A law unto themselves - the game shooting industry under the spotlight (part 2)
The burial pits
We report in 'The hidden carnage' how gamekeepers on the estate of Sir Edward Dashwood, chairman of the Countryside Alliance Campaign for Shooting, have faced court action for wildlife crimes. Dashwood's estate at Bradenham, Buckinghamshire is also the location in which was confirmed another of shooting's dark secrets.
It has long been known that far more birds are shot than are eaten and that disposal of carcasses is an embarrassment to the industry. This was admitted in a 2001 editorial in Country Life magazine. 'In some areas,' it was stated, 'over-supply has led to shoots being forced to give away their bags, or worse still, bury their surplus.'
Evidence that shot game was buried and dumped as a useless by-product was obtained on Dashwood's estate in 2006, when League Against Cruel Sports investigators discovered a purpose-built burial pit.17
In response, Tim Bonnor, head of media for the Countryside Alliance, wrote in a letter to the Daily Telegraph that every bird shot in Britain goes into the food chain - a demonstrably false statement. When challenged by Animal Aid, he failed to produce any evidence to support his assertion. That the shooting industry is still struggling to produce an answer to the public relations disaster of burial pits is confirmed in an article by Rory Knight Bruce in The Spectator.18 'Then there is the question of what happens to the pheasants for which Guns have paid from £23 to £30 to shoot. Although delicious, it would sadly be difficult to persuade Jamie Oliver to serve them up en masse on one of his schools cookery crusades. Shoots must be certain they can answer this question and ensure that the birds enter the food or animal food chain, and are not buried or otherwise disposed of.'
The simple truth is that there is no food market for the number of birds killed for sport.
The shooting industry is unsparing in its assault upon any wild species perceived to interfere with the mass production of game birds, even though millions of the birds remain uneaten. In December 2005, Shooting Times - the weekly bible for bloodsports enthusiasts - published a list of what it considered Britain's 30 'most wanted' pests because of the threat they were said to pose to 'sporting' shooters and anglers. Alongside the usual suspects - rat, magpie, rabbit, etc. - were included the more popular hedgehog and rare and threatened birds of prey, such as red kite and golden eagle. All were condemned as 'voracious predators' who affect the profits of estate owners and shooting and fishing syndicates.19
The Shooting Times 'full list of 'pests' is reproduced below in their alleged order of nuisance: sawbill duck, cormorant, grey seal, fox, mink brown rat, carrion crow, stoat, domestic cat, pike, magpie, weasel, buzzard, sparrowhawk, hen harrier, peregrine falcon, goshawk, badger, polecat, raven, otter, heron, rook, jackdaw, wildcat, pine martin, osprey, hedgehog, red kite, golden eagle.
Unsurprisingly, this vilification of a number of rare species protected by law created a backlash and was condemned by everybody from the government's Rural Affairs Minister to the Countryside Alliance itself. Editor Camilla Clark went into damage limitation mode, stressing that 'Shooting Times would never advocate the illegal was to assess the economic impact of predators and pests on game birds in the UK'.
Despite the editor's protestations, the 'most wanted pests' article reveals an attitude common throughout the shooting community: regardless of the rarity of a species, creatures who cause rabbits and other 'vermin' routinely shot, snared, trapped or poisoned, this obsession with 'pest species' has seen the shooting industry heavily implicated in wildlife crime.
Case study one - setting an example from the top
As we have seen, Sir Edward Dashwood is the Chairman of the Countryside Alliance campaign for shooting. On 21 April 2005, a magistrate in High Wycombe found two employees at his Bradenham estate guilty of illegally killing a protected buzzard, battered to death after being trapped in a cage on the estate. The magistrate rejected defence claims that the buzzard had been found with a broken leg and had been killed out of motives of mercy.20
In 1998, one of the same Dashwood employees had faced 16 charges, including destroying a badger sett, two breaches of firearms certificate regulations, killing three wild owls, setting snares to injure wild animals, using an illuminated device to assist in the killing of a wild badger, two sparrowhawk killings, using a Fenn trap for foxes in an unapproved way, taking an unknown number of badgers, and killing a buzzard. In the course of the trial, an under-keeper gave evidence that the accused had admitted killing badgers and feeding live fox cubs to his dogs.21 Nevertheless, all charges.
Case study two - Scottish wildlife crimes
In August 2004, Scottish gamekeeper Stephen Muir escaped a jail sentence after pleading guilty to deliberately poisoning 17 birds of prey by placing poison pellets on the Barns shooting estate at Kirkton Manor in the Scottish borders. He was fined £5,500 for the deaths of the 16 buzzards and a goshawk.
Muir was initially charged with poisoning 25 birds, including a tawny owl and a heron, but some of the birds were so badly decomposed that the cause of death could not be ascertained. After a police raid, the gamekeeper was caught in possession of the banned poison Carbufuran and the bodies of pheasants and rabbit baits contaminated with poison. Muir claimed he had laced the animals with the poison as bait to attract buzzards, whom he said were attacking pheasants and partridges on the estate.22
Case study three - diary of a death
Another gamekeeper accused of slaughtering rare birds of prey kept a diary in code detailing his killings. Buxton magistrates court also heard that when police searched John Cripps's cottage in the Derwent Valley, they found 171 wild bird eggs and equipment for climbing trees.
Gamekeeper Cripps, who worked for a private shooting estate in the valley, faced 19 charges under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, including 10 of killing rare peregrine falcons, goshawks and sparrowhawks. He was also accused of illegally collecting and smashing birds' eggs.
The crimes were discovered after Cripps told PC Stephen Downing and three conservation volunteers 'that there are too many goshawks in the valley, something has to be done about it'. A few days later, the volunteers found a huge damaged nest and all the eggs smashed. It was claimed that a diary found at Cripps' cottage contained an entry in code relating to the date the goshawk nest was thought to have been raided. Other entries related to the deaths of peregrine falcons and sparrowhawks. Cripps was found guilty of offences relating to disturbance and destruction of goshawk eggs and received a three month suspended prison sentence.23