Posts Tagged ‘gamekeeper

16
Sep
18

Police caution ’employee’ for illegally-set trap on Chargot Estate, Exmoor National Park

There was an interesting article published in the Somerset County Gazette at the end of August (here), announcing that the police had cautioned an ’employee’ of the Chargot Estate (in the Exmoor National Park) for animal welfare offences.

This case involved an illegally-set crow cage trap that had been covertly filmed by investigators from Animal Aid in May and June this year. During a period of 44.5hrs of continuous filming, the trap was visted four times by an unnamed individual. However, the trap was illegally-set because although it was baited with food, there was no provision for water, shelter or perches for the trapped birds, and it was also being operated unlawfully because the trapped pheasant (a non-target species) should have been immediately released when discovered – these are all breaches of the General Licence.

[Photo of the illegally-set trap, by Animal Aid]

The Animal Aid investigators gave the footage to the police who then cautioned an estate employee. According to Animal Aid’s version of events (here), this individual was a gamekeeper. But according to a quote in the Somerset County Gazette from the Chargot Estate Managing Director Gwyn Evans:

I do not condone what the employee has done; he has been disciplined. The employee in question is not a gamekeeper, he is a farm worker, and was acting in his own time without the knowledge of the estate.

Hmm. That’s hard to believe. But let’s assume for a minute that the person operating this trap during that period was an unauthorised farmworker. Are we honestly expected to believe that none of the estate’s gamekeepers (and according to this sales briefing from Oct 2017 the estate employs five of them full time) or any other estate employee didn’t notice this trap being used? It’s not exactly inconspicuous, is it? And even if the trap was the responsibility of one of those gamekeepers but it wasn’t supposed to be in use, that gamekeeper has also breached the conditions of the General Licence because when a trap isn’t in use it is supposed to be rendered incapable of holding or catching birds or other animals by either securing the door fully open or removing it all together.

Apart from the all too familiar question ‘Why did the police decide to caution, not prosecute?’ for blatant trap misuse, there are wider implications from this case.

The Chargot Estate, often referred to as ‘iconic’ and ‘prestigious’, is listed on the Guns on Pegs website (a ‘shoot-finding’ service) as being ‘proud to be a ‘BGA assured shoot’:

The BGA is the recently-established British Game Alliance, a desperate attempt by the game shooting industry to be seen to be self-regulating and demonstrating best practice. We’ve blogged about it recently as it hasn’t got off to the best start (see here and here).

We checked to see whether Chargot was actually listed as a BGA member, and yes, it is:

And here’s what the BGA says about its criteria for accepting shoots as a BGA member:

So according to the BGA, all its members have agreed to abide by the BGA’s Shoot Standards and ‘are leading the way with a forward-thinking approach and should be praised as early adopters of self-regulation‘.

Here’s what those BGA shoot standards say about the use of traps:

So according to the BGA’s own terms and conditions, the Chargot shoot has not adhered to the law on trapping. Does that mean Chargot’s membership of the BGA will now be revoked? Probably not, because if you look at #19 of the BGA’s shoot standards, it says shoots will be expelled and their membership revoked ‘where a shoot or its employees are successfully prosecuted for wildlife crimes‘.

In this case, not only could the estate argue that the individual who received the police caution was not a ‘shoot employee’ (because they claim he was a farmworker), but also the employee was not prosecuted – the police chose to issue a caution instead.

Loopholes, eh? If there’s one to be found, you can always rely upon the game-shooting industry to exploit it.

It remains to be seen whether the British Game Alliance will take any action against the Chargot shoot or whether it’ll just turn a blind eye and allow Chargot to continue to enjoy the benefits of being listed as a member.

Along with several other questionable BGA member shoots, Chargot is feted as ‘having demonstrated high standards through best practice in all areas from animal welfare to game handling’ even though it’s been at the centre of a police investigation for wildlife crime / animal welfare offences resulting in an employee receiving a police caution.

Is this a ‘credible assurance scheme‘, as the British Game Alliance claims? Clearly not.

