Head of National Wildlife Crime Unit still talking about ‘rogue’ gamekeepers

We’ve been sent some fascinating correspondence from one of our blog readers.

Following the news in February 2017 of the ‘non suspicious’ death of a tagged goshawk on the royal Sandringham Estate in Norfolk (see here), a blog reader wrote to Norfolk Constabulary as follows:

I write in reference to the Mail on Sunday’s coverage (online, Sunday 12 Feb 2017) of the radio-tagged goshawk reported to have been found (first said to be found dead, then said to have been found alive) at Sandringham. Given the confusion that surrounds this case, will the Police be making any further statements to clarify what they believe happened to the bird, to help ascertain what may have caused its decline and then death (important to know as part of the study being carried out on the species) and why its body was incinerated when it had only just died, and was obviously part of a tagging project? A lot of people obviously think there are grounds for suspicion here, and would be interested to know why the Police are said to have taken a different view. I am sure the estate would also welcome the matter to be cleared up. Many thanks for your help in this and for any reassurance you can give the public that the matter is being looked into thoroughly“.

The reply came in the form of a jointly-signed letter from Chief Inspector Martin Sims (Head of National Wildlife Crime Unit) and Inspector Jon Papworth (Wildlife Crime Coordinator, Norfolk Constabulary).

It beggars belief that the Head of the NWCU, the ‘coordinating intelligence body for wildlife crime’ is still talking in terms of ‘rogue’ gamekeepers being responsible for raptor persecution.

How does he explain the virtual extirpation of breeding hen harriers in the grouse moor areas of northern England?

How does he explain the continuing decline of breeding peregrines on the grouse moors of northern England?

How does he explain the repeated reports of shot and poisoned red kites in the grouse moor areas of North Yorkshire?

How does he explain the continued suppression of the golden eagle breeding population in the grouse moor areas of central, eastern and southern Scotland?

How does he explain the continued suppression of the red kite breeding population in the grouse moor areas of northern Scotland?

How does he explain the almost continuous reports of satellite-tagged raptors that ‘disappear’ disproportionately on land managed for driven grouse shooting in England and Scotland?

This isn’t the work of a few ‘rogue’ gamekeepers; this is the result of systematic persecution, affecting entire regional (and sometimes national) raptor populations, at the hands of the game shooting industry. It is industrial scale criminality and the sooner Chief Inspector Sims gets his head around this, the sooner we might see an improvement in enforcement action.

He says that media commentary on these crimes ‘appears to have polarised two sections of society’. Which two sections of society are they, then? The criminals and the law-abiding public? He seems to think we should all stop talking about this criminality and instead place our trust in the game-shooting sector. Yeah, great idea. Let’s not talk about the crimes that criminals commit, whether they be gamekeepers, drug dealers, burglars, rapists, murderers or thieves. Instead, let’s hold support groups, sit around with tambourines and all sing Kumbaya. That’ll sort it.

He talks about trying ‘a different approach’ and refers to the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) as an example of this. And what has the RPPDG delivered since its inception in 2010? Bugger all. We’ve recently seen some minutes from these RPPDG meetings, obtained via FOI, and all the meetings seem to achieve is to provide an opportunity for the gameshooting industry ‘partners’ to consistently challenge the confirmed persecution data recorded by the RSPB. Presumably that’s why we haven’t seen any national persecution incident maps from the RPPDG since 2011. It’s pathetic.

He talks about the law-abiding gamekeepers within the industry. There must be some, but where are they? How are we expected to tell the difference between the criminals and the law-abiders? How much intelligence on raptor persecution is supplied by gamekeepers to the police? How often do you see gamekeepers and their representative organisations highlighting raptor crimes or calling for tighter regulation?

With views like those of Chief Inspector Sims, it’s no wonder the NWCU hasn’t made even the tiniest dent in addressing illegal raptor persecution. It definitely is time for a different approach.

Here’s a pie chart for CI Sims to contemplate while he’s dreaming up ways of supporting the game shooting industry. It shows the occupations/interests of 176 individuals convicted of bird of prey related offences 1990-2016 (from the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report).




20 Responses to “Head of National Wildlife Crime Unit still talking about ‘rogue’ gamekeepers”

  1. 1 Simon Tucker
    May 9, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Surely anybody outside of bird of prey persecution deliberately destroying evidence as to whether or not a crime has been committed has committed a crime? Perverting the course of justice springs to mind.

    As for the rest of it: it just serves to underline why there is no trust in the policing of wildlife crime: done by part-timers with no support from the hierarchy

  2. 2 BSA
    May 9, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Reducing those who want to see the law enforced to the same level as the criminals. Another messiah who thinks he can get both ‘sides’ round his table and talk sense into them. The police hide behind this nonsense (does he actually believe it ? ), trivialising serious industrial crime.

