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Cumbria gamekeeper pleads guilty to killing buzzards illegally

Last modified: 08 July 2013

PC Helen Felton with two dead buzzards

PC Helen Felton and RSPB's Head of Investigations Bob Elliot with illegally killed buzzards

Image: The RSPB

Colin Burne, of Winters Park, Penrith, has today pleaded guilty to the intentional killing of buzzards on land managed by a private shooting syndicate in Whinfell Forest, near Penrith, Cumbria.

The 64-year old gamekeeper attended Carlisle Magistrates Court today where he pleaded guilty to three charges. These related to the killing of two buzzards on the 11 February 2013, killing five buzzards prior to this date and possession of a wooden stick as an item capable of being used to kill the birds.

He received a 70-day jail sentence, concurrent on each charge, suspended for 12 months.  In sentencing, the Judge stated that had it not been for his ill health he would have considered jailing him.

On Monday 11 February, this year, a cage trap containing live buzzards was found by members of the public on land managed by the shoot. Cage traps can lawfully be used to control certain crows species, but any non-target species which become accidentally caught, such as buzzards and other birds of prey, must be released unharmed. The next day RSPB Investigations Officers set up a covert camera near the trap site. When the footage was retrieved it showed Colin Burne entering the trap and intentionally killing two buzzards by beating them to death with a wooden stick.

Those people who believe they can kill protected species will be brought to justice

Bob Elliot, Head of RSPB Investigations, said: “After we retrieved the footage and played it back, we were surprised at the openness with which Burne had killed the birds. Buzzards were given full legal protection in 1954 – six years after Burne was born – but he calmly dispatched the birds as though it was a routine operation, rather than an illegal act killing a protected species.”

Admitted killing

A search of the trap site by officers from Cumbria Constabulary and the RSPB revealed the presence of the remains of many other buzzards, showing that the killing of these birds at this site had become a regular practice.  Burne admitted to the killing of five of these birds.

Bob added: “Buzzards are magnificent birds and their presence in the countryside brings pleasure to many people. This case confirms the urgent need to tighten up the use of crow cage traps to ensure that protected species, such as buzzards, are not routinely killed.”

PC Helen Felton, who led the investigation for Cumbria Constabulary, said: “This was a despicable crime in which someone who was in a position of trust as a gamekeeper, trapped buzzards and then later came back to kill them.

“From what was found nearby, it was clear that this practice had been taking place for some time. The sentence that has been given today highlights how wildlife crime is not tolerated in Cumbria. Those people who believe they can kill protected species will be brought to justice.”

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