Five dead goshawks – what the police missed

by Charlie Jacoby

A tweet by Suffolk Constbulary has put a wedge between police and shooters. Spotting a feather out of place, shooters now want to know if the evidence the police presented is all that it seems. 

After the discovery of five dead goshawks near a car park at woodland popular with walkers, Suffolk Rural, Wildlife and Heritage Police put out a tweet saying that the shooting community should “do the right thing” and tell police who is responsible.

Suffolk Constabulary appears to be treating the shooting community as a kind of mafia, that has a culture of omerta. It is not a characterisation that shooters, gamekeepers, pickers-up, beaters, gamefeed manufacturers, agricultural or vehicle supplies, gamedealers and supermarkets, local hotels, shops and all who make up the shooting community recognise.

The tweet, subsequently taken down, tagged the National Gamekeepers Organisation and BASC among others in order to provide publicity for the investigation. That publicity came from a raft of local newspaper, including the Suffolk News, the Bury Mercury, the Eastern Daily Press and the East Anglian Daily Times.

Before removing the tweet, Suffolk Constabulary backtracked and said in a reply that they were not blaming gamekeepers. However, the damage was done. 

Shooters, angry at the way Suffolk Constabulary is following the terms of reference of the RSPB’s smear campaign against gamekeepers, point to anomalies in the pictures. They say that police are ignoring obvious evidence. 

Police correctly identify that the birds are young, fledged goshawks. They do not seem to know that fledged goshawks do not flock so, if the police theory is correct, and these were shot in the wild, whoever shot them would have had to work hard to find five of the same age to shoot.

Thetford Forest is a goshawk stronghold in the UK. However, goshawks are territorial, and each of these birds would have lived separately to others in the wild. One baffled gamekeeper told Fieldsports News: “You definitely wouldn’t see five in a week, even when you have high numbers.”

Next, shooters and gamekeepers point out the condition of the birds. Their feathers are in good condition, indicating they were recently fledged birds. Their wings are close to their bodies,  suggesting that they had been wrapped and frozen.

Biggest tell of all is on one of the birds in the foreground of the police picture.   

One of its tail feathers is the wrong way around. This indicates it has been ‘imped’ or implanted, a falconry practice that goes back at least 1,000 years as a way of repairing damaged feathers. It is widely used by falconry centres, zoos, wildlife hospitals and even vets.

That feather is an implant used  to replace a lost tail feather or has been replaced as part of a wild bird’s rehabilitation. In addition, the new tail feather in the young bird belonged, originally, to an older bird.

Suffolk Police say that all birds were found at the car park outside Bury St Edmunds on Monday 9 January 2023, all were X-rayed and all found to have shot in them. Police do not say who found them or who X-rayed them, leaving local shooters and gamekeepers to suspect this is yet another smear campaign by the conservation industry.  

A police spokesperson said in the original tweet that they can’t explain why the word ‘parrot’ appears on the X-ray they released. Although the head of the bird is missing in the X-ray, which would have shown the distictive beak or bill or either goshawk or parrot, one Twitter responder points out that ‘parrot’ is the name of a setting for veterinary X-rays. 

The evidence suggests that police are concentrating their enquiries in the wrong place. Instead of looking for a gamekeeper with a grudge, and no regard for the future of their shotgun certificate – which would be unusual for a gamekeeper – they should be asking local wildlife parks or even falconers.

The birds in the photograph appear to be a brood of recently fledged goshawks, placing their time of death in the summer, and their location in captivity. Perhaps the birds were sick. Perhaps there was no market for the birds. Goshawk prices are at a low point and demand for the birds is poor.

There is no law against slaughtering livestock, though disposing of them near a car park may break environmental health rules. 

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