Conservationists shocked by killing of hen harriers

A A A

Prince Harry knew nothing about the shooting of two rare birds on a royal estate although he was in the vicinity at the time, Clarence House officials insisted yesterday.

Three people have been questioned by police over the alleged shooting of a pair of hen harriers, a protected species, on the Royal Family's Sandringham estate, in Norfolk. The shooting was witnessed by a game warden and two members of the public.

Prince Harry is believed to have been shooting in the area at the time, with a family friend, a member of the van Cutsem family, who own a nearby estate. The killing of two protected birds is highly embarrassing to the Royal Family, not least because the Queen is patron to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

On the RSPB website, the hen harrier is described as "the most intensely persecuted" of the UK's birds of prey. They are frequently killed by landowners or gamekeepers to prevent them preying on grouse.

A member of the staff of Natural England and two members of the public are said to have been near to the Dersingham Bog reserve on the edge of the Sandringham estate late on Wednesday when they heard a shot, and saw a hen harrier fall out of the sky. A second shot brought down its mate.

A spokeswoman for Natural England said she was "shocked that two of England's rarest birds have been killed in this way". The witnesses reportedly did not see the shooter and the carcasses of the two birds have not been found.

Norfolk police said they were interviewing three people about the allegation, and will be sending a report to the Crown Prosecution Service. A spokesman would not say whether Prince Harry was one of the three being interviewed.

A Clarence House spokesman said: "Because Prince Harry and a friend were in the area at the time, the police have been in contact with them, and asked them if they have any information that could help. Unfortunately, they've no knowledge of the alleged incident."

Officials at the Shooting Sports Trust said modern game shooters were acutely aware of conservation issues and would not kill birds of prey. He added it would be "extraordinary" if an experienced marksman shot a protected species by mistake. "It would be easy to see the difference between, say, a partridge and a harrier," he said. "This would be an amazingly dumb thing to do. Very embarrassing. And illegal."

He added: "Whatever you think about shooting, Sandringham is a model shoot. Members of the Royal Family are bought up to shoot and know what they are doing."

It is not the first incident of its kind on the Sandringham estate. Last year, a gamekeeper, Dean Wright, 26, of Anmer, Norfolk, was fined £500 for illegally trapping a tawny owl, in a village on the estate. The injured bird had to be put down.

Although large numbers of hen harriers have been illegally killed, convictions are rare. The first was in Scotland in 2002, when a gamekeeper was fined £2,000 after admitting killing one of the birds to protect his grouse. After the case, an unnamed gamekeeper gave an interview, saying gamekeepers were under constant pressure from wealthy employers to dispose of any wildlife that threatened the grouse, even if they were protected species. "If you don't do these things, you haven't got a job," he said

Hunter becomes hunted

Hen Harriers are among the UK's most beautiful birds of prey and one of the most endangered. It is thought they were once a common sight in British skies but it is estimated that are 570 mating pairs in the UK and on the Isle of Man. The male hen harrier, right, is ash grey with black primaries and white upper tail coverts. The female is dark brown above and pale brown streaked with dark below. They open their mating season with a spectacular sky dance. The male flies to a great height, performs side rolls and somersaults then goes into a steep dive, almost hitting the ground. They will eat anything small enough. Voles are perhaps its favourite, but young grouse do very nicely. They prefer to hunt in rough, low-lying open ground, a grouse moor being ideal. Experts say there is only one cause of the fall in the population – deliberate criminality. They have been protected since 1981 but are shot or poisoned, or have their habitat destroyed, to stop them spoiling a day's grouse shooting.

Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
politics
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker