Barn owl found dead in a crow cage trap on an Angus Glens grouse moor

Over the weekend I was advised that a barn owl had reportedly been found dead inside a crow cage trap situated on a grouse moor in the notorious raptor persecution hotspot, the Angus Glens.

The discovery was apparently made during the first week of January 2023.

I understand the trap was tagged with the operator’s registration number (now a legal requirement in Scotland) and that the trap had not been disabled (i.e. the door hadn’t been removed/padlocked open) and so as far as the law is concerned, the trap was considered to be in-use, which means the trap operator has a legal obligation to check the trap at least once every 24 hours and release any non-target species. The General Licence conditions also state, ‘A check must be sufficient to determine whether there are any live or dead birds or other animals in the trap‘.

Barn owl. Photo: Anan Kaewkhammul

I asked Police Scotland to confirm the details of this case, whether a police search had been undertaken, if so, when, and what the current status is of the investigation?

After some hesitation, this afternoon a police spokesperson provided the following statement:

The incident has been reported to police and enquiries are ongoing“.

There’s more to this case than meets the eye. Watch this space…

UPDATE 19th January 2023: This blog article was picked up by The Courier, here

BBC programme ‘Caught Red Handed’ features conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey

A BBC programme called ‘Caught Red Handed‘ has featured the conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey and the role of the RSPB Investigations team in bringing him to justice.

Caught Red Handed‘ is a daytime TV programme, hosted by Dom Littlewood, that ‘looks at clever ways that the police and the public are catching crooks red handed‘. Currently being broadcast at 10am every weekday, this is bound to have brought the spectre of illegal raptor persecution to a much wider audience.

Orrey, you may recall, was convicted in January this year after covert footage provided by the RSPB caught him battering buzzards to death after he’d caught them in an illegally-set trap on a pheasant shoot at Hall Farm, Kneeton, Nottinghamshire (see here).

In the programme, previously-unseen footage of the police raid is shown:

There is an extensive interview with RSPB Investigator Tom Grose, who provides a behind-the-scenes explanation of the investigation. His poise and professionalism is exemplary.

This episode of Caught Red Handed is available on iPlayer for 29 days (here) and the feature lasts for about ten minutes, starting at 7.21 mins.

GWCT disregards police investigation into alleged wildlife crime on Van Cutsem’s Norfolk estate

Last week I wrote about how former Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing MSP, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, and landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates had shown complete disregard for the sanction imposed on Moy Estate after raptor persecution crimes had been recorded there (see here).

This week it’s the turn of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) to seemingly turn a blind eye.

Have a look at this event currently being promoted on GWCT’s website:

Regular readers will know that Hilborough House is the home of William van Cutsem. In May this year, police raided the estate after video footage emerged of alleged raptor persecution.

The footage, captured on a secret camera installed by the Hunt Investigation Team, appeared to show a crow cage trap in woodland alleged to be on the Hilborough Estate. The trap had been baited with live pigeons (this is an offence) and a young goshawk was attracted to the bait, entered the trap and then couldn’t escape. A masked man is then recorded entering the trap, pinning the goshawk to the side netting with a stick so he could grab the bird, and then removing it from the trap and walking away with it (also an offence). The goshawk’s fate is not shown.

As far as I’m aware, the police investigation is ongoing.

Mr Van Cutsem hasn’t commented publicly about this investigation although in a classic attempt at diversion, the Mail on Sunday ran a piece quoting ‘an unnamed source close to Mr van Cutsem’ who questioned the relationship between the Hunt Investigation Team and the RSPB:

What also is interesting is how close HIT works with the RSPB. It would be good to understand how a mainstream charity is working with a shady group’. 

Oh the irony!

Mail on Sunday blames ‘vigilantes’ for police investigation into alleged wildlife crime on Van Cutsem’s estate

The police investigation of alleged raptor persecution and associated wildlife crime at William van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate in Norfolk is being kept in the public eye thanks to the Mail on Sunday (MOS).

