Poletraps on the Yorkshire Dales grouse moors – caution!

Photo: RSPB
Photo: RSPB

In a blog post that should change the course of the summer, the RSPB reveals a case of three poletraps being placed on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

What the RSPB says:

Read it all here, but here’s a summary. Three set pole traps were found on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park by a member of the public in early May this year, and he (for it was a he) also saw a female Hen Harrier nearby. The RSPB leapt into action and with hidden cameras filmed a man with a gun…this man with this gun…

Pole trap setting.jpg-550x0
Image: RSPB









…setting the three poletraps which had been sprung.

Then North Yorkshire Police leaped into action and the traps were documented and removed.  But strangely no prosecution is on its way as the man involved has received a police caution for his crime.  The RSPB is seeking clarification of this.

The RSPB Investigations blog is forthright over the fact that this event happened on a moor used for driven grouse shooting and in the first year of the discredited Defra Hen Harrier Recovery Plan.


What the RSPB don’t say:

  • the Mossdale Estate is owned, it seems, by the van Cutsem family, close friends of the Royal Family including Prince Charles, Prince Harry and Prince William (see here, here, here).
  • this is not the first time that the van Cutsem family has been involved in a media story about dark deeds and raptors (see here and pp196-203 of Fighting for Birds and pp120-24 of Inglorious) although there is, of course, no suggestion being made that the landowner was aware of what was going on on their land.
  • in Scotland, the landowner would be liable under the vicarious liability legislation for any actions of any employer (if that man in the video image is employed by the estate, of course) but the grouse-moor owning former minister Richard Benyon ruled that out for England several years ago.
  • the Yorkshire Dales, like many other National Parks, is a hot-spot for wildlife crime.  I would like to hear the Park authorities speaking out on this matter.
  • given that the Royal Princes are keen to speak out on wildlife crime abroad, it would be fitting if they took this opportunity to condemn wildlife crime much closer to home, particularly because of their relationship with the landowner in this case.
  • Philip Merricks of the Hawk and Owl Trust should now be polishing his statement saying that H&OT will have nothing to do with any Hen Harrier brood management scheme because the incidence of wildlife crime in grouse shooting areas is completely out of control.
  • Natural England should make a statement confirming that the Yorkshire Dales area is a hot-spot for Hen Harrier disappearances
  • Rory Stewart, Defra minister, really ought to say something about how his Hen Harrier plan is going when this sort of thing can happen in its first year, on a driven grouse moor, and in a National Park.  The truth is that the grouse shooting interests who persuaded hm to launch his hopeless plan have no control over what happens on grouse moors and the minister is now looking foolish. He should be prepared to be made to look foolish again and again as the months unroll.
  • the RSPB has promised an update on Hen Harrier status on Monday next week – the signs are not good for England when early signs were that the English stronghold for the bird had little evidence of nesting.  It is time for the RSPB to take a very strong and public line on this matter.


What we need is a ban on driven grouse shooting in order to give protected wildlife some chance of surviving in our National Parks and elsewhere.  Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.



56 Replies to “Poletraps on the Yorkshire Dales grouse moors – caution!”

  1. Just when you think that “punishments” from the police and CPS couldn’t get any more derisory, a caution. That isn’t even a slap on the wrists these days.

    Makes you wonder who in the police station was cosy with the estate owners or went to the right golf club.

    1. Random22 – it does make one wonder but I’m usually keener on the cock-up theory than conspiracy. But we may hear from the RSPB and police in due course.

      1. Ugh, that fallacy about things being more explainable by stupidity rather than malice has been used to cover up far too many acts of genuine malice. Never discount malice until cock up has been proven is a much better guideline.

    2. Will the person setting the traps lose his gun license if charged with a criminal offence. I hope so as it will send a message out to other

  2. It can sometimes seem a very difficult fight! Then we have to take a deep breath and re-double our efforts. It is time though that we got some help from the likes of the National Parks and others.

  3. Come on RSPB and NP Authority, rise to the challenge. A caution is totally inadequate, these people know what they are doing. Can this be challenged in court?

