Last week, a scene in a long-running play was acted to a conclusion. The play is a bit of a ‘whodunnit’ with heroes and villains – but since we haven’t yet seen the ending there is time for villains to repent. Sometimes it’s difficult to know on which side some people are until the final scene.
The scene that finished was the appeal against conviction of Glenn Brown, a gamekeeper from Derbyshire who worked for Geoff Eyre who is a tenant of the National Trust in the Peak District National Park.
I first dipped into this scene in my last few days of being the RSPB’s Conservation Director in April 2011 when I sat through one day of the trial of Glenn Brown in Chesterfield Court. Whilst I was away in the USA the case continued and while I was failing to see a road-runner in the Joshua Tree National Park Glenn Brown was sentenced. However, by the time I got back to the UK it seemed that he had decided to appeal his conviction and so the scene only ended last week when his appeal failed.
Glenn Brown was convicted of a variety of offences under the Wildlife and Countryside and Animal Welfare Acts involving taking a sparrowhawk and operating a trap with a live pigeon as bait (some would call this a hawk trap). He received 100 hours community service (which he has served in a second-hand bookshop) and was ordered to pay £10,000 costs. On losing his appeal he was ordered to pay a further £7000 costs. Read more about the case and the judgement here and about the appeal here.
Just an everyday story of country folk? Well, in a way yes. Far too much illegal persecution of protected wildlife occurs and far too much of it is carried out by gamekeepers like Mr Brown.
However, the act in which this little scene occurred is that which deals with the amazing black hole for protected birds of prey which is found in this part of a National Park and on the land owned by the National Trust (which describes itself as one of Europe’s leading conservation organisations).
Mr Brown’s scene is part of a bigger picture. He is not the only gamekeeper to have been convicted of wildlife offences in this part of the world - a local Derbyshire gamekeeper was convicted in 2004, after an appeal too, of destroying goshawk eggs in the Peak District.
The RSPB has published two reports on the status of birds of prey in this small part of one of our National Parks – Peak Malpractice (in 2006), and an updated Peak Malpractice in 2007 (and take a look at this account too).
If you are a peregrine falcon, goshawk or sparrowhawk you really want to avoid this part of the world – despite the National Trust ownership and it being inside a National Park. Male hen harriers disappear from nests, goshawk nests are destroyed, armed men in camouflage seen near peregrine falcon nests flee when challenged and bird of prey populations are much lower than they should be. You should advise your favourite bird of prey not to visit this area.
Is this all down to the odd bad apple in the barrel of country folk trying to get grouse shooting up-and-running profitably in this part of rural Derbyshire? Well, we now know of two bad apples who have been convicted in this small part of the world in recent years – and they weren’t school teachers or postmen they were both gamekeepers.
No doubt Glenn Brown’s former boss, for I understand that Mr Brown has been dismissed, Geoff Eyre is spitting mad that his employee broke wildlife and animal welfare laws. Mr Eyre is lauded amongst the shooting community for his work in reestablishing heather in this part of the world – in fact, many years ago Mr Eyre took me around his estate to show me the work he had done (and it may well have been Mr Brown who was driving the vehicle at the time) – being a recipient of the Purdey Award for Game and Conservation. Apparently Mr Eyre received his award from the Chair of the Countryside Alliance, Kate Hoey MP, who was kind enough to tell me at the Game Fair in July how much she admired raptors. Geoff Eyre is said to have ‘single-minded focus’.
The popular story is that there has been a huge increase in wildlife on the land as a result of Mr Eyre’s work (and Mr Brown’s too, I guess) and so Mr Eyre must be very perplexed and worried about the losses of protected birds of prey on this land over the years. Maybe he will be very careful to choose his new gamekeeper.
Presumably, the National Trust, in its own words ‘one of Europe’s leading nature conservation organisations’, is also absolutely at its wits’ ends to know what to do about the embarrassing dearth of protected raptors on its land over such a long period of time. And it goes wider than Mr Eyre’s tenancy – the apparent black hole for birds of prey extends to some other NT Peak District tenancies too. Maybe NT is worried that the Brown conviction could lead the RPA to dock some subsidies that would otherwise be payable on this land.
And the Peak District National Park can’t be pleased with what is going on either. Any National Park should be a haven for nature but that clearly is not the case here, and that leaves a bad smell in the Peak District air.
It would be easy to paint Mr Brown as the only villain in this scene, act and play – but there must be others surely? Who are they?
Actually, I feel sorry for Glenn Brown, a bit, because he is probably a working class man who was doing a job he enjoyed doing for no great wage and now he has lost it. Although, it seems that he had access to resources enough to hire an experienced barrister, of the highly appropriate name, I kid you not, of Bertie Woodcock. The cost of the trial and the appeal must have amounted to over £100,000 by my estimations so it appears that gamekeepers are paid a fair amount or perhaps they have generous and understanding employers or friends or something?
Here are some questions:
Will the NT renew the leases of their tenants in the Peak Malpractice area as they are coming up for renewal?
Will the National Gamekeepers Organisation condemn Brown’s actions and expel him, if a member, from the NGO?
Will Brown get a job as a gamekeeper anywhere else in the UK?
Will you sign the epetition on vicarious liability which would mean that an employer would have to answer questions in a case like this and potentially share the penalty if the case were proven?
Will the Peak District National Park use its good offices to persuade the NT to ensure that this corner of the National Park is a raptor-friendly, law-compliant area?
The Glenn Brown case was just a scene in the Peak District raptor persecution act which is set in the wider play of grouse moors and raptors. The RSPB Investigations team are consistent heroes in this play whether it be when they collect the evidence in remote upland areas risking encounters with armed gamekeepers or whether it be when they are giving evidence and defending their reputations in court. Without their skill and courage it would be far easier for everyone to sweep raptor persecution associated with grouse shooting under the carpet as many want to do.
Killing raptors is an everyday story of some country folk. And it isn’t country doctors, country shopkeepers, country schoolteachers who are breaking the law and killing birds of prey it is country gamekeepers on country shooting estates. No, not all of them, but far too many of them. And as long as many in the establishment prefer to do nothing to combat this illegal activity then it will always go on.
It is time, now, for the National Trust to realise that its reputation is severely damaged by the lack of birds of prey on its land in this part of the Peak District. The time has come for Dame Fiona Reynolds and her team to be heroes and act to stamp out wildlife crime on its land in the Peak District. We are watching and waiting to see what ‘one of Europe’s leading conservation organisations’ does for wildlife on its land in the Peak District.