Parliamentary question: what steps is DEFRA taking to fully investigate raptor persecution crimes during avian flu pandemic?

Another timely written question from Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party), as follows:

The presence of avian flu has important consequences for how the corpse of a dead raptor is handled and stored, under strict government rules, and unfortunately this impacts on the ability to conduct standard toxicology analyses for other potential causes of death, notably the detection of certain poisons.

You may recall this was an issue with the investigation into the suspicious death of a white-tailed eagle found dead on the Isle of Wight in March 2022 (here).

Young white-tailed eagle. Photo: Garth Peacock

The police investigation into the circumstances and cause of death of that white-tailed eagle was hampered because a preliminary test indicated the eagle was harbouring avian flu (although this was ruled out as the cause of death during a later post mortem). However, as avian flu was detected, protocol dictated that the eagle’s tissue samples be stored in formalin, which then restricted the lab’s ability to detect poisons such as Bendiocarb or the significance of rodenticides in its body. As a result, the cause of death of this white-tailed eagle was unsatisfactorily recorded as ‘uncertain’ (see here).

Caroline’s written question was answered last Friday by Trudy Harrison, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in DEFRA, as follows:

This is another fluffy response from the DEFRA Minister, that looks substantive on the surface but when you drill down into it, it doesn’t say very much at all, other than the Government is ‘alive to the enforcement challenges’. It doesn’t tell us how those challenges are to be met, or even whether it will be possible to overcome them.

This is of serious concern, especially relating to raptors whose diets leave them more susceptible to contracting avian flu, for example white-tailed eagles . I’m aware that another young white-tailed eagle was found dead in Hampshire last autumn. It’s death was deemed ‘suspicious’ based on its movements and behaviour prior to death but it, too, tested positive for avian flu and as a result APHA refused to even conduct a post mortem to determine the cause of death, which may have been due to avian flu, or, like the dead white-tailed eagle found on the Isle of Wight last spring, it may just have been carrying avian flu but it wasn’t the cause of its death.

Dorset Police response to sentencing of criminal gamekeeper Paul Allen

Well it’s taken them long enough, but finally Dorset Police has managed to issue a statement about the conviction and sentencing of criminal gamekeeper Paul Allen, who pleaded guilty to multiple wildlife, poisons and firearms offences whilst working on the Shaftesbury Estate in March 2021.

You’ll recall I was surprised when Dorset Police failed to mention anything about Allen’s forthcoming court appearance and subsequent conviction back in January, despite the force publishing statements about a wide variety of other criminal cases at various stages of progression through the criminal justice system (see here), but at last, they’ve got around to saying something. Although what they’ve chosen to exclude from this press statement is far more revealing than what they’ve chosen to include.

The following statement was published on the Dorset Police website last Thursday:

A man has been sentenced at court for wildlife and firearms offences in East Dorset following a multi-agency investigation led by rural crime officers.

Paul Scott Allen, aged 54, was sentenced at Weymouth Magistrates’ Court on Thursday 16 February 2023 after admitting a total of seven offences at a previous hearing.

The defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing a live or dead wild bird under schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and two charges of failing to comply with the conditions of a firearms certificate.

Allen also admitted the following offences:

Using a biocidal product in contravention of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Possessing an unlawful substance under the Plant Protection Products Regulations 2012

Possessing a regulated substance without a licence under the Poisons Act 1972.

Allen was sentenced to 15 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to pay fines and compensation totalling more than £2,900. 

The investigation was launched by Dorset Police’s Rural Crime Team following reports of suspected bird poisonings on a rural estate in East Dorset.

Following work with partner agencies including Natural England and the National Wildlife Crime Unit, a warrant was executed on Thursday 18 March 2021. During searches a number of dead birds of prey were located.

Officers also searched the address of Allen, a gamekeeper at the estate, and found a shotgun and ammunition, which were not covered by the defendant’s firearms certificate. Further enquiries uncovered a number of prohibited toxins at the premises.

Allen was interviewed by officers and – following detailed enquiries and liaison with experts from the Crown Prosecution Service – was charged with the various offences.

Chief Inspector David Parr, of Dorset Police, said: “We take all reports of wildlife crime and rural criminality very seriously. This case has seen us work with partners including Natural England and the National Wildlife Crime Unit to compile evidence before liaising with the Crown Prosecution Service Specialist Wildlife Prosecutor who agreed to the charges against the defendant.

“Wildlife crime remains a key objective of the recently expanded Dorset Police Rural Crime Team and we will continue to work with our partners to investigate criminal offences and deal with offenders robustly.”

