General Licence restriction imposed on Moy, a grouse-shooting estate, after discovery of poisoned red kite

Press release from NatureScot, 21st June 2022:

General Licence restricted on Highland estate

NatureScot has restricted the use of General Licences on Moy Estate for three years

The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

This evidence included a poisoned red kite found on the estate in 2020, and incidents in relation to trapping offences.

[Red kite. Photographer unknown]

Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s Head of Wildlife Management, said: “We consider the information from Police Scotland provides robust evidence that wild birds have been killed or taken or there has been intention to do so illegally on this land.

“Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the use of general licences on this property for three years until June 2025. They may still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

“NatureScot is committed to using all the tools we have available to tackle wildlife crime. This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, although under tighter supervision.

“We believe this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime. We will continue to work closely with Police Scotland and consider information they provide on cases which may warrant restricting general licences.”

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out control of common species of wild birds, such as crows and magpies, to protect crops or livestock, without the need to apply for an individual licence.

In addition to this restriction, there are currently three other restrictions in place on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, Lochan Estate in Perthshire and Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire.

ENDS

The restriction notice reads as follows:

In line with NatureScot’s published General Licence restrictions: Framework for Implementing Restrictions we hereby give notice that a restriction has been applied to the land outlined in red overleaf. This restriction prohibits the use of General Licences 01, 02 and 03 on that land between 21st June 2022 and 21st June 2025.

Please note that this restriction does not imply responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals.

This one has been a long time coming. Moy is one of those estates where if its name comes up in conversation amongst raptor conservationists in Scotland, eyes tend to roll and knowing looks are exchanged. It has been identified as a raptor persecution hotspot for many, many years.

Here is a map we created way back in 2016 to highlight the extent of raptor persecution crimes in former Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s constituency (given his strong support of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association) and this shows the concentration of incidents on and close to Moy Estate:

Here is a selection of examples, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:

Moy Estate was raided by police in 2010 after the discovery of poisoned bait and dead raptors and illegally set traps. A gamekeeper was later convicted of possession of a red kite after its bloodied corpse was found in the back of his vehicle. It had two broken legs, consistent with being caught in spring traps, and a head injury. A bloodied shinty stick was also found in the back of the vehicle. Notably, the gamekeeper wasn’t convicted for killing the kite, just for having possession of it. Nobody was charged with killing this kite.

These baited traps were discovered on the moor (the illegally-set spring traps were originally disguised under moss, removed here for evidential purposes). No charges were brought.

The remains of two further red kites were discovered on the moor, including a severed red kite leg and some wing tags that had previously been fitted to a kite, all found buried in holes under some moss. No charges were brought.

A jar in one of the gamekeeper’s houses contained the leg rings of four young golden eagles – nobody could account for how they had ended up inside that jar. Perhaps he’d found them whilst ‘metal detecting at his uncle’s farm’ like gamekeeper Archie Watson, who recently gave this implausible explanation to the court for how he’d come to possess BTO leg rings from a buzzard and a red kite attached to his keyring.

This male hen harrier was found caught by its leg in an illegally-set spring trap on Moy Estate in 2010. No charges were brought. It survived after being rescued by raptor workers from the Scottish Raptor Study Group.

In May 2011 a satellite-tracked red kite ‘disappeared’ on Moy, and another one ‘disappeared’ in August 2011.

In 2016 Police Scotland issued an appeal for information following the discovery of disturbed and abandoned buzzard and goshawk nests in the Moy Forest. One goshawk and four buzzard nests were abandoned in suspicious circumstances, with some evidence of illegal disturbance. These nests were being monitored by staff from Forestry Enterprise Scotland (see here). No charges were brought.

In 2017 masked gunmen were caught on camera at a goshawk nest in Moy Forest. A few days later the nest and a clutch of four eggs was found abandoned (see here). No charges were brought.

In 2018 Police Scotland issued an appeal for information after a buzzard was found caught in an illegal pole trap in the Moy area (see here). No charges were brought.

In 2021 an individual was charged with the alleged killing of a bird of prey in this area. This case is believed to be progressing through the courts so I can’t comment further at this stage.