However, instead of claiming that [Police] ‘Officers found no evidence of wrong-doing‘ [on van Cutsem’s estate] which is what the MOS published the previous weekend (here), this time they’re focusing on the ‘animal rights vigilantes’ who had secretly filmed the alleged offences on the estate and then passed on their footage to the police.

The full article can be read here.

It’s classic tabloid nonsense, designed to take the focus off the alleged offences and undermine the credibility of the people who discovered those alleged offences.

The article quotes ‘a source close to Mr van Cutsem‘ throughout, but conveniently doesn’t name that source. Quotes from this unidentified source include:

A source close to Mr van Cutsem condemned HIT as a vigilante group which had set up cameras on private land without his permission, saying there were questions about its relationship with police and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds‘.


William is baffled the police didn’t say anything or give him any information and he had to read about it [on their Twitter page],’ said the source.


‘What also is interesting is how close HIT works with the RSPB. It would be good to understand how a mainstream charity is working with a shady group. Police said nothing.’


The source added: ‘William doesn’t want to say anything else at this stage, but needless to say it’s bonkers that the first he finds out about details was not from the police but from the HIT story’. 

The same weekend this happened, a neighbouring estate had four traps vandalised and a buzzard was found in another one, which was then released by the estate owner. 

These were all reported to the police. I’m also surprised the RSPB, who attended the raid, seem to be getting information from a group with a long history of shady entrapments.

Interesting then that ‘the source’ didn’t apparently raise any concerns about what had been filmed, just who had filmed it and whether they had permission to do so.

This sort of commentary is a tried and tested routine, and one we’ve seen over and over again from the likes of You Forgot the Birds and C4PMC, even down to the slagging off of the RSPB. This is not quality journalism, it’s just laughable bollocks, designed to deflect attention from the alleged crimes filmed on this estate.

I particularly enjoyed the MOS’s sub-heading in this article:

They [that’ll be the so-called vigilantes] released a video purporting to show a Goshawk stuck in a trap on the estate‘.

Er, I think it was a bit more than showing ‘a goshawk stuck in a trap’! What the video actually showed was a masked man removing a goshawk from an illegally-set trap (baited with live pigeons) purportedly filmed on van Cutsem’s estate. The man was then filmed carrying the goshawk away, which is also an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (the goshawk should have been immediately released).

Thanks for the laugh, MOS, and especially for the crap reporting which will just draw this police investigation to the attention of an even larger audience.

I look forward to reading an update from Norfolk Police in due course.

Illegally-set trap found on van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate in Norfolk

Further to the news two days ago that the van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate in Norfolk was under police investigation for alleged raptor persecution (here), more news about this case has emerged.

According to an article in yesterday’s Eastern Daily Press, police officers attended woodland close to the A1065 at Hilborough at 5pm on 29th April 2022.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

A [Norfolk Police] spokesperson said it [the investigation] came after they “received intelligence” that a bird of prey had been caught in a trap baited with a live pigeon, an offence under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

“While in the wood, officers discovered a trap set with a live pigeon. The pigeon was released by officers and is being looked after by another organisation on behalf of the police,” they added.

“At about 7pm, the officers saw two men in the same wood. The men were stopped and searched, and officers discovered a police-style baton in a vehicle being used by one of the men.

“Four live pigeons, one deceased pigeon and the police-style baton were among the items seized by police. The pigeons are currently being cared for on behalf of the police.”

Well, how interesting. I’m not sure how the EDP article can claim ‘it is understood that police left the estate having found no evidence of wrongdoing‘ when the police found a pigeon-baited trap in the woodland. It’s an offence to bait a trap with live pigeons because this would likely attract certain protected raptor species to the trap (especially goshawks) where they’d be caught and unable to escape. It’s for this reason that trap-users must comply with the General Licence conditions that permit just a few specific species to be used as decoys within a trap.

I’ve got to say, the reporting of this case so far appears to be for the purpose of deflecting all attention away from William van Cutsem and the Hilborough Estate.

