Warning graphic content: Gamekeeper found guilty of poisoning 11 birds of prey on Norfolk estate
PUBLISHED: 09:57 02 October 2014 | UPDATED: 15:24 02 October 2014
© Archant Norfolk 2013
A retired gamekeeper who had a "poisoner's kit" in an outbuilding has been found guilty of killing 11 birds of prey on a game shooting estate in Norfolk.
Allen Lambert, formerly a gamekeeper on the Stody Estate, near Holt, appeared at Norwich Magistrates’ Court and was found guilty of two charges relating to the killing of 10 buzzards and a sparrowhawk, and possession of pesticides and other items capable of being use to prepare poison baits.
The 65-year-old had earlier pleaded guilty to five other charges includes three offences of illegal storage and use of pesticides and unlawful possession of nine dead buzzards.
The matter has been adjourned for sentencing at Norwich Magistrates Court on November 6.
On April 4, 2013, an RSPB investigator followed up a report of dead birds of prey in a wood on the Stody Estate.
The remains of five buzzards, a sparrowhawk and a tawny owl were found and appeared to have been dumped in the wood. The birds were recovered and subsequent analysis confirmed at least one buzzard and one sparrowhawk had been poisoned by the pesticide mevinphos.
This was a former agricultural pesticide but banned from use in 1993.
Later that day, officers from Norfolk Constabulary, supported by Natural England and RSPB visited Lambert’s home at The Old Lodge at Stody.
A search of his Land Rover vehicle and unlocked storeroom found two containers of the pesticide mevinphos and a further container with the pesticide aldicarb, a substance also banned from use in 2007. Both of these highly toxic products have a long history of abuse for wildlife poisoning.
A ‘poisoner’s kit’
The banned pesticides mevinphos and aldicarb are highly toxic products which have a long history of abuse for wildlife poisoning.
The laying of poisoned baits in the open countryside to kill birds and animals has been illegal for more than 100 years.
One of the pesticide containers was found in a yellow bucket with a syringe and a number of needles.
The court heard how such items are often referred to as a “poisoner’s kit” and are used to inject poison into eggs or carrion.
The laying of poisoned baits in the open countryside to kill bird and animals has been illegal for more than 100 years. One of the pesticide containers was found in a yellow bucket with a syringe and a number of needles. These items are often referred to as a ‘poisoner’s kit’ and are used to inject poison into eggs or carrion.
Investigators also found a game bird feed bag on a quad bike in an outbuilding at Lambert’s home, which contained the bodies of nine buzzards. Analysis by a government laboratory confirmed all nine had also been poisoned by mevinphos.
The prosecution maintained these had been poisoned on the estate and collected by Lambert for disposal. However, the defendant denied killing the birds and said he believed they had been planted on the estate by a dog walker with a vendetta against him. He said the bucket containing the “poisoner’s kit” had been left in his cluttered garage by a now-deceased friend who had thought he might find it useful and it had remained unused for years.
However, district judge Peter Veits pointed out several discrepancies in the defendant’s version of events had undermined his credibility as a witness.
The common buzzard
While they are called the common buzzard, populations of this bird of prey had seriously dwindled by the late 1970s, due to a combination of persecution and the reduction of its prey, rabbits, due to myxomatosis, the court heard.
However, a relict population in Wales, the South West and Scotland had increased and re-colonised England since then.
Dr Graham Austin, of the British Trust for Ornithology, told the court how there had been an unprecedented expansion of buzzards and they were now easy to spot in north Norfolk, while Richard Porter, who worked for the RSPB for 30 years and was a council member for the BTO, told how he had conducted his own survey into the population of buzzards in the Stody area in the spring of 2012, during which he made 233 buzzard sightings and counted 73 pairs, routinely spotting six birds at a time in flight.
Both said it would be entirely possible for 10 buzzards to be killed on the estate within a short space of time, as buzzards are territorial and any removal could create a “sink effect” which would see their prime territory swiftly re-inhabited by other buzzards.
He said: “In short, I find his explanation of a vendetta against him implausible.”
Judge Veits went on to say the only other explanation was that Lambert did indeed poison the birds and that all the evidence pointed to that.
He warned Lambert the offences crossed the custody threshold, but said this would not necessarily mean he would be jailed as he would take into account the lack of supervision and training Lambert had had from his employers.
Speaking after the case, Bob Elliot, head of RSPB investigations, said: “This is the worst case of bird of prey poisoning we are aware of in England, and one of the worst ever recorded in the UK. Finding the carcasses of nine poisoned buzzards in a bag at Lambert’s home was truly dreadful.”
He added: “Unfortunately, this is part of a wider national problem. In 2013 we recorded 76 individual birds and other animals illegally poisoned, including 30 buzzards and 20 red kites. We are now calling on the UK government to show their commitment to the protection of birds of prey by introducing stronger legislation, such as increasing controls on people who possess pesticides used to poison wildlife such as mevinphos and aldicarb. This could be vital in the fight against illegal persecution.”
Alan Roberts, investigative support officer for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: “This case has been significant because of the number of birds of prey found poisoned which, together with the lax attitude to firearms security, has exposed an ingrained blasé attitude to lethal chemicals and weapons. There is a lot of work going on amongst all the relevant agencies from the law enforcers to gamekeeping bodies and the RSPB to stamp this sort of behaviour out. We will continue to seek out and prosecute anyone who follows Allen Lambert’s style of predator control.”
Dr Andy Clements, director of the British Trust for Ornithology, added: “BTO data provided expert evidence to this case. Up-to-date information on the distribution and abundance of buzzards in north Norfolk, from the Breeding Bird Survey, Bird Atlas 2007-11 and BirdTrack helped to support the prosecution’s case by providing proof that populations of the bird in the area are consistent with the number of birds that Lambert was suspected to have poisoned.”