Wildlife crime – destroying the evidence

Back in June 2013 a gamekeeper shot and killed a Hen Harrier on a Scottish estate owned by a London financier. This week, the Crown Office dropped the prosecution just weeks before the scheduled trial. The reasoning is astonishing.We can say all the above unambiguously because it was all caught on video. The RSPB had video in place as they were monitoring a nest, and it was from this nest the bird was flushed and shot.

Given such clear evidence the case should be open and shut. But the Crown Office dropped it because the evidence was inadmissible, because they felt the video had been gathered covertly, specifically to catch someone illegally shooting the bird. Hence, legally inadmissible.

There are two astonishing things contained in there. The first is that the RSPB, as part of a project co-funded by the Scottish Government, has been setting up these cameras to monitor nests. Yet the Crown Office turns round and rejects that explanation for the filming? In other cases this sort of footage is used routinely.

But I am even more appalled by the legal issue around the filming. Who cares if it’s covert? Why should this matter? It isn’t entrapment, if the gamekeeper didn’t choose to act illegally, there’d be no crime.


This isn’t the first astonishing piece of inaction on wildlife crime this year. In February police declined to take on a case where a young Goshawk had disappeared on the Sandringham Estate. Thanks to satellite tagging, it was clear to the BTO where the bird had disappeared, and the police went along. What they found was a member of the grounds staff had incinerated the bird.

Initially they claimed the bird had been long-dead and decomposing when they found it, but the satellite tag showed it had been alive just a day before. At this point the story changed, the bird had indeed been alive, but very unwell. It died of natural causes. Then they burnt it before any post-mortem could take place. So the police concluded there were no suspicious circumstances!

Just for a moment imagine instead of a dead bird, it was a dead person. The police arrive, someone says “Yeah, he was really sick, he died, we cremated him. Is that okay?”. No suspicious circumstances?


I’m making a point this year of not telling you how to vote. What I will say is that these incidents invariably happen on managed moorland for game shooting. The land is invariable owned by very wealthy people. And these very wealthy people are invariably financially connected to the Conservative Party.

Right now that is the party aiming to make things worse for British wildlife after the General Election.

But an election is complicated, there are many factors to consider in casting your precious vote, and this is just one. I won’t suggest who you should vote for, only that you should vote.

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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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