The article published a couple of days ago by the Mail on Sunday looked to me like it had been placed by a van Cutsem supporter, perhaps as a damage limitation exercise. It emphasised the estate’s ‘legal methods for vermin control‘ (the use of the word ‘vermin’ was a bit of a giveaway, to be honest!), bigged up the estate’s reported conservation credentials (the late Hugh van Cutsem was well regarded in conservation circles – he died in 2013), and used an unnamed source (‘a friend‘ – typical tabloid tactics) to suggest that the estate’s current occupier, William van Cutsem, suspected he’d been set up by a disgruntled former employee.

Yesterday’s article in the EDP repeats some of this stuff and states that the estate ‘is now regarded as one of the UK’s best game shoots‘, although it doesn’t say who regards it as such or on what criteria this acclaim is based.

Nevertheless, whether you believe any of that stuff or not, the news that the police found an illegally-set trap and that they’d seized five pigeons and a police-style baton from two men in the same woodland suggests to me that there is a lot more to this investigation than the Mail on Sunday and EDP would have us believe.

I look forward to a press statement from Norfolk Police as the investigation progresses.

UPDATE 11th May 2022: Police confirm bird of prey was caught in an illegally-set trap on van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate in Norfolk (here).

How has the game-shooting industry reacted to the conviction of gamekeeper John Orrey?

Gamekeeper John Orrey’s conviction was secured in December 2021 when he pleaded guilty to five wildlife crime offences and four firearms offences. Sentencing was deferred until yesterday when he was handed a suspended custodial sentence and a small fine (see here) – nowhere near as severe as he deserved for deliberately baiting a trap to attract buzzards and then casually but brutally beating those buzzards to death with a stick as if it was part of his daily routine.

[Screengrab from the RSPB’s covert footage of criminal gamekeeper John Orrey killing buzzards at Hall Farm, Kneeton, Nottinghamshire]

At the time of his guilty plea I checked around the websites of the five game-shooting organisations that claim to have a ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution to read their statements of condemnation and see what efforts they’d made to distance themselves from this criminal gamekeeper, e.g. expelled him from membership (if he is a member) or blacklisted him to prevent future membership, blacklisted the pheasant shoot at Hall Farm in Kneeton, Nottinghamshire where Orrey is employed etc.

I found absolutely nothing about his conviction on any of the shooting org websites.

Perhaps they were waiting for sentencing before they took action?

Well let’s see. At the time of writing this blog, 24 hours after Orrey was sentenced, and with the story being covered widely online and in local, regional and national press, of the five shooting organisations claiming zero tolerance of raptor persecution, the National Gamekeepers Organisation has remained silent, the Countryside Alliance has remained silent, the Moorland Association has remained silent, and the CLA has remained silent. So has the GWCT. How telling is that?

The only shooting organisation to have published a statement is BASC, although it’s so weak and heavily disguised it really needn’t have bothered.

Here it is:

Note there is no mention of gamekeeper John Orrey or that he’s just been convicted of committing 5 wildlife crimes and 4 firearms offences on a pheasant shoot in Nottinghamshire. There are just generic statements suggesting, as BASC always does, that it’s a ‘tiny minority’ responsible for the wide ranging criminality found within the game-shooting industry, even though the most recent report shows the number of raptor persecution crimes is at a 30-year high.

Any casual visitor to the BASC website will struggle to know what the article is even about, and I’d argue that that is exactly what the BASC press team intended when it decided on what the headline and text would be. ‘Yeah, let’s make it look as though we’re condemning this gamekeeper’s actions without actually referring to him or his case or providing any details, because that would be too embarrassing/damaging for our industry‘.

BASC has added a link at the foot of its statement but this is a link to an article in the Newark Advertiser! No disrespect to the Newark Advertiser, but why on earth didn’t BASC include a link to the RSPB blog and the RSPB video? BASC even mentions in its statement its so-called partnership work with the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), a group on which the RSPB is also present, so why not share the work of an RPPDG partner that’s been at the centre of this criminal investigation, if BASC is genuinely interested in dealing with raptor persecution?

