I could see the initial shock and then flicker of resignation in his eyes. After a nine-month campaign of illegal poisoning, the game was up. I looked around, it was a beautiful part of the world, rolling hills with contouring woodlands – just perfect for soaring but not so if you were a buzzard or raven, both sentenced to death on the Sufton shooting Estate.
I felt pity; you see, he was also a victim. In fact we shared a common interest - the countryside, the same countryside that we both saw so differently, I was fascinated… at only 26 years old, what exactly drove him to kill magnificent protected birds?
Events had begun with an email and an attached photograph, of the sort you find difficult to forget. Usually it's a pathetic corpse of some long decomposed raptor, but this was different. It was a buzzard whose life had been extinguished only moments before, laying next to a pheasant baited with poison.
The scene was discovered by a family with young children out enjoying the countryside. I imagined the questions posed by enquiring young minds. Thankfully, they didn't handle the birds or events could have been far, far worse. Wildlife, dogs and children do not mix with poison baits, ever.
Gamekeeper Ben Walker knew we were for real, the expression left after spending 20 days carrying out covert surveillance has that effect. Facing overwhelming video evidence, he compliantly took us to a location in the middle of the estate from where under a hedge he produced a sack containing the deadly insecticide and a preparation knife. It was here where he had cut open recently-shot pheasants and prepared them as poison baits before scattering them around the estate.
Later we discovered the charred corpses of two buzzards, molten to the remains of a plastic bag on a large fire site littered with used shotgun cartridges. Quite how many birds had died at his hands is impossible to say, but based on our five buzzards and eight ravens and his admission that he had been at this nine months, I suspect many more.
Walker explained to the Police that he was solely responsible for the crimes and that the estate manager had no knowledge of what was going on. He had done it to keep pheasant numbers up and to retain his job. At Hereford Magistrates Court he was fined a total of £1000. A huge amount of work was undertaken during this investigation by West Mercia Police, RSPCA, Natural England, FERA, CRD and the VLA.
It isn't the best result, but what cost a bird's life? Look at the expression in the dead buzzard's eye - stare at it, it tells us a lot about ourselves and our values.
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