    1. Why are you tasking the RSPB to ‘rise to the challenge’? They did their bit. The RSPB gathered the crucial evidence and gave it to the police. It’s the pathetic police response that is the problem (again). And no it can’t be challenged in court. It’s been ‘dealt with’. An utter disgrace.

      1. I agree that the RSPB did their bit by gathering the evidence and giving it to the police. But when the police response is so derisory, the RSPB should NOT just shrug their shoulders and do nothing. With over a million members they have a voice that can be heard by politicians, including ministers, and they should be using it. They should be mobilising their membership to fight against this kind of travesty but they don’t.

        I understand the idea that they want to “work with” the grouse-shooting industry to improve matters but when are they going to realise that the grouse-shooting industry is not interested in working with them? For decades, the shooters have been paying lip service to working in cooperation with the environmentalists, all the while continuing the illegal persecution of our wildlife. There is no realistic expectation of them doing anything else in the decades ahead so it’s time for the gloves to come off.

        1. Why should the RSPB want to “work with” these criminals? We don’t work with burglars and tell them they can rob a few houses in each street.

  4. Can anyone tell me please, is the decision to just caution made by the police or the CPS?

    And if by the Police, at what level? It doesn’t sound like the officers immediately involved needed reminding of the seriousness of the offence.


  5. Dear Mr Rory Stewart,
    if you are not to be seen as sycophantic friend of the wealthy land-owners it really is time you made a constructive effort to stop the elimination of British wildlife by those who are not fit to be allowed into the countryside. You would I’m sure be ashamed if it appeared that your role against law-breaking and barbarity is rendered ineffective by cronyism and pressure from higher up the establishment ladder. As an ex military officer, we would expect you to take leadership and act firmly on behalf of a concerned majority of decent people who abhor the savagery and indifference of ‘men with guns’ and who clearly have no great love of the British countryside.
    I understand that sadly you don’t follow this blog site, but I’m sure it will be brought to your attention.

  6. Perhaps we can expect Ian Coghill to write to the Times expressing his outrage at such a barbaric offence being committed on a grouse moor in two-fingered defiance of the hen harrier action plan, and stating his condemnation of the absurd leniency with which the culprit has been treated. Then again, I expect he is far too busy fighting the threat of large scale predation of tadpoles by hungry children.

  7. If we know the man in the picture was the person who set the traps (or at least one of the people) why is it necessary to conceal his identity by blocking out his face? He hardly seems to be in a position to sue and if he does wouldn’t a day in court be an excellent opportunity to expose the rot in our uplands? I could understand why as a private individual you might not wish to take such a risk, Mark, but for the RSPB the risk seems trivial and the gain potentially rather significant in publicising what is going on.

    1. Yeah, if he has admitted the offence, which he has legally had to do to be elegible for a caution, then that should be a matter of public record. Who is he?

  8. The RSPB say:-

    “Ominously, at least two of the traps had signs suggesting that birds may already have fallen victim to these cruel devices.”

    And the guy just receives a caution?! – Disgraceful!

    It is also worth reading the penultimate paragraph of RSPB’s blog report in this incident. Are the RSPB having doubts as to whether they should have signed the Hen Harrier Action Plan?

    1. It seems to me that there is a case for querying the caution. Is there an NGO with the cohones to lead a private prosecution? I’m sure that enough money could be raised to fund a private prosecution in this case. I’d like to see him behind bars, personally.

    2. There are pretty sophisticated techniques for getting DNA from these things these days. Seems to me that there is still scope for testing to see what the traps have been used to catch, and just whose human DNA is on them too. Can’t think that the RSPB investigations team didn’t think of this. What have the police to say for themselves?

      Got to get up to speed in investigating these crimes, oh and of course treating them with the correct degree of seriousness when prosecuted!

      1. The fact that someone has accepted a police caution means that he has accepted responsibility for committing the crimes. So, not really any point in finding out whose human DNA is on the traps. The RSPB clearly did all they could – it’s for the police to decide how to proceed with the evidence they are given. Agree, the traps could be tested to see what had previously been caught by them. It’s a question of whether its worth the expenditure given the fact that this case now appears to be over.

        1. I disagree.

          If there is hen harrier DNA, or any other protected species, then that is evidence that the trap has captured that species and the charge could be trapping a protected spp. rather than just setting a trap. Also if its only the DNA of the current suspect on the trap, then it could be argued that he was responsible for actually trapping a protected spp.

          Seem to me that the police could have investigated these aspects further before accepting a ‘cough’ and giving a police caution.

    3. Maybe they will (should) do what most of the shooting industry reps on the Lead Amunition Group did when things weren’t going their way – up and leave! Alternatively they could just get their members to vote to ban driven grouse shooting.

      1. Hmm – my last comment was in reply to TPerry – specifically about the RSPB’s comments on the HH Plan. Not sure how it ended up a standalone comment. Anyway, I was angry when I typed it which is probably why I said that the Shooting reps resigned when it wasnt going their way – thats a bit harsh and I should probably retract it. I know at least one resigned over the way evidence was used/collected/presented etc etc. Not sure on the others. Whatever it was I’m sure the RSPB have just as significant evidence to show the HH Working Group/Plan isn’t working and why they should subsequently resign.

  9. Why is identity concealed? If he has accepted a caution for the offence he has admitted he did it, so his identity should be a matter of public record.

  10. These barbaric indiscriminate traps which have been banned since the early 19 hundreds,and for good reason ! But unfortunately we have no way of knowing just how many Birds of Prey have been killed by just these 3 traps,this is probably just the tip of the iceberg ! What is really baffling is how this individual gets away with just a caution for such a serious offence,and it makes our justice system Laughable,One wonders what would have been the outcome if a Hen Harrier had actually been caught and killed by one of these traps !! It is absolutely pathetic.And to say we take Wildlife Crime Seriously ! what a Joke.

  11. Re the last point you made in this blog Mark….a point of correction, there is no “English strong hold for this bird”.

  12. Even before the breeding season is really underway the cynicism with which the shooting community entered the hen harrier plan discussions seems all too evident. There is no sign of any let up in efforts to ensure Hen harriers don’t nest, if anything precisely the opposite.

    1. As there is a tacit admission of guilt, surely the NGO statement will confirm that he is no longer a member? And will the country landowners club be expelling this estate?

  13. I see that according to Raptor Persecution UK the North York Police Acting Assistant Chief Constable Amanda Oliver (currently on holiday) has promised a ‘full review’ of the case and to publish the results. It may make interesting reading ….. but then again it might just be another bland statement stuffed with meaningless platitudes.

    1. Oh it almost certainly will be, regardless of whether any action is taken. Cops don’t mind looking corrupt but they hate looking disunited and admitting wrongdoing. She might take internal action, but as far as external statements go she is going to be bland and avoid any hint of disunity and division in the ranks in order to maintain the illusion that the police have unchallenged control of the population. It takes some radical balls up to make any copper break ranks and admit they screwed up.

  14. Sadly not surprising that this is happening on the Mossdale Estate – I remember walking there last summer and being amazed at the sheer number of traps that I saw (though none of the above type). I also remember being struck by just how aggressively this estate seemed to be ‘managed’ (by burning, draining, etc) even by comparison with other grouse moors. And the oddest thing of all was that I didn’t see any grouse, even though the shooting season had yet to start and I’d seen plenty elsewhere!

    1. I did so yesterday and this morning had the following response:-

      “I have forwarded your emails to my case worker who will respond to you. However, you will be aware that I cannot intervene in specific cases and as you are not a constituent, it would probably be impractical for you to attend one of my surgeries.

      However, having said this, I am extremely interested in looking at the issue more widely as North Yorkshire does not have a particularly good reputation in this regard. To this end, we have just set up a new Rural Crime Task Force which includes specialist wildlife officers. I am sure we can bring this to their attention to see if there are any wider lessons to be learnt”.

  15. No driven grouse shooting= No gamekeepers= No conservation on grouse moors, No natural habitats maintained. When all Pipits, Skylarks, Curlews, Plovers, G.Plovers, GROUSE, Lapwings, also including small GROUND nesting birds of prey dissappear due to this and when burning is supposedly going to be banned….where would the food source for the Hen Harrier come from.?? Would you care to comment on that?!

    1. Louise – thank you for your comment and welcome to this blog.

      I just have a feeling you are connected with grouse shooting – not from Grinton by any chance are you?

      You seem to have forgotten to comment on the crime described in this blog. How do you feel about illegal poletraps and people breaking the law?

      But I would like to comment on your comment please – thanks for asking me. Maybe you should read my book, Inglorious – conflict in the uplands, that comments quite extensively on the issue.

      You’ll have to recognise that driven grouse shooting has existed for c150 years or so, and ground nesting birds have existed for thousands of years, and exist in loads of places in the UK and abroad, which aren’t managed as grouse moors. So it is pretty obvious that these birds don’t need grouse moor management – although some do benefit from it (and others certainly lose out (and not just raptors)).

      You seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that Hen Harriers need grouse moors – this is a common misconception among people close to grouse shooting and one which is not remotely supported by the evidence and gives anyone with even a moderate knowledge of the status of birds of prey in the UK a good, but sardonic, laugh. Almost all the 650pairs of hen Harriers nesting in the UK nest away from grouse moors and very few nest on grouse moors. Some try every year but they don’t do very well.

      Thank you again for your comment.

      1. My apologies for not commenting on the alleged use of traps……I do find this deplorable!

    2. One is used to those connected with the shooting industry (or apparently so) somehow failing to notice what is glaringly obvious to most of us, that is that illegal persecution is the only rational explanation for the utterly dire status of Hen Harrier in England. However, not noticing that this blog is about the illegal use of pole traps (banned since 1904) on a grouse moor where a Hen Harrier was reportedly present and the failure of the authorities to pursue the matter through the courts must represent an unprecedented level of obtuseness.

  16. How much would be needed for a private prosecution? When a donation facility was set up to fund a reward in connection with the persecuted red-footed falcon last year, this received a lot of donations, I’m sure something similar would attract a lot more in this case.

  17. Dear Mark Avery
    What is the purpose of “trackback” which has reproduced the comments identically. Also – how can I get a list of previous blogs?

  18. Thank you Mark and Raptor Persecution Scotland for your excellent blogs. I hope readers channel their anger into some meaningful action on this case. The best thing to do is to email a complaint to either the North Yorkshire Police & Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan [email protected] or the Acting Chief Constable Amanda Oliver [email protected].

    Here is a template email that people can tweak/extract bits from as they wish. I suggest people put the word ‘Complaint’ in the email header so that it is taken seriously.

    Dear Julia/Amanda

    Like many others, I am disgusted by the unfathomable decision to only caution the person responsible for setting three pole traps on the grouse shooting Mossdale Estate inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The decision is non-sensical from many angles. Poletraps are banned and it is clear that the perpetrator was intending to harm protected species. From a financial sense, hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money (e.g. DEFRA, police resources) are having to be spent on protecting birds such as the Hen Harrier from persecution. This is despite the clear evidence of persecution by gamekeepers of grouse moors. The situation will not change until prosecutions of severe sentences are enforced. I understand that in response to a recent enquiry about wildlife crime being taken seriously, you said “it’s important that the police deal with incidents according to the law and that definitely includes wildlife crime”. It seems that the official guidance using a Gravity Factor Matrix to help senior police officers decide to prosecute or otherwise was not followed, as analysed by Raptor Persecution Scotland:

    There could not be better evidence of an offence than the footage provided in this case, such that the individual even admitted responsibility, are rare occurrence. It begs the question what sort of crime or evidence would actually make the authorities act? There is no excuse for this offense, the estate concerned are fully aware of the issues of persecution.

    I understand that North Yorkshire Police works closely with the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) which lists Raptor Persecution as one of its 6 priorities (http://www.nwcu.police.uk/what-are-priorities-and-intelligence-requirements/priorities/raptor-persecution/).
    What sort of a message does it send to gamekeepers around the UK if a crime related to a NWCU priority is treated as lightly as this? Not to mention the embarrassment to the NWCU. What an opportunity missed for worst county in England for raptor persecution to take a first step to improving its reputation.

    It also does a huge disservice to the relentless efforts of the RSPB investigations team to provide the kind of clear evidence that is often claimed is missing for a prosecution. The investigations team is funded by over a million members of the public who expect police authorities to enforce the law whether it be burglaries or wildlife crimes. It also does a big disservice to the 3 Wildlife Crime Officers of your own Police Force who acted commendably on the ground in this case and many others.

    I hope the correspondence you receive on this issue makes you realise that a mere caution is totally unacceptable. I hope it doesn’t come to it, but there are mutterings of a private prosecution, there is history of the public donating large amounts of money for rewards to catch perpetrators of wildlife crime and given the strength of feeling about this case, I can see this happening here. What an embarrassment it would be to your Police Force if it took a private prosecution to bring about the action that should have been the automatic response of the force in this case.

    I look forward to hearing from you and sincerely hope that due process is followed and that action is taken, please we are sick of empty platitudes from authorities in general about raptor persecution.


  19. I think attention also needs to be turned to the definition or application of a ‘caution’. Surely the definition should be changed to include ‘declaring a caution where the caution is relevant to your current application’. A caution received after a ‘wildlife’ crime then must be declared when applying for say a gamekeepers position. On second thoughts might be viewed as a ‘positive’.

    Have the environment agency commented?

  20. Is this estate actually in the national park? I noticed that certain areas are outside the remit of the park. Of interest would be to know if they receive any subsidies or grants under land stewardship or otherwise.

    Am new to this but are the points of law noted anywhere? No animal/bird actually trapped, acting under supervision?, can’t see a defence (pleaded guilty) but may have given a defence during questioning, guidelines for similar offences (if anyone has ever been successfully prosecuted in England), employers comments – may not legally be able to act because it was ‘only a caution’ but it was on their land.

    Have the employers had an inspection for their workers and working practices. This man was either acting within his remit or not, if so was he given training in the use of these illegal traps? If not the employers could be held liable for endangering their employee by not giving correct training or supervision. If he had had training what does the law say in the use of ‘illegal’ traps. Either way someone needs to have a discussion with his boss/employer.

    Not providing adequate training is an offence…

  21. A quick internet does show some successfull prosecutions, in North Yorkshire, for poletraps so what is different in this case? There must be something they’re not telling us…

  22. There is currently another petition to ban the traps which were used in this vile incident. Please sign this petition, which is directed at DEFRA. Yet again, it serves to prove that if you are part of the landowning elite you can get away with anything. Hard to believe that this sort of thing goes on in modern day Britain ! This is 2016, not 1816…..We must not give up the fight to stop this. Everyone, please write to your MPs, to expose this scandal. Educate others around you about what’s going on in our countryside.

  23. Some corrections to my earlier comment re the petition doing the rounds on the Care2 website, at http://www.thePetionSite.com….I should have stated that the title is Stop the Illegal Persecution of Rare Hen Harriers in England and not just related to the traps. Sorry for this, but however, it seems to have attracted over 68,000 signatures and has probably brought the issue to a very wide audience. I now realise that details on this show up elsewhere on your blog, Mark, and I can see reference to errors on the details of the petition. I think that my comment is really about the need to inform the wider society about matters such as the plight of the hen harriers, as it never ceases to amaze how few people know about it. I’m even including ‘birders’ in this.
    Incidentally, I spotted a male hen harrier recently whilst on holiday around Wicken Fen. I consider myself to be a very novice bird watcher and have a lot to learn, especially about the issues covered here on your blog. So thank you for continuing the fight to stop their illegal persecution and for bringing it to the attention of people like me.

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