Posts Tagged ‘gamekeeper


Red kite killed in barbaric illegal trap on pheasant-shooting estate – no prosecution

A red kite suffered a brutal and agonizing death when it was caught in a barbaric illegal trap at a pheasant-release pen on an unnamed Berkshire shooting estate in August 2020.

A member of the public found the dead kite, hanging upside down with its legs caught in a pole trap, a cruel device that has been outlawed since 1904.

[Red kite hanging dead in an illegal pole trap on a Berkshire shooting estate. Photos via RSPB].

The member of the public reported the incident to the estate (please note – if you find something like this report it to the police and the RSPB, straight away). A gamekeeper was reportedly abusive and threatening in response.

The incident was reported to the RSPB a couple of days later, who contacted Thames Valley Police. Fortunately in this instance, senior estate officials had already reported the crime to the police and had instructed the gamekeeper to retrieve the dead kite and the illegal trap.

The gamekeeper was interviewed and denied setting the trap on his pheasant pen and claimed it was ‘a set-up’.

There appears to be insufficient evidence to progress a prosecution.

For further details of this horrific crime, and the ongoing difficulty of securing sufficient evidence for a prosecution, please see the RSPB Investigations Team’s blog here.


Channel 4 News re-visits the grouse moors of the North York Moors National Park

The illegal killing of birds of prey on the grouse moors of North Yorkshire was firmly back in the news headlines this evening with another excellent piece fronted by Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News.

You may remember an earlier piece from Alex back in May this year (here) which featured various police investigations in Nidderdale AONB and the discovery of five dead buzzards stuffed into a hole on a Bransdale grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park during lockdown – four were later confirmed to have been shot (here).

This time the TV crew filmed a grouse-shooting party near Goathland in the North York Moors, where earlier this year film footage emerged purporting to show an individual killing a trapped goshawk on the Queen’s grouse moor in May (see here and here).

In this latest film there’s some hilarious footage of various members of the shooting party denying all knowledge of the alleged goshawk incident and providing a display of arrogance that the general public doesn’t often get to see, usually hidden as it is behind carefully-worded propaganda pieces.

Speaking of the alleged goshawk incident, Alex said,

The police told us, a gamekeeper will soon be prosecuted for killing the goshawk“.

The Duchy of Lancaster says if there is a successful prosecution, the sporting tenant, BH Sporting, may lose its lease.

Interesting times.

Here’s the six minute video that appeared on Channel 4 News this evening:

UPDATE 24th September 2020: Channel 4 bats away shooting industry hysteria (here)


Three gamekeepers suspended from Queen’s grouse moor after wildlife crime investigation

Following the news that a goshawk was recently trapped and apparently killed by a masked individual on the Queen’s grouse moor in North Yorkshire (see here and here), the Yorkshire Post is claiming that three gamekeepers were suspended.

According to the article, the Head gamekeeper and two underkeepers were suspended after being interviewed by North Yorkshire Police in relation to the alleged killing of the goshawk. Two have since been reinstated while the third one has been allowed to resign, and apparently allowed to work his notice period before he went!

The police investigation continues as officers await forensic results from items seized during a search of the estate.

Full article in the Yorkshire Post available here


Infamous Kildrummy Estate sold to new owners

The Kildrummy Estate in Aberdeenshire is infamous for a number of reasons.

Firstly, its gamekeeper became the UK’s first (and so far, the only gamekeeper) to receive a custodial sentence for raptor persecution in 2014 after his conviction on four counts, including the illegal killing of a trapped goshawk which he clubbed to death on the estate in 2012 (see here and here).

Secondly, a vicarious liability prosecution against the gamekeeper’s supervisor/employer wasn’t possible because the police were unable to establish the identity of the management hierarchy because the details of land ownership were concealed in an offshore holding (see here, here and here).

Today it’s been reported on various websites that Kildrummy Estate has been sold for a cool £11 million and the new owners, Americans Chris & Camille Bently, are described as being supporters of ‘animal rights’. For example, see this article on the Insider website, which incidentally also discusses the criminal conviction of the former Kildrummy estate gamekeeper but mistakenly reports he was sentenced to ‘four years for laying poisoned bait’ – that’s wishful thinking, it was only four months and we’re not aware of poisoned baits being laid on this estate.

Blog readers may be interested in reading the sales particulars for Kildrummy Estate, which provide a fascinating insight in to a location that has previously been shrouded in secrecy.

