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Gamekeeper sentenced for raptor persecution illustrates wider problem of wildlife poisonings

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Licensing, Protected sites and species, Wildlife

By Stephanie Bird-Halton, National Delivery Director.

Today, Paul Allen, a gamekeeper working on the Shaftesbury Estate in Dorset, was sentenced for offences of possession of dead buzzards, keeping of banned pesticides and failing to comply with conditions of shotgun and firearms certificates.

Natural England is determined to tackle the scourge of raptor persecution. One of our roles involves investigating incidents where wildlife has been poisoned and we assisted Dorset Police in in this prosecution, gathering evidence and providing specialist technical advice. We are extremely pleased that he has been held to account for his appalling offences against wildlife.

This case, and the death in Dorset of one of the stunning White-tailed Eagles reintroduced to the Isle of Wight, are clear examples of a wider problem: the widespread misuse and abuse of poisons in the countryside which is killing birds of prey, and poses ongoing risks to the public.

During the coronavirus lockdown period, there was a spike in the number of poisoning cases reported with 230 accepted into the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) in 2020/21 as compared with 124 in 2019/20 and the problem has not gone away. In 2021/22, Natural England accepted 133 incidents of animal deaths suspected to be poisonings into WIIS. Cases remain unevenly spread throughout England with the highest number of incidents consistently being found in North Yorkshire (28 in 2019/20 and 54 in 2020/21).

When we investigate an incident and confirm it is a poisoning, we assess the evidence gathered, post-mortem results and tissue analysis to find out if the poisoning was as a result of a misuse or abuse of pesticides. Misuse is not following the legal requirements of use, whereas abuse is deliberate use in an illegal manner to poison animals. Where the evidence is unclear, cases are classified as “unspecified”. Not all cases accepted into investigation reach the assessment process, particularly where it becomes clear that pesticides have not been involved in the death of the animal.

In 2020/21, 37 cases of animal poisoning were assessed as being the result of abuse. There were six cases of misuse and 140 unspecified. 21 of the abuse cases related to the poisoning of raptors and these cases were passed on to the Police for further investigation.

The RSPB’s Bird crime 2021 report, published last November tells the same story of raptor persecution, with 80 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in England, mainly through shooting, trapping or poisoning.

Based on data from WIIS, from 2016 onward, Natural England has observed a particular increase in frequency of Second-Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides (SGARS) being linked to the cause of death in animals or being found in relatively high concentrations in those animals.

Rodent control is essential to public health and users of rodenticides, including SGARS, span many industries including pest controllers, farmers and food producers. Other users of rodenticides include the game shooting industry. The use of anticoagulant rodenticides by professional users must follow the requirements of the industry led rodenticide stewardship regime Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use UK set up in 2016, as well as complying with the product label requirements.

It is imperative that anyone dealing with a rodent problem keeps within the law, follows the best practice guidelines, only using rodenticides after alternatives have been explored and doing so in a graduated, careful and responsible way, ensuring that rodent carcasses are disposed of promptly. However, cases of raptors dying with high levels of rodenticides in their system suggest there is a problem with the use of rodenticides – whether this be from deliberate abuse or misuse.

NE will continue to play its part, investigating poisoning incidents and working with the police and other partners to prosecute offences. Anyone can help - reports from the public can play an essential part in identifying cases of raptor persecution. However, without all landowners, land managers and gamekeepers complying with the law and reporting illegal activity, the impact on our wildlife will continue.


If you see dead birds of prey, please report them to the police but do not pick them up due to the dangers of poisons and bird flu. A wildlife crime in progress is a 999 call, an urgent suspicious finding needs to be called in on 101 immediately.

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  1. Comment by Squigs posted on

    The link to the Dorset Police page gives the sentence but on face value it doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent, particularly if we consider recent changes in legislation to protect animals; namely the relatively recent increase to the maximum sentence for crimes committed under the Animal Welfare Act, and Royal Assent given in 2022 to the Animal Sentience Act. The perpetrator admitted to seven crimes but was only sentenced to 15 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to pay fines and compensation totalling more than £2,900.