  3. 3 Peter Shearer
    May 9, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    In a similar vein the minutes of the meetings held by the NWCU all seem to suggest more of an attempt to justify and explain the incidents rather than any real attempt to actually deal with the problems.It is very difficult to believe that there is any real attempt to deal properly with this issue.We are frequently criticised for attacking the police and others, but we would all love to applaud their actions if they would step up to the mark.

  4. May 9, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    For information, I took the opportunity of emailing Mr Sims at the e-address quoted sharing with him the contents of this blog for feedback purposes. I kept it polite, of course, but pointed out that part of his national brief is pursuing the MACRO-evidence even if the incident level evidence is difficult to pursue, just as he would if his responsibilities covered drugs or people trafficking.

  5. 5 Gerard
    May 9, 2017 at 5:46 pm


  6. May 9, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    Just a thought – can’t we just go and shoot the grouse before the inglorious 12th? That’ll send a message to the buggers. They wipe out our precious birds so let’s take theirs – they are going to be shot anyway…

  7. 7 Edward Coles
    May 9, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    Couple of things, what’s the Norfolk police got to do with Grouse moors?
    I make that 119 keepers!…….out of 6000+ …..in 16 years!

    • May 9, 2017 at 8:06 pm

      It is generally acknowledged, and with good reason, that only a small fraction of incidents are ever reported and of the reported incidents a similarly small % ever get to court (even where there is clear cut evidence as in the Hen Harrier shooting). Factor in that ‘keepers who have been caught in some of the most flagrant cases of abuse have been doing the job for decades which suggests that, unless they’ve had a sudden aberration, they’ve been habitually illegally persecuting raptors (something also suggested by the use of long banned poisons). All of which indicates, along with strange otherwise unaccountable absences of birds of prey on many shooting estates, that the 119 keepers represent the tip of a very large iceberg. As for the grouse moors link, perhaps you missed that the letter was co-signed by the Head of the NWCU, the ‘coordinating intelligence body for wildlife crime’.

  8. 9 Mike Haden
    May 9, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    I think this is a quite reasonable response, in that they highlight the fact the Wildlife Crime Officers undertake this role in addition to their ‘day’ job. With a government hell bent on cutting public services then wildlife crime is an easy hit (and this is unlikely to change in the near future). So since they don’t have the resources to adequately cover this they are trying to engage to good gamekeepers. Unfortunately the evidence suggest these are few. The whole thing stinks, and I feel sorry for the police, when they have to prioritise crimes to investigate. All we can do is bring this type of crime up the priority list by highlighting the flagrant disregard for not just the law but the safety of he general public when they are out and about.

    • 10 Andrew
      May 9, 2017 at 9:13 pm

      Sorry, but while some of the things you say that limit them may be true surely the IQ of a policeman should enable them to work out that satellite tagging is A. expensive and B. done for research, ergo someone wants to know and check what is happening to the said bird. The amount of time and money needed to pass this on to, at least in the first instance, the RSPB (surely they have heard of them and can they can do enough research to find a phone number) is negligible.

      If it was lack of capability that caused the corpse to be sent for incineration then they are a department unfit for purpose and I think I will take the easy route and lead a life of crime. Not much chance of being caught is there?

  9. 11 Iain Gibson
    May 9, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    I know some will think this is unrealistic and unachievable, but surely it’s time to think in terms of improving the laws protecting wild birds from persecution? The current legislation contains lots of anomalies founded in traditional practice, even a degree of superstition, rather than on ethical or scientific grounds. A recent controversy in the game shooting media concerned “outrage” at Chris Packham’s error in suggesting that Lapwings are shot as game birds. Mr Angry and all his gun-toting pals were furious at the suggestion, writing letters to Editors of various right-wing broadsheets and social media outlets. But really, why is it unacceptable to shoot Lapwings, but perfectly okay to shoot Golden Plover,s? Or Woodcock? Or some would say, any wild bird purely for recreational pleasure? Even the persecution of crows is old hat and counter to any scientific evidence that their behaviour as occasional predators does any real harm. There is also a real danger that the law could be changed in the wrong direction, in cases like that of Ravens, imagined by some farmers to be “descending in swarms” upon fields of lambing ewes and murdering them.

    I see no logical reason why the Red Grouse should not ultimately become a protected species, and their moorland habitats becoming publicly owned and managed sustainably to benefit the wider biodiversity they are capable of supporting. In fact as time frustratingly passes without significant change, I believe it may be the only way to reverse the persecution of Hen Harriers and other raptors. The lack of success in doing so throughout England and in many parts of Scotland merits radical measures being taken. To effect this we need to generate a wider movement, and to be honest I feel we’re at a very early stage in what will inevitably have to be a long, hard fought war against the vested interests. As previously said, many might regard this to be an unachievable goal, even pie in the sky, but hasn’t the current situation more or less reached a stalemate? Whatever the future holds, some sort of radical change seems necessary.

  10. May 9, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    There are several points in this letter that I find concerning.

    1. The reference to ‘belief’ – protecting the environment requires no special belief, just the usual self-preservation, community spirit and sense of justice that underpins all law enforcement.

