Another gamekeeper convicted for poison offences on a pheasant shoot, but not charged for poisoned kite & shot buzzard

David Matthews, a gamekeeper with 50 years experience, has been convicted at Wrexham Magistrates Court for poison offences uncovered on the McAlpine Estate in Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, North Wales, where he has worked for 25 years.

In February 2021 a dead red kite was found on the estate by a member of the public and a later toxicology analysis revealed it had been poisoned with Bendiocarb.

[The poisoned red kite. Photo by RSPB]

When RSPB Investigations Officers subsequently visited the McAlpine Estate they found a dead buzzard inside a pheasant release pen. When the body was x-rayed, a piece of shot could be seen lodged in the bird’s skull.

[The shot buzzard found inside the pheasant release pen. Photo by RSPB]

A multi-agency search in October 2021 by North Wales Police, the Welsh Government, RSPB and the National Wildlife Crime Unit uncovered an unlocked barn containing 18 highly toxic products, including Cymag which has been banned since 2004. They also found the remains of a pheasant, inside a game bag on a bonfire site inside a pheasant release pen. The pheasant tested positive for Bendiocarb. Another dead buzzard was too badly decomposed to be tested.

Gamekeeper Matthews pleaded guilty to one charge relating to the possession of unauthorised pesticides. He received a total fine of £219.

You can read the full details of this case on the RSPB’s blog here.

In that blog, the RSPB state, ‘It remains unknown who killed the buzzard and the kite‘.

I’m pretty sure that the RSPB investigators, just like the rest of us, have a pretty good idea who might have been responsible but presumably there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone. Such is the nature of this game that it would be libellous to suggest a suspect.

It seems odd to me, though, that a gamekeeper who had worked on the estate for 25 years wouldn’t have noticed someone laying poisoned baits, placing the bait inside a game bag and leaving it on a bonfire site inside a pheasant release pen, and shooting dead a buzzard and leaving its corpse inside a pheasant release pen.

His £219 fine makes a total mockery of the system. Had this case been in Scotland, the fine for possessing an unauthorised poison would now be £40,000. That’s a serious deterrent.

£219 is not.

This is the reality and I’ll be reminding DEFRA Minister Lord Benyon of this the next time he repeats the Westminister Government’s tediously predictable claim that raptor-killing criminals face ‘significant sanctions…including an unlimited fine and/or a six month custodial sentence‘ (e.g. see this from Environment Minister Rebecca Pow in September 2021, and this from Richard Benyon in February 2022, and this from Rebecca Pow in February 2022, and this from Richard Benyon in April 2022).

Matthews is the 7th gamekeeper to be convicted in seven months across England, Scotland and Wales. There are still multiple cases pending court in the coming months. Clear evidence then that the game-shooting industry’s supposed ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards raptor persecution is simply just rhetoric and that the Government’s so-called ‘significant sanctions’ are complete bollocks.

The other convicted gamekeepers in recent months are:

Gamekeeper Shane Leech who was convicted in November 2021 for firearms and pesticides offences after the discovery of a poisoned buzzard found close to pheasant-rearing pens in Lakenheath, Suffolk (here);

Gamekeeper Peter Givens who was convicted in November 2021 for causing the death of a goshawk and a barn owl which starved to death in an illegally-operated trap on the Cathpair Estate in the Scottish Borders (here);

Gamekeeper Hilton Prest who was convicted in December 2021 for causing a sparrowhawk to starve to death in an illegally-operated trap in Cheshire (here);

Gamekeeper John Orrey who was convicted in January 2022 for battering to death two buzzards he’d caught in a cage trap on a pheasant shoot in Nottinghamshire (here);

Gamekeeper Rhys Davies from the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, Scotland, who was convicted in May 2022 for animal cruelty relating to badger baiting (he’ll be sentenced at the end of June – here);

Gamekeeper Archie Watson who was convicted in June 2022 for raptor persecution and firearms offences after he was filmed throwing 8 dead raptors down a well on a pheasant-shoot in Wiltshire (here).