Stephanie Bird-Halton, National Delivery Director for Natural England, said following the hearing: “Natural England is determined to tackle the scourge of persecution of our birds of prey. We assisted Dorset Police in this prosecution, gathering evidence and providing specialist technical advice. We are pleased Allen has been held to account for his offences against our wildlife. 

“Without landowners and land managers complying with the law and reporting illegal activity, the impact on our wildlife will continue.

“If members of the public spot birds of prey they suspect may have been poisoned, we would ask them to contact the police, but not to touch the bird.”

Angharad Thomas, the CPS Wessex Wildlife Lead, said: “We work closely with the police on all wildlife related cases to make sure there is sufficient evidence to meet our legal test for prosecution.

“In this case, the review of extensive and complex evidence made it clear that Allen’s offending posed a significant threat to human and animal life, as well as having a negative impact on the countryside.

“Anyone acting otherwise than in accordance with firearms licences or in contravention of laws intended to protect our wildlife and countryside will be prosecuted.”


To a casual observer, this press statement is straightforward, detailed and complimentary about a number of partners involved in the investigation that led to a successful conviction. Hooray! Tea and medals all round! But for those of us who’ve taken more than a passing interest in this case, what this statement actually is is petty and vindictive.

Why do I think that? Well, look closely and you’ll see that one of the significant partners in this multi-agency investigation, the RSPB, has been erased completely from the narrative by Dorset Police.

The statement mentions other partners including the NWCU, Natural England and the CPS, but there’s no mention whatsoever of the RSPB or the specialist role it brought to the case, from initial liaison with the (now former) Dorset Police wildlife crime officer, Claire Dinsdale, to helping plan and then conduct the search under warrant of Allen’s premises, to providing expert guidance on what was found, organising the forensics testing on the exhibits, then having considerable input into the file preparation for submitting to the CPS and then considerable liaison with the CPS itself.

As you can see, the RSPB wasn’t just along for the ride, it made an important and weighty contribution to the case, so why has Dorset Police gone out of its way to exclude it? My guess would be that it’s because the RSPB has been extremely supportive of Claire Dinsdale as she continues to battle senior officers over the botched investigation into the poisoned white-tailed eagle (an on-going saga).

I was also amused to read in the press statement the quote from Chief Inspector David Parr of Dorset Police, who said: “We take all reports of wildlife crime and rural criminality very seriously….. Wildlife crime remains a key objective of the recently expanded Dorset Police Rural Crime Team and we will continue to work with our partners to investigate criminal offences and deal with offenders robustly.”

Yeah, right, as long as it doesn’t involve conducting a police search on a shooting estate to look for evidence about who might have poisoned a white-tailed eagle, especially if a gamekeeper on that estate just happens to already be under investigation for multiple wildlife, poisons and firearms offences, and especially if a local Conservative MP has been kicking off about ‘wasting police resources on investigating wildlife crime’. Yeah, apart from that, Dorset Police will ‘continue to work with our partners [apart from the RSPB] to investigate criminal offences and deal with offenders robustly‘.

RSPB’s response to sentencing of criminal Dorset gamekeeper, Paul Allen

Further to yesterday’s news that criminal gamekeeper Paul Allen had escaped a custodial sentence despite committing multiple wildlife, poisons and firearms offences whilst employed on the Shaftesbury Estate in Dorset (here), the RSPB has issued the following press release:

Gamekeeper fined as dead birds of prey and poisons found on Dorset estate

Gamekeeper Paul Allen (54, of Baileys Hill, Wimborne St Giles) appeared at Weymouth Magistrates’ Court today (16 February 2023) following a guilty plea last month relating to multiple raptor persecution offences.

He was sentenced to 15 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months for the possession of the buzzards, a £674 fine for failing to comply with firearm regulations, £1,348 for the chemical storage and usage offences, and told to pay £884 compensation [Ed: to Wild Justice’s Raptor Forensics Fund] to cover the cost of the x-rays and post-mortems for the bird carcasses.

The bodies of six shot Buzzards and the remains of three more were discovered in Allen’s yard on the estate in 2021, after a poisoned Red Kite was reported to Dorset Police by a member of the public. The kite contained high levels of brodifacoum, the deadliest rat poison on the market, which also shockingly killed a White-tailed Eagle in the vicinity 10 months later.

The poisoned red kite that triggered a multi-agency search on the Shaftesbury Estate in March 2021, which uncovered gamekeeper Paul Allen’s widespread criminal activities. Photo: RSPB

The search of Allen’s land also uncovered stashes of deadly poisons, including the pesticide bendiocarb – which has been abused for deliberately killing of birds of prey for years – two bottles of the banned substance strychnine, two tins of the banned poison Cymag and the toxic rodenticide brodifacoum. There was also a loaded gun left propped behind a door in Allen’s home.