Of course, a General Licence restriction doesn’t amount to much of a sanction in real terms, as I’ve discussed on this blog endless times before (e.g. see here). However, it’s currently the only tool available to the authorities until we finally see the introduction of the promised grouse moor licensing scheme by the Scottish Government. Had that scheme been in place already, we’d hopefully have seen the removal of Moy Estate’s licence to shoot for a number of years, if not permanently.

Meanwhile, what will be really interesting to see is whether the Moy Game Fair goes ahead this year, given that the shooting organisations have all claimed to have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution. I don’t think the likes of Scottish Land & Estates, Fergus Ewing MSP and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association can expect anything other than high-level criticism if they attend this event on an estate that has now been sanctioned for wildlife crimes by the statutory nature conservation advisor, based on evidence provided by Police Scotland. Mind you, the conviction of a gamekeeper on Moy Estate in 2011 didn’t stop them attending (see here and here).

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.

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.

Gamekeeper Archie Watson convicted of raptor persecution & firearms offences on Wiltshire pheasant shoot

On 1 June 2022 at Swindon Magistrates Court gamekeeper Archie Watson (21) of Dragon Lane, Manningford Bruce, Pewsey received a 12-month community order to carry out 180 hours unpaid work and was ordered to pay £393 costs and £95 surcharge for pleading guilty to raptor persecution offences relating to the discovery in 2020 of at least 11 buzzards, four red kites and one gull species that had been dumped down a well on Galteemore Farm, a pheasant-shooting venue in Wiltshire.

[Gamekeeper Watson caught on camera dumping a buzzard in the well. Photo by Guy Shorrock/RSPB]

Watson was caught on camera 13 times after the RSPB installed a covert video recorder following a tip off by a member of the public. He denied killing the birds but pleaded guilty to possession of dead birds – three red kites, five buzzards and a herring or black-backed gull – contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. He claimed in court that he had ‘found’ the dead birds on the estate.

He also pleaded guilty to firearms offences after a loaded shotgun was discovered on the seat of his unlocked vehicle. Following a search at Watson’s home, several firearms were discovered that had been left unlocked and next to unsecured ammunition.

There has been significant media coverage of this latest conviction and I’d encourage you to read the following articles and watch the Channel 4 video, which reveals the extent of the multi-agency investigation that brought Watson to court:

RSPB Investigations blog here

Wiltshire Police statement here

Crown Prosecution Service statement here

Channel 4 News video here

ITV News coverage here

One of this blog’s readers attended court yesterday and has provided this excellent commentary on what went on:

[Court documents showing the charges faced by gamekeeper Archie Watson]

Charges 1 to 3 were dropped by the CPS as they couldn’t present sufficient evidence that Watson was the person who actually did the killing. It appears that he did not admit to killing them under questioning prior to the case and continued to maintain that in court that he had merely ‘found’ the carcasses as part of his duties out and about on the estate. He then disposed of them in a well estimated to be 8m deep with no water apparent and covered by a manhole cover. 

Having been alerted to the suspected disappearance of raptors (I couldn’t hear who by) the RSPB and possibly others (Wildlife Crime Unit?) set up camera surveillance at the site of the well. After an initial inspection of the contents of the well (by lowering a GoPro camera into it) it was found to contain remains of various birds including Common Buzzards, Red Kites and a Herring or Lesser Black Backed Gull). Following this the number of surveillance cameras was increased.

Watson was identified in the recordings on more than one occasion depositing bird carcasses into the well and on one occasion was recorded on audio in conversation with another person (not named) indicating that he knew ‘gulls were protected’. The evidence was passed to the police (Wiltshire Constabulary) who obtained warrants to search two addresses linked to Watson who was then arrested while staying at the address of a relative in Beckhampton (Nr Avebury, Wiltshire).

Searches of Watson’s home address in Dragons Lane, Manningford Bruce Nr Pewsey, Wilts turned up no evidence relating to raptor persecution however a glass jar containing white powder (later identified as Bendiocarb) was found in his vehicle. Watson claimed this was used as an insecticide against wasps and ants while the prosecution stated that it was also known to have been used in other recorded raptor poisoning incidents.