Well done to the multi-agency search team involved in bringing David Matthews to court.

Wildlife Crime Working Group seeks (& receives) assurance from Sussex Police re: poisoned eagle investigation

In February this year, I blogged about the suspicious deaths of two white-tailed eagles on two separate game-shooting estates – one in Dorset and the other one rumoured to be in West Sussex (see here).

Both eagles were from the Isle of Wight Reintroduction Project – a privately-funded but Government-backed five-year project bringing young sea eagles from Scotland and releasing them on the Isle of Wight to re-establish this species in part of its former range.

[A juvenile white-tailed eagle. Photographer unknown]

The dead eagle found poisoned on an unnamed shooting estate in Dorset remains an ongoing issue of concern, not least because Dorset Police chose to close the investigation prematurely without a proper explanation (see here, and more on that case shortly).

The dead eagle found poisoned on an unnamed shooting estate in West Sussex has received less attention, although in April I revealed this eagle had been poisoned with Bendiocarb and that toxicology results from a dead dog found on the same shooting estate were pending (see here).

The reason this eagle poisoning case has received less attention is simply down to the fact that Sussex Police has failed to publicise the crime, even though it took place seven months ago (Oct 2021)! However, I was pleased to see The Independent picked up the story from this blog, as did The Telegraph, so it did make the national news but we’ve heard nothing more from Sussex Police.

To ensure that Sussex Police doesn’t ‘do a Dorset Police’ and drop this investigation without an explanation, Wildlife & Countryside LINK’s Wildlife Crime Working Group, England’s largest coalition of organisations working to tackle wildlife crime, has written to the Chief Constable of Sussex Police seeking assurance to that effect.

Here’s the letter that was sent last week:

To her absolute credit, Chief Constable Jo Shiner phoned LINK that afternoon to reassure the Wildlife Crime Working Group that the Sussex investigation is very much ongoing and that she understands the need for possible raptor persecution crimes to be looked at closely. I’m told, by people who know these things, that a fast and personal response like this is unheard of.

Compare and contrast Jo Shiner’s response to that of the Chief Constable of Dorset Police, who had also received a letter from LINK (see here) seeking an explanation about the Force’s failure to investigate the poisoned eagle found dead in Dorset. He has yet to reply.

I’m really pleased to see LINK’s Wildlife Crime Working Group applying pressure in these cases to ensure they’re taken seriously by the respective police forces (not that that should even be needed), but should it really be down to wildlife and conservation NGOs to do this? Surely this is what our statutory agencies should be doing? Wilful blindness, writ large, again.

Another dead buzzard in Dorset – Police warn public of suspected poisoned baits

Yet another dead buzzard has been found in North Dorset.

Whilst the cause of death has yet to be ascertained (presumably the carcass has been sent for post mortem), yesterday PC Rob Hammond warned the public to keep their dogs on leads to avoid the risk of them coming into contact with potential poisoned baits.

Well done to PC Hammond for putting out this timely warning. Even though poisoning has not yet been confirmed, the potential risk to the public and their dogs is high so he’s done exactly the right thing.

Dorset is fast becoming quite the hotspot for raptor persecution. I’ve been looking through some reports from the last few years and have found the following incidents of raptor persecution recorded in the county:

May 2018: Buzzard found shot dead (here).

May 2018: Suspicious deaths of two barn owls and several more buzzards (here).

March 2020: Disturbance of nesting peregrines (here).

April 2020: Several buzzards were found dead within close proximity to each other in the Ashmore Wood area near Blandford. These birds were sent for testing and enquiries remain ongoing (here).

August 2020: Two buzzards, one dead, were found near the body of a rabbit. An owl and a further two buzzards were also found. Analysis has confirmed Brodifacoum in the buzzard which is likely to have caused the death. The second buzzard and the owl had background residues and the analysis on the rabbit was negative.

September 2020: A dead buzzard was found on a bridleway, it had been shot.