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31
Aug
18

Whernside Estate: more reaction to gamekeeper’s conviction for shooting owls

On Tuesday gamekeeper Tim Cowin was convicted for shooting, and then stamping on, two short-eared owls before then hiding the corpses on a grouse moor on the Whernside Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here).

[Gamekeeper Cowin being arrested on the Whernside Estate shortly after shooting and then stamping on two short-eared owls and hiding their corpses on the moor. Photo by Guy Shorrock, RSPB]

Cowin’s conviction was widely welcomed by the public, and there was also comprehensive revulsion at his criminal and sadistic behaviour after people were able to watch the extraordinary video footage captured on scene by the RSPB’s Investigations Team.

Several organisations involved in the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG – the PAW Raptor Group) have since published statements on their respective websites:

North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force’s statement can be read here, and it mentions how this conviction ‘should serve as a warning’ to others committing wildlife crime in North Yorkshire.

North Yorkshire Police Crime Commissioner Julia Muligan, who had the foresight to establish the Rural Task Force in response to N Yorkshire’s reputation as a wildlife crime hotspot, has also issued a statement, here. Julia’s statement focuses on the value of the police working in partnership with the RSPB to catch the raptor killers.

The Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) has also published a long statement (here), also praising the efforts of the RSPB and North Yorkshire Police (and the CPS) and takes a justified side swipe at fellow RPPDG member, the Moorland Association, for its failure to do likewise.

And what about the other members of the RPPDG ‘partnership’? Three days on, what statements have been issued by the game-shooting industry’s RPPDG representatives about this successful conviction and the outstanding efforts of the RSPB, North Yorkshire Police and the CPS to expose yet another criminal gamekeeper? (Don’t forget, part of the RPPDG’s role is to provide publicity about illegal raptor persecution to ‘build trust and transparency’).

Moorland Association – we blogged about the Moorland Association’s statement on Wednesday (here) which was fully supportive of the Whernside Estate (allowing it to retain its membership of the MA) and didn’t mention the RSPB, Police or CPS at all.

National Gamekeepers Organisation – no statement

British Association for Shooting & Conservation – no statement

Country Land & Business Association – no statement

Countryside Alliance – no statement

Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust – no statement (GWCT isn’t a member of the RPPDG but we include them here because they have a prominent role in the game-shooting world).

This deafening silence comes as no surprise. We’ve seen it time and time again from these so-called ‘partners’ – we either get silence, or a demented attack on the RSPB.

For example, not one of them issued a statement after a gamekeeper was filmed with a poisons cache on the East ArkengarthDale Estate (here), nor after men dressed as gamekeepers were filmed shooting at nesting marsh harriers and then removing their eggs on Denton Moor (here).

We did get statements from the Moorland Association, BASC and the Countryside Alliance after the collapse of a prosecution against a gamekeeper who was alleged to have been filmed trapping a peregrine on its nest ledge on the Bleasdale Estate (here). BASC’s statement was pretty good (here) but the statements from the Moorland Association and Countryside Alliance were appalling.

We blogged about the Moorland Association’s statement on the Bleasdale case (here), which focused on trying to undermine the integrity and credibility of the RSPB.

The Countryside Alliance didn’t issue a statement on its website when the RSPB eventually published its Bleasdale video nasty, but what it did do was have an article published in the Shooting Times earlier in the year, when the Bleasdale prosecution case had collapsed. The article, attributed to Countryside Alliance CEO Tim Bonner, was basically a re-hash of an article the CA had published on its website the previous year, attacking the RSPB for its use of covert filming in Scotland (and incorrectly asserting that the RSPB and police should seek authorisation under the RIPA legislation for such filming, even though RIPA authorisation will not be approved as raptor persecution is not considered ‘serious crime’ by the Sentencing Council).

