Three gamekeepers suspended over suspected killing of rare goshawk on Queen’s land

The hawk – one of the rarest birds of prey in the UK – was lured into an illegal trap filled with live jackdaws

Harry Cockburn
Tuesday 21 July 2020 19:02 BST
Footage of alleged killing of rare goshawk

Three gamekeepers working on one of the Queen’s grouse moors were reportedly suspended after being questioned by police over the alleged killing of a rare goshawk through the use of an illegal trap.

The incident in May, on the Goathland estate – part of the Duchy of Lancaster – was caught on camera following a tip-off to activists, and the footage given to the police.

After an appeal for information was put out by police last week, the group Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors have now released the footage.

It appears to show a man putting several jackdaws into a cage trap, apparently as bait.

The camera then captures the moment a goshawk enters the trap, and later a man arrives who “appears to deliberately kill the bird before removing the body in a bag,” North Yorkshire Police said.

The man was seen throwing the body of one of the jackdaws the hawk killed while in the trap into a nearby stream.

The goshawk is one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey with only around 300-400 pairs left, after centuries of persecution which led to the bird being wiped out in the UK by the late 19th century, with numbers only slowly recovering.

Raptors such as goshawks, peregrine falcons, merlins, buzzards and hen harriers have long faced a high risk of persecution on driven grouse moors, as gamekeepers seek to protect stocks of grouse to be shot dead by paying customers. North Yorkshire is one of the worst areas for raptor persecution, according to the RSPB.

According to The Yorkshire Post, the head gamekeeper and two underkeepers on the Goathland estate were interviewed under caution by North Yorkshire Police on suspicion of being involved in the goshawk’s death in May.

The newspaper said they voluntarily attended the interviews with their lawyers present.

Last week, North Yorkshire Police Wildlife Crime Officer, Jeremy Walmsley, urged anyone with information to come forward: “The goshawk is one of the most protected species of bird in the UK and it is extremely distressing that an individual would choose to kill any bird of prey. I appeal to anyone with information about this horrific crime to get in touch with the police and help us to find the person responsible for the death of this magnificent bird.”

He added: “We see far too many incidents of birds of prey killed or injured in North Yorkshire and as a police force we are doing all we can to put a stop to this inhumane and callous crime.”

Andy Wilson, chief executive of the North York Moors National Park Authority said: “We are deeply saddened to hear about this incident. Goshawks were persecuted to extinction in the UK in the late 19th century and, despite an improvement in numbers, persecution and habitat loss remain a constant threat to their survival.

“Killing or injuring a bird of prey is illegal, cruel and must be prosecuted wherever possible. We are working alongside the police to support them in their investigations and we would strongly urge any witnesses or anyone who has any information to come forward. With your help the offender(s) can be brought to justice.”

North Yorkshire Police advised that cage traps can be used to catch certain species of birds and are designed to trap birds alive and unharmed, in case of any non-target species becoming caught. Any non-target birds, such as birds of prey, should be released as soon as possible after being caught. Killing a bird of prey is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Though the Goathland estate is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster and provides a private income to the Queen, it is leased to a shooting company called W&G LLP, who have appointed Scottish agency BH Sporting to manage the land.

BH Sporting subsequently suspended the three men, after which one resigned, however the other two have been reinstated at Goathland estate, according to The Yorkshire Post.

Luke Steele, spokesperson for Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors, said: “It is a clear illustration of how deeply ingrained bird of prey persecution is on grouse moors when not even the Queen’s wildlife is safe from criminals illegally destroying it to boost game bird populations for shooting.

“Grouse moors continue to be implicated in a salvo of wildlife crimes. How many more birds of prey have to suffer and die before the government introduces regulatory reform of grouse moors to end the wave of wildlife crime?”

In 2018, there were 87 confirmed raptor persecution incidents in the UK, but only one conviction.

In a government study which tracked hen harriers between 2007-2017, 72 per cent of the satellite-tagged birds were killed, or unexpectedly disappeared, on or near grouse moors, according to the RSPB.

“Sadly, many estates see birds of prey as a threat to their stocks of red grouse, which are managed in large numbers to be shot,” the 2018 RSPB report stated.

North Yorkshire Police said no one has been charged and the investigation is ongoing. The force added: “If you have any information which could help this investigation, please call 101 quoting reference: 12200073462 or if you wish to remain anonymous contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

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