November 2020: A dead red kite and rat were found near a footpath. Analysis has confirmed Bendiocarb in the stomach contents of the red kite and in pots removed from a vehicle and a sachet in a shed, which is likely to be the cause of death. No residues were found in the rat.

February 2021: A buzzard and a red kite were found in a wooded area. Analysis has confirmed Brodifacoum in the liver of the red kite which will have contributed to its death, the levels of Brodifacoum in the buzzard are borderline and uncertain if the exposure contributed to its death. 

March 2021: A multi-agency raid was carried out on a shooting estate in North Dorset. A number of dead birds of prey and several pesticides, including banned substances, were located at the premises. A firearm was also recovered (here).

January 2022: A dead white-tailed eagle was found poisoned on a shooting estate in North Dorset. The post mortem found its liver contained 7 x lethal dose of rodenticide Brodifacoum. Inexplicably, Dorset Police closed the investigation before conducting a search (here).

February 2022: Another white-tailed eagle was suspected to have been poisoned on another shooting estate in North Dorset. This one survived (here).

February 2022: A dead buzzard and a dead red kite are found dead on a shooting estate in North Dorset, suspected poisoned. Toxicology results awaited (here).

April 2022: A dead buzzard found dead in the Ashmore area. Toxicology results awaited.

It’s pretty clear that Dorset has a raptor persecution issue and I understand there are several more investigations that have yet to be reported in the public domain. Given these incidents, and more, it’s astonishing that the local MP, Chris Loder, thinks the police shouldn’t ‘waste resources’ on investigating wildlife crimes.

It’s even more astounding that Dorset Police shut down the poisoned eagle investigation, without conducting a search, and continue to refuse any explanation for their decision and yet still the top brass claim to be taking raptor persecution ‘seriously’, not that anyone believes them anymore.

It’s heartening then to see on-the-ground officers like PC Rob Hammond, trying to do the right thing. I wonder how long it’ll be before he’s told to drop the case and/or stop investigating wildlife crime, as has his colleague, PC Claire Dinsdale?

White-tailed eagle poisoned with banned pesticide on a game-shooting estate in West Sussex

In February this year, I blogged about the suspicious deaths of two white-tailed eagles on two separate game-shooting estates – one in Dorset and the other one rumoured to be in West Sussex (see here).

Both eagles were from the Isle of Wight Reintroduction Project – a Government-backed five-year project bringing young sea eagles from Scotland and releasing them on the Isle of Wight to re-establish this species in part of its former range.

[A juvenile white-tailed eagle. Photographer unknown]

The dead eagle found on a shooting estate in Dorset in January has barely been out of the news since then, not least because even though a post mortem found its liver contained 7 x the lethal dose of the rodenticide Brodifacoum, Dorset Police decided to shut down the investigation prematurely for reasons which are still to be established (see here).

The eagle rumoured to have been found dead on a shooting estate in West Sussex last October (2021) has received less media attention because, inexplicably, Sussex Police have failed to make a public statement about it.

Today, I can report that this white-tailed eagle was poisoned with the banned pesticide Bendiocarb, according to a recently published laboratory report. It reads:

A dog died and a sea eagle and buzzard were found dead. Analysis has confirmed bendiocarb in the stomach contents of the sea eagle which is an abuse of the product. Negative analysis for the buzzard‘.

Until recently, a product containing 80% Bendiocarb was available for registered use in England (it’s been banned in Scotland since 2005 and it’s so toxic that even possession of this pesticide is considered a serious offence there). However, approval for this particular product was withdrawn in England in December 2020. Another product containing a much lower concentration of Bendiocarb (1.25%) was re-approved for use in England in 2019 but with a significant caveat – it was for indoor use only.

So unless this sea eagle broke into secure premises, opened a few sachets with its nail scissors and scoffed the contents, it seems pretty likely that a serious wildlife crime has taken place, probably including the use of poisoned bait(s) laced with Bendiocarb.

