The RSPB Investigations team assists the statutory agencies to investigate crimes against wild birds in the UK.
Staff are based at the UK headquarters, Scottish headquarters and the Northern England Regional Office.
This blog will be used to keep you informed on key issues and court case results on a regular basis, but for legal reasons, we may only be able to report on certain aspects of our work.
If you witness a crime against a wild bird and wish to report this to the RSPB, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or use the online form at: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reportacrime
Have you ever been accused of something you haven’t done? When I say accused I mean directly, in front of others, repeatedly being told you’re unscrupulous and a liar in the strongest possible terms?
Imagine if the truth is the very opposite and that the only defence the aggressor has is to attack you and your credibility. Finally, imagine if it’s in your job description to expect it.
For the past 14 days, myself and three RSPB Investigations colleagues have been in this exact situation. Bertie Woodcock, the defence QC has dished it out without any recourse or single shred of proof, but why?
Because his gamekeeper client, Glenn Brown, was filmed in an undercover RSPB operation illegally operating a hawk trap baited with live pigeons in the Derwent Valley, Derbyshire. The same valley where the raptor population has suffered a catastrophic collapse since 2006, with only four goshawk nests being successful from the last 20 attempts.
If you believe the defence, with MI5-like credentials RSPB officers elaborately set the operation up, obtained one of Brown’s pigeons, put it in one of his cage traps, planted a dead sparrowhawk nearby, filmed the keeper apparently checking an empty trap. Then we convinced Derbyshire Police to raid the premises, after placing a ‘marked’ pigeon in the keeper’s pigeon loft awaiting its certain detection.
The simpler truth is far too inconvenient to some. Yet another gamekeeper persecuting raptors, in this case presumably to reduce grouse predation on a moor where the tennant showcases his commercial heather restoration.
Thankfully not so for Judge Goulbourn overseeing the first conviction (see her full judgement here) or Judge Watson who presided over the appeal.
So why does this happen? It’s because RSPB Investigations working with the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service is the only dedicated team able to pull off these complex gamekeeper- related investigations and convictions, making us an obvious target.
When attempting to protect your name runs up a legal bill of tens of thousands of pounds, it’s the biggest back-handed compliment to the RSPB and our supporters possible. Gamekeepers continue to be the fall guys, some being sacked, while the criminal elements in the shooting industry, who orchestrate these crimes, keep out of the limelight. Of over 100 gamekeepers convicted of raptor persecution offences since 1990 not one of their employers has had to face charges in a court room.
In Scotland, through the recently-introduced vicarious liability clause there may be a time when we see keepers and landowners in the dock together. We don’t have it in England yet but if you think we should then you can add your support here
So what next? We move on, we take the experience from this case and invest it along with our costs in the next operation, maybe in the Peak District again or elsewhere. After all, we have the element of surprise. Having filmed Brown's trap for an entire week at less than 30 feet we can do it, to save nature, watch this space!