No court proceedings for beating crows to death

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13 February 2012
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OneKind field officer witnesses crows killed in a cage, but prosecution is dropped. Take Action!

A man is seen and filmed entering a cage of twelve crows and rooks and beating seven of the birds to death with a stick, over a period of several minutes. He uses the stick repeatedly to hit the terrified birds across their bodies as they attempt to escape his attack on them, flying over him and clinging to the top corners of the wire cage.

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Several birds are hit hard with the stick and for a moment they flounder from the blows, but manage to continue flying, but one by one, seven birds eventually fall to the ground injured, where the man continues to beat them until they finally stop moving.  Five birds are left, alive and possibly injured, and the man drives away.

I accidentally witnessed this incident while I was walking on a Scottish shooting estate in May 2011.

The birds were captured in a legal crow cage trap which uses a live decoy bird to attract other birds into it. There are many hundreds of these cage traps (see image below) set on shooting estates across the UK.

Cage trap on shooting estate

In this cage trap were twelve crows and rooks and although there was water and food, the shelter was little more than an upturned plastic bucket with a hole cut into it, enough for a single bird to adequately shelter from the weather. There were two short sticks stuck through two corners of the cage, enough for only two birds to perch on at any one time.

The stick used to kill them was a thin cane-like stick, taken from inside the cage and there is a question whether or not such a stick would have been adequate enough to humanely kill a large wild bird that was distressed and flying about in a cage.

There was no doubt in my mind that these birds, whilst captured and during the attack on them, were the victims of unnecessary mental and physical suffering.  I believed that this was a breach of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 as well as the general licence that governs the use of cage traps.  I therefore gave my video film of this incident to the police, who referred the case to the procurator fiscal. 

But now, several months later, we have been notified that the Crown has decided not to take any proceedings against the individual concerned.

This decision was made because the prosecutors believed that I was carrying out surveillance on the estate when in fact my visit, which I had made very clear to the procurator Fiscal, was of an education one and was to gather film and photographic material of the various ways legal snares are set to capture wild animals.

In response to OneKind enquiries about the decision, we were told that my actions in going on the land “fell foul” of a court case from 2004 (Ward v McLeod), where the evidence of an RSPB officer against a gamekeeper was not admitted by the court.

We were surprised by this reference. Later cases have taken a different view, with similar evidence being admitted. And even in the Ward v McLeod case, the sheriff commented that, even if a person was acting illegally for whatever purpose, but fortuitously came across the commission of another offence, unconnected with that particular purpose of his, then that evidence should be admissible.

We have to disagree with the decision on two counts. Firstly, as I made clear, I was not looking for evidence of snaring offences or any other offences for that matter and secondly – even if I had been – it was purely fortuitous that I came across that awful scene in the crow cage trap. 

My work at OneKind covers many animal issues including occasional visits into the countryside obtaining general film and photographic material of legal snares and traps for campaigns and educational purposes. There are times, far too many times in my experience, that I come across an incident related to wildlife crime and I feel that it is my duty as a concerned member of public, as well as a professional research officer, to record such findings.

Indeed, I was actually on a Scottish shooting estate two years ago, gathering photographic material of legally set snares and collecting stock footage of wildlife, when I witnessed a gamekeeper sprinkling a highly toxic and illegal poison onto a dead rabbit which he had staked into the ground. This estate had a record of poisoning birds of prey and so I informed the authorities immediately. The keeper was convicted at court and no question was made of why I was on the estate.  

What are the prosecutors telling us here, by taking no action against a man who has been caught on film beating seven captive wild birds to death with a stick, leaving five possibly injured birds in a cage and driving off, as well as allowing so many birds to be kept in inadequate conditions? Am I really expected to ignore similar incidents in the future and just walk on by? Are you?

Wildlife crime is an increasing and serious issue and this decision can only send out the wrong message about cruelty to our wild birds and other animals.

Unfortunately we have now exhausted all avenues to have this case dealt with by the authorities, after writing to the Lord Advocate for clarification in this matter and asking for the case to continue through to the courts, we finally received a reply stating that no proceedings will take place and that that was the end of the matter.

Please tell us your opinions here, and add your voice to the call for change.

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