By Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations
Today a gamekeeper has received a total of 20 week’s imprisonment suspended for one year and a £1000 fine after he was caught on camera killing two buzzards in the space of two days, on a pheasant shoot in Nottinghamshire. Investigations Officer Tom Grose takes us through the story, from the beginning.
Shortly before New Year 2021 two members of the public found a live buzzard in a cage trap while out walking near Kneeton, Nottinghamshire. Concerned, they took a short video and emailed the RSPB. Under strict licence conditions these traps can legally be used to control corvids such as crows and magpies. Any non-target species should be released unharmed during daily checks.
The day after receiving the report, I visited the area in question and soon located the trap, on the edge of a wood. I noticed two disused game feeders and several spent shotgun cartridges.
There was a buzzard trapped inside. It wasn’t clear at the time whether this was the same buzzard that had been reported, but the fact that it could have been in the trap for days, without water or shelter, in freezing weather was a concern. The vegetation around the trap seemed to have been trampled, as though someone had been there. I also noticed the carcasses of a pheasant and two stock doves (a protected species) on the floor in the trap. The weather was freezing, and there was no water or shelter in the trap. So I released the buzzard due to concerns for its welfare and installed a covert remote camera.
Not knowing how long this buzzard had been trapped in the harsh weather, the RSPB released the bird
A few days later I returned with a colleague. The trap was empty, but I could see the knot securing the door had been retied since my last visit. Someone had visited. What was more concerning was the presence of two buzzard feathers on the ground outside the trap...those hadn’t been there before. I returned home to examine the footage, and what I saw was hard to watch.
The same man returned and beat the second buzzard to death in the same brutal way
The covert video footage showed a buzzard flying into the trap and feeding on the carrion inside. It was still there by first light the next morning (8 January) when a green 4x4 vehicle appeared. The driver’s door opened and the buzzard began flapping around inside the trap, clearly unable to escape. The man walked around the trap, looking at the buzzard, then returned to his vehicle and produced a slash hook, a bladed tool with a long wooden handle. He entered the trap and used this instrument to brutally beat the buzzard to death. You can hear all nine blows clearly on the recording. Then he carried the body of the buzzard, its head hanging limply down, back to his vehicle.
Later, another, paler buzzard became caught in the trap. The following day, the same green 4x4 appeared and the same man entered the trap, and just as before, he bludgeoned the bird to death.
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.
Watch the footage here - WARNING - contains distressing images.
We notified Nottinghamshire Police who swiftly identified the suspect as John Orrey, a gamekeeper on a pheasant shoot on the land in question. 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. Later examination of the video footage confirmed the buzzard I had released was not the one originally seen in the trap. The fate of that bird remains unknown.
The same green 4x4 and slash hook were found at the suspect's address
On 28 January 2022 Orrey, 63, of Hall Farm Kneeton was sentenced at Nottingham Magistrate’s Court. He had earlier pleaded guilty to four firearms offences, regarding the storage of weapons and ammunition, plus five offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. These related to unlawful use of the cage trap, possession of the slash hook, killing two buzzards and possession of the two stock doves.
For each buzzard 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 Working Group.
Whilst this footage is truly shocking, it is not the first time we have captured such material, and likely won’t be the last. Following on from our recently published Birdcrime 2020 report it yet again highlights the continuing persecution of birds of prey and the abuse of cage traps on land managed for gamebird shooting.
In December 2021, a UN assessment on UK wildlife crime, requested by Defra, was published. It includes several key recommendations on raptor persecution which need to be taken forward urgently. This includes stronger regulation of the shooting industry, something RSPB and others have been advocating for many years, and to allow for the removal of licences to use these traps. We believe this is necessary to stop more birds from being illegally killed. In the current climate and ecological emergency, we want UK governments to take forward the UN recommendations as soon as possible.
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