, a decision which “baffled” the RSPB.

Dorset Police said tests were “inconclusive” and it was not possible to confirm if a criminal offence had been committed.

Now, after large criticism and a Freedom of Information request revealed correspondence between West Dorset MP Chris Loder, who reportedly said the investigation should not be a priority, and Police and Crime Commissioner David Sidwick, a specialist investigator has been brought in by police.

A spokesperson for Dorset Police said: “We understand that concern has been expressed as to whether more could have been done in respect of the investigation into the death of the white-tailed sea eagle.

“Therefore, in the interests of transparency, it was important for a senior detective to review the investigation, seeking expertise from the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme and liaising with a specialist prosecutor from the CPS to ascertain if the evidential threshold for prosecution is met. We hope this will give confidence in decisions made.

“It has never been in any doubt for Dorset Police that if poisoned deliberately, this is a serious offence as the sea eagle is protected by the law.

“We have always been keen to secure a prosecution if at all possible and have been working with a range of partners to try and achieve this.

“We have increased the number of officers with knowledge of wildlife crime offences and are working with our partners to ensure we are able to utilise our different powers, expertise and resources to their best effect.

“We will of course reflect on any learning in respect of the initial or future investigations.”

The spokesperson added the force was always open to new information and hoped it could give “further transparency” to future decisions.

Correspondence between Mr Loder and Mr Sidwick showed the latter saying the pair needed to get their “ducks in the row on this one”.

In a statement on the PCC’s website, he said suggestions the investigation was politically impeded were “bizarre and entirely without merit”.

He added: “It is a plain and simple fact that the team continues to do what they have always done, which is to tackle all aspects of rural, wildlife and heritage-related crime in Dorset.”

Answering what was meant by getting “ducks in a row”, Mr Sidwick said: “All this meant was that was there was a need a for a mutual understanding about the independence of Dorset Police to carry out investigations as they see fit.”

The eagle was released as part of a reintroduction project by Forestry England in a bid to bring the breed back to the country after an absence of over 240 years, by releasing up to 60 birds over five years.

ENDS

It’s a nice try by Dorset Police, but, as I’ve said previously, asking a senior officer from the same police force to review the investigation is effectively just Dorset Police marking its own homework. Had it been a review undertaken by a senior officer from another force it might have been more credible, although of course that would depend on the integrity of that force/officer. As regular blog readers will be only too aware, there is huge disparity between how different police forces and different officers tackle wildlife crime investigations. Some are fantastic, some are not.

But anyway, the ‘review’ undertaken by the senior officer from Dorset Police has already been done according to comments made by Dorset Police Chief Scott Chilton in a Facebook live chat almost three weeks ago, and that officer had determined that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ and ‘no outstanding lines of enquiry’ to progress the case. Well of course, if you fail to conduct a search you’re not going to find any evidence, are you? It’s simply bonkers.

And increasing the size of the force’s rural crime team is utterly pointless if investigations are going to be closed down prematurely. Dorset Police could employ 3,000 wildlife crime officers but if they’re not allowed to undertake a search to look for evidence when an eagle has been found poisoned with 7 x the lethal dose, then what’s the point?

Besides, they don’t need 3,000 wildlife crime officers – they had one (Claire Dinsdale) who was brilliantly committed and effective and who was leading on the poisoned eagle investigation until senior officers pulled the plug and Claire left on long-term sick leave. They only need to employ a few like Claire (and Dorset Police does have some good officers in its rural crime team), and then support them in their investigations, and they’d get results.

And as for claiming ‘transparency’, good grief. Dorset Police continues to refuse to respond to Freedom of Information requests and has now been reported to the Information Commissioner for multiple breaches of the Freedom of Information Act.

If it wants to regain public trust and confidence, Dorset Police can start by explaining the real reason the poisoned eagle investigation was dropped (because this fundamental question still hasn’t been answered). And then it could highlight the ongoing investigation (running since 2021) into alleged raptor poisoning, on the very same estate where the poisoned white-tailed eagle was found(!!) and tell us whether anyone is being charged.

It can also provide an update on the toxicology results of the dead buzzard and red kite, picked up on another shooting estate in early March (see here), and the dead buzzard found on another estate in late April (here).

There is clearly a raptor persecution problem in Dorset, and Dorset Police needs the public onside to help detect these incidents, and we need Dorset Police to do its job properly and try and bring these criminals to the courts. Nobody is suggesting this is easy – we’re all well aware of the difficulties involved, but the least we should expect is that the police will take every opportunity to undertake a robust and thorough investigation, and not to drop it when a local MP kicks off on social media with ridiculous and outdated anti-eagle hysteria.