Allen pleaded guilty to the possession of the dead Buzzards and the poisons.

All birds of prey are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and killing them is against the law, punishable by an unlimited fine and/or jail. In November, the RSPB published the Birdcrime report 2021, which revealed 108 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution in the UK. 71% of these occurred in relation to land managed for gamebird shooting.

A satelite-tagged White-tailed Eagle, poisoned with seven times the lethal dose of brodifacoum, was found dead 10 months later on the same estate, although it is unknown exactly where it picked up the poison. However, in a disappointing turn of events, the investigation was unexpectedly and prematurely shut down by Dorset Police before a full follow-up search could take place, despite police knowledge that the same substance had been found on the same estate during the investigation at court today.

Mark Thomas, UK Head of Investigations at the RSPB, said: “It is clear that the use of the lethal rat poison brodifacoum needs much tighter regulation and controls over use, as it is clearly being both misused and abused to kill birds of prey. At the very least this product should be restricted to indoor use only, as it was before the Government relaxed its use in 2016. We also suggest that only accredited pest controllers should be able to use it in specific circumstances. If not, then the unnecessary increase in bird of prey deaths, including White-tailed Eagles and Red Kites, will continue.”


In addition to this press release, RSPB investigations officer Tom Grose has written an excellent blog about the investigation on Shaftesbury Estate into Allen’s criminal activities, and has also provided some information about the poisoned white-tailed eagle that was found on the same estate 10 months later, the investigation that was prematurely cancelled by Dorset Police, despite them knowing all about Allen’s crimes on the same estate. To read Tom’s blog click here.

The RSPB’s investigation team has also produced a short video about both cases, which can be watched via their Twitter account here:

Death of white-tailed eagle on Isle of Wight recorded as ‘uncertain’ as presence of avian flu restricted toxicology tests

In March last year a young, satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle was found dead on the Isle of Wight in what were considered to be suspicious circumstances and a police investigation was launched (see here).

This was the third white-tailed eagle death since October 2021 and all three birds 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 young White-tailed eagle. Photo: Garth Peacock

The two other dead eagles found during that period included the one found on the Shaftesbury Estate in Dorset in January 2022, which was confirmed to have been illegally killed by ingesting an extraordinary high quantity of the rat poison Brodifacoum but the subsequent police investigation was botched by Dorset Police (see here); and the eagle found dead on a game shoot in West Sussex in October 2021, confirmed to have been illegally killed by ingesting the poison Bendiocarb and whose death is currently the subject of an on-going police investigation (see here).

A preliminary post-mortem on the eagle found dead on the Isle of Wight revealed it was carrying avian flu, but at that time it was unknown whether avian flu had been the cause of death. Later tests revealed it had not.

The presence of avian flu has important consequences for how the corpse is handled and stored under strict government rules, and unfortunately this impacts on the ability to conduct standard toxicology analyses for other potential causes of death, notably the detection of certain poisons.

Last week Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary issued the following statement about the death of this eagle:

Death of White-tailed Eagle remains uncertain after conclusion of police investigation.

A police investigation into the death of a satellite-tracked White-tailed Eagle on the Isle of Wight has found no evidence of unlawful killing.

It comes after Hampshire Constabulary were called shortly after 5pm on Thursday 24 February 2022 to a report of a dead sea eagle on Bowcombe Road on the Isle of Wight.

The circumstances surrounding the death were investigated by local Country Watch officers, along with the support of various partners including the Animal and Plant Health Agency, DEFRA, Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.

Officers explored all possible lines of enquiry into the death, including; analysis of satellite tracking data, evidential land searches in and around the site where the bird was found deceased, obtaining accounts from witnesses in the local area at the time, comprehensive veterinary x-rays as well as conducting specialist post mortem examinations.

The bird initially tested positive for Avian Influenza (AI), but subsequent post-mortem examination carried out under strict AI protocols concluded that this was not the cause of death.

Standard toxicology testing was not possible due to the AI positive test, but the limited analysis that was undertaken did reveal elevated background levels of two rodenticides, brodifacoum and difenacoum, though not at sufficiently high levels to have caused the death of the bird. As such the post-mortem concluded that the actual cause of death of the White-tailed Eagle remains uncertain.

During the post mortem, there was no evidence of any lesions on the sea eagle to explain the cause of death.

Police Sergeant Stuart Ross of Hampshire Constabulary’s Country Watch team, said: “Hampshire Constabulary has carried out a thorough criminal investigation into the death of the White-tailed Eagle and have found no evidence of unlawful killing from the lines of enquires carried out and evidence gathered by officers.

