Chris Packham’s interview with grouse moor informant.

Poisoned buzzard beside poisoned woodpigeon bait on driven grouse moor in Tayside

That really was an interesting interview by Chris Packham of the person giving him what was obviously first-hand information of some of the criminal activity that takes place on many driven grouse moors ( see ) It corroborates what I have seen over many years as a police wildlife crime officer, what some keepers have told me and also much of the intelligence that is fed into the National Wildlife Crime Unit. Much of it is almost word for word of some of the text from my book Killing by Proxy: wildlife crime in the UK today.

The informant confirmed that hen harriers, marsh harriers, peregrines, short-eared owls, tawny owls, buzzards, sparrowhawks and sometimes even merlins are being killed on many estates. I suspect the informant worked in England otherwise he would have added golden eagle and white-tailed eagle to the list. In fairness he stated that some keepers are changing but at too slow a rate, and that the level of criminality often depends on how commercial the enterprise is.

What stood out for me was the alleged level of involvement of some sporting agents. Sporting agents have been around for years but certainly, over this past 20 years, they seem to have had responsibility for the ‘improvement’ of many grouse moors, bringing them from poor production of grouse to intensive driven grouse shoots. My experience of those employed in these situations is exactly as described by the informant: refurbished houses, larger than average salaries and new vehicles. The informant describes the keepers employed as ‘young kids’ who work all day with little sleep. What he didn’t say was that the original keepers, to make way for these ‘young kids’, were paid off and, according to some, were pressurised into leaving.

Of course producing a monoculture of grouse at high density means eliminating any creature (often labelled as vermin) that either preys on grouse or are likely to disturb them and move them from a drive or drives on a shooting day. As the informant said, lots of money is paid to shoot the grouse and neither the sporting agent nor the headkeeper want drives ‘knackered by harriers.’

He also spoke of the number of mountain hares that are culled and the number of driven grouse moors that are ring-fenced, with everything inside the fence killed. My expansion of that is that the fences are double electric fences which restrict public entry to the estates as well as keeping deer out, and that in some cases all – or at least most – of the deer have been killed off inside the fence. These fences also prevent the deer moving around in winter to places that give the best shelter in bad weather and for all of these reasons I’m really surprised that estate owners are allowed to put up such fences.

The informant retuned several times to the subject of sporting agents. He, like me and many others, sees some of these agents as the principal cause of criminality on driven grouse moors. They are also the main factor that anchors gamekeeping practices in Victorian times. He speaks of ‘a well-known agent’ (and I know exactly who he is referring to) who he alleges gives a written warning to his gamekeepers if he sees certain species on the moor. I and others have sought out this documented evidence for years and failed to find it. While I have no doubt that warnings are given I doubt that anyone in a supervisory capacity would commit this to print.

Intelligence is the key to jailing a rogue sporting agent, but so few witnesses of criminal activity on driven grouse moors are willing to come forward. Over the years I spoke to many who had been badly treated by sporting agents. I’ll conclude with what I think is a relevant couple of paragraphs on this subject from Killing by Proxy:

Apart from one gamekeeper, they were too frightened to stand up in court and be counted. The one lengthy, horrifying and convincing statement noted and signed could therefore not be corroborated. More recently the tide has started to turn as the negative publicity of the criminality and the public anger were recognised by the more reasonable and sensible folks involved in the game shooting industry.

Had more intelligence been passed to the police that would have been a good start. Had evidence been given by the older gamekeepers who were ousted to be replaced by young compliant keepers that would have been a great step towards a court case. Had much more support been given to the gamekeepers who had been (or were being) encouraged or directed to carry out criminal acts, they could have provided evidence (as opposed to intelligence) in the form of witness statements or the recovery of illegal items and a case could most certainly have been submitted for prosecution.

This could have been achievable by the concerted action of the various shooting and land-owning organisations that have pretty much buried their collective heads in the sand for years, with no public acknowledgement and only half-hearted condemnation of what is taking place. The extent of the criminality, if proved, could have culminated in a considerable jail sentence. Even in 2017, using the common law charge of conspiracy (which is not time-limited as are statutory offences), it is still not too late for this to happen.

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