The title of Bonner’s re-hashed article published by the Shooting Times (June 2018) tells its own story of the game-shooting industry’s attitude to tackling illegal raptor persecution – smug, sniggering and sneering:

These aren’t ‘partners’, genuinely interested in stopping raptor crimes on land managed for game shooting. If they were, they’d all be falling over themselves to heap praise on the actions of the RSPB and North Yorkshire Police that resulted in Cowin’s conviction. None of them have.

They’d all have promoted the RSPB’s raptor crime hotline which allows people to report suspected raptor killers in confidence (here). None of them have.

They’d all be publicly blacklisting the estates and sporting agents known to be involved with the illegal killing of raptors. None of them have.

And they’d all be queuing up to ask the police and RSPB to install covert cameras to monitor the security of any Schedule 1 raptor species nesting on their land. None of them have, although they’re quite happy to install stealth cameras to film the visiting public.

[Photo by Ruth Tingay]

29
Aug
18

Whernside Estate retains membership of Moorland Association

Following on from yesterday’s news that gamekeeper Timothy Cowin had been convicted for shooting and then sadistically stamping to death two protected short-eared owls on a grouse moor on the Whernside Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here), public anger has been justifiably prominent.

Many have commented on Cowin’s pathetic sentence (a £1,210 fine) but there has also been considerable commentary on social media about why the landowner hasn’t also been prosecuted.

If these crimes had taken place in Scotland, there would have been an opportunity to prosecute the landowner and/or shooting agent for alleged vicarious liability, following the introduction of the WANE Act 2011. Although in Scotland a prosecution may not have followed automatically, especially if the landowner and/or agent was able to show due diligence, or if the landowner couldn’t be identified, or if the prosecutors deemed it wasn’t in the public interest to proceed. Since the legislation was enacted on 1 January 2012, six and a half years ago, there have only been two successful prosecutions for vicarious liability in relation to raptor persecution (here and here); two others have failed (here and here) and others simply haven’t been considered for reasons that haven’t been made clear to us (e.g. see here).

However, as Whernside Estate is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, not in Scotland, there is no hope that a prosecution for alleged vicarious liability will follow in this case.

[RPUK Map showing location of Whernside Estate, which is located in the county of Cumbria but also lies within the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park]

So with no prospect of a further prosecution, the least that could be expected would be for the grouse moor owners’ lobby group, the Moorland Association, to expel the Whernside Estate from the ranks of its membership, right?

Well, no. The Moorland Association has done the exact opposite and has instead chosen to publish a statement in support of Whernside Estate and confirmed the estate’s continued membership in the Moorland Association:

Amanda Anderson’s justification for not expelling Whernside Estate rests with the Moorland Association’s “satisfaction” that the estate had taken “all appropriate measures” to ensure its staff acted within the law and this included written correspondence between the estate and gamekeeper Cowin. Without seeing this correspondence it’s impossible to know whether this evidence would have been sufficient to meet the standards of due diligence required as a defence against vicarious liability in Scotland. It’s our understanding that in Scotland, this correspondence may not be enough to demonstrate due diligence, and other measures may also be required such as the landowner and/or agent undertaking spot checks on their employees and having a written record of those checks.

It’s fairly apparent from the detail we do know about Cowin’s case that had adequate spot checks been undertaken, questions would have been raised about Cowin being in possession of a plastic peregrine decoy, and importantly, his possession of a calling device that had been loaded with the calls of several raptor species, presumably to be used to entice raptors, perhaps towards a plastic decoy, where they could then be shot at close range.

Unfortunately we’ll never get to hear about the details of the estate’s claimed supervision of Cowin because, as there’s no provision for a potential prosecution for alleged vicarious liability in relation to raptor persecution in England, the estate doesn’t have to present this information to the authorities for scrutiny. We only have the word of the Moorland Association, which, of course, has a long track record of denying the bleedin’ obvious.

But let’s take the word of the Moorland Association, and the Whernside Estate, at face value and assume that Cowin’s crimes were as abhorrent to them as they are to the rest of us. That leads to a very interesting question. Two questions, in fact.

