Crime on grouse moors yet again

Buzzard that had been caught in a Fenn trap set on a post

Buzzard that had been caught in a Fenn trap set on a post

 Owl in pole trap

Owl in pole trap

Grouse moors have been the subject of social media attention this week for all the wrong reasons. Firstly I read of a gas gun being deployed on the Peak District National Park. It is claimed to be on Broomhead Estate, part of which is an SAC designated because of its importance to short-eared owl, merlin and golden plover.  Although the gas gun is not actually on the SPA it is on its boundary and pointing towards the SPA, where there seems little doubt that the regular bangs will adversely affect any bird, nesting or otherwise, in close proximity.

This is not the first time that adverse comment has been made about the use of gas guns on grouse moors. Up until recently their use has been on agricultural land to scare pigeon or rooks from crops. My own thoughts are that their use on grouse moors, where pigeons and rooks are not a problem, is to prevent birds settling that are alleged to adversely affect grouse production. The first bird that comes to mind in this regard is the hen harrier. With the amount of bad publicity that driven grouse moors in particular continue to receive, one would think that any sensible owner, sporting agent or factor would instruct their employees not to carry out any activity that is likely to show the estate or grouse shooting in a bad light, whether or not the activity might be legitimate. By the continued use of gas guns on grouse moors it seems that those responsible could not care less about public perceptions.

Hot on the heels of this story, a man has been given a police caution after being filmed resetting three pole traps on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire.  He admitted the offences to the police, which is unsurprising since he was caught on camera. The status of the man is not known though it seems much more likely he is employed by the estate rather than having just walked in off the street. I find it unbelievable that for such a serious crime as the use of pole traps to catch protected birds he only received a police caution.  Aggravating the offence are the presence of the three posts on the estate, which seem to be there specifically for the purpose of pole-trapping, feathers on two of the traps, indicating that they had already caught victims, and the cruelty involved with this type of illegal instrument. There may be some element of the investigation to which we are not privy that justifies the mind-boggling decision of the police, but if there is not I sincerely hope that it can be reversed.

With driven grouse shooting already being on a shoogly peg (as we would say in Scotland) these two incidents must bring its demise ever closer.

It is also worth thinking about the position of any owner or sporting agent who encourages or directs illegal activity in order to boost grouse numbers. They may think of themselves as respectable citizens (some may even have Sir or Lord in front of their name) but in fact they undoubtedly sit at the highest level of wildlife criminals. If a case could be proved against them there is little doubt that they would receive (and thoroughly deserve) a substantial jail term, and with a bit of luck may have to forfeit hundreds of thousands of pounds under Proceeds of Crime legislation for the value added to grouse shooting by illegal activity such as the killing of birds prey.

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4 Responses to Crime on grouse moors yet again

  1. Grey Sage says:

    The decision to issue a caution for the pole-trapping offence has now been reviewed. The finding was “we made a mistake”. The officer involved had used an out-of-date sentencing guidelines, and had received “management advice”. The review found that, if the correct guidelines had been used it was more than likely that the young man would have been charged. Despite this the CPS decided that charging (now) would not be in the public interest as there was (now) little chance of a conviction because they would have to have the decision to caution overturned.

    With your experience as a serving officer, I would be very interested to know what the version of the sentencing guidelines was that the officer could have been using and just how much charging “leeway” is available in such cases.

    The identity of the culprit is still unknown, but the driven grouse moor has confirmed that he was a “junior member of staff” who was acting entirely on his own initiative. I understand that his shotgun licence was revoked. RPUK has some interesting comments on the owners of the estate concerned.

    • I haven’t been a serving officer since 1997, though my role within the police dealing with wildlife crime and criminal intelligence has kept me pretty well in touch until final retirement last year. The way the police work in Scotland is different from the rest of the UK. Officers, to a degree, can use discretion in relation to whether to issue a warning or report the case to the procurator fiscal for prosecution. In relation to wildlife crime there are specialist prosecutors in Scotland and in any investigation where the officer is not sure how to proceed he or she would discuss it with the prosecutor. Many complex cases are discussed with the specialist prosecutors in advance of the investigation. I think all police wildlife crime officers in Scotland would agree that any pole trapping case was at the higher end of wildlife crimes and would without question be reported for prosecution if there was evidence to do so. I found the North Yorkshire caution in this case both unbelievable and infuriating since it is so difficult to gain evidence of wildlife crimes on grouse moors and this one seemed clear-cut. Regardless of any exalted position of a suspect or his employer I have never experienced a police officer or prosecutor to be adversely influenced by this. Does this help?

      • Grey Sage says:

        I found the original decision to caution totally unbelievable, as did the RSPB, and I have great sympathy for the Wildlife Crime officers involved in the case who, I think, were dumped on. Frankly the decision stinks of corruption, and the official explanation does little to dispel the impression.

        What I wanted from you, was some feeling for how much leeway an individual officer would have when deciding that a simple caution was appropriate. As far as I know the decision has to be made by an officer not involved in the investigation and of a rank of, at least, Sargent. What the decision implies is that the officer concerned thought that the setting of illegal pole traps was a minor offence.

        The explanation the he/she “had not used the correct cautioning guidelines” also makes no sense. I have a FOI request open asking which cautioning guidelines were used, but I don’t hold out much hope of an informative answer. The previous advice, Home Office circular 016 / 2008, and the advice before that, Home Office circular 30 / 2005, (and before that Home Office circular 18/1994 with the Formal Caution) all make it clear that cautions are only appropriate for minor offenses so the question remains: How was the officer persuaded/ who persuaded the officer, that the actions of the young man constituted only a minor offence?

  2. You’ve probably researched this yourself but
    http://hub.unlock.org.uk/knowledgebase/simple-caution/
    gives a good explanation of cautions. For minor infringements in Scotland a constable can give a warning there and then. Unless the system has changed, other formal and informal warnings are recorded. I suspect in this case the decision to caution would have been made by an inspector, though I would have thought the investigating officer would have argued strongly against this. There is a plethora of background material to quote to show how serious pole trapping is considered, plus the persecution of raptors is a UK wildlife crime priority. The decision reflects extremely badly on the force.

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