Download the sales document here: Kildrummy Estate sales particulars June 2020

Good luck to the Bentlys – let’s hope their vision for this estate is one centred on rewilding and conservation and not exploitation and criminality.

UPDATE: This blog post was picked up by The Herald 6 July 2020 here


‘400% increase in illegal killing of birds of prey since lockdown’

Last night BBC Look Northwest had an excellent feature on the continued killing of birds of prey in the UK. It included interviews with Howard Jones from the RSPB Investigations Team, and everyone’s favourite persecution denier, Duncan Thomas from BASC.

The clip can be viewed here (starts 18.10 mins) but is only available until 7pm this evening (Thurs 4 June 2020). We’ve reproduced the transcript below:

BBC studio presenter: “The RSPB says it’s been overrun with reports that birds of prey have been illegally killed since lockdown began. It’s thought the quieter countryside has made it easier for criminals to target them. A recent case involved a buzzard which had been shot near Saddleworth. Here’s our environment correspondent Judy Hobson.”

Judy Hobson: “A buzzard, found in the Peak District three weeks ago. This x-ray shows it had been shot. It was found here on Saddleworth Moor. The RSPB say since lockdown began there’s been a 400% increase in the illegal killing of birds of prey”.

[The shot buzzard and its x-ray. Photo by Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group]

Howard Jones, RSPB: “Lochdown has kind of emboldened the criminals out there who want to kill birds of prey so they think with the restrictions that have been imposed there’ll be less people out in the countryside and there’s less chance of being caught”.

Judy Hobson: “Two birds were found dead in Cumbria last month, other birds targeted include hen harriers, peregrine falcons and red kites. It’s an issue that’s plagued the countryside for years and the RSPB has consistently pointed the finger at gamekeepers protecting young grouse”.

Howard Jones: “In two thirds of the prosecutions that have ended up in court for bird of prey persecution since 1990, two thirds of those have been gamekeepers”.

Judy Hobson: “The charity says the number of birds found dead since lockdown began equates to a bird being killed every single day”.

Duncan Thomas, BASC: “I really dispute these figures. I would love to have a proper investigation in to exactly where they’re coming from. The RSPB are using birds of prey as a cash cow. It’s not proportionate, effective investigation, we must let the police get on with their job. We will expel anybody who is convicted of a wildlife crime of this nature”.

Judy Hobson: “The RSPB says it stands by its figures and says the police are investigating every single incident. Campaign groups such as Wild Justice also believe more birds have been targeted since lockdown. But a row over figures perhaps distracts from an inherent problem which shows no sign of going away”.

Howard Jones: “These are majestic birds of prey and creatures that people come out in to the countryside to see and despite 65 years of legal protection they are still being targeted”.


UPDATE: Comment posted on blog 4/6/20 by Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations: ‘Whilst there has been 56 confirmed/potential raptor persecution offences during lockdown – RSPB did not make or recognise the 400% comment made by the presenter in this piece. We have sought clarification from the BBC‘.


4 shot buzzards on a Bransdale grouse moor: shooting industry’s response

Last Friday afternoon, North Yorkshire Police appealed for information in relation to an ongoing investigation involving the discovery of five dead buzzards that had been shoved in a hole under a rock on an unnamed grouse shooting estate in Bransdale in the North York Moors National Park. X-rays have so far revealed that four of those five buzzards had been shot (see here).

[Police body camera footage captures the moment five dead buzzards are pulled from a hole where they’d been concealed on a grouse shooting estate in Bransdale, North York Moors National Park]

North Yorkshire Police has since released x-rays of three of those shot buzzards:

In relation to this incident and other ongoing investigations into raptor persecution, Inspector Matt Hagen from North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Crime Team told Channel 4 News, “All the shooting investigations that we’ve got going on at the moment are involving gamekeepers on grouse moors” (see here).

Given the game-shooting industry’s claims of a ‘zero tolerance’ stance to illegal raptor persecution (see here), you’d think this would be the perfect opportunity for the grouse shooting industry to offer its full support to the police investigation and encourage its members to step forward with information, especially if there was concern about dangerous unidentified armed criminals, killing protected species and running amok in a National Park, right?

Well apparently not. Having looked at the websites of the industry’s ‘leading’ organisations this morning, here’s what they’ve had to say about this latest crime:

Moorland Association: nothing

BASC: nothing

Countryside Alliance: nothing

National Gamekeepers Organisation: nothing

GWCT: nothing

Impressive, eh?

