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Who is Killing Birds on the Sandringham Estate?

It is a criminal offence to harm or kill birds of prey in the UK. Unfortunately, it is very hard to identify the culprits even when it is clear that a crime has been committed. Birds of prey are being killed across the country and there have been a series of incidents at Sandringham, the Queen’s Norfolk retreat.

Several incidents involving birds of prey dying at Sandringham have been investigated but no culprits have been identified. The tale has all the ingredients of a good detective novel: poisonings, vanishing evidence, many suspects and recriminations. But this real-life murder mystery is now casting a shadow over the Queen’s estate.

Goshawk and Harriers

This year, a goshawk perished on the estate and its body was incinerated. This episode followed an incident two years ago when a Montagu’s harrier which had been fitted with a tracking device disappeared over the estate. Prior to that there were reports of two hen harriers, which face extinction, being blasted out of the sky over the estate. Prince Harry and his friend William van Cutsem, who were shooting duck and pigeon nearby, were later questioned by the police but denied any knowledge of the incident, as did a gamekeeper at Sandringham.

Poisoned Sparrowhawk

Now, it has emerged that a poisoned sparrowhawk had also been found at Sandringham. An examination of the crime scene revealed a dead pigeon laced with bendiocarb, a poisonous pesticide and the same substance found in the dead hawk. Gamekeepers on other estates have previously been prosecuted for poisoning hawks to stop them killing game birds.

It is understood that at least one member of the Royals' staff was tested for residue of the poison but none was found. Police have conducted a thorough investigation but have been unable to link the poisoning to anyone at Sandringham. Details of the incident only emerged after a freedom of information request.

Freedom of Information Request

This request was made by the animal rights group Raptor Persecution UK following newspaper reports about the goshawk. Strangely, the name Sandringham is redacted in letters and emails relating to the October 2009 incident involving the sparrowhawk as are the names of staff at the estate. Whoever had censored the correspondence had left in references to 'the private home of four generations of British monarchs' and the country of Norfolk so Poirot was not required to unravel the mystery of which estate was being referenced.

Estate staff have claimed that the sparrowhawk and pigeon were killed elsewhere then dumped on the estate to implicate one of the estate's staff.

Whilst killing a bird of prey could land the offender with a 6 month stay in jail and a fine of up to £5,000, it is always very difficult for the authorities to hold anybody to account. It is hard enough to identify a guilty party but even harder to prove their guilt in court.

We will keep you informed of further developments at Sandringham.


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