Firstly, no matter what claims the Moorland Association makes in all these so-called ‘partnership’ meetings trying to combat illegal raptor persecution, the Moorland Association, and its members, have absolutely no control or influence over gamekeepers working on grouse moors. Cowin is a perfect example of this. If, as the MA and the Whernside Estate claims, Cowin had undergone training, refresher training, and had signed an employment contract undertaking to work within the law, he STILL went on to commit these crimes. So what, exactly, is the point of the Moorland Association attending these ‘partnership’ meetings if it can’t offer any guarantees that gamekeepers won’t kill raptors on grouse moors?

[Gamekeeper Cowin, leaving Whernside Moor after shooting and stamping on two short-eared owls and hiding their corpses. Photo by Guy Shorrock]

Secondly, if the Whernside Estate was “dismayed” at Cowin’s actions of shooting and then stamping on those two short-eared owls, and being in possession of a calling device with raptor calls loaded on to it, did the Whernside Estate pay for Cowin’s legal representation?

Cowin’s solicitor was Michael Kenyon. Mr Kenyon was unlikely to have been a random duty solicitor called in to the police station to represent Cowin when he was questioned and later charged. Mr Kenyon is a well known figure in the game shooting world and is considered a ‘leading expert’ in firearms law and wildlife crime and once served as the legal advisor to the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (see here) so it seems likely that he was chosen specifically to defend Cowin based on his expertise.

We had thought that perhaps Cowin’s legal representation costs had been covered by his presumed membership of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, especially given Mr Kenyon’s links, but according to a tweet from the NGO this morning, Cowin “was not and never has been a member of the NGO“. So it would seem unlikely the NGO paid.

Did Cowin himself pay for Mr Kenyon’s legal services? Perhaps, but this seems unlikely given what the court heard yesterday about Cowin’s financial means.

Was Cowin a member of another ‘professional’ group whose membership dues include the cost of legal representation if faced with a prosecution in relation to gamekeeping activities? We don’t know.

Did the Whernside Estate pay for Cowin’s legal representation? We don’t know that either, but we do know that somebody accompanied Cowin to several court appearances and although we cannot identify that person, it was suggested to us that it was Cowin’s boss. It may well have been, as he was certainly chatty with Mr Kenyon, heard discussing the number of grouse available to shoot on Mossdale Estate (remember them?), but equally as plausible is an explanation that it may have been a member of Cowin’s family attending court to support him.

Unfortunately we’ll never get to find out who paid for Cowin’s defence.

We were also interested in what the other ‘countryside’ organisations had to say about Cowin’s conviction. Would they all be condemning his actions and saluting the efforts of the RSPB et al in securing a successful outcome? Here’s what we found, at the time of writing this blog:

GWCT – silence

BASC – silence

NGO – silence, apart from responding to a tweet to confirm Cowin was never a member.

Countryside Alliance – silence on Cowin’s conviction but leading with the news that the prosecution of three hunting group members for alleged hunting and wildlife crime offences had been dropped, and focusing on the “wasted public resources” by “animal rights extremists” in bringing this case to trial. Interesting – we could argue the same point about the amount of wasted public resources spent in Cowin’s case as it was dragged around five different courts in NW England before his eventual guilty plea.

During our searches for commentary from the grouse shooting industry we did stumble across an article about grouse shooting on Whernside Estate that had been published in The Field magazine in 2012. Strangely, the article seems to have been removed from The Field’s website archives but fortunately we were able to find a cached version elsewhere. It makes for an interesting read, especially the bit about Headkeeper Tim Cowin working as a joiner!

UPDATE 31 August 2018: Whernside Estate: more reaction to gamekeeper’s conviction for shooting owls (here)

28
Aug
18

Gamekeeper convicted for killing two short-eared owls on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park

A gamekeeper was convicted at Lancaster Magistrates Court this morning for the killing of two short-eared owls on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Timothy David Cowin, 44, pleaded guilty to shooting the owls on the Whernside Estate in Cumbria (inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park boundary) and to being in possession of a calling device that held the calls of several raptor species.