  2. Comment by James b posted on

    Again, a slap on the wrist, "don't do it again naughty boy.." suspended sentences do not work.
    We need a robust system to deal with the illegal killing of birds of prey , 6 carcasses were found in his possession, and he had banned, and dangerous poisons laying around, not mentioning the fact he had a loaded gun leaning against the door, with bullets also laying around.
    At what point do the cps decide this man is a danger to himself let alone his kids, and any wildlife near him.
    The landowners also need to be punished alongside the gamekeepers, by allowing these crimes to happen, they are complicit in the crimes, removing their licence to shoot for a season should be put in place, and where more than 1 crime has been committed a total ban on shooting should be issued.
    These criminals should not be allowed to get away with murder like they are.
    Had that been a normal person who had killed a bird of prey, the full force of the law would be used, but the shooting fraternity just get a slap on the wrist, that in part could be because a lot of very wealthy mp's, and lawyers, are also game bird killers, we as a nation should stop killing game birds, and should ban all hunting, there are too many cases of so called protected birds being killed, and the culprits are left to carry on as normal.
    Even if these estate owners have enough money to hire the best legal defence, the law should be upheld, if a bird of prey is killed on or near an estate, the estate should be held responsible.
    This would make the estate managers want to protect birds of prey, and they would make an effort to stop the illegal killings, and if a gamekeeper is responsible for the death of a bird of prey they should be removed form the role, and banned from having a gun licence, and banned from handling all poisons.
    Make the punishment fit the crime, instead of just letting them get away with it for ever more.
    At the current rate of bird of prey slaughter it will not be long before they become extinct, these estate owners can not just keep killing birds of prey so they do not loose any game birds, it is moronic to think that it is sustainable.
    As a nation we claim to be one of the most advanced, and yet we continue to kill birds for fun, as a form of sport.
    Countries all round the world have protection in place for birds of prey, but we have the lowest number of cases which result in a custodial sentence, and have the highest number of reported killings, be it poisoning, or shooting.
    Time to fix the problem.

  3. Comment by Stee-vo posted on

    Barely a slap on the wrist! This should have been a custodial sentence.

  4. Comment by Red Squirrel Nut posted on

    Got what he deserves.

    The Red Squirrel and other native species deserve something too, when is there going to be action taken to force Councils, Water Companies and other massive custodians of our countryside into reversing their stance of protecting the Non Native Invasive Species that are threatening our Native Species?

    Excuses given out include -(Yorkshire Water) ' We haven't enough car parking for all the visitors that would want to come see Red Squirrels' / 'We haven't enough resources ' / ' Our customers don't want Grey Squirrels controlled'

    These are monopolies paying their CEO's £1M a year and vetted trained volunteers could do the control that would help reduce harmful species that in turn would help increase the numbers of song birds, reduce damage to existing trees and those being planted now, give us time to develop gene drive / contraceptive.

  5. Comment by Fiona Tait posted on

    Estate owners and the people who manage their land need to be fined if their is proven raptor persecution. The lack of custodial sentences send the message that the law only supports the wealthy. This is a very risky strategy.
    The lack of custodial sentence also gives more ammunition to the argument that grouse moors should be more strictly licenced. Any raptop persecution conviction needs to be associated with local grouse moore licencing and licence removal.

  6. Comment by Marie posted on

    Absolutely shameful. He will do it again nothing positive has come from this. When are people going to wake up and care about wildlife.wildlife doesn't have a voice so people need to speak up for them. Probably the owners of the big estates are giving back handers to the police and judges.

  7. Comment by Nick Jobson posted on

    And when are we going to see a licensing scheme in England, similar to what is operating in Scotland? Again I feel this is down to having a government more concerned about offending existing voters in the shooting "community".'

  8. Comment by Slumbumble posted on

    Ban shooting pheasant, grouse etc and you wouldn't have the problem. Would also go a long way toward sorting out a lot of other problems.
    Never understood how it's perfectly acceptable for a bunch of toffs to go round shooting birds for fun. If a bunch of ordinary folks took it into their heads to go off and do that everyone would be appalled.
    A country ran by the rich for the rich.

  9. Comment by Paul England posted on

    A slap on the wrist,he should have gone to prison.
    For this !
    His bosses and the land owner should have been made accountable for it as well .

  10. Comment by TVB posted on

    Shame on you managers and owner of the Shaftesbury Estate! To allow such practice on your estate is a disgrace. Clean your act up and start protecting the creatures on your land. You know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  11. Comment by Chris Cooper posted on

    We will never stop the illegal killing of raptors until the land owners/ employers/ shoot organisers are held to account.

  12. Comment by Carol Radloff posted on

    Totally appalled. Birds are beautiful and they choose to destroy these wonderful creatures apart from the cruelty it takes away their beauty for everyone to be able to see them. The people who do this are disgusting. They should go to prison. Sooooo selfish.