Dorset gamekeeper avoids prison over dead buzzard offences

A gamekeeper has landed a suspended prison sentence and fines amounting to more than £2,000 after pleading guilty to a series of offences linked to the discovery of six dead buzzards, as well as the illegal possession of unlicensed chemicals and firearms offences.

Gamekeeper Guilty Of Possession Of Dead Birds Of Prey. Source - GettyImages, Finnbarr Webster / Contributor

In March 2021, police raided the home of Paul Scott Allen, a former gamekeeper at Beech Lodge, Dorset, where officers found six dead buzzards, as well as a gun left out of its container, loose ammunition in a shed, and three illegal pesticides, according to reports in the local press at the time of Allen’s court hearing on 4 January.

Allen pleaded guilty to seven offences at Weymouth Magistrates' Court, including two counts of possessing a live or dead wild bird under schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and two charges of failing to comply with the conditions of a firearms certificate.

He also pleaded guilty to three offences concerning the illegal possession of unlicensed chemicals and firearms offences.

Yesterday, Allen faced sentencing. Dorset Police have confirmed that he was sentenced to 15 weeks in prison for the possession of the buzzards, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay fines and compensation totalling more than £2,900. 

According to coverage in Dorset Live, the breakdown of this figure included a £674 fine for failing to comply with firearm regulations, £1,348 for possession of unlicensed chemicals and £884 to compensate for the cost of the x-rays and post-mortems for the bird carcasses.

The newspaper reported that the court was told that officers found three chemicals inside Allen’s property - Strychnine, Cymag and Ficam W - all of which were either illegally stored, illegal to use or possess, or both. 

Strychnine is a highly poisonous natural substance used in some countries for the control of wild animals. Cymag, also known as sodium cyanide, is a deadly, fast acting poison, releasing cyanide gas on contact with moisture. Ficam W is an insecticide, but was removed from the UK market following a vote from the EU Biocide commission in 2020.  

Following the hearing, Stephanie Bird-Halton, national delivery director for Natural England, said that the regulator was “determined to tackle the scourge of persecution of our birds of prey”. 

She said Natural England was “pleased Allen has been held to account for his offences against our wildlife”, adding that “without landowners and land managers complying with the law and reporting illegal activity, the impact on our wildlife will continue”.

Dorset Police’s chief inspector David Parr added that the force takes “all reports of wildlife crime and rural criminality very seriously”. 

He continued: “Wildlife crime remains a key objective of the recently expanded Dorset Police Rural Crime Team and we will continue to work with our partners to investigate criminal offences and deal with offenders robustly.”

Mark Thomas, UK head of investigations at the RSPB, said it was clear that the use of the lethal rat poison brodifacoum “needs much tighter regulation and controls over use, as it is clearly being both misused and abused to kill birds of prey”. 

“At the very least this product should be restricted to indoor use only, as it was before the government relaxed its use in 2016. We also suggest that only accredited pest controllers should be able to use it in specific circumstances. If not, then the unnecessary increase in bird of prey deaths, including White-tailed Eagles and Red Kites, will continue,” he said.

Last year, a number of bird of prey deaths, including that of a white-tailed sea eagle, sparked concerns of a resurgence in raptor persecution in the south of England.