[Gamekeeper Cowin trying to leave the moor after shooting two short-eared owls. Photo by Guy Shorrock, RSPB]

His sentence? A pathetic £1,210, broken down as £400 for killing each short-eared owl, £200 for possessing the calling device, £170 costs and a £40 victim surcharge. The court heard that Cowin was suspended by the Whernside Estate pending the prosecution but then he later resigned and now apparently works as a joiner in Sedburgh.

Cowin committed these offences in April 2017 and was witnessed doing so by three members of the RSPB’s Investigations Team who just happened to be on the moor. The crimes were videoed (from a distance), and Cowin was observed shooting the owls, then stamping on them, and then disposing of the bodies – one hidden inside a stone wall and one stamped in to the peat. The quick-thinking RSPB team called the police, carried on filming, and one of them made his presence known to Cowin as Cowin tried to leave the moor, resulting in a chase across the hills before the police arrived to arrest him and retrieve the corpses.

For full details, have a read of this RSPB blog here.

And then watch this remarkable RSPB video:

We’ve blogged about this case previously (here), as it’s been dragged around five courts in north west England over a six-month period. At several stages it looked as though it was going to be abandoned on a legal technicality (paperwork issues this time, instead of contesting the admissibility of video evidence), as we’ve seen so often with other cases in recent years, and it is testament to the dedication of all those involved in the prosecution (RSPB, North Yorkshire Police Rural Taskforce, and the Crown Prosecution Service, who all put in extra hours) that it stayed on track and resulted in a conviction.

Of course it wouldn’t have got to court in the first place if it hadn’t been for the RSPB’s Investigations Team being on that grouse moor to install a covert camera for what had looked to them like previous suspicious activity. But just being there wouldn’t have been enough. The team was also skilled enough to recognise what Cowin was up to, quick-witted enough to film him, sharp enough to call the Police as the crime was in progress, and fit enough to chase Cowin across the moor when he was trying to escape. Added to their outstanding efforts was the swift response from North Yorkshire Police to get up to the grouse moor in time to arrest him. And then the dedicated, committed efforts of both the RSPB and the police to return early the next day to search for the second owl corpse before Cowin had an opportunity to get back on the moor and remove the evidence. In court, CPS prosecutor Rachel Parker was forensic in rebutting the attempts by the defence solicitor to have the case thrown out.

The actions of all involved in this successful prosecution were exemplary. Will the grouse shooting industry praise their efforts and encourage them to continue routing out the criminal gamekeepers known to be routinely committing these offences?

Unlikely.

We’ll no doubt hear the disingenuous bleating of the Moorland Association, GWCT, National Gamekeepers Organisation, Countryside Alliance etc, all condemning wildlife crime before swiftly returning to their usual criticism of the RSPB and its efforts to fight the continuing illegal persecution of raptors on driven grouse moors.

There are plenty more ‘Cowins’ out there, and despite the efforts of the grouse shooting industry to deny the extent of these crimes and pay for expensive lawyers to defend the criminals responsible, the public is becoming increasingly aware of how big a problem this is, through the efforts of the RSPB and its genuine conservation partners.

Today’s verdict doesn’t help those two short-eared owls; it’s too late for them, but Cowin’s conviction is yet another nail in the coffin of the driven grouse shooting industry. Kudos to all involved.

UPDATE 29 August 2018: Whernside Estate retains membership of Moorland Association (here)

UPDATE 31 August 2018: Whernside Estate: more reaction to gamekeeper’s conviction for shooting owls (here)

[PC Carr retrieving the pitiful corpse of the second short-eared owl that had been shot then stamped in to the ground. Photo by Guy Shorrock]

28
Aug
18

Two men charged in connection with wildlife crime investigation in Scottish Borders

A month ago we blogged about a Scottish gamekeeper who had been charged for a series of wildlife crime offences alleged to have taken place in the Scottish Borders (see here).