Well done to local Dorset Echo reporter Ben Williets for tracking this case and keeping it in the news.

Red kite shot in Wiltshire: Police appeal for information

A public appeal for information from Wiltshire Police Rural Crime Team (14th June 2022):

Information appeal

A dead kite was recovered from a public footpath close to Hens wood, Axford, Wiltshire on the 20/04/2022 following a report from the public. Further forensic work into the cause of death has found that the bird had been shot.

We are appealing for any information around the shooting of the Red kite or any person who may have been in the area on the 16/04/2022 who saw anything suspicious to contact the Wiltshire Rural crime team via 101 – quote crime report 54220038890

Watch Dorset’s poisoned eagle fiasco on BBC’s Countryfile

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.

Gloucestershire Police appeal for info after goshawk found shot in Forest of Dean

Press release from Gloucestershire Constabulary (13th June 2022)

Appeal for information after birds of prey are found dead in the Forest of Dean

Officers are appealing for information after two birds of prey were found dead in the Forest of Dean.

A Goshawk and Sparrowhawk were found next to a bus stop just south of Aylburton near Lydney on the A48 by a member of the public on Monday 25 April.

The male Goshawk was just under 17-years-old and X-rays show that the bird had been shot with a shotgun.

The cause of death has not yet been established for the male Sparrowhawk however post mortems will take place for both birds. 

[The shot goshawk. Photos via Gloucestershire Constabulary]

PC Cath McDay said: “This is an awful crime under the Countryside and Wildlife Act 1981, to truly special birds

The Goshawk had managed to live to an exceptional age only for his life to be ended like this.”

Enquiries are ongoing and investigating officers are asking anyone with information on the incident to please get in contact.

Information can be submitted by completing the following form online and quoting incident number 130 of 25 April: https://www.gloucestershire.police.uk/tua/tell-us-about/cor/tell-us-about-existing-case-report/    

Alternatively, you can call 101 and quote the same incident number or speak to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

BBC’s Countryfile to feature #EagleGate

Tomorrow’s edition of Countryfile will include a feature on the continued illegal killing of birds of prey in the UK, focusing on the recent poisonings of at least two white-tailed eagles in southern England (the one in Dorset and the one in West Sussex).

Filming took place last week and lovely presenter Charlotte Smith interviewed a number of people including Paul Morton (representing Birds of Poole Harbour) and me (representing Wild Justice) as we enjoyed a boat trip along the Wareham Channel looking for eagles, ospreys, marsh harriers and peregrines.

They also managed to bag an interview with Chris Loder MP, the local politician who didn’t want Dorset Police to investigate the eagle poisoning and I believe there’ll be contributions (probably denials and abuse) from Tim Bonner (Countryside Alliance) and perhaps statements from Dorset Police and the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner, David Sidwick.

I’m hoping they asked Chris Loder MP what he thought David Sidwick meant when he told Loder: ‘You and I need to get our ducks in the row on this one‘ while discussing the murky police investigation into the poisoned eagle in Dorset.

I’ve no idea how the final edit will be presented, this is the BBC after all and they’ll want to be seen as being scrupulously impartial, which is fair enough.

I’m just delighted that they’ve chosen to feature the raptor persecution issue at all, and that six million viewers will learn that even though this is the 21st Century, eagles and many other raptor species are still being deliberately poisoned/trapped/shot in this country, predominantly by members of the game-shooting industry. No matter which part of the interviews the editors choose to show in the final cut, that is the message that the viewers will remember and it’s the most important message of all.

Countryfile airs on Sunday 12th June 2022 on BBC 1 at 7pm and will be available on iPlayer for 12 months.

Poisoned eagle investigation: “You and I need to get our ducks in the row on this one” – Dorset PCC tells Chris Loder MP

Regular blog readers will know that I’ve been chasing up correspondence between the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC), David Sidwick, and Dorset MP Chris Loder, in relation to the poisoned white-tailed eagle found dead on an unnamed shooting estate in north Dorset in January 2022.

For new blog readers, this is the investigation that Dorset Police chose to close, prematurely, having refused to conduct a search of the estate for any evidence of criminality.