There is one group from the industry, however, who seems to have plenty to say, and it’s quite extraordinary.

The North Yorkshire Moors Moorland Organisation (NYMMO) is an apparently grassroots umbrella organisation that represents grouse moor gamekeepers in the North York Moors. It’s one of a number of regional moorland groups in the UK, established a few years ago as part of what looks like a propaganda exercise to promote grouse moor management in a favourable light. The NYMMO website doesn’t have a list of grouse-shooting estates on which its members work but we do know it has members that work in Bransdale (more on this in a future blog).

Here’s what the NYMMO posted on its social media channels on Sunday, in response to the news that five dead buzzards, four of which are confirmed as being shot, were discovered concealed in a hole on an unnamed Bransdale grouse shooting estate:

Does this strike anyone as evidence of an industry exhibiting ‘zero tolerance’ of raptor persecution? You can bet that some of those ‘leading’ organisations will be raging at the NYMMO for posting such an incredibly stupid and revealing statement in response to what is an horrific wildlife crime, especially as a number of those ‘leading’ organisations have a close and supportive relationship with the NYMMO. Although at least one BASC staff member (Gary Dockerty, BASC Upland Officer) has ‘liked’ this post on Facebook.

More on the NYMMO shortly….


National Gamekeepers Organisation’s pathetic response to Channel 4 programme on rampant raptor persecution

Two weeks ago the RSPB announced that it had seen a ‘surge’ in reported raptor persecution incidents since the Coronavirus lockdown (see here).

The response from the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO) was its usual attempt to undermine the credibility of the RSPB, bleat about being a signatory to an as yet undemonstrated stance of ‘zero tolerance‘ of raptor persecution, and to demand information from the police on recent raptor crimes (see here). Here is a copy of the NGO’s response, copied from it website (red bit highlighted by RPUK):

Fast forward two weeks and we had the excellent Channel 4 News special investigation featuring raptor persecution on North Yorkshire grouse moors (see here), which featured the utterly compelling dialogue between a senior police officer and the CH4 correspondent, as follows:

Alex Thomson (Channel 4 News correspondent): Lockdown has seen a sharp increase in reports of birds of prey found dead. We joined Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police as he followed up reports of a dead bird of prey seen in the Nidderdale area.

Inspector Matt Hagen: I’m absolutely shocked and disgusted at the level of raptor persecution that I am coming across.

Alex Thomson: Inspector Hagen told us that of 30 birds he’s collected in the past six months, only one has died of natural causes and his investigations lead clearly to a single group of suspects.

Matt Hagen: All the shooting investigations that we’ve got going on at the moment are involving gamekeepers on grouse moors.

Alex Thomson: All of them?

Matt Hagen: All of them.

Alex Thomson: Every single one?

Matt Hagen: That’s right.

The National Gamekeepers Organisation has now published a response to the Channel 4 News programme. Bear in mind that the programme delivered exactly what the NGO had previously asked for (i.e. details from the police instead of the RSPB) that placed gamekeepers at the centre of every single current criminal investigation relating to the illegal killing of birds of prey in North Yorkshire. Here’s what the NGO now has to say:

The NGO says the news “is a concern“. The NGO says it is seeking “clarification on the source of the information and statistics provided“. Where’s the condemnation? Where’s the disgust? Where’s the reaction to those shot buzzards being pulled out of a hole on a grouse shooting estate? This response is pathetic.

The NGO says it is part of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG)  – which came as a bit of a surprise to us given that it resigned ‘permanently’ from the partnership after a massive tantrum in January last year (see here and here). Those decent organisations on the RPPDG who genuinely want to tackle illegal raptor persecution (e.g. RSPB, Northern England Raptor Forum, BAWC, North Pennines AONB, Sheffield Wildlife Trust) really need to start thinking about their positions on this forum. By remaining, they legitimise organisations such as the NGO (and others) who are able to use their membership as a badge of respectability and credibility.  They’re making the good guys look like mugs.


Channel 4 News highlights raptor persecution on North Yorkshire grouse moors

Following the news yesterday that a buzzard had been found confirmed poisoned in the Nidderdale AONB (see here), that the RSPB had seen a further increase in reports of raptor persecution since lockdown, including four new cases in the Peak District National Park (see here), and the discovery of five dead buzzards hidden in a hole on a grouse shooting estate in Bransdale in the North York Moors National Park, four of which have so far been confirmed as shot (see here), Channel 4 News featured a timely ‘special investigation’ piece last night, exploring the link between the illegal killing of birds of prey and grouse shooting estates across North Yorkshire.

