Tag Archives: Buzzard

John Orrey, a gamekeeper, of Kneeton, Nottinghamshire receives a suspended prison sentence for killing Buzzards and firearms offences

‘My role is to protect game – buzzards presented a risk to those birds’.

That was a statement offered by the Defence on behalf of Mr Orrey in mitigation at the sentencing hearing.

Incredibly it appears to be an attempt at justification rather than mitigation. He could just as easily said ‘OK I killed a couple of Buzzards; I’m a gamekeeper, it’s my job. What’s the problem with that?’

The problem with that of course is that killing Buzzards is illegal and has been illegal for decades. Yet here we have a professional gamekeeper who appears to believe that killing birds, caught in one of his cage traps, is part of his job description. He also appears to believe that he has a duty of care to the game birds under his control to protect them by killing Buzzards until the day that the pheasants are shot for profit, for pleasure or for both.

Mr Orrey killing a Buzzard; exercising his version of due diligence, protecting his game birds.

This case came to light thanks to the quick thinking of two members of the public who, when out walking, happened upon a crow cage trap containing a Buzzard and recorded the fact in a short video. They then reported the incident to the RSPB Investigations Team and one of the Team attended the location the following day and also found a Buzzard in the trap along with various items of bait. This Buzzard was safely released and a covert camera was installed to monitor the trap. Interestingly; when images of the Buzzard released by the RSPB were compared to images of the original bird taken by the witnesses it was clear that these were two different birds.

What happened to the original bird? We simply don’t know. By law it should have been released unharmed by the person managing the trap; but was it?

The covert camera, installed by the RSPB to monitor the cage trap, recorded Mr Orrey visiting the trap twice and on each occasion he beat a Buzzard to death with a billhook.

The video can be viewed at https://rspb.org.uk/our-work/rspb-news/rspb-news-stories/man-convicted-for-killing-two-buzzards

On one hand the footage is shocking in that Mr Orrey showed not an ounce of compassion as he bludgeoned the defenceless birds to death. On the other hand we should hardly be surprised because we have seen similar behaviour before when gamekeepers were covertly filmed by the RSPB Investigations Team doing exactly the same thing. Killing protected species caught in crow cage traps on land managed for game shooting is not as rare as the shooting industry would have us believe.

In an earlier hearing Mr Orrey had pleaded guilty to four firearms offences with regards to the storage of his firearms and possession of ammunition. He also pleaded guilty to Wildlife and Countryside Act offences in relation to the unlawful use of a cage trap, possession of the billhook, the killing of two Buzzards and the possession of two Stock Doves. On 28 January he was sentenced to a total of 20 weeks imprisonment suspended for 12months and ordered to pay a total of £1880 in fines, victim surcharge and compensation to the Wildlife Forensic Working Group. He has also had his firearms and ammunition confiscated and his firearms licence revoked by Nottinghamshire Police.

We know from many, many previous cases involving the killing of birds of prey on land managed for game shooting that this is not an isolated incident. We also know from past experience that Mr Orrey will be described by the shooting industry as ‘another bad apple gone rogue, unrepresentative of the industry at large, and repeat the mantra of having zero tolerance of bird of prey persecution, etc.’ In the event that they comment at all of course. Statements such as that are meaningless, simply another example of Hobson’s Choice at work and proof, if proof was needed, that the shooting industry representatives on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery have zero influence on the activities of members of the industry that they represent.

In this case the ‘bad apple’ is an insider who appears to think that it’s all in a day’s work to kill protected species to protect gamebirds and was prepared to say so in court. His actions and that statement by the Defence shine a very bright spotlight on a very dark industry.

Our heartfelt thanks go to the witnesses who reported the original incident to the RSPB. The follow up by the RSPB is another example of outstanding, professional, dedicated casework by the Investigations Team.

NERF

31 January 2022

“Move along, there’s nothing to see here.”

Spokesperson for the ‘Custodians of the Countryside’.

Bird photographs courtesy of RSPB Birdcrime 2020 [gunsights added by NERF]

“Move along, there’s nothing to see here.” At least that is what the ‘Custodians’ would have us believe. In truth, that is far from the reality that we see on the ground. The latest RSPB Birdcrime Report, covering 2020, puts that nonsense to rest, again.

Whilst the general public were obeying the Government’s instructions to stay at home during the Covid – 19 lockdown to save the lives of our families and neighbours, the raptor killers were plying their trade across the countryside that the ‘Custodians’ were supposed to be protecting. You could be forgiven for asking – ‘how did that work out?’ The simple answer is – not well at all if you were a bird of prey on land used for game shooting. You could also be forgiven for thinking ‘well that is not new’ and you would be correct. The statistic that makes 2020 different is the scale of the killing. Lockdown gave the raptor-killers free reign to go about their daily business without fear of being caught and the latest statistics published by the RSPB reveals just how effective they were. You can read the full Bird Crime Report here.

