Poisons cache on East Arkengarthdale Estate: no prosecution, no subsidy penalty

In December 2016 we blogged (here) about the discovery of an illegal poisons cache, buried in a small forestry plantation on Hurst grouse moor, part of the East Arkengarthdale Estate in North Yorkshire.


The discovery had been made (and filmed) by the RSPB’s Investigations team in December 2014 and March 2015. RSPB Investigator Guy Shorrock wrote a blog about it (here).

We learned that an unnamed gamekeeper had been responsible for the poisons cache but the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to prosecute due to ‘procedural concerns’. Nevertheless, North Yorkshire Police revoked this gamekeeper’s shotgun and firearms certificates. The gamekeeper appealed this decision (and was represented by the BASC Chairman, no less) and the court decided his certificates should be returned.

So we asked the Rural Payments Agency (as did many of you, thank you) whether the illegal poisons cache was a breach of the conditions under which the Estate had received almost £200,000 of agricultural subsidies (public money) and if so, whether any part of those subsidies would be withdrawn as a penalty, in the same way a penalty had been applied to the Stody Estate in Norfolk for poisoning offences that took place in 2013 (see here).

Here’s the Rural Payments Agency’s response:

You have asked the following questions about the discovery of a hidden pesticide cache on Hurst Moor, North Yorkshire in 2014:

1. Did the CAP subsidies received by the specified business in 2014 cover the land where the poisons cache was discovered?
2. If so, does having a poisons cache, administered by a gamekeeper, qualify as a cross-compliance breach?
3. If so, will the Rural Payments Agency be applying a subsidy penalty?

The RPA has determined that a subsidy penalty was not appropriate, for the reason set out below. It therefore did not need to establish the precise location of land where the poisons cache was discovered.

We considered this case under the cross compliance rules that applied in 2014 and we hope the following will explain why RPA does not have the scope to apply cross compliance penalties for breaches of this nature.

Within cross compliance, all breaches relating to storage of pesticides were provided for by a set of rules known as the sustainable use rules.  These were part of the wider set of rules covered by the plant protection product Statutory Management Requirement (SMR) which, in 2014 was SMR 9. Please refer to page 63 of the Guide to Cross Compliance in England 2014, for further information.

From 1 January 2014 a change to European legislation meant the sustainable use rules were removed from the scope of SMR 9 as far as cross compliance rules applicable to SPS payments were concerned. This meant there was no scope to apply cross compliance penalties to SPS payments for pesticide storage and unapproved product breaches that occurred from 1 January 2014 onwards.

The sustainable use rules continued to apply to rural development schemes covered by cross compliance rules, for example the full range of Environmental Stewardship schemes. This was the case until the end of 2014, after which further changes to European legislation fully removed the sustainable use rules from the scope of cross compliance.

In the rural development legislation that applied in 2014, the obligation to comply with the statutory management requirements did not apply to non-agricultural activities on a holding. In this case the evidence is that the breach was committed in connection with the non-agricultural activity of game shooting. In addition, the evidence is that the cache was not found on agricultural land, but within a small plantation of trees. Therefore it is not possible to apply cross compliance penalties to rural development payments for a breach of this nature.


So, no prosecution, no revocation of firearms, and no subsidy penalty.


But what about a positive reaction from the grouse shooting industry itself? Surely, as members of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) and the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), organisations like the Moorland Association and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation would want to move swiftly to distance themselves from this Estate and this gamekeeper?

Well, we asked them about this (as did many of you, thank you) two months ago (here) and guess what? We haven’t heard a word of condemnation or any hint of expulsion. Just the standard wall of silence we’ve come to expect.

What we did find, though, was East Arkengarthdale grouse moor being listed as among ‘the best shoots in the UK 2015/2016‘, as recommended by ‘prominent figures and agents’ from the industry. It’s really worth having a look at this list – there are a few other ‘interesting’ names that many of you will recognise.

If ever you wanted evidence of a criminally-riddled industry protecting its own, or evidence of sham partnership working, you’ll be hard pressed to beat this case as an example.


19 Responses to “Poisons cache on East Arkengarthdale Estate: no prosecution, no subsidy penalty”

  1. 1 Rob Sheldon
    February 13, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Great work RPUK and all who emailed RPA and helped push this case.
    The odds sometimes seem stacked against our Birds of Prey, but we’ll keep plugging away.
    We’re not going away and one day we will win

  2. 2 Colin McP
    February 13, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    “In addition, the evidence is that the cache was not found on agricultural land, but within a small plantation of trees. Therefore it is not possible to apply cross compliance penalties to rural development payments for a breach of this nature.”. This seems an obvious get-out-of-jail free card – you can cache it anywhere on your land that isn’t classed as ‘agricultural’ and know that its not going to affect your subsidies.

    • 3 Jonathan Wallace
      February 14, 2017 at 7:52 am

      I agree but note that the RPA refer to the rules that existed at the time, i.e. in 2014. Does this mean that under current rules the loop-hole would not exist any more? If not then that is something else that should be lobbied for.

  3. 4 crypticmirror
    February 13, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Surely the establishment must realize what happens when the stonewall gets high enough and people run out of legal ways to try and bring them to account?

  4. 5 Henry S
    February 13, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    The Moorland Association and East Arkengarthdale cannot distance themselves from each other. The MA rep for the area also works for the Estate.

  5. 7 Simon Tucker
    February 13, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    Can’t this gamekeeper be named, so he can be confronted by members of the public who take exception to his activities? Let’s face it, the whole policing, judicial and regulatory system is corrupt from top to toe, with the exception of a few wildlife crime officers, so direct action from concerned citizens has to be the order of the day.

  6. 8 Gerard
    February 13, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    I do not believe that they cannot penalise the estate in some way if the will exists. These are criminals caught red handed but are above the law because they are friends with people in the Tory party.

    • 9 Andrew
      February 13, 2017 at 10:34 pm

      I wouldn’t get too focussed on the Tories. Blair had years to sort it out and where is the Tory party in Scotland. It’s money.

  7. 10 Hilary Milburn
    February 13, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    Interesting to scroll down the ‘recommended shoots’ blog entry on The Gentleman and read the Etiquette entry. Very defensive about those who disagree. Interesting vocabulary.

  8. February 13, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    In effect; a crime involving a poisons cache in a plantation, with money from the public purse provided by a payments agency with no chance of a prosecution or penalty due to procedures. It really pees one off.

  9. 13 Pat the Blade
    February 13, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    You couldn’t make this up (or given previous experiences, maybe you could) – there seems to be no legal limit to the actions of rogue keepers and landowners who seem to operate with impunity. Continued vigilance and perseverance are needed by all of us to monitor criminality – the truth will always come out! Many thanks to RPUK for sterling work and leadership

  10. 14 Andrew
    February 13, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    So some one who had been caught handling quantities of illegal drugs but the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to prosecute due to ‘procedural concerns’ he would still (if he applied) get a shotgun and firearms certificate issued?

  11. 15 Paul V Irving
    February 13, 2017 at 11:33 pm

    So the under keeper admits this poison cache is his yet retains his shotgun and firearms certificates and the estate suffers no consequences at all, despite the fact that it is my experience that an under keeper doesn’t break wind without the say so of the head keeper or agent. Ah yes and the agent for this estate is the local MA rep Adrian Thornton-Berry. Who also pays no penalty, excuse me while I vomit in sheer disgust ,you couldn’t make this up and if you did nobody would believe you!!

  12. 16 Paul V Irving
    February 13, 2017 at 11:55 pm

    Oh and just as incredible is the fact that the head keeper on this estate, xxxxx xxxxx is an agent on a Merlin Schedule One licence or at least he was in 2016. The lunatics really do control the asylum!!!!

    • 17 Henry S
      February 14, 2017 at 9:32 am

      It just shows how bonkers this all is. I was told years ago ( I cannot say by whom as I will betray a confidence but I have mentioned it to you Paul in the past) where all the Merlin territories were on EA Estate. The reason was that it was believed the merlins would disappear under the current regime and now the head keeper is an agent on a schedule 1 license for the species????? You really couldn’t make it up.

  13. 18 Jonathan Wallace
    February 14, 2017 at 7:58 am

    Given the evidence available to the RSPB I would suggest it should publicize the name of the estate and the gamekeeper as perpetrators of illegal activity as widely as possible. Challenge the poisoners to sue them. If they don’t sue it is tacit admission of the crime and if they do sue there is surely every chance the RSPB would win? With the resources at its disposal I certainly think the RSPB should take the risk.

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