The six minute film can be viewed here.

It includes interviews with North Yorkshire Police Inspector Matt Hagen (head of NYP Rural Crime Team) whose commentary was utterly damning (see below), Will Watson, a gamekeeper from an unnamed Nidderdale estate who said raptor persecution needs “nipping in the bud” as though this is a newly-emerging problem!, Duncan Thomas from BASC who reeled out the tired old patter that it was an “absolute minority of people” that “may commit offences“. He also claimed that BASC “have expelled members” following convictions for raptor persecution (really? When was that, then?) and that the industry is “very good at policing ourselves” (completely missing the point that if that was the case, there’d be no need for this programme to be aired), Guy Shorrock from the RSPB who pointed to the evidence that raptor persecution on grouse moors is organised crime on an industry-wide scale, and four Nidderdale residents (Keith Tordoff, Debra Jenkins, Charlotte & Chloe Amber) who were courageous enough to go on camera and speak out against illegal raptor persecution, even though at least one of them has previously received abuse and threatening letters for his efforts.

BASC was clearly worried about how this film would portray the game shooting industry because a few hours prior to the programme airing, this statement appeared on the BASC website, which says more about BASC staff’s concerns about criticism from their members than it does for its concerns about ongoing raptor killing.

The programme starts explosively with what looks like Police body camera footage as officers retrieve the five dead buzzards concealed in a hole at Fox Hole Crags on the edge of Bransdale:

Take a look at the date stamp of this footage – 18 April 2020, in the middle of lockdown. Those buzzards looked ‘freshly dead’. The significance of this date will become apparent.

The most interesting part of the programme was the interview with Inspector Matt Hagen, who Channel 4 accompanied while he was investigating the discovery of yet another dead buzzard in Nidderdale.

Here’s the transcript:

Alex Thomson (Channel 4 News correspondent): Lockdown has seen a sharp increase in reports of birds of prey found dead. We joined Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police as he followed up reports of a dead bird of prey seen in the Nidderdale area.

Inspector Matt Hagen: I’m absolutely shocked and disgusted at the level of raptor persecution that I am coming across.

Alex Thomson: Inspector Hagen told us that of 30 birds he’s collected in the past six months, only one has died of natural causes and his investigations lead clearly to a single group of suspects.

Matt Hagen: All the shooting investigations that we’ve got going on at the moment are involving gamekeepers on grouse moors.

Alex Thomson: All of them?

Matt Hagen: All of them.

Alex Thomson: Every single one?

Matt Hagen: That’s right.

Matt Hagen’s responses couldn’t have been clearer. Unequivocal, unambiguous and even to the uninformed Channel 4 viewer who might never have heard about raptor persecution, utterly compelling. Even the spin doctors from the grouse shooting industry will struggle with such devastating commentary, particularly because it came from a senior police officer directly involved with the investigations.

Now, about the date on that Police body cam footage where the dead buzzards were being pulled out of a hole in Bransdale in the North York Moors National Park – 18 April 2020. Channel 4 News filmed this interview with Matt Hagen over one month later, which indicates that grouse moor gamekeepers are under investigation for the shooting of those birds.

We’ll be exploring this further….

Well done to Alex Thomson et al at Channel 4 News for getting this issue on prime time TV.


Prejudice, ignorance & pride are key drivers of gamekeepers’ desire to kill predators

When the full extent of the wildlife crimes committed by Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson was revealed last year (see here), it inevitably led to questions by most reasonable people about his motivation.

These questions weren’t restricted to the issue of illegal persecution; they also led to more general discussions about the legal killing of wildlife by gamekeepers, and these questions continue to dominate conversations about game shoot management in the UK.

[Gamekeeper Alan Wilson, convicted in 2019 of nine offences on Longformacus Estate. Photo Daily Record]

A new paper has just been published that provides insight from interviews with 20 gamekeepers in southern England about their motivation for killing predators (legally).

This research was undertaken by George Swan as part of his PhD, successfully completed in 2017. Obviously there are limitations and caveats associated with such a small sample size from a relatively restricted geographic area but the authors acknowledge these and place their results in an appropriate context.

This is an ‘open access’ paper which means that it’s freely available, in full, here.

The paper doesn’t start well. In a scene-setting paragraph about lowland gamebird management in the UK the number of annually released non-native gamebird species is given as ‘>20 million Pheasants and >2 million Red-legged Partridge’. This is a massive underestimate using out of date references.

