A gamekeeper has been fined for pesticide offences after a shot buzzard, a poisoned red kite, a poison bait and banned pesticides were found on a pheasant shooting estate in Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog.

A shot buzzard found dead on the North Wales pheasant shooting estate

On 6 June 2022 at Wrexham Magistrates’, David Matthews - a gamekeeper on the McAlpine Estate - pleaded guilty to one charge relating to the possession of unauthorised pesticides. He received a total fine of £219.

In February 2021, members of the public found a dead red kite by a public access path on the estate (see below; right). Toxicology tests revealed the bird had been poisoned with bendiocarb, a banned product which is regularly associated with poisoning birds of prey.

When RSPB Investigations Officers subsequently visited the site, they found a dead buzzard inside a pheasant release pen (above). When the body was X-rayed, a piece of shot could be seen lodged in the bird’s skull.

North Wales Police, Welsh Government, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the RSPB searched the estate again in October 2021 and discovered a number of both legal and illegal pesticides stored in an unlocked outbuilding. The remains of a pheasant, found in a game bag on a bonfire site inside a pheasant release pen, tested positive for bendiocarb. Another dead buzzard was too badly decomposed to be tested.

The court heard that Matthews had been a gamekeeper for nearly 50 years, 25 of which had been spent on the McAlpine Estate. His defence argued that he was not aware he had committed an offence.

It remains unknown who killed the buzzard and the kite.

Niall Owen, Investigations Officer for RSPB Cymru, said:

“This was the worst case of illegal pesticide storage we have ever seen. We encountered an unlocked barn containing 18 highly toxic products including Cymag - a product that has been banned since 2004. Anyone could have entered the barn, with unthinkable consequences.

“Yet again, a gamekeeper has been convicted of pesticide storage offences as a result of an inquiry centred on an illegally poisoned bird of prey. The defendant has been a gamekeeper for 50 years yet his actions were irresponsible and represented a serious risk to wildlife, people and pets. We believe this sentence does not reflect the serious nature of this crime or provide a realistic deterrent.

“It is becoming clear that raptor persecution is not just an issue on English and Scottish grouse shooting estates, which is why the RSPB is calling for better compliance with existing regulations and better self-regulation on pheasant and partridge shoots across the UK. If significant progress is not seen by October 2022, we will call for further regulation.

“Reports and information provided to us by the public are invaluable in helping uncover raptor persecution offences, so please be our eyes and ears and report anything suspicious to the police on 101 and by emailing us at crime@rspb.org.uk”.