The report mentions that the buzzard tested negative for Bendiocarb poisoning but it’s interesting that no results are provided for the dog. I wonder why that is?

The immediate questions, of course, are why Sussex Police have failed, after six months, to make a statement about such a high profile criminal investigation (I assume there is an investigation, but given what’s been going on in Dorset, then who knows?) and why Sussex Police have failed to warn the public that a dangerously toxic poison is in use in a particular area where the public may have access? (The banned product containing 80% Bendiocarb can have fatal consequences for humans [adults and children] if the product is swallowed or inhaled. You can expect the same result for a pet dog).

If you’re a West Sussex resident, may I suggest you contact your MP and ask what the hell is going on? Why are you being exposed to such risk without any public warning being issued? The police are supposed to be there to protect the public, not the poisoners.

If you’re a responsible game-shooter thinking about booking to attend a pheasant or partridge shoot in West Sussex this coming season, I hope you’ll carry out due diligence and boycott any estate involved.

UPDATE 16.50hrs: The Independent has picked up on this blog and published an article (here)

UPDATE 25th May 2022: Wildlife Crime Working Group seeks (& receives) assurance from Sussex Police re: poisoned eagle investigation (here)

Rising levels of wildlife crime during pandemic, new report from nature experts warns

Press release Wildlife & Countryside Link (25th November 2021)

Rising reports of wildlife crimes during the pandemic spark fresh fears for beloved species

  • Reports of wildlife crimes against many species rose between 35-90% in 2020
  • At the same time convictions on key types of wildlife crime fell by 50%+
  • Nature experts are calling for improved recording and monitoring, better targeting of resources, and enhanced use of expert police and prosecutors to tackle wildlife crime

A new report published today (25 Nov) by nature experts has revealed a worrying increase in reporting of wildlife crimes against badgers, fish, birds of prey, and marine mammals during the pandemic. While a sharp decline in convictions for wildlife crimes including hunting, illegal wildlife trade, and fishing crime was also seen in 2020.

Reports of likely crimes against badgers rose by 36% in 2020, compared to 2019, with reports of potential fishing crimes up by more than a third (35%) and marine mammal incident reports (in Cornwall alone) rising 90%, according to data gathered by the NGOs. The number of confirmed raptor crimes in England & Wales in 2020 was almost double that in 2019, rising from 54 to 104 (the worst year for bird-crime ever as detailed by the RSPB in October).

At the same time fishing crime convictions fell by almost two-thirds from 2037 in 2019 to 679 in 2020, and illegal wildlife trade convictions halved to just 4 convictions. Hunting prosecutions also more than halved, from 49 in 2019 to 22 in 2020, with only 8 convictions. Hunting conviction rates have in fact steadily decreased for the last five years, falling from 54% of prosecutions being successful in 2016 to less than a third (32%) of prosecutions achieving conviction in 2020.

Martin Sims, Director of Investigations at the League Against Cruel Sports and Chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Wildlife Crime group, said: ‘‘Wildlife crime is something that should concern everyone –it inflicts pain, harm and loss for much-loved wildlife and fuels wider criminality against people and property. Despite this the police still don’t gather centralised data on these serious crimes, leaving an incomplete picture from charities, which could be just a drop in the ocean of wildlife crimes. It is high time the Government steps in to treat wildlife crime with the seriousness it deserves. Making key crimes notifiable would enable police forces to better target resources, and track repeat offenders. While better police and prosecutor training and resources would help raise the pitiful 32% conviction rate for hunting prosecutions alone. The system must change to crack down on offences against nature once and for all.”

Dawn Varley, Acting CEO of the Badger Trust, said: Badger crime has been a UK Wildlife Crime Priority for more than a decade, due to the scale of persecution – but sadly this persecution shows no sign of letting up. 2020 saw reports of badger crime rise, driven in large part by a shocking 220% increase in reports of developers interfering with badger setts. A small minority seem to see badger habitat protections as an inconvenience to be quietly bulldozed over, rather than a legal requirement to conserve an iconic British mammal. 2022 must see renewed work by police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring offenders to justice. This must be supported by better monitoring, new training to enable officers and prosecutors to demonstrate criminal intent, and consistently tougher sentencing to deter these crimes.”

Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said: In the wake of an emergency climate conference and with all life on earth facing an uncertain future, there has never been a more important time for urgent action to end the illegal killing of wildlife. Wildlife declines are already being felt, and species can ill afford to face the additional pressure of being brutally shot, trapped or poisoned; nor should the public have to put up with these crimes taking place in the wild places they go to for refuge.

Bird of prey persecution reached unprecedented heights in 2020, particularly where land was managed for gamebird shooting. And it is certain that more crimes will have been committed and simply gone undetected and unreported. We urge the public to report dead or injured birds of prey in suspicious circumstances to the police and the RSPB, or pass on any information which may help lead to a conviction.” 

[One of two dead peregrines found illegally poisoned near Tadcaster, North Yorkshire in 2020. Photo RSPB]

The lockdowns and restrictions of 2020 appear to have contributed to rises in reporting of wildlife crimes and falls in convictions in several ways. Opportunistic offenders may have felt that with the police busy enforcing social restrictions that wildlife could be harmed with relative impunity. With increased use of the countryside in the pandemic more members of the public were also present to witness and report incidents of concern. COVID-19 pressures around social restrictions and staff absences appear also to have unfortunately reduced the capacity of police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service, and their ability to both bring hunting and fishing cases to trial and achieve convictions.

While today’s report reveals worrying figures, with impacts for treasured species like badgers, buzzards, kestrels, seals, dolphins and bluebells, it gives an incomplete picture. These organisations all collect data in different ways, with many only holding figures on reporting and convictions for incidents where members of the public have directly contacted them. There is a huge lack of information on wildlife crimes due to police not being required to officially record wildlife offences. Most wildlife crimes are recorded as ‘miscellaneous’ offences and are therefore invisible in police records, with no duty to be reported upon. The scale of wildlife crime is therefore likely to be far greater than the data collected by NGOs suggests. 

The 16 wildlife organisations behind today’s report are warning that the way wildlife crimes are handled by both the police and Crown Prosecution Service must be reviewed and improved, if offences against treasured British wildlife are to be tackled. In particular, the new report highlights that the continued absence of dedicated recording for wildlife crimes means that resources cannot be effectively assessed and targeted. A lack of expertise and resource for police and prosecutors, and deficiency of sentencing guidelines, is also leading to failures in convicting criminals and inadequate penalties for crimes.

Nature experts and conservationists are calling for several key actions to better tackle wildlife crimes:

  • Make wildlife crimes recordable – A shortlist of wildlife offences (compiled by the National Wildlife Crime Unit) is being considered by the Home Office for notifiable status. This must be approved in 2022 to bridge the crippling wildlife crime data gap and help target resources effectively.
  • Ensure effective police & prosecutor action – Staff with expert training on wildlife crimes are critical to effectively building and prosecuting a case against these criminals. Also key is early coordination between the CPS and police on cases, and ensuring prosecutors have adequate preparation time for cases. Ensuring police and CPS training and process reflects this is vital.
  • Produce sentencing guidelines – Unlike most other crimes, the Sentencing Council provides no sentencing guidelines for wildlife crimes. This must be rectified to ensure sentencing consistently reflects the seriousness of these crimes and acts as a deterrent to criminal activity. 

ENDS

The full report can be downloaded here:

Notes:

The new report has been written and published by Wildlife and Countryside Link, the biggest coalition of wildlife and environment charities in England, and Wales Environment Link, a network of environmental, countryside and heritage non-governmental organisations with an all-Wales remit. Both operate as part of a UK-wide coalition – Environment Links UK

Organisations supporting today’s report include: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Badger Trust, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Four Paws, Humane Society International UK, IFAW, Institute of Fisheries Management, League Against Cruel Sports, National Trust, Naturewatch Foundation, Plantlife, RSPB, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Wild Justice and WWF UK.