However at this site there was found evidence of multiple firearms offences concerning the safe storage of weapons and ammunition. In particular a Benelli M2 automatic (pump action) shotgun was found to be left unattended and unsecured in his Toyota pickup vehicle, still loaded with 11 shotgun cartridges. Watson was also found to be in possession of two BTO leg rings [from a buzzard and a red kite] which were attached to a keyring. Prosecution stated that to remove these rings from any bird it would have been necessary to break its legs. Watson claimed he had found these rings whilst metal detecting at his Uncle’s farm near Pewsey.

A search of Galteemore Farm in Beckhampton where the well was located found no further evidence of raptor persecution other than the contents of the well. A detailed inspection of the well was conducted under the supervision of the Fire Brigade and in conjunction with the Hampshire Confined Spaces team. It was found to contain the remains of a sheep, 9 bird skulls, multiple bird carcasses and an unidentified mammal skull’. 

[Examination of the carcasses as they were exhumed from the well. Photo by Guy Shorrock/RSPB]

Watson maintained at interview that he had not killed the birds but had simply used the well to dispose of carcasses he had ‘found’ whilst conducting his duties as gamekeeper. One of those function was to “keep the site clear” of such remains. He claimed to have found one of the buzzards on the A4 main road but had for some unspecified reason seen fit to dispose of it in the well. 

The prosecution provided witness testimony from a local wildlife expert that suggested it was highly unlikely to find such a high number of dead raptors over a relatively small area of open farmland where the birds had died of natural causes. Starvation was cited as one reason such birds may die and possibly only two such cases could be expected per annum. An impact statement was read out from a Mr Shorrock from the RSPB who said that there had been a serious problem with raptor persecution in the area. Forensic analysis of several of the bird carcasses found evidence of metal fragments.

As the charges for killing the birds had already been dropped due to lack of direct evidence Watson was the person responsible, it was also agreed that there was no case to answer on animal cruelty by Watson, which could have incurred an 18 week custodial sentence.

The defence argued for leniency on the grounds of it being Watson’s first (indicted) offence, previous ‘good character’ and that the length of time between the offences (2 years) had given him time to reflect on his actions and that he had “learnt his lesson”. It was stated that Watson had left school at 16 and been apprenticed as a gamekeeper sometime thereafter. He was 19 at the time of the offences and accepts that he had become ‘complacent’ around the proper use and care of the firearms. His firearms certificates had been revoked and whilst the court could apply for the destruction of the weapons it had not done so.

It was stated that clearly others had been using the well to dispose of carcasses and had been caught on video but were not identified in this case. The defence suggested that the custodial threshold had not been met because of these factors. The defence suggested that the risk of reoffending was “low” and that there was no evidence of further offending.

The Magistrates asked for clarifications on whether there was public access to the farmland? Watson suggested it was accessible only by a private driveway and was fenced but it was clear he was referring only to the immediate environs of the farm buildings and later stated that the entire holding was c.1000 acres. On a further supplementary question from the magistrates it was revealed that there is public access to the land and that it is adjacent to the historic monument of Avebury which attracts up to a quarter of a million visitors a year. These questions related specifically to the issue of firearms safety.

It was also asked why Watson had not reported finding the BTO leg rings to the appropriate authorities or even the BTO themselves to which the defence only replied that there was “no statutory obligation to report” this. It was also made clear that the number of birds Watson was being charged with being in possession of was reduced to 5 buzzards, 3 Red Kites and the Gull. No explanation was given for this.

At sentencing the Magistrates gave Watson credit for pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity and had therefore spared the public the time and cost of a trial. They regarded the firearms offences as being particularly serious and a combined sentence for all the offences combined was given as 180 hour unpaid community service plus costs of £393 plus a £95 surcharge for the forensic analysis of the bird carcasses. Watson was then referred to the Probation officer within the court before being allowed to leave the premises’.

ENDS

There’s so much to say about this case. First of all, full credit is due to the multi-agency investigation team who had to go to extraordinary lengths to retrieve the evidence. Their level of commitment was exemplary.

Second, this case illustrates in grim detail the lengths that those who kill birds of prey will go to hide the evidence of their crimes. Had it not been for a tip off by a member of the public, raptor-killing on this pheasant shoot would no doubt still be continuing, at huge cost to local raptor populations.