The most recent estimate of released gamebirds is from 2016 (see here) and is approaching 60 million released gamebirds per annum (47 million Pheasants, 10 million Red-legged Partridge). These figures from the shooting industry are considered to be conservative and are highly likely to have increased again since 2016.

Incredibly, the exact figure is unknown because the game bird shooting industry is virtually unregulated. There is no statutory requirement to register a shoot nor to provide a record of the number of birds released and then shot. Indeed, in this latest paper the authors even acknowledge that they couldn’t themselves establish the size of any of the shoots involved in the survey ‘as the number of birds released was found to be a sensitive question‘!

Moving on to the gamekeeper interviews, the study’s main findings identify six primary motivations for killing predators. These are described as: professional identity, personal norms, potential penalties, perceived impact, personal enjoyment and perceived ease.

It’s really worth reading the detail of these motivators in the paper (jump to section 3 ‘Findings’ if you want to skip the pre-amble). The level of prejudice, ignorance (of ecological predator-prey relationships) and pride (e.g. ‘one gamekeeper explained how he controlled magpies, in part, because other gamekeepers ‘take the Mickey’ [mocked the respondent] when they saw this species on his beat‘) will be shocking to many. The notion of needing to control predators to ‘maintain balance’ is laughable in the context of releasing almost 60 million non-native gamebirds in to the countryside every year!

To be perfectly frank, none of this will come as any surprise to anyone who’s spent a couple of hours reading gamekeepers’ comments on social media. However, it is useful to have these attitudes documented and analysed in a formal scientific way. The authors propose this research could help to understand and mitigate ‘social conflicts’ over predator management.

For others, this research will be beneficial for those of us who consider that urgent regulation of the UK’s gameshooting industry is required. Indeed, many of the findings in this new paper support Wild Justice’s ongoing legal challenges against the General Licences in England and in Wales which, Wild Justice contends, unlawfully authorise the ‘casual killing’ of millions of birds without the gamekeeper having to justify why the killing is necessary and a last resort.

Incidentally, the crowdfunder to support Wild Justice’s legal challenge of General Licences in Wales is just short of reaching its target. If you’re able to help, please click here. Thank you.



‘Key moment’ as Scottish Government considers grouse moor licensing

It’s been three months since the Government-commissioned Werritty Review on grouse moor management was published (see here) and we’ve been waiting for the Scottish Government’s official response, which is due this spring.

We did hear from Nicola Sturgeon at First Ministers Questions in December that shortening the timescale for which grouse moor licensing may be introduced was ‘a serious consideration’ (here) which was very welcome news, although not to all.  Grouse moor trustee Magnus Linklater argued in a Times opinion piece that licensing threatened gamekeepers jobs (here), although he didn’t manage to explain how being law-abiding and not killing protected birds of prey would cost a gamekeeper his employment.

[An illegally-poisoned golden eagle in the Cairngorms National Park. Photo by Dave Dick]

As a follow up to the First Minister’s comments in December, Andy Wightman MSP (Scottish Greens) recently lodged this Parliamentary question:

S5W-27631: To ask the Scottish Government, further to the comments by the First Minister on 19 December 2019 (Official Report, c. 21), what its timescale is for reconsideration of the introduction of a licensing scheme for grouse shooting.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon has now responded:

We are giving very careful consideration to the recommendations in the report by the Grouse Moor Management Group (the ‘Werritty Review’).

We will set out our response to the report in due course, which will cover the recommendation on introducing licensing of grouse moor businesses.

Earlier this week Duncan Orr Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management wrote a very good blog (here) discussing the Werritty Review’s primary recommendation that grouse moor licensing be introduced but that the review had suggested a five-year delay. He goes on to explain what options are available to the Scottish Government as they consider the Werritty Review recommendations. Well worth a read.

Duncan describes this as a ‘key moment which could help safeguard some of Scotland’s most spectacular wildlife’ if the Scottish Government chooses to finally do what it’s been threatening for years and years and introduce a grouse moor licensing scheme.

He urges members of the public to contact their MSPs and ask them to encourage the Scottish Government to make grouse shooting both legal and more sustainable through a licencing system for grouse moors.

You can find contact details for your MSPs by entering your postcode on the “Find Your MSP” tool on the Scottish Parliament website here.

For those who don’t live in Scotland please contact Scottish Ministers at

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