UPDATE 12.45hrs: Coverage of this new report in The Guardian here

UPDATE 13.00hrs: Coverage on Farming Today (starts at 06.20min) interviewing Mark Thomas, Head of RSPB Investigations here

Gamekeeper convicted for pesticide and firearms offences but buzzard-poisoning charge is dropped

Last week I blogged about how a Suffolk gamekeeper was due at Ipswich Magistrates Court to face a charge of poisoning a buzzard, having already pleaded guilty to several pesticide storage and firearms offences (see here).

This case stemmed from a multi-agency raid last January (here) after the discovery of an illegally poisoned buzzard in September 2020 which had been found close to pheasant-rearing pens near Lakenheath.

[The illegally-poisoned buzzard found close to the pheasant-rearing pens. Photos by RSPB]

The case was heard yesterday and it appears that the buzzard-poisoning charge was dropped, probably due to insufficient evidence, because despite the gamekeeper having this particular poison (Bendiocarb) in his possession, the prosecution would need to demonstrate that he was the person who laid the poisoned bait that subsequently killed this buzzard. The fact that the poisoned buzzard was found in close proximity to his workplace, and that he had the same poison in his possession, is simply not enough.

We can all draw our own conclusions of course, based on the balance of probability, but in English law the balance of probability is insufficient to convict for this particular offence. That’s not the fault of the police, the RSPB, the Crown Prosecution Service or the magistrate.

In this case, the gamekeeper, Shane Leech, 33, of Maids Cross Hill, Lakenheath, Suffolk, was convicted of six charges relating to pesticide and firearms offences and was given a Community Order of 80 hours unpaid work, ordered to pay £105 costs and a £95 Victim Surcharge.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the punishment fits the crime(s) and whether it offers any semblance of a deterrent to anyone who might be considering committing similar offences.

The RSPB has published two blogs about this case. The first one provides an overview of the case and offers praise to the work of Suffolk Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (see here).

The second blog is a more detailed discussion about the difficulties of bringing a successful prosecution for the illegal poisoning of birds of prey (see here). It also includes this shocking image of a pile of dead pheasants apparently being prepared for human consumption in the same room where the poison was being stored illegally!

Shotguns & dead bird of prey seized during multi-agency raid in Wales

Article from The Leader (8th October 2021)

MORE than a dozen shotguns and a dead bird of prey have been seized following an investigation into the illegal killing of raptors in the Ceiriog Valley.

The operation that took place this week was carried out by North Wales Police’s Rural Crime Team, in partnership with the RSPB Investigations Team, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the Welsh Government, targeting those suspected of unlawfully poisoning birds of prey.

It came following an investigation launched in July into the poisoning of a red kite, found dead in the Ceiriog Valley on February 27 [Ed: see here].

Toxicology tests carried out on the bird by the Welsh Government earlier this year revealed it tested positive for Bendiocarb – a highly toxic pesticide.

Officers believe the incident was a deliberate act.

[Photo from North Wales Police Rural Crime Team]

Following this week’s searches, which included the recovery of 15 shotguns, the dead bird of prey was sent off for toxicology tests, while dangerous chemicals also discovered at one property are being dealt with.

Sergeant Dewi Evans of the Rural Crime Team said:

It’s time to stamp out persecution against our birds of prey. We are glad to have worked with Welsh Government, National Wildlife Crime Unit and RSPB Investigations on our operation targeting those suspected of criminally harming our wildlife. We look forward to working with our partners again in future.

RSPB Investigations officer Niall Owen said: “This was a well organised multi-agency operation and a positive step in the right direction for investigating raptor persecution in Wales.

“We, as a team, are committed to working alongside the police to safeguard the future for birds of prey and uncover these barbaric crimes against our birds.

“Laying poison baits in the countryside to target birds of prey is not only illegal but represents a huge danger to any person or animal unlucky enough to come across it.

“We would like the thank North Wales Police for their commitments to follow up these incidents.”