“As such, we are satisfied that there is no evidence of criminal offences having taken place and that the death of the White-tailed Eagle is being treated as uncertain at this time”.

“The criminal aspect of this investigation has now concluded, but we urge all users of rodenticides, particularly brodifacoum, which is known to be highly toxic to wildlife, to follow all guidelines regarding use. Brodifacoum should only be used in and around buildings.”

The reintroduction of White-tailed Eagles on the Isle of Wight is part of a dedicated scheme run, under a Natural England licence, by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.


There are no complaints about Hampshire & Isle of Wight Police’s handling of this investigation. They were responsive, thorough and transparent.

The police statement, above, is fairly detailed and informative. However, caution should be applied when interpreting the statement about the presence of ‘elevated background levels of of two rodenticides, brodifacoum and difenacoum, though not at sufficiently high levels to have caused the death of the bird. As such the post-mortem concluded that the actual cause of death of the White-tailed Eagle remains uncertain‘.

Whilst this is factually accurate, and I’m sure not intended to mislead in any way, readers should be aware that the storage of the eagle’s tissues in formalin (as required for AI positive birds) reduces the laboratory’s ability to determine the significance of these rodenticides.

Here is an excerpt from the final lab report:

‘It was suspected that this white-tailed sea eagle had been poisoned, or possibly exposed to anticoagulant rodenticides. Laboratory analysis for some likely pesticides has been undertaken on samples of fixed tissue only, although it is possible that typical abuse pesticides (such as bendiocarb) would not be detected within this sample type. These tests have detected and confirmed a residue of the anticoagulant rodenticides brodifacoum and difenacoum in the fixed liver from this eagle, but the significance of these residues is uncertain given the prior treatment of the sample with formalin. Therefore, the actual cause of death of this white-tailed sea eagle remains uncertain, but this result confirms that it had been exposed prior to death to brodifacoum and difenacoum’. 

Unfortunately we won’t ever now know whether this eagle had ingested high quantities of rodenticides, or whether it had been poisoned with a banned substance such as Bendiocarb, because of the rules on the handling and storing of tissues containing Avian Influenza. And this may prove to be an issue that hampers other investigations if avian flu is detected in a raptor that has died in what are perceived to be suspicious circumstances.

But at least in this case, the police did conduct searches of the land where the eagle was found dead, and have also included a warning in their press statement about the proper use of rodenticides.

To follow news about the reintroduced white-tailed eagles please visit the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website here.

Reintroduced white-tailed eagle poisoned with banned pesticide Carbofuran

A young white-tailed eagle, released into the wild as part of a conservation reintroduction project, has been found poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran.

The National Parks & Wildlife Service in Ireland is appealing for information after the discovery of the dead eagle in November 2022 on land between counties Cavan and Westmeath.

Juvenile white-tailed eagle. Photo: Piotr Krzeslak

The juvenile male white-tailed eagle who was just over a year old had been brought in as a chick in 2021 from Norway under phase two of a national re-introduction programme (e.g. see here and here).

It had been fitted with a satellite tag prior to its release on Lough Derg in 2021 and subsequent monitoring showed the eagle had been spending time around Lough Sheelin in Co Westmeath with two other white-tailed eagles, but tag data indicated the eagle had become stationary in November.

The corpse was retrieved and toxicology tests undertaken at the State Laboratory confirmed the eagle had been poisoned with Carbofuran, a deadly pesticide so dangerous it was withdrawn for use in Ireland over a decade ago.

NPWS regional manager, Maurice Eakin, said white-tailed eagles were a protected species under the Wildlife Acts. The death of the bird last November highlighted “once again” the extent of the illegal practice of using poisonous material as pest control.

“In this instance, it is particularly disturbing that the reckless laying of poison has resulted in the death of a white-tailed eagle, one of our largest and most majestic bird species, which had been persecuted to extinction by the early 1900s,” he said.

The NPWS is seeking any information from the public in the Westmeath/Cavan region, particularly anyone who may have seen anyone or any vehicles acting suspiciously in recent weeks in the area between Lough Sheelin and Lough Ramor.

Over 100 white-tailed eagles, donated by Norway, have been reintroduced to the Irish Republic since 2007, with the first successful breeding taking place in 2012 and there have been many successes over the last decade, bringing biodiversity and ecosystem benefits as well as a boost to local economies via ecotourism.

However, a scientific review of the reintroduction project in 2019 indicated that the small population was still vulnerable to illegal poisoning events so additional eagles have been reintroduced as part of phase two of the reintroduction to help bolster the population. It’s sadly ironic that one of those eagles has become the latest poisoning victim.

