Most crimes involving the persecution of birds of prey are never detected, and those that are can be notoriously hard to prosecute. So the recent conviction of a Norfolk gamekeeper for the worst recorded mass poisoning of raptors in England can be regarded as a success, even if tempered by a derisory sentence – Allen Lambert, from the Stody Estate in Norfolk, received just a 10-week suspended sentence and was ordered to pay £930 in costs for slaughtering 10 Common Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk. Such lenient treatment clearly will not, as Natural England said it hoped, “prove a deterrent for others”.
The low detection rate of such crimes is inevitable because many take place on vast ‘sporting’ estates where there is little chance of them being witnessed or documented. Yet we know they happen because, as one insider makes clear in the December issue of Birdwatch, raptors and other species have been steadily disappearing from Britain’s intensively managed grouse moors for many years; every now and again, the discovery of another poisoned Hen Harrier or Golden Eagle corpse serves to confirm our worst fears about what happens out of sight on private land.
After this latest case, at least it was heartening the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation stated emphatically that “we condemn these actions utterly”. No such condemnation was forthcoming from a different corner of the shooting world, however. ‘You Forgot the Birds’, fronted by ex-cricketer and keen shooter Ian Botham among others, instead set its sights firmly on trying to discredit the RSPB, despite pretending to care about birds. It even misused quotes from Birdwatch in a blatant attempt to borrow credibility from the birding community.
Let’s make it absolutely clear: we do not support this website or its spurious motives, to the point where we’ve actually referred the matter to our solicitors. All birders know that no organisation has campaigned harder on behalf of birds, their habitats and their welfare than the RSPB. By attacking the Society rather than condemning the criminal elements of its own industry, ‘You Forgot the Birds’ has shot itself in the foot. Let’s take its ill-conceived posturing as a positive sign of the success of initiatives such as Hen Harrier Day and the huge public support it engendered.