ENDS

Red kite poisoned in North Wales – police appeal for information

North Wales Police Rural Crime Team has issued an appeal on Twitter for information after a toxicology report earlier this month confirmed that a red kite had tested positive for the poison Bendiocarb.

Unfortunately the details of this latest wildlife crime are vague. The kite was found ‘in the area’ of the Ceiriog Valley ‘earlier this year’ and the police believe the poisoning was ‘potentially deliberate’.

That’s it, I’m afraid. No specific location, no details of the circumstances and no date of discovery. [See update below]

There is a police reference number (21000458355) to quote if anyone has any information that could help the police investigation. Please call 101 if you can help.

UPDATE 8th July 2021: Thanks to PC Dewi Evans of the Rural Crime Team for pointing out the following posting on the Rural Crime Team’s Facebook page. For the benefit of those not on Facebook, here’s what it says:

The Rural Crime Team has launched an investigation into the poisoning of a red kite, found dead in the Ceiriog Valley. The bird of prey, protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, was found deceased on February 27th earlier this year and attended to by RSPB Investigations Team. Toxicology tests carried out by the Welsh Government have since revealed the bird tested positive for Bendiocarb – a highly toxic insecticide. Officers believe the incident was potentially a deliberate act and are asking anyone with information to get in touch. It comes following several similar incidents reported in the area over the past three years, with a number of ravens and crows also found to have been poisoned using another substance .PC Dewi Evans, North Wales Police Rural Crime Team manager said: “We suspect the red kite died as a result of the unlawful use of poison and as a result, we have launched an investigation into the incident. “The deliberate poisoning of a bird brings a serious risk to humans and other animals and is hugely irresponsible. “We are currently looking into a potential motive for this incident and ask members of the public who have information to get in touch.” Anybody with information is asked to contact officers at the North Wales Police Rural Crime Team via the website or by calling 101, quoting reference number 21000458355. Alternatively, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

UPDATE 8th October 2021: Shotguns & dead bird of prey seized during multi-agency raid in Wales (here)

Peregrine found poisoned on grouse moor in Peak District National Park

Press release from RSPB (2nd March 2021)

Peregrine poisoned in Peak District National Park

A peregrine falcon, which was found dead on a driven grouse moor in the Upper Derwent Valley, has just been confirmed as illegally poisoned following official toxicology analysis – adding to the growing list of protected birds of prey illegally killed during 2020’s spring lockdown – many of which were in the Peak District National Park.

The adult male bird was found dead, on top of the remains of a wood pigeon, on 31 May 2020 by a fell runner on National Trust land. This was close to a known nest site which, like several other sites in the Dark Peak, has a long history of poor breeding success.

[The poisoned peregrine, photo by the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group]

It was reported to Derbyshire Police, who recovered the carcass assisted by raptor workers, and the body was submitted for government toxicology testing. The results have just been published and confirm that the peregrine was illegally poisoned with the toxic insecticide bendiocarb: a substance we know is illegally used to kill birds of prey.

Mark Thomas, Head of RSPB Investigations, said: “This latest incident adds to an appallingly long and growing list of crimes against birds of prey which took place during the first national Covid lockdown in 2020. At the time, the RSPB was working flat-out with police to investigate a high volume of incidents, the details of which are now beginning to emerge.

It is clear that certain criminals took lockdown as an excuse to ramp up their efforts to kill birds of prey, wilfully ignoring lockdown and the laws which protect these birds.

Time and again, we are seeing birds of prey shot, trapped or poisoned on grouse moors. The link between illegal killing of peregrines and other raptor species and driven grouse shooting has never been clearer, and we urge the UK government to implement a licensing system for grouse moors in England, as is proposed in Scotland. Law-abiding estates would have nothing to fear from this, and it would act as a greater deterrent, keeping birds safe, in the sky, for all to enjoy.”

