• RSPB Investigations officers assisted North Yorkshire and Cumbria police in catching the culprit • The RSPB is calling for driven grouse shooting to be licensed to tackle the ongoing issue of the illegal killing of birds of prey
Moorland gamekeeper Timothy Cowin has today (28 August 2018) pleaded guilty to two charges concerning the intentional killing of two protected short-eared owls on the Whernside Estate in Cumbria, an area managed for driven grouse shooting. He also pleaded guilty to one charge relating to the possession of items capable of being used to commit offences against wild birds.
Cowin appeared in Lancaster Magistrates Court and was fined £400 for killing each owl and £200 for possessing the calling device, which was forfeited by the court. He was ordered to pay £170 costs and a £40 victim surcharge. A total of £1,210.
On 19 April 2017, RSPB officers visited the area following a previous incident where Cowin, 44, was believed to be illegally using an electronic calling device to lure in birds for shooting. Cowin was seen walking on the moor holding a gun. Watching through a telescope, an RSPB officer saw Cowin shoot and kill two short-eared owls before disposing of their bodies on the moor.
The police were called immediately and, after a pursuit on foot, Cowin was intercepted and arrested. Both owl corpses were recovered, and a post-mortem examination confirmed they had been shot.
Further items were seized by the police including a rock covered in blood near where the first owl was found. This rock was forensically examined which confirmed the presence of short eared owl DNA. A ‘Fox pro’ calling device – a type of electronic sound luring device – was also found in Cowin’s vehicle and seized. The device was later forensically examined and found to have had the calls of birds of prey added to the device. This is believed to have been done deliberately to target birds of prey by using the calls to draw in birds of prey close enough for shooting.
Like all birds of prey, short-eared owls are fully protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Anyone found to have intentionally killed or harmed one faces an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in jail. Bird of prey persecution is a UK government wildlife crime priority, and persecution connected with land managed for driven grouse shooting continues to have serious conservation impacts on a number of species.
Guy Shorrock, RSPB Senior Investigations Officer, was present on the day of the arrest. He said: “Over the years we have had a number of very disturbing reports from people within the shooting industry alleging widespread and systematic killing of short-eared owls on grouse moors in the north of England. The premeditated way these beautiful birds were flushed, shot and hidden was truly shocking. We are immensely grateful for the response of the police to this remote location.”
This case highlights the persistent targeting of birds of prey on land managed for driven grouse shooting. The RSPB is calling for the introduction of a licensing system to improve the accountability of driven grouse shooting across the UK. This would not only help protect birds of prey but could also tackle wider damaging grouse moor management practices, such as heather burning on deep peat and inappropriate drainage.
The RSPB recently launched a confidential Raptor Crime Hotline – 0300 999 0101 – encouraging those within the shooting community who have information to speak out in confidence.
Read the blog here
Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018