I’ll tell you why. Because the publicity about gamekeeper John Orrey’s criminality is highly damaging to the game-shooting industry’s reputation. BASC even admits this in its own press statement. BASC needs to be seen to be condemning the criminality because otherwise it looks to be supportive of the crime at best, complicit at worst, but it will go out of its way to avoid providing the abhorrent details that a casual visitor to its website will rightly associate with the game-shooting industry.

Orrey is the 4th gamekeeper to be convicted of wildlife crimes/raptor persecution since November 2021. The three others were gamekeeper Shane Leech (33) in Suffolk (here), gamekeeper Peter Givens (53) in the Scottish Borders (here) and gamekeeper Hilton Prest (58) in Cheshire (here). I didn’t see any publicity/condemnation from any of the shooting organisations in relation to these other convictions.

So why has BASC responded to Orrey’s conviction and not the others? Simply pressure to be seen to be doing the right thing, because Orrey’s case has been high profile and drawn plenty of media attention due to the brutality of his crimes that were laid bare in the RSPB video. That footage is shocking and has caused revulsion amongst the general public. How else do you explain BASC’s silence (and all the other shooting organisations’ silence) about these three other convictions?

I’ve asked whether Orrey was/is a member of these organisations and if so, whether he’s been expelled. I haven’t received any responses.

And what now of John Orrey?

We know that his firearms were removed from him by Nottinghamshire Police back in January 2021 when his house was raided but there is no indication that he lost his job at that time. Indeed, in court his defence solicitor highlighted the fact that Orrey had managed to go a whole year without killing any more buzzards (see here).

Orrey was (is still?) employed by Hill Farm in Kneeton, Ruchcliffe, Nottinghamshire. This is a working farm with an ancillary pheasant shoot. It’s been reported that Orrey’s role is a mixture of farm labourer and gamekeeper. His firearms certificates have now been revoked for an indeterminate period (it’ll be up to the Chief Constable to decide whether Orrey is fit to have them returned) and as a result of his fine and suspended sentence, it seems he will not be allowed to use the General Licences for two years until his conviction is considered ‘spent’ and he is considered to have been ‘rehabilitated’ (in the eyes of the law, at least).

This should restrict Orrey’s gamekeeping activities considerably assuming he’ll abide by the law (and if he doesn’t he’ll find himself in jail because the suspension on his custodial sentence will no longer apply). If anyone happens to be walking in the Kneeton area and particularly in the vicinity of Hall Farm (there are public footpaths) it will be worth keeping a look out to see whether any traps are being deployed to catch and kill so-called ‘pest’ birds such as crows, magpies, rooks, jays, woodpigeons etc. If you find anything that looks suspicious please report it to Nottinghamshire Police immediately.

“A shocking & unnecessary act of cruelty & violence” says Judge sentencing gamekeeper John Orrey

Further to today’s news that gamekeeper John Orrey, 63, of Hall Farm, Kneeton, Nottinghamshire was sentenced today at Nottingham Magistrates Court for battering to death two buzzards he’d caught inside a trap (see here), here’s a piece from BBC journalist Simon Hare on East Midlands Today. Hare door-stepped Orrey as he left the court today but Orrey refused to comment.

Tom Grose from the RSPB Investigations team deserves credit for his poise and professionalism in what must have been a harrowing case.

Unfortunately this short video will expire at 7pm tomorrow (Saturday 29th Jan 2022) so watch it while you have the chance. Starts at 04.40 min:

Gamekeeper John Orrey, convicted of beating to death two buzzards, avoids jail

Press release from RSPB, 28th January 2022

Keeper caught on camera killing buzzards

A gamekeeper has been sentenced to a total of 20 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months and fined £1000 after pleading guilty to killing two buzzards on land managed for pheasant shooting after an investigation by Nottinghamshire Police and the RSPB.

Shocking footage was played in court, showing John Orrey, 63, of Hall Farm, Kneeton, brutally killing two healthy buzzards inside a cage trap, into which they had been lured.