This morning Police Scotland has issued an official press statement in relation to this case, as follows:

Men charged in connection with wildlife crime investigation, Scottish Borders

Two men have been charged following an investigation into wildlife crime offences committed at a rural estate in the Scottish Borders.

The pair aged 59 and 57 are scheduled to appear in court at a later date.

END

It’s short on detail but it’s very good to see this case progressing.

Thanks to the person from the Police Scotland media team for alerting us to this news.

17
Aug
18

Gamekeeper cautioned after merlin killed in illegally-set trap on grouse moor

This merlin was found dead in a trap on an un-named driven grouse moor in Northumberland in July this year. A fell runner discovered the bird and reported it to the RSPB.

The RSPB went to the site the next day and realised that this trap had been illegally-set as no attempts had been made to restrict access to the tunnel entrance, meaning non-target species (such as this merlin) could easily access the tunnel, with the inevitable result.

The incident was reported to Northumbria Police and a wildlife crime officer visited the site with an RSPB investigator.

An ‘experienced’ gamekeeper was formally interviewed and admitted setting the trap. Unbelievably, the police decided to issue him with a police caution instead of seeking a prosecution via the Crown Prosecution Service.

Haven’t we been here before? Ah yes, here and here.

Once again, another gamekeeper gets let off for committing a wildlife crime on a driven grouse moor. And before anyone says, ‘A caution isn’t a let off’, it absolutely is if this gamekeeper is permitted to keep his firearms and shotgun certificates, and his job, despite now having a criminal record.

Sure, he probably didn’t intend to trap and kill this merlin but that’s not the point. If he’s employed as a professional gamekeeper he has a responsibility to operate his traps within the terms of the law. With this trap, he chose not to do that, knowing full well that a non-target species could be killed, which it was. That’s an offence and he should have been charged and prosecuted.

Further details about this merlin case can be read on the RSPB Investigations Team blog here

16
May
18

Good grief, Cairngorms National Park!

For those of us hoping to see a progressive move away from intensive grouse moor management inside the Cairngorms National Park, we may have a long wait.

We’ve just found the following written on the VisitCairngorms website (‘the official website for the Cairngorms National Park’). It’s so bad it could have been written by one of the large grouse-shooting estates……..oh, it was.

Good grief! How the hell did that get approved for publication?

A couple of years ago, Will Boyd Wallis, Head of Land Management & Conservation for the Cairngorms National Park Authority wrote an excellent and encouraging blog about how the Park needed to ‘move with the times’, referring specifically to issues associated with intensive grouse moor management within the Park (well worth a read, see here).

He said, “We need to see practical action and clear demonstration that moorland managers are universally responding to modern needs and demands“.

There doesn’t appear to be any evidence of that response in the VisitCairngorms article with talk of Highland retreats for wealthy owners, killing ‘vermin’ (whatever that is), controlling predators by shooting and trapping, protecting game from poachers, and breeding gamebirds for release in to the wild.

A National Park, long considered a jewel in Scotland’s environmental crown? Or just a private playground for shooting parties, where killing wildlife for fun (‘sport’) is celebrated, even by the Park Authority?

Come on Cairngorms National Park, get a grip on this. There are some fantastic, forward-thinking estates within the Park and there are also many conservation-oriented staff at the CNPA. Remove the website guff about how Victorian-styled gamekeepers are the ‘life blood’ of the Park’s estates and let’s hear more about some of the conservation initiatives that some estates, and CNPA staff, are pushing forward.

UPDATE 17 May 2018: We’ve been asked to clarify that the VisitCairngorms website is not run by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the CNPA has no editorial control. The VisitCairngorms website is run by the Cairngorms Business Partnership (the Chamber of Commerce) on behalf of their business members, and even though the website is adorned with the CNP logo and claims to be the Cairngorms National Park’s ‘official website’, it has its own Board and staff and its views are not neccesarily those of the CNPA. Clear? As mud.

Interestingly, the current Chair of the Cairngorms Business Partnership is Angus McNicol. By coincidence, the Factor of Invercauld Estate is also called Angus McNicol.




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