The decision to close the investigation has been described as ‘completely baffling‘ by the RSPB, who up until that point had been helping with the investigation. The decision also coincided with the Force’s award-winning wildlife crime officer going on long-term sick leave with stress, a re-branding of the Force’s wildlife crime team to remove the word ‘wildlife’, and with an astonishing outburst on Twitter by Chris Loder MP, who had criticised Dorset Police for spending time and resources on the investigation and who argued that eagles ‘weren’t welcome’ in Dorset. It’s clear from Loder’s entry on the Westminster Parliamentary Register of Interests that his electoral campaign had received significant financial support from at least one large Dorset estate where the landowners have links to the game-shooting industry and the Countryside Alliance.

Unsurprisingly, there were suspicions that undue political pressure had been put on to Dorset Police, resulting in the Force’s ridiculous decision to halt the investigation in mid-flow, so I submitted a series of Freedom of Information requests to Dorset Police and the Dorset PCC to try and establish exactly who had said what, to whom, and when.

My FoI request to the Dorset PCC was made on 4th March 2022. After a long period of silence (and thus a breach of the Freedom of Information Act), the PCC finally responded and sent me copies of some correspondence between PCC David Sidwick and Chris Loder MP about this poisoned eagle.

However, on examining the correspondence (here) it was obvious to me that some correspondence was ‘missing’, so I wrote back and asked for any ‘missing’ correspondence to be provided.

It turns out that there was indeed some ‘missing’ correspondence, and that has now been provided to me (or at least some of it has – I suspect there’s more, as I’ll explain below).

The PCC has sent me three emails that were ‘missing’ from the first batch.

The first ‘missing’ email was this one, from Chris Loder MP to PCC David Sidwick, dated 15th February 2022 at 06.27hrs:

The first line of this email is significant.

Dave, The Guardian will cover EagleGate tomorrow‘.

Why is this significant? Well, because according to the PCC, this is supposedly the very first piece of correspondence between Loder and Sidwick about this poisoned eagle, and yet Loder describes it as ‘EagleGate‘, which suggests to me that there had been earlier correspondence about it, otherwise Sidwick wouldn’t have known what Loder was on about.

The second ‘missing’ email was sent by Loder to Sidwick on the same day, as a follow-on to his first email. Loder sent this email to Sidwick at 08.19hrs:

The third ‘missing’ email was a response by Sidwick to Loder, sent on the same day at 08.40hrs:

I think you and I need to get our ducks in the row on this one.

I will be in the car from 9.30“.

It couldn’t be clearer to me that there was some level of collusion going on between Sidwick and Loder and that we haven’t been told the full extent of it.

I have written back to the PCC to ask whether that first ‘missing’ email was actually the very first time Loder and Sidwick had corresponded about the poisoned eagle investigation, because starting his email with the phrase ‘EagleGate‘, without offering Sidwick any explanation about what that phrase meant, and Sidwick not asking Loder for an explanation of what he meant by the phrase ‘EagleGate‘, just isn’t credible. They both clearly knew what ‘EagleGate‘ meant, which means they had discussed this topic prior to that first email from Loder on 15th February 2022.

There’s more to come on this.

For previous blogs on this case, please see here

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.”

ENDS

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.

Dorset Police’s generic FoI response on poisoned eagle investigation is inaccurate and unsatisfactory

Earlier this morning I mentioned (here) that yesterday, Dorset Police had finally got around to responding to some Freedom of Information requests made to them by members of the public about the premature closing of the investigation into the poisoned white-tailed eagle found on a shooting estate in January 2022.

I said that the responses that I’d seen (the ones that had been forwarded to me by blog readers – thank you) seemed to be a cut and paste job, just repeating the rhetoric that the investigation was ‘full and proportionate’ (no, it was neither of these things) and that the post mortem results were ‘inconclusive’ (no, the pm report revealed the eagle’s liver contained 7 x the lethal dose of the rodenticide Brodifacoum, which can only be a result of (a) mis-use of the rodenticide or (b) deliberate abuse of the rodenticide. Either way, these are both offences).

I thought it’d be useful to publish the generic response so you can see how Dorset Police is dodging specific questions and at one point, denying that political interference was even a prospect (er, even though we all read MP Chris Loder’s tweets, suggesting the police shouldn’t be investigating this crime!). This is highlighted in red below:

I’m looking forward to receiving Dorset Police’s response to my request for a review of their decision to refuse my FoI original request made on 4th March 2022 (that response is now two weeks overdue), and also a response to my most recent FoI request to Dorset Police, which was due yesterday:

%d bloggers like this: