An everyday story of country folk

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.


35 Replies to “An everyday story of country folk”

  1. I worked on a case many years ago very much like this one. This time I was representing the game keeper! Like Mr Brown he had a tied house, wife, children at the local school, land rover and many perks to make up his wage. Again it was a dove in a crow trap and the case was dismissed. I knew members of the syndicate and that’s why i was asked to help. I did not receive any thing for my work but again the problem lies high up. ************************************************************************************************************************************************************ This keeper was ******************* paying the penalty for keepering on the estate with the real culprits getting away with their crime. This is why all RSPB members should sign the e petition. And in Mr Brown’s case the National Trust should have gone to court!!

    1. John – thank you. You’ll see I have edited your comment and inserted *** where I have removed words which might have got both you and me into legal trouble. I respect your strong views and agree with some of them too! Your last sentence is also a pretty strong opinion and is posted as your view and not necessarily mine.

  2. This must be a serious concern not only for the National Trust but also – to the extent that they are aware of it – of its many millions of members. Perhaps if enough NT members can be encouraged to write to NT head office and complain about this situation that would, in turn, encourage the NT to take a stronger line in protecting raptors on its land in the Peak District. I would imagine that a significant fraction of NT members are also members of RSPB, County Wildlife Trusts and other conservation charities so perhaps these organisations could promote such a campaign? At any rate, as a NT member myself, I shall put pen to paper today.

  3. Mark you are to be congratulated once again for writing what I consider to be one of your best pieces of journalism. May I point out however the loss of raptors is not just a problem in the Derbyshire Peak, it is taking place in most upland regions of Northern England, and there are far too many gamekeepers I fear who are prepared to follow in Glenn Brown’s footsteps within these regions. Last year 14 peregrine territories (74% of all active sites) were found abandoned throughout the Forest of Bowland after gamekeepers boasted they would destroy sites following the loss of licenses previously held by the local raptor group. What will happen this year is a constant worry if licenses are not reinstated by Natural England. What I fail to understand is why people are so far not flocking to sign the e-petition as they should?

    Finally I doubt if Glenn Brown needs to worry about finding a new job, it seems *********** is always on the look out for gamekeepers with Mr Brown’s qualifications.

    1. Terry – thank you for your kind words and, of course, yes the problem extends across large areas of the UK uplands. You will see that I have removed the name that you mentioned in your post as I cannot confirm the veracity of what you say, although, of course I recognise the name and you may be right.

  4. Another well written and factual story by Mark, the National Trust have a responsibility to see that all wildlife on their land is treated fairly and responsibly and that whoever manages the said land keeps within the law, sadly it would appear that this is not the case, so yes, the NT must act and ensure that the people who persecute raptors are not tolerated by them, if they do nothing then they are condoning these acts and making themselves look bad.
    Unlike Mark I feel no pity for Glenn Brown, he knew that he was acting outside of the law yet chose to continue to do so, I also do not believe that his now ex-employer was unaware of Mr. Brown’s activities, shooting brings in a large amount of money and this is why raptors are not welcome as they are looked upon as a threat by many large estates.
    I urge everyone to sign the e-petition with regard to Vicarious Liability it is the only way forward and will if made law in England make landowners stop and think just what they have to lose if they continue to allow their employees to persecute these wonderful birds. It would appear to me that Scotland are much further forward in the fight to stop raptor persecution and we must follow their example if there is to be any end to it.

  5. Many years ago a Forestry Commission ranger reported overhearing a keeper on a tenanted FC shoot boasting that he was ‘sitting up for a big ‘awk’. We knew we had the first few Goshawk breeding in the forest. I consulted my boss and we wrote a very polite letter to all our shooting tenants stating FC’s position on persecuting raptors (against it!) and saying (vicarious liability !) that we would immediately terminate a lease on suspicion of persecution. We probably wouldn’t have been able to make it stick – but it worked. A week later the same ranger was bakc in my office gellefully reporting how he’d been threatened by the suspect keeper for grassing him up ! Our letter, of course, had pointed no fingers. Today there is a thriving Goshawk population in those large forests. Its all about body language and I fear the insipid National Trust has clearly failed to persuade its tenants that it will not tolerate this sort of activity on its land.

  6. First of all Mark I agree that this is probably one of your best efforts so far.

    Perhaps after this the National Trust will quickly realise what it will take to be considered a REAL nature conservation body. Maybe their traditional role of conservation is so connected to the past (old houses etc) that they are unable to look far enough into the future.

    Surely ALL National Trust tenants should not only be engaged in farming with agri-environment schemes in place, but should also be expected to uphold the the law as far as wildlife is concerned. They should also understand that they will lose their tenancy immediately if they transgress.

    Only then will NT get close to being a real nature conservation organisation.

    1. I love the fact that so many people love to use the blogosphere to have a pop or climb on their favourite soapbox without checking things first – it’s a valuable outlet but like people in a room at a party, other people tend to congregate around the conversation they find the most interesting or think they can dominate themselves. So, the same is true of the blogosphere and each blog attracts mutually supportive points of view – fair dos but not very balanced in a debate though.

      David Fursden said the following in a previous post;

      “I don’t think that you can ignore the NT business model. They are landlords and they farm their land and earn their return through their tenants. While they can try and control the way that their tenants farm through the selection process and through clauses in their agreements, this is a fine balance. In some cases they inherited their tenants many of whom have security of tenure
      What this debate shows is that nature conservation, done properly, costs money whether directly in expenditure terms or in indirect ways e.g. rent foregone. This balance isn’t easy and I suspect that there are few that manage it better than the NT.”

