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.