The estate that Dorset Police refused to search after discovery of poisoned eagle is the same location where gamekeeper was today convicted of multiple raptor persecution crimes

After today’s court case, where gamekeeper Paul Allen was found guilty of seven wildlife, poisons and firearms offences, including the possession of six shot buzzards and banned poisons in March 2021 (here), it can now be revealed that the poisoned white-tailed eagle that was found dead on a Dorset estate in January 2022 was on the very same estate – the very same estate (the Shaftesbury Estate) that Dorset Police u-turned on their decision to search during their botched investigation into the poisoning of that eagle (see here).

Now, before I go any further, there are a few things that need to be clarified before anyone jumps to conclusions and makes libellous comments. Firstly, and importantly, there is NO EVIDENCE to indicate that the eagle was poisoned on the Shaftesbury Estate. The eagle was found dead there, yes, that is a statement of fact. However, we know from the eagle’s satellite tag data that in the days preceding its death it visited two or three other estates in the area. We also know that the poison that killed the eagle (Brodifacoum) is not a fast-acting poison and that this eagle’s health deteriorated over a number of days before it died. It is quite feasible that it picked up the bait elsewhere but succumbed to internal haemorrhaging once it had reached the Shaftesbury Estate.

On the same lines, it is also important to clarify that there is NO EVIDENCE that gamekeeper Paul Allen had any involvement in the poisoning of the white-tailed eagle. He just happened to work on the estate where the eagle was found dead. My understanding is that the shoot that Paul Allen worked on, although located on Shaftesbury Estate, was not directly associated with the estate; it was a privately-run shoot (perhaps tenanted) that was not under the management of Shaftesbury Estate.

What is up for discussion though, is Dorset Police’s decision NOT to search the Shaftesbury Estate as part of their investigation into the poisoning of that eagle in March 2022, when they were already acutely aware of the offences that gamekeeper Paul Allen had committed on the very same estate, a year earlier.

Dorset Police’s (now former) wildlife crime officer, Claire Dinsdale, had organised a search of the Shaftesbury Estate after the toxicology results came back on that eagle. She was absolutely right to do so, whether earlier offences had been committed there or not. It’s a no-brainer. This is policing for beginners. You find a poisoned eagle, you go and search the location where it was found to see if there’s any evidence to identify a potential perpetrator. That these other raptor persecution offences were already under investigation on the same estate just ramps up the justification for another search, surely?

Why Claire’s decision to undertake a search was overruled by senior officers, who then repeatedly said, for months afterwards, that their decision not to conduct a search was ‘proportionate’ and that ‘there weren’t any new leads’ to justify a search, just beggars belief. Their decision to u-turn on the search was made despite representations from the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) and the RSPB, based on the eagle’s satellite tag data and decades of experience investigating raptor persecution crimes. Something happened to cause the police u-turn. But what?

There is a strong stench of something sinister going on at Dorset Police HQ.

I’m certain that this latest revelation will lead to more questions being asked of Dorset Police, and from a much higher authority than this little blog.

Watch this space…

More info revealed on Dorset Police’s relationship with local MP & the botched investigation into the poisoned white-tailed eagle

Dorset Police were never far from the headlines last spring and summer, thanks to their appalling, botched investigation into the poisoning of a white-tailed eagle, found dead on a game-shooting estate and containing seven times the lethal dose of the rodenticide Brodifacoum.

As a recap for new blog readers, the corpse of the young satellite-tagged eagle, which was one of the birds from the high profile reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight, was found on the unnamed shooting estate in January 2022. Dorset Police’s wildlife crime team, led at the time by the exemplary Claire Dinsdale (one of few officers awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for her work), undertook a multi-agency operation to retrieve the corpse, sent it off for toxicology analysis, and when the results came back in early February 2022, she set about organising a warrant for a multi-agency team to search the estate to look for evidence that might identify who was responsible for this serious wildlife crime. She also issued a public appeal for information (here).

The news of this eagle’s death made national news and led to some disturbing criticism of Dorset Police by local Conservative MP Chris Loder, who publicly declared that Dorset ‘wasn’t the place for eagles’ and argued that the police should be focusing their resources on other types of criminality and not on suspected wildlife crime (see here). It also emerged that Chris Loder had some interesting connections with at least one prominent Dorset estate from whom his local party had received considerable donations, although it wasn’t known whether funding had been received from the [unnamed] shooting estate where the eagle had been found poisoned (see here).

By the end of March 2022, Dorset Police issued an astonishing statement, claiming that the toxicology results were “inconclusive” (actually they were anything but!) “and it has therefore not been possible to confirm that any criminal offence has been committed…..As a result, no further police action will be taken in relation to this report“.