The court heard how, early in January 2021, members of the public reported a live buzzard caught in a cage trap in Kneeton, Nottinghamshire. Following up the report, an RSPB Investigations Officer located the trap on a pheasant shoot. There was a live buzzard inside – later confirmed to be a different bird than the one first reported – along with the carcasses of a pheasant and two stock doves, used as bait to attract the buzzard.

Cage traps can be used legally under license for certain reasons to catch corvids such as crows and magpies. However the law states that traps must be checked at least every 25 hours, and anything caught accidentally must be released unharmed.

The buzzard was released due to concerns for its welfare and the RSPB Officer installed a remote camera.

A review of the footage revealed that the trap had been visited on several occasions by a man – later identified as John Orrey – driving a green 4×4. Two buzzards entered the trap on separate, consecutive days, no doubt attracted to the carrion in the harsh weather. On both occasions Orrey entered the trap and bludgeoned the buzzards to death with the long handle of a slash hook.

[Ed: A five-minute video of these offences has been produced by the RSPB’s Investigations Team. WARNING – it contains distressing footage]

Nottinghamshire Police were notified and swiftly identified the suspect as John Orrey, a gamekeeper on a pheasant shoot on the land in question. A warrant was obtained to search his premises. In a barn near his home was the same green 4×4 with a long-handled slash hook in the boot. The bodies of the buzzards had likely been disposed of. A forensic examination of the two stock doves confirmed they had been illegally shot.

Buzzards and stock doves are legally 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.

Orrey pleaded guilty to all charges in December 2021 and was sentenced today (28 January) at Nottinghamshire Magistrates’ Court. In relation to the killing of the buzzards, for each bird he received an 18-week suspended sentence to run concurrently and a £500 fine for each bird. He was also ordered to pay £650 costs and £50 victim surcharge, and £180 compensation to the Wild Justice Raptor Forensics Fund.

District Judge Grace Leong remarked: “This was a shocking and unnecessary act of cruelty and violence.”

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “When I first saw the footage I was shocked and sickened. The birds were subject to a repeated torrent of blows before being thrown into the boot of a vehicle. This was clearly a premeditated operation and yet again illustrates that the shooting industry has a serious problem that needs to be sorted. Killing birds of prey has been illegal for decades, and yet it is still commonplace. Why? Clearly the punishments are no deterrent and the courts must look at using the full range of sentences available – including jail – to signal clearly that this sort of behaviour is simply not acceptable.

“Better regulation is needed too. The RSPB has repeatedly asked for the conditions on cage traps to be tightened. The UK Government must follow the recommendations of the recent

UN assessment, which calls for stronger regulation of the shooting industry and to allow for the removal of licences to use these traps.”

Chief Inspector Heather Sutton, Nottinghamshire Police’s lead for rural crime, said: “This sentencing is extremely significant and I hope it demonstrates just how seriously Nottinghamshire Police takes reports of rural crime and how we will work together with our partners to bring anyone committing these horrific offences to justice. It is unacceptable that any wildlife should experience the kind of ordeal John Orrey subjected them to.”

Orrey pleaded guilty to 5 x WCA and 4 x firearms charges:

• Possession of two dead stock doves.

• Intentionally killing a common buzzard on 8/1/21

• Intentionally killing a common buzzard on 9/1/21

• Using a cage trap to kill or take a wild bird

• Possession of an article (slash hook) capable of being used to commit an offence

• Failure to comply with condition of shotgun certificate (weapon not securely stored)

• Failure to comply with condition of firearms certificate (ammunition not securely stored)

• Failure to comply with condition of firearms certificate (weapons and ammunition not securely stored)

• Possessing ammunition for a firearm without a certificate

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, phone the police on 101, email RSPB Investigations at or fill in the online form:


I understand a blog from the RSPB is imminent, providing more detail and commentary than this press release.

I’ll post both as soon as they become available.

UPDATE 15.20hrs: An article in the Newark Advertiser provides more detail about the case and states that Orrey’s shotgun licence has been revoked (see here).