Peer reviewed studies, crime data and court convictions show that raptor persecution is more concentrated on and near driven grouse moors, where birds of prey are seen by some as a threat to commercially managed red grouse stocks. In fact, a recent paper statistically linked crimes against birds of prey in the Peak District National Park with land managed for Driven Grouse Shooting.

It is believed that the wood pigeon was a poison bait, laid deliberately with the intention of killing any bird of prey or raven which fed on it.

Steve Downing, Chair of the Northern England Raptor Forum, said: “Incidents like this are sadly not uncommon in the Dark Peak, where peregrine populations have crashed in recent years. What’s more, a poison bait like this, on open-access land, could easily be picked up by someone’s dog with disastrous consequences.”

Jon Stewart, National Trust General Manager, said: “We protect and care for places so nature and people can thrive. In a year when three pairs of peregrine successfully raised young on Trust land in the Dark Peak, half of all successful pairs on the Peak District moors, we were very upset to hear of this incident.

We continue to work closely with the RSPB, police and statutory agencies to take action to combat wildlife crime. We urge anyone with relevant information about this incident to contact the police and help end the illegal persecution of birds of prey.’’

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Derbyshire Police on 101.

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB Investigations on crime@rspb.org.uk or fill in the online form: www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/wild-bird-crime-report-form/

If you know of someone killing birds of prey, please don’t stay silent: call the confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

This latest crime should come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone even vaguely familiar with the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park. Dominated by driven grouse moors, this Park is notorious for raptor persecution and has been for decades, particularly impacting on goshawk and peregrine populations (e.g. see here), despite all the years of so-called ‘partnership’ efforts that have led to…..well, nothing but more of the same.

What is disappointing is that the poisoned bait and the dead peregrine were found on National Trust land – the NT has worked hard in the Park to restore raptor populations, even booting off a prominent sporting tenant three years ago (see here).

The press release is interesting, though. Once again, Derbyshire Police are conspicuously absent, the RSPB has had to lead on the publicity, and once again there has been a ridiculously long time lag between the commission of the crime and the publicising of it. There was a similar case in Derbyshire not so very long ago (see here) when this police force said that the circumstances of a poisoned buzzard being found dead next to a poisoned bait were ‘inconclusive’!

The 10-month time delay in publicising this latest poisoning case is very poor. The peregrine was found poisoned in May 2020 and the public isn’t made aware until March 2021? Now, we all know that Covid has had an impact on laboratory work and that’s unavoidable but I don’t believe for one second that it has taken the WIIS lab this long to produce the results. I think there’s more to it than that and I just wonder whether Derbyshire Police have played a role in the delay.

Something isn’t right and it needs sorting out, pronto.

UPDATE 11.30hrs: Mark Thomas, Head of RSPB Investigations has just tweeted:

The falcon was found on top of a plucked Wood Pigeon on National Trust land. Despite the investigation being closed, Derbyshire Police declined the opportunity to put this release out, we feel it is critical that the public are made aware due to the risk to them and their dogs‘.

I’ve asked Derbyshire Police’s Rural Crime Team, and the Chief Constable, why they refused to publicise this crime. Not only are there obvious public safety concerns but wildlife crime is supposed to be national wildlife crime priority.

Responses awaited.

Yet another red kite found poisoned in North Yorkshire

Yet another raptor persecution case from North Yorkshire, and yet another crime committed as part of a reported ‘surge’ of similar crimes recorded during the first period of lockdown (e.g. see here and here).

This time it’s a red kite that was found dying in April 2020 at Scampston, near Malton, to the south of the North York Moors National Park.

[Photos via Jean Thorpe]

Her corpse was sent for toxicology at the Government’s Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) and the results have apparently just been released (presumably delayed due to Covid19).

She was poisoned by a mix of Brodifacoum and Bendiocarb ‘in quantities that would not be consistent with an accidental incident’, writes Jean Thorpe from Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

Anybody with information about this crime please contact Police Wildlife Crime Officer Jez Walmsley at Malton Police Station (Tel: 101) and quote incident reference #12200055801.

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