The defendant’s explanation for what was uncovered was so implausible that it’s laughable, but it’s no laughing matter and again, goes to highlight how difficult it is to secure a conviction, even with the level of evidence amassed in this case.

Watson’s sentence was derisory. It’s what we’ve come to expect, even though the number of corpses involved in this case make it the biggest raptor persecution investigation in England to date.

It’s not known whether Archie Watson was a member of the National Gamekeepers Organisation or BASC, as other recently-convicted gamekeepers have been, but to date neither organisation has bothered to issue a statement to condemn Watson’s crimes. How telling.

The blog reader who attended court also said this:

Also, I think he pleaded guilty on advice because they knew he’d have to answer difficult questions under oath on the stand that may have led to identifying who else was involved. And who was paying for his defence costs and the fine?

I asked him some of these questions outside the court with my GoPro on but the b@stard SD card wasn’t in properly and no recordings came through. He didn’t answer anyway but he was smirking and laughing with his mates as they went to their pickup’.

Some of the forensics work in this case, undertaken by the Natural History Museum at Tring, was funded by Wild Justice’s Raptor Forensics Fund, established in 2020 to help support police investigations into alleged raptor persecution crime. Thank you to all those who have contributed to this fund. The court ordered Watson to pay back the costs (£288).

Police Scotland changes its mind about ‘deliberately shot’ buzzard in Fife

Last month, Police Scotland issued a press statement and an appeal for information after what was described as a ‘deliberately shot buzzard’ was found in woodland at Monimail, near Ladybank, Fife (see here for original police appeal).

[Buzzard photo by Jerome Murray]

Today, Police Scotland has issued another statement, this time on the Fife Police Division’s Facebook page, stating that the buzzard hadn’t been shot at all.

Sometimes I despair. This isn’t rocket science. Why on earth did Police Scotland put out an appeal for information about a ‘deliberately shot buzzard’ without actually confirming that it had been shot?!

It’s good that they’ve now updated the information and clarified that it wasn’t actually shot at all, but the consequence of making the basic error in the first place is that it’ll be used by the raptor persecution deniers and apologists within the game-shooting industry to cast doubt on the veracity of other, genuine, raptor persecution incidents.

Another consequence is that these examples of ineptitude (and see yesterday’s report about Derbyshire Police’s basic procedural errors, here) don’t inspire public confidence in the police’s general ability to investigate these crimes properly, and that’s damaging when the police are often reliant on reports from members of the public about suspected raptor persecution and other wildlife crime offences.

Thankfully, these examples of ineptitude are relatively rare and certainly not the norm in the field of raptor persecution investigations, where there are many excellent, motivated and skilled officers leading on investigations.

Nevertheless, these mistakes simply shouldn’t be happening.

Buzzard shot & injured in south Derbyshire – police appeal for information

Derbyshire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team has appealed for information following the discovery of a shot & injured buzzard and a magpie.

[Photo of the shot buzzard via Derbyshire Constabulary]

Both birds were found by a member of the public on 24th March 2022 at the cemetery, Newhall, Swadlincote. Both birds were alive and were taken for veterinary attention, where they were confirmed to have been shot.

Derbyshire Police published an appeal for information on 30th March 2022 which said, ‘Local enquiries are being made however should anybody have knowledge or information regarding who is responsible for shooting the birds please contact us quoting crime reference 22000171170‘.

Court case delayed against Wiltshire gamekeeper Archie Watson

Criminal proceedings against a 21-year-old gamekeeper for multiple alleged raptor persecution and firearms offences have been delayed.

Archie Watson, of Dragon Lane in Manningford Bruce near Pewsey, Wiltshire, was due to appear at Swindon Magistrates next Wednesday (25th May 2022) to face six charges under the Wildlife & Countryside Act and three charges under firearms legislation, for offences alleged to have been committed on an unnamed game-shooting estate in 2019.

However, this case has now been adjourned to 1st June 2022 where Watson will be invited to submit his plea. If he pleads guilty sentencing will follow shortly afterwards; if he pleads not guilty this case will proceed to trial at a later date.

