PETER FROST believes England should look to Scotland for robust and effective measures to protect birds of prey
Allen Lambert, the gamekeeper convicted of the worst case of bird of prey poisoning ever recorded in England, has been given a 10-week suspended sentence. He walked free from the Norwich Magistrates Court pausing only to give a triumphant smug smile to protesters carrying “Only prison will do” placards.
So another gamekeeper — perhaps the thirtieth in the last three or so years — had avoided going to jail for the killing of protected birds of prey.
Actually no English gamekeeper has ever ended up behind bars despite numerous convictions for wildlife crimes.
Allen Lambert, 65, who worked on the Stody Estate near Holt in Norfolk, was found guilty of deliberately killing 10 buzzards and a sparrowhawk.
Head of RSPB investigations Bob Elliot said the discovery of the carcasses at Lambert’s home was “truly dreadful.”
Sentencing him, district judge Peter Veits said that, like most gamekeepers, Lambert had been left largely to his own devices.
He added: “Those who employ gamekeepers have a strict duty to know what is being done in their name and on their property.
“They also have duty to ensure their gamekeepers are properly trained and capable of keeping abreast of complex laws relating to the use of poisons.
“In other industries employers as well as the employee could be facing prosecution in such cases and I hope therefore that this case can serve as a wake-up call to all who run estates as to their duties.”
The Stody Estate where a day’s shooting can cost several thousand pounds is now being investigated by the Rural Payments Agency which could withdraw tens of thousands of pounds of subsidy if the estate is found to have been negligent, prosecutors told the court.
The estate was owned by Ian MacNicol, a leading figure in the shooting world who died in 2006. Its slick PR operation issued stories about how well it treated wildlife — they were published in many so-called country sports magazines.
Some of these stories sang the praises of the estate’s gamekeeper for the last 20 years — Allen Lambert.
Today MacNicol’s widow, Adel Richmond-Watson, and her two sons run the shoot, house and grounds.
In a statement read to the court, the estate said it had considered Lambert a “valued and trusted member of staff.” The statement added: “Mr Lambert was not authorised, trained or asked to kill wildlife and we had no knowledge he possessed such items.”
In October Lambert was also found guilty of possessing pesticides and items used to prepare poison baits. He had pleaded guilty to five other charges, including the illegal use of pesticides.
District Judge Peter Veits said the offences had “crossed the custody threshold,” but said his sentence would be suspended.
Lambert’s 10-week jail sentence was suspended for a year and he was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £930.
Judge Veits said: “In other industries employers as well as the employee could be facing prosecution in such cases and I hope therefore that this case can serve as a wake-up call to all who run estates as to their duties.”
The RSPB is calling on the government to bring in stronger legislation to make sporting estates more accountable for the actions of their staff.
Wildlife detectives found the remains of several birds of prey in woodland and a feed bag containing nine dead buzzards in Lambert’s house. The birds had been poisoned and police found containers with poison in Lambert’s car and storeroom, as well as a syringe and needles.
In England a landowner is not responsible for his or her gamekeeper’s crimes. One of the owners of Stody Estate, Charles MacNicol, refused to tell BBC News whether he knew about or whether he condemned the killings.
The Scottish government has made shoot owners share the blame for gamekeepers’ misdemeanours. This has led to a significant drop in killings.
England has to follow suit but Defra says it needs more evidence and with so many rich shooters and indeed shoot owners on the Tory benches that evidence is unlikely to be found.