Across the UK there were 137 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution, the highest annual number recorded by the RSPB and agreed by the National Wildlife Crime Unit. The shocking statistics reveal that there were 57 cases of shooting, 17 cases of trapping and 35 cases of poisoning of birds of prey. In total 63% of the reports came from land associated with game shooting [34% pheasant and partridge shooting, 28% grouse shooting and 1% mixed shooting]. Of the 137 confirmed cases, 99 occurred in England and c 66% of those were located in North Yorkshire making the county the hotspot for bird of prey crime for the 7th year in succession.

Following the release of the latest Birdcrime report there will no doubt be cries of derision from the game shooting industry; shouting foul, it’s nothing to do with us, we have zero tolerance of persecution, it was the bad apple brigade trying to discredit us and anyway 137 is a small number. ‘Nothing to see here, move along’.

Indeed 137 is a small number; but it has to be seen in context when discussing raptor persecution. The real question is not how many victims were found; it is – what percentage of victims were found? Most birds of prey are predominately brownish, perfectly camouflaged, a dead body will cover less than 1000 cm2 and they are killed on hundreds of thousands of hectares of land that is predominately brown. The amazing thing is that any are ever found and the true figure must be very, very significantly higher than the number reported. The phrase ‘the tip of the iceberg’ is frequently used when discussing raptor persecution statistics and it is an accurate description of the scale of the crimes against birds of prey. When searching for the victims of persecution the phrase ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’ is appropriate; but in 2020 no one was allowed to look in the haystack. Unlike the individuals who are employed in the game shooting industry, who were allowed free range over the countryside, the general public were confined within our homes. We were oblivious of how high the body count of protected species was becoming.

The negative media coverage criticizing the game shooting industry over recent weeks has, or should have, caused reputational damage to the industry; but does it care? There have been numerous reports of multi-agency, Police led, raids on shooting estates. Mr Phil Davies, the Countryside Alliance representative on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG], has rightly been removed from the Group following his involvement in a webinar where fox hunters were advised about tactics that they could use to avoid prosecution when conducting illegal hunts. You can read more about this on the Raptor Persecution UK Blog here.

A damning article entitled ‘Reports of raptor killings soared during the U.K.’s lockdown’, published in the National Geographic, a highly respected publication with global reach, focuses on the disgraceful illegal killing of birds of prey on shooting estates during the Covid lockdown period. You can read the full article here, although you will have to share an email address to read it.

Now we have RSPB Birdcrime spotlighting the fact that 137 confirmed cases of raptor persecution, the highest number on record, were reported in 2020. It also highlights the fact that 63% of the birds of prey that were slaughtered were killed on land associated with game shooting and 40% took place on protected landscapes, in our National Parks and in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or their Scottish equivalent.

It is a national disgrace and we all know it, so what response can we expect from the shooting industry in light of this latest report? “Move along, there’s nothing to see here” followed by attacks on the integrity of the RSPB and suggestions that a small amount of persecution is only part of the story, all is well and raptors are thriving. We have heard it all before. It’s as predictable as day follows night.

NERF has been calling for the licensing of the shooting industry, with the licence being applied to the land, not the owners or managers of the land, for several years. Once again we reiterate that call for licensing of shooting estates and it has to be implement without further delay. The public require it and our natural environment deserves it. We know that Government Departments set media alerts for reports such as the National Geographic article, Birdcrime and blogs, including the NERF website. Defra Ministers and Natural England know what is happening to our birds of prey, they know the scale of the problem and they know the causes of the problem; it is persecution by individuals connected with games shooting. The RSPB report identifies the fact that of the 186 individuals convicted of raptor persecution 66% were gamekeepers and a further 6% were also connected to the game shooting industry. The Government has published its own data which confirms these facts. How much more evidence do Ministers need before they take meaningful action?

The Government also knows that land management practices on upland shooting estates, which includes heather burning, adds to global warming and destroys countless reptiles, amphibians, the eggs of early ground nesting birds, kills billons of insects, which is the primary food source for upland birds, and leads to increased downstream flooding. Having had these facts reinforced, again, with these latest reports will Defra Ministers and Natural England grasp this nettle with both hands and actually do something about it rather than tinkering around the edges with schemes such as Hen Harrier Brood Management and the ludicrous Hen Harrier Southern Re-introduction proposal. They might; but regrettably the chances of that happening are next to nil under the current Government and we are all the worse off for that.

In theory the Wildlife and Countryside Act provides all of the protection that raptors require. In reality it is inadequate because it fails at the compliance and enforcement stages. It is time for a change of emphasis, a change in enforcement strategy and sentencing guidelines; changes that will actually protect our iconic birds of prey are long overdue. They, and you, deserve nothing less.

If you have information in respect of any bird related crime please contact the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101

NERF

28 October 2021.