    2. ‘public vilification of a gamekeeper who has been caught out using long-outlawed methods’ – this is an odd statement to pitch into the letter; is there an implication here that this is an injustice and that people should be more tolerant of such offences?

    3. ‘Rightly or wrongly – the body was destroyed before a post mortem’ – my reading of Part 1 Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is that possession of a dead goshawk is an offence unless the person can show that it had been lawfully taken or obtained. The possession is ‘wrong doing’, the destruction is suspicious and the implication of the last paragraph is that the police could not determine the cause of death. The legislation is not written by accident. The reason that the emphasis is on the person in possession of the dead bird being able to show that it was legally killed or obtained is that it helps to stop people from killing a bird and then destroying the evidence. Surely the role of the police is to gather evidence of the possession and the attempts of the people involved to show that possession was lawful, if they cannot show this, and the letter seems to indicate that they could not show this, then one might conclude that the evidence should be passed to the CPS to decide if a prosecution is in the public interest. If every time this happens the police decide not to take the case to the CPS and to allow the illegal possession then the law becomes redundant. The CPS should judge the public benefit not in terms of whether or not the bird was illegally killed, but on whether or not the circumstances suggest that the illegal possession could potentially have been part of a cover up of an illegal killing.

    Proving an illegal killing is not necessary for there to have been a possession offence of a nature that at face value should have been prosecuted. Of course there are other circumstances, but ‘right-minded’ gamekeepers, hopefully of the type employed by the state, are in my experience well informed on the nuances of the WCA 1981.

    Apologies if this amounts to further unconstructive speculation.


  11. May 9, 2017 at 6:56 pm

    Since we & the wider public see through this sort of nonsense, the continuing data on slaughter of tagged raptors will be a difficult one to cover up.
    The problem as we all know is the lack of evidence in raptor crime.
    Unexplained disappearance in specific areas tells everyone all they need to know.

    Keep up the pressure !

  12. 15 Thomas David Dick
    May 9, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    How often over the last four decades have I heard some naive fool in a position of responsibility talk about bringing the parties together, as though it had never been tried..and failed..many times before? The shooting lobby have continually shown an inability to compromise, never mind actually obey the laws of the land – and then of course they accuse conservationists, who merely ask for those laws to be obeyed, of being intransigent….The kind of total surrender to criminals which has repeatedly been shown by our “authorities” is deeply worrying..and is exactly why many of us are so strong on backing calls for more powers for SSPCA to investigate wildlife crime in Scotland.

    • 16 Paul V Irving
      May 9, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      I entirely agree Dave it is almost the mark of not understanding the truth of the problem and its context to talk of both rogue gamekeepers and that both sides should talk. I am happy to talk BUT not about a compromise in the law or relaxing it in any way or turning a blind eye etc., the law needs toughening not weakening. Then who to talk to NGO and SGA are pointless at the table individual keepers do what the owner/agent tells them and not what their “union” tells them. Moorland Assoc cannot deliver anything as members are free to take their own path, BASC, GWCT and CA are not representative of anything but serving the interests of their members. Essentially there is nobody to talk to who can make meaningful decisions that the rest will abide by . So talking will get us nowhere, although it is a favoured root by Govt and DEFRA here in England. We need a tough and uncompromising application of the law, where the law is insufficient to solve these persecution problems it needs change for the better. The only real answer is I suspect either a rigorously applied and policed licence system or the banning of driven grouse shooting.

  13. 17 janetjohnson20
    May 9, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    I would very much like to know what ‘meaningful discussions’ could have taken place that will mean that in future the police will know whether a bird has been killed illegally or not. What do they mean by that statement?
    Also if it was as simple as a discussion, why has this not already been sorted out before now?
    Anybody with more knowledge than me able to throw any light on this?

  14. May 9, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    The thing is that the National Wildlife crime Unit is hanging on to its existence by its finger tips…. it desperately needs public support if it is to survive… are these people not aware where public opinion lies? Did they not see the “Ban Petition, are they not aware of what is happening in the Scottish Government? Or maybe they are looking at their budget through the eyes of the dim-witted toy MP’s who read the crib sheets out in the Westminster Hall debate. Are they officers of the LAW or just PR guys for the government????

  15. 19 Nimby
    May 9, 2017 at 11:18 pm

    Is this the same NWCU that conservationists championed retaining and continued funding for not so many years since?

  16. 20 Kerry Mills
    May 10, 2017 at 12:37 am

    ” a different approach” suggests that the current approach is not working.

    Enforcement has not been tried by police or Nwcu. When was the last time we heard of any real enforcement action by police.

    Nwcu should not suggest enforcement has not worked when they have failed to do any real enforcement.

    Police and Nwcu are failing to deal with raptor crime putting their efforts into poaching

    Support SSPCA increased powers and hopefully see an increase in enforcement and deter offenders.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blog Stats

  • 4,104,640 hits


Our recent blog visitors