This case relates to a multi-agency raid in Wiltshire in September 2020 when two warrants were executed at locations in the Pewsey and Beckhampton areas. Firearms were seized as part of ongoing enquiries, and the carcasses of a number of birds of prey, including red kites and buzzards, were located at the site in Beckhampton (see here).

Earlier this month a Wiltshire Police spokesperson said: ‘The case has been brought after almost two years of detailed investigation and forensic analysis in conjunction with the CPS, RSPB and other partners. It is potentially the largest English raptor persecution case in terms of the number of alleged victims‘.

For context, and to provide an indication of how many raptor deaths may be involved, prior to this case the largest one in England was at the Stody Estate in Norfolk in 2014 (here) when gamekeeper Allen Lambert was found guilty of poisoning 11 birds of prey – 10 buzzards and one sparrowhawk.

PLEASE NOTE: As Archie Watson has been charged and court proceedings are live, I won’t be accepting blog comments on this case until criminal proceedings have concluded. Thanks for your understanding.

For previous blogs on this case please see here, here and here.

Wiltshire gamekeeper facing multiple charges of raptor persecution is named

Further to last week’s blog about a Wiltshire gamekeeper facing multiple raptor persecution and firearms offences (see here), this individual has now been named.

According to the Swindon Advertiser (here), the gamekeeper is 21-year-old Archie Watson of Dragon Lane in Manningford Bruce near Pewsey, Wiltshire.

Watson is due in court on 25th May to face six charges under the Wildlife & Countryside Act and three firearms offences.

This case relates to a multi-agency raid in Wiltshire in September 2020 when two warrants were executed at locations in the Pewsey and Beckhampton areas. Firearms were seized as part of ongoing enquiries, and the carcasses of a number of birds of prey, including red kites and buzzards, were located at the location in Beckhampton (see here).

A Wiltshire Police spokesperson said: ‘The case has been brought after almost two years of detailed investigation and forensic analysis in conjunction with the CPS, RSPB and other partners. It is potentially the largest English raptor persecution case in terms of the number of alleged victims‘.

For context, and to provide an indication of how many raptor deaths may be involved, prior to this case the largest one in England was at the Stody Estate in Norfolk in 2014 (here) when gamekeeper Allen Lambert was found guilty of poisoning 11 birds of prey – 10 buzzards and one sparrowhawk.

PLEASE NOTE: As Archie Watson has now been charged, I won’t be accepting blog comments on this case until criminal proceedings have concluded. Thanks for your understanding.

UPDATE 20th May 2022: Court case delayed against Wiltshire gamekeeper Archie Watson (here)

Wiltshire gamekeeper due in court to face multiple raptor persecution charges

An unnamed 21-year-old Wiltshire gamekeeper will appear at Swindon Magistrates Court on 25th May 2022 to face multiple raptor persecution charges (x 6 under the Wildlife & Countryside Act) and three firearms offences.

This case relates to a multi-agency raid in Wiltshire in September 2020 when two warrants were executed at locations in the Pewsey and Beckhampton areas. Firearms were seized as part of ongoing enquiries, and the carcasses of a number of birds of prey, including red kites and buzzards, were located at the location in Beckhampton (see here).

A Wiltshire Police spokesperson said: ‘The case has been brought after almost two years of detailed investigation and forensic analysis in conjunction with the CPS, RSPB and other partners. It is potentially the largest English raptor persecution case in terms of the number of alleged victims‘.

For context, and to provide an indication of how many raptor deaths may be involved, prior to this case the largest one in England was at the Stody Estate in Norfolk in 2014 (here) when gamekeeper Allen Lambert was found guilty of poisoning 11 birds of prey – 10 buzzards and one sparrowhawk.

Well done to Wiltshire Police’s Rural Crime Team and all the other agencies involved in this investigation.

PLEASE NOTE: As this individual has now been charged, I won’t be accepting blog comments on this case until criminal proceedings have concluded. Thanks for your understanding.

UPDATE 12th May 2022: Wiltshire gamekeeper facing multiple charges of raptor persecution is named (here)

UPDATE 20th May 2022: Court case delayed against Wiltshire gamekeeper Archie Watson (here)

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?

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