This decision to prematurely pull the planned search and close the investigation made no sense whatsoever, including to the RSPB (here) and it even led to questions being tabled in the House of Lords (here). It was a ludicrous situation. For this dead eagle’s liver to contain seven times the lethal dose of Brodifacoum (i.e. seven times the amount needed to kill a bird the size of an eagle), it could only be the result of either (a) mis-use of the rodenticide or (b) deliberate abuse of the rodenticide. Either way, these are both offences and deserved a full investigation, especially given Dorset’s reputation as a bird of prey persecution hotspot (see here). For Dorset Police to effectively pull down the shutters and shout ‘Nothing to see here’, without conducting a search, looked very dodgy indeed.

Around the same time news also emerged that Claire Dinsdale QPM had gone on ‘long-term sick leave’ with stress and, strangely, Dorset Police’s Rural Wildlife & Heritage Crime Team had a name change, which happened just after MP Chris Loder’s Twitter outbursts about Dorset Police spending time investigating wildlife crime. The words ‘wildlife’ and ‘heritage’ were completely and mysteriously removed from the name, which had now become ‘Dorset Police Rural Crime Team’ (see here).

There followed months of protracted aggro, as FoIs were submitted to Dorset Police who first ignored them (e.g. see here) and then subsequently refused to provide the requested information (e.g. see here), even after appeal. Many people were asking whether there was evidence of political interference by Chris Loder MP and the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner David Sidwick, influencing Dorset Police’s decision to drop the investigation. All parties denied this, of course, and no hard evidence has emerged to answer the questions, but Dorset Police’s refusal to answer FoI questions simply left these concerns hanging in the air like a bad smell.

Dorset Police then attempted a futile damage limitation exercise where they claimed their decision to prematurely close the investigation before conducting a search was ‘proportionate’ (see here) and then they claimed to have undertaken a review (effectively marking their own homework) which concluded 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?!

In August news emerged that Wildlife Crime Officer Claire Dinsdale QPM had left Dorset Police and was now working at the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

On 7th October 2022, Dorset Police published another statement about this botched case, probably in response to the ongoing criticism that simply refused to go away. The new statement, issued by Dorset Police Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Farrell (here), just reinforced the earlier denials of dodgy policing and repeated the line that, “…there was insufficient evidence to prove an offence of wilful poisoning by an individual – so no one person can be proven to have been criminally responsible for the bird’s death“.

On 16th November 2022, coinciding with the publication of the RSPB’s latest annual Birdcrime report, Claire Dinsdale posted a remarkable comment thread on Twitter as follows:

Tweet 1: 2020 – a series of concerning incidents in Dorset stood out to me & colleagues from various agencies. Progress was being made with multi agency searches & raising nationally at our Bird Of Prey PDG (Priority Delivery Group) meetings. It is clear to anyone with a basic understanding of wildlife crime that Dorset had a problem.

Tweet 2: Up until early 2022, there was thankfully no-one interfering with these specialised cases. Policing must be objective & not influenced by threats or pressure from other parties or their own officers. Without fear or favour. So no surprise to see Dorset is 2nd worst county in UK Bird Of Prey Crime 2021 data, with only 1 less than the No 1 slot.

Tweet 3: I hope lessons will be learned by those who made serious errors of judgement. Policing needs to respect & listen to those experienced & specialist officers on the ground.

Tweet 4: It needs to have the strength & courage to do what is right without personal regard for ambition or self importance. The public are not fools & will rightly hold us to account for the decisions made. When policing or other public servants get it wrong, they should say so.

Tweet 5: If I can correct the statement for the record here by the Dorset Echo and Natures Voice. The eagle case was shut down prematurely in my view & the planned multi agency search I had arranged was cancelled by a new boss with no understanding of wildlife crime and a very senior officer within days of an MPs rebuke & threats on police funding, got the word wildlife removed from our twitter bio. [Ed: I believe the Dorset Echo article to which Claire was referring was this one]

Tweet 6: The previous Chief Constable (who’d retired before these events) advised me should anyone interfere with one of my cases to come straight to him.

Tweet 7: There has been some great work done by WCOs colleagues in other forces. My last Dorset wildlife crime case myself & other agencies worked so hard on, will hopefully show how you can investigate bird of prey crime with searching being a key part of it.

Claire’s tweets earned her considerable support on Twitter – it takes an incredibly courageous officer to speak out on police failings – but by the end of November all but Tweet #7 had been deleted. We can only imagine what hell some senior officers in Dorset Police are now bringing to her door. Nevertheless, her revelations will lead to even more scrutiny of Dorset Police’s obvious mishandling of this case…more on that soon.

Meanwhile, and also in November 2022, MP Chris Loder’s apparently cosy relationship with Dorset Police was once again in the spotlight. Two Dorset residents and long term anti-sewage campaigners, Beverley Glock and Fran Swan, both received police visits to their homes after they’d registered to attend a public meeting to raise concerns with Chris Loder about sewage pollution in the area (see their press release here). [EDITOR UPDATE 4th Jan 2023: the original press release now appears to be unavailable. There is an archived copy (here) and if that also disappears I’ve provided a copy and paste version in the comments section of this blog].

What the actual?!

According to a subsequent article published on the DorsetLive website on 3rd December 2022 (here), Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner David Sidwick (whose astonishing correspondence with Chris Loder (“You and I need to get our ducks in the row on this one“) on the poisoned eagle fiasco was revealed by FoI, here) is now conducting a review about why a uniformed officer visited these two ladies, at night, apparently after police had received an email from Chris Loder’s office about their planned (registered!) attendance at the public meeting.

A spokesperson from Dorset Police is quoted:

Officers from the neighbourhood policing team wished to understand the intentions of those people to ensure that public safety was preserved and any lawful protest could be facilitated. This approach was well-intentioned without any direction from the local MP“.

And David Sidwick is quoted saying he was given a “satisfactory explanation” (from Dorset Police) about why the two women were visited by police. He noted that it is “routine” that the police are notified of attendances to MP events following the murder of Sir David Amess MP, but has promised a review into the incident.

Public confidence in Dorset Police continues to plummet, and I guarantee there’ll be an even bigger shit storm after revelations emerge about Wednesday’s court case concerning a Dorset gamekeeper facing multiple charges of alleged raptor persecution, poisons and firearms offences dating back to March 2021.

Interesting times.

UPDATE 4th January 2023: The estate that Dorset Police refused to search after discovery of poisoned eagle is the same location where gamekeeper was today convicted of multiple raptor persecution crimes (here)

Feasibility study for proposed reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to Cumbria

The BBC News website published an article a few days ago about the proposed reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to Cumbria. The article was based on a recent BBC radio interview with Dr Alex Dittrich from the University of Cumbria who is reportedly involved with the project.

This project is in its infancy, with an initial feasibility study completed in April this year and now the group, led by The Lifescape Project, is seeking an eye-watering £120-150k to undertake 12 month’s worth of further ‘sensitivity testing’ in addition to consultation with stakeholders and the public. This funding request does not cover the cost of an actual reintroduction, only the preliminary stages up to submitting a licence application to Natural England.

I’m not sure why the results of a previous, extensive stakeholder consultation from 2013, undertaken by the University of Cumbria to establish the views of the farming, fieldsports and conservation sectors to the proposed reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to Cumbria, isn’t being utilised here?

The most recent reintroduction project report (see below) was published in April 2022 and lists the members of a newly-formed group called ‘White-tailed Eagles Cumbria Working Group’. Those listed include the Lifescape Project, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, RSPB, the Solway Coast AONB, University of Cumbria, University of Leeds and Natural England. The report states that this group will ‘oversee the development of the proposed feasibility study and any subsequent post-release activities’. If things go to plan, the report suggests that the first release of white-tailed eagles could take place in ‘summer 2024’.

The report, which can be read below, isn’t off to a convincing start. The eagle photograph on the front cover looks like a Bald eagle from North America, not a White-tailed eagle from Eurasia.

The good news is that a local Conservative MP, Mark Jenkinson (Workington) is fully supportive of the proposal to undertake further feasibility studies and consultations. This attitude is very welcome and in marked contrast to the well-publicised anti-eagle hysteria of another Conservative MP, Chris Loder (Dorset).

The Federation of Cumbria Commoners (representing hill sheep farmers) on the other hand is already questioning the justification for restoring the sea eagle to its former range (see here) but, to me at least, the Federation’s response does seem to reveal an air of inevitability about the potential release and reintroduction of eagles to this part of the country.

Good news! Sidelined Dorset wildlife crime cop joins National Wildlife Crime Unit

Claire Dinsdale QPM, the wildlife crime officer who was leading on the Dorset eagle poisoning case until senior officers decided to close the investigation prematurely after what looked suspiciously like political interference (here), has left Dorset Police and has taken up a new role with the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU).

This is really good news! Claire was held in very high regard by those involved in tackling wildlife crime and her dedication to the role saw her contributing thousands of hours of her own time, on top of her normal police duties, to gather evidence to identify suspects and increase the chances of them being charged. She was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in 2020 for her efforts.