UPDATE 15.50hrs: The blog by the RSPB’s Investigations Team can be read here

UPDATE 18.50hrs: Photo of buzzard-killer John Orrey from BBC News:

UPDATE 19.10hrs: Wild Justice Raptor Forensic Fund helps secure conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey (here)

UPDATE 21.00hrs: “A shocking and unnecessary act of cruelty and violence” says Judge sentencing gamekeeper John Orrey (here)

UPDATE 23.00hrs: Coverage on Channel 4 News here

UPDATE 29th January 2022: How has the game-shooting industry reacted to the conviction of gamekeeper John Orrey? (here)

UPDATE 24th August 2022: BBC programme ‘Caught Red Handed’ features conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey (here)

Gamekeeper to be sentenced today for beating to death two buzzards in a trap

A gamekeeper will be sentenced at Nottinghamshire Magistrates Court today after he pleaded guilty to beating to death two buzzards that he caught inside a crow cage trap in Nottinghamshire in January 2021 (see here for previous blog). There are additional offences, including a firearms offence.

[Nottinghamshire Police visited the crime scene to collect evidence with the RSPB Investigations Team in January last year. Photo via Nottinghamshire Police Rural Crime Team].

I think we can expect to see extensive coverage of this case from the RSPB, including the video of the so-far-unnamed gamekeeper killing the buzzards, once sentencing has been handed down. I also understand there may be coverage on Channel 4 News this evening.

The widespread mis-use of crow cage traps to trap & kill birds of prey

RSPB Investigations Officer Guy Shorrock published an insightful blog yesterday (‘Cage traps in the spotlight across the UK’) detailing the ongoing and widespread mis-use and abuse of crow cage traps, often used by criminal gamekeepers to trap and kill raptors, sometimes deliberately and sometimes through reckless negligence.

His blog provided details of an incident in Wales in April last year, and I don’t recall seeing any media coverage of this case. The following text is reproduced directly from Guy’s blog:

A case from April last year again highlights our concerns. A member of public found a crow cage trap on sheep grazing farmland in North Wales containing a buzzard, a red kite and multiple crows. The finder released all the birds and reported it to us.

As with all cage traps outside Scotland, without marking and registration it can far more difficult, often impossible, to identify the trap operator. A visit by my colleague Niall Owen confirmed the presence of a lamb carcass, which should have been properly disposed of and not used as bait, along with two carrion crows. A week later the trap held two crows and a buzzard plus the bodies of two further crows. To identify a trap operator, and to determine whether the licence conditions were being complied with, a covert camera was installed for a couple of days. At this point, there was no clear contravention of the licence conditions. The buzzard was in good health, so it was left in situ and provided with fresh water and food just in case visits were not made. One dead crow was seized and sent off for a post-mortem. Two days later the buzzard was still present, thankfully alive and well, so was released unharmed. We informed North Wales Police who identified the farmer operating the trap and ensured it was rendered incapable of trapping.

[Buzzard caught inside the cage trap, photo by Niall Owen, RSPB. This bird was released by the RSPB when it became clear the trap was not being operated lawfully]

The post-mortem on the carrion crow confirmed the bird had died of starvation, confirming further breaches of the licence conditions and animal welfare regulations. Had the original finder and ourselves not released the trapped birds, we fear they would have met the same fate. This case was about negligence rather than any deliberate targeting of birds of prey, and following the police investigation, the operator was given a Community Resolution Order. This had a requirement that they could not operate cage traps until a suitable course has been attended.

Guy’s blog is timely as we await the sentencing of a gamekeeper who has recently been convicted of killing two buzzards in a cage trap in Nottinghamshire (see here). The RSPB has what Guy describes as ‘graphic footage’ filmed on a covert camera showing exactly how the gamekeeper used the trap to catch and then kill two buzzards. I understand the RSPB will release this video evidence after sentencing next week.

I’d encourage you to read Guy’s blog in full (here) to understand the different approaches being deployed (or not) to address these offences in England, Scotland and Wales and how members of the public can help catch the killers.