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Gamekeeper filmed ‘brutally’ killing buzzards avoids jail

Existing punishments are no deterrent, RSPB warns after John Orrey pleads guilty to illegal killing of birds of prey

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Monday 31 January 2022 15:26 GMT
Gamekeeper caught on camera killing buzzards

A gamekeeper has escaped jail after pleading guilty to killing two buzzards to protect pheasants for shooting in Nottinghamshire.

John Orrey was caught on camera “brutally” killing the birds of prey with a “slash hook”, a bladed tool with a long wooden handle, after the RSPB placed a hidden camera close to the trap.

Orrey received a prison sentence of 20 weeks, suspended for one year, and a £1,000 fine.

The RSPB said a member of the public had contacted them at the end of 2020, reporting buzzards inside a cage trap in Kneeton in Nottinghamshire.

Upon visiting the trap, the RSPB officer found a live buzzard in the trap along with the carcasses of a pheasant and two stock doves, which are a protected species.

Due to the freezing weather and lack of water for the buzzard, the officer released the pheasant, and also planted a hidden camera in a nearby bush.

These types of traps are legal for targeting species such as crows, jackdaws and magpies under strict licence conditions. Non-target species should be released unharmed during daily checks.

When they retrieved the camera days later it had captured Orrey killing two buzzards on two consecutive days.

“The killing of these two buzzards - in what appeared to be such a routine way - was truly shocking, even to those like me who deal with raptor persecution almost every day,” said RSPB investigations officer Tom Grose, who said the footage showed a “slash hook” had been used to “brutally beat the buzzard to death”.

“We notified Nottinghamshire Police who swiftly identified the suspect as John Orrey, a gamekeeper on a pheasant shoot on the land in question,” Mr Grose said.

“A warrant was obtained to search his premises. In a barn close to his home was the same green 4x4 with a long-handled slash hook in the boot. The bodies of the buzzards had gone, likely disposed of. Chillingly, a search of the land revealed a second set cage trap, containing carrion bait that appeared to have been fed on. Subsequent veterinary examination of the two stock dove carcasses recovered from the trap showed that they had both been illegally shot.”

“When I first saw the footage I was shocked and sickened. The birds were subject to a repeated torrent of blows before being thrown into the boot of a vehicle. This was clearly a premeditated operation and yet again illustrates that the shooting industry has a serious problem that needs to be sorted. Killing birds of prey has been illegal for decades, and yet it is still commonplace. Why? Clearly the punishments are no deterrent and the courts must look at using the full range of sentences available – including jail – to signal clearly that this sort of behaviour is simply not acceptable.”

He added: “Better regulation is needed too. The RSPB has repeatedly asked for the conditions on cage traps to be tightened. The UK government must follow the recommendations of the recent UN assessment, which calls for stronger regulation of the shooting industry and to allow for the removal of licences to use these traps.”

Buzzards and stock doves are legally protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

Orrey pleaded guilty to all charges in December 2021 and was sentenced on 28 January 2022 at Nottinghamshire Magistrates’ Court. In relation to the killing of the buzzards, for each bird he received an 18-week suspended sentence to run concurrently and a £500 fine for each bird. He was also ordered to pay £650 costs and £50 victim surcharge, and £180 compensation to the Wildlife Forensic Wording Group.

District Judge Grace Leong said: “This was a shocking and unnecessary act of cruelty and violence.”

Chief Inspector Heather Sutton, Nottinghamshire Police’s lead for rural crime, said: “This sentencing is extremely significant and I hope it demonstrates just how seriously Nottinghamshire Police takes reports of rural crime and how we will work together with our partners to bring anyone committing these horrific offences to justice. It is unacceptable that any wildlife should experience the kind of ordeal John Orrey subjected them to.”

The RSPB said if members of the public find a wild bird of prey which they suspect has been illegally killed, they should phone the police on 101, email RSPB Investigations at or fill in the online form.

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