A twitter spat with local Conservative MP Chris Loder, followed by senior officers’ inexplicable decision to block the investigation into the poisoned eagle, led to Claire going on long-term sick leave in March this year.

I’m delighted to see her move to the NWCU where hopefully her contributions will be valued and supported.

Ian Blackford latest MP to embolden calls for a sea eagle cull

Ian Blackford MP (Scottish National Party) is the latest politician with a vested interest to whip up some anti-raptor rhetoric by accusing white-tailed eagles of “slaughtering” his lambs, emboldening those who have been calling for an eagle cull.

It follows recent outbursts from Conservative MP Chris Loder (here and here) and the SNP’s Angus MacNeil (here).

Blackford’s hysteria was published in the Sunday Times at the weekend, as follows:

With a wingspan of up to 2.5m, the majestic white-tailed eagle reintroduced to Britain from Norway is the country’s largest bird of prey.

But calls for a cull of the giant bird have grown after it was blamed for the deaths of lambs raised by Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader.

Three of nearly 200 breeding pairs of the bird, also known as sea eagles, live near to the politician’s croft on the Isle of Skye, and are said to have killed up to ten of his 60 lambs in the past month.

It comes less than three years after a non-native mink killed his three-year-old ducks — named Mrs McGregor, Mrs Campbell, Mrs Morrison and Mrs McFarlane.

Last year conservationists failed in a bid to introduce 60 white-tailed eagles, likened to “flying barn doors”, to Norfolk after objections from landowners.

Blackford, who runs the smallholding with his wife, Anne, in the northwest of the island, watched from a distance recently during one of the attacks.

“Coming across a dead lamb slaughtered by an eagle it’s not a sight that you want to see. It’s an upsetting one,” he said.

“When all your efforts have gone into the lambing season, you take a pride in looking after your flock. To lose even a small number of lambs is soul destroying.”

Angus MacNeil, his neighbouring SNP MP in the Western Isles, favours a targeted cull of the eagles first reintroduced to Britain in the 1970s and again in the 1990s and early 2000s, with most in the Highlands.

Condemning “monoculture conservationists who cannot see beyond one species”, MacNeil said: “Sea eagles eat puffins and other small birds like Mars bars yet they’re heavily protected.

“A livestock law introduced last November says the owners of dogs that attack livestock can be fined £40,000 or sent to prison, but if you’re a conservationist protecting sea eagles who do the same, you’ll get a big desk in Edinburgh and a promotion.”

David Colthart, an Argyll hill farmer who represents National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) on a sea eagle stakeholder panel, suffered 135 unaccounted-for losses out of several hundred lambs last year.

There are four breeding pairs of sea eagles in his area and he says that lambs are an easy target for birds feeding their chicks.

“Many farmers and crofters have found the sea eagle reintroduction very challenging,” he said.

NatureScot, the public body responsible for Scotland’s natural heritage, has no plans to allow the killing of the magnificent birds, which emit a yelping cry which is made up of 15-30 short “yaps”.

It said: “We understand the concerns of farmers and crofters, and continue to work closely with them, and a range of stakeholders at the local and national level, to offer management support . . . and to trial management techniques which can help reduce these negative impacts.”

Ross Greer, the Scottish Greens MSP, said the return of sea eagles had been “a great success story”, with efforts by the government and conservation charities to help farmers mitigate their impact.

“If we’re to combat the nature and climate emergencies, then sustainable agriculture and nature restoration must learn to work together,” he said.

Meanwhile, Benedict Macdonald, the conservationist and television wildlife director, has made more calls for lynxes to return to Scotland. In a new book, Macdonald argues that the species, last seen about 1,300 years ago, would bring ecological and financial benefits by controlling deer and foxes. He also defends wild boar as critical to woodland wildlife as nature’s oldest rotational farmers, churning soil and encouraging plant growth.

NFUS is opposed to the reintroduction of lynxes, which has been previously proposed unsuccessfully for Kielder, an English village three miles from the Scottish border. It says they have been responsible for thousands of sheep deaths in Norway. “The Norwegians told us that to reintroduce predators into our country would be an absolute catastrophe,” Colthart said.


I find it interesting that Blackford claimed ‘up to ten’ of his lambs had been ‘slaughtered’ by eagles – how many is ‘up to ten‘? Surely he can count? Or is it a case of him seeing a sea eagle consuming an already dead lamb and he’s assuming the eagle has killed it, rather than acknowledging that eagles will readily eat carrion?

If he’s quick, he can apply to join NatureScot’s Sea Eagle Management Scheme which offers support for adapting livestock management and for trialling prevention measures (see here). The closing date for support in 2023 is 31st July 2022.