Regular blog readers will know that in October 2014, gamekeeper Allen Lambert was convicted of a series of wildlife crime offences on the Stody Estate, Norfolk, including the mass poisoning of birds of prey (10 buzzards and one sparrowhawk) which had been found dead on the estate in April 2013. He was also convicted of storing banned pesticides and other items capable of preparing poisoned baits (a ‘poisoner’s kit’) and a firearms offence (see here and here).
Lambert got off pretty lightly when he was sentenced in November 2014. Even though the judge acknowledged that Lambert’s crimes had passed the custody threshold, Lambert received a 10-week suspended sentence for poisoning 11 raptors (suspended for one year), a six-week suspended sentence for possession of firearms and dead buzzards (suspended for one year) and was ordered to pay £930 prosecution costs and an £80 victim surcharge. In our opinion (see here), this was absurdly lenient for one of England’s biggest known mass raptor poisoning incidents, and on top of that, Lambert wasn’t even sacked – it was reported that he’d been allowed to take early retirement from the Stody Estate.
Regular blog readers will also know that for the last year, we’ve turned our attention to the minted Stody Estate to try and find out whether the Rural Payments Agency had penalised the estate for breaches in cross-compliance and had removed any of their £MILLIONS of agricultural subsidies as punishment. To receive these tax-payer handouts, estates must comply with a number of measures (like don’t poison raptors) and if they don’t comply, then cross-compliance subsidies can be removed.
It’s taken a while to get any useful information about potential subsidy penalties at Stody Estate. Getting the RPA to reveal anything about this case has been like getting blood out of a stone, or the truth out of Allen Lambert. The RPA has wriggled and squirmed and done its best to avoid answering straightforward questions: see here for previous blogs about our correspondence with the RPA. However, we’re pretty much there now, although not quite there.
Our latest FoI received a response this week. We had asked the RPA (again) whether they’d now enforced a cross-compliance penalty on Stody Estate. They answered: “Yes“.
We asked what the penalty was for, exactly. They answered: “The penalty that has been applied was for a breach of farmer requirement A1, of the pre-2015 Statutory Management Requirement 1 (wild birds). The requirement reads: ‘You must not intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird‘”.
We asked how much was the penalty applied to Stody Estate for this breach. They answered: “The financial amount has yet to be confirmed, however the penalty is 75% of the Single Payment Scheme payments made to the Estate in 2014“.
So, we now know a penalty has been imposed, but, unconvincingly, the RPA still claims it isn’t able to tell us how much that penalty is. Either they’re incompetent or unwilling to embarrass the Estate. Or maybe both.
Anyway, we’ve done a bit of digging. We’ve discovered that the Stody Estate received £295,929.01 from the Single Payment Scheme in 2014:
75% of £295,929.01 is £221,946.75.
That’s a massive subsidy penalty! As far as we’re aware, this is the biggest ever civil penalty imposed for cross-compliance breaches in relation to raptor persecution crimes. Previously, the largest was £107,000 imposed on Glenogil Estate in 2008 following the discovery of 32 poisoned baits suspected of being used to target birds of prey (see here). Earlier this year, we blogged about the £66,000 subsidy penalty imposed on vicarious liability landowner Ninian Johnston Stewart, whose gamekeeper had been convicted of poisoning a buzzard (see here).
There may well have been other cases where a penalty greater than £221,946.75 has been imposed for cross-compliance breaches related to raptor persecution, but we’ve been unable to find any information. We’ve blogged previously (here) about why increased publicity is needed when these penalties are applied – the realistic threat of having thousands of pounds worth of subsidies removed from your business has got to be a far greater deterrent than the pathetically weak sanctions handed down in the criminal courts.
For this reason, over the next few months we intend to re-visit some other recent cases where a successful conviction has been secured for raptor persecution crimes and start asking some questions about whether those estates involved have also received a subsidy penalty (e.g. Kildrummy Estate, Cardross Estate for a start, and there are others).
There has previously been some discussion in the comments section of this blog about whether the new system for the Single Payment Scheme (replaced this year by the Basic Payment Scheme) would still allow for subsidy penalties for cross-compliance breaches relating to raptor persecution. Some readers thought the new system wouldn’t allow for penalties and other readers thought it would. It’s our understanding that the cross compliance rules for BPS in England still contain a Statutory Management Requirement (SMR) for Wild Birds (SMR2) stating that you must protect all wild birds, their eggs and their nests, so technically any recipient of BPS could still be fined for non-compliance with SMR2 if they were liable, vicariously or otherwise, for raptor persecution on their land.
However, the new system seems to be slightly different in Scotland where SMR2 states that you must protect all wild birds, their eggs and nests if you have land classified as a Special Protection Area. That could mean that a Scottish recipient of BPS could only be fined for breaching SMR2 if the breach took place in an SPA. If that interpretation is correct, it would exclude rather a lot of land. We’ll be seeking clarification from the Scottish Government about whether raptor persecution on non-SPA land would be considered a breach of the new SMR2.
A final word – thank you to all the blog readers who have exerted pressure on the RPA over the last year regarding the Stody Estate case; we know that a number of you have been involved. Had it not been for this sustained effort, the Stody Estate may well have escaped a penalty altogether, or perhaps been given a much smaller penalty. Well done!
Photo of some of the poisoned buzzards found at Stody Estate is by Guy Shorrock (RSPB Investigations)