      You are right in that if the NT has tenants who break the law then their tenancy should come to an end – unfortunately, when some of these tenancies were passed or given to the NT all those years ago the clauses weren’t written in and cannot be challenged in court – what’s more, the tenancies pass from generation to generation.

      And Derek is right – surely ALL farm tenants should be engaged in agri-environment schemes – I agree, and so does the NT. Many of them are and the NT support many each year to join such schemes.

      Lobby the NT by all means, join and have a say at the AGM but don’t just have a pop to make yourselves feel better – the NT has a huge voice as the planning debate and will do so in CAP reform too – ensuring nature has a voice in Europe and farming.

      1. PRvillain? – you don’t seem to have corrected anything in your comment, just got on your soapbox, so i guess you couldn’t have made your point much better, in a way.

  7. Mark,agree with every word of your blog and thank goodness there are concerned ones like yourself making a lot of noise.Surely we do not think gamekeeper was doing these crimes without owner telling him to.
    Hope I am right in thinking it is your petition and really well done for that,Wishyou success with numbers with all my heart.

  8. Apologies to you and Chrissie,I meant to put her name in front of that part of comment,full of admiration for her.

    1. These NT peak workshops look very interesting.
      I wonder what the agenda will cover?
      The NT also did a similar series of sessions to get local feedback for their Wicken Vision landscape-scale conservation & access project.
      Google ‘wicken vision workshops’ and you get many hits.
      The Great Fen Project (Cambs & Beds Wildlife Trust / Nat England) have been doing something similar – getting views and feedback on their masterplan.
      I wonder if the RSPB ever been so bold as this in opening up such a debate about how they might manage their land ?

  9. The last line of your penultimate paragraph says it all really. While some sections of the establishment are charging a couple of grand for a day’s shoot and other sections are prepared to pay that little will change…that’s the trouble with the establishment…it’s established and therefore has resisted change…except perhaps in France. We need a new more enlightened, less Victorian, establishment prepared to spend their money (or bonuses) on more productive things.

  10. Firstly massive congratulations to the RSPB for bringing this case to a successful conclusion, It will be interesting to see not only the reaction of the National Trust but also of the Shooting organisations, many shoots take place on National Trust land, for them the actions that happened on this shoot could have serious consequences. a few have already had their leases terminated recently by the national trust as it aims to promote other activities on their land that are not compatible side by side with shooting. So far I’ve only seen Alice Barnard, Chief Exec of the Countryside Alliance, pathetic press release, once again playing the victim card, once again trying to deny persecution exists. No mention of the 100 gamekeepers prosecuted since 1990, no mention of the 200 estates in Scotland that have signed up a petition to stop the persecution. She casually dismisses the fact only 4 pairs of Hen Harriers were successful in England and counters with the fact there are 663 pairs in the UK, No mention for comparison that 10,000 Red Grouse were shot on one Scottish Estate alone last season “Millden” or that 35 million pheasants are released yearly in the UK,

  11. So bird lover mark aviary is teasing a gamekeepers lawyer because he is called Woodcock?

  12. Excellent post Mark.
    I find it incredulous that NT employees in Derbyshire were not aware of what was going on considering the well published “black hole” that you mention which we know shrouds their land. We also know the personal views on raptors of Mr Jenkins their Chairman – A formal response from him now that this case has concluded would be most interesting in my view.

  13. I had hoped to comment earlier but had a good friend staying overnight on his way home to Islay and hence this late input. I think its the first time for a long time i agree totally with Terry it is indeed one of your best pieces Mark. The case itself is a cxrucail landmark, i am lead to believe the case was appealed because the tenancy is soon up for renewal and is at serious reisk with the conviction upheld– one hopes so. It should shine at light on a number of tenancies from not just NT but several water companies notably Severn Trent, United Utilities and Yorkshire Water. Yes such tenancies will or may be difficult if not impossible to terminate but letters of what is expected of tenants should be clearly reiterated , we need to move the situations forward despite the head in the sand approach by organisations like CA. Yes we should all have signed the e petition by now. Persecution is so ingrained in parts of the shooting establishment with various coded messages of support ( there are too many buzzards etc) from the normally law abiding, they cannot even use none lead to shoot ducks! that pressure must be constantly reinforced that we will not go away and persecution must in the end stop.

  14. Excellent piece yes Mark..but one of very many such over the last 4 decades.

    However, once again you repeat the nonsense about this poor working man being forced to carry out his crime and feeling sorry for him. Most “poor working men” do not carry out crimes. If it was so then we would be in a much worse mess than we presently have in our countryside. He chose to work in a profession which is almost defined by its criminality towards raptors. Talk, off the record, to any gamekeeper – particularly those who are retired and away from retribution from their colleagues – and you will get the same story “its an unusual keeper who has not/does not kill raptors”.

    It absolutely does no good towards wildlife conservation to pretend that this is not a commonplace crime on shooting estates being carried out by people who believe it is the only right way to run a shoot. Yes, their bosses will collude and encourage them but at the end of the day the keeper is the one who pulls the trigger/sets the trap/puts out the bait. If they all said no then this would stop.

  15. Thanks for the article, and the the NT response. They are both very interesting. As a conservationist I find this topic particularly hard to reconcile. Arguably Moorland habitats would not exist without mans input and most recently the input from Grouse shooting. However the immoral if not illegal practices used by some Gamekeepers is sickening and deeply disturbing. I’ve written a little about this on my blog here:

  16. *************** unscruplious liar …. planted … forged lie [Mark writes: I cannot possibly publish a comment of this sort which contains serious allegations which I cannot check]

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