Norfolk Police searched the house of William Van Cutsem, a close friend of Prince William. It followed allegations the estate is using illegal methods to protect its game birds.
On 29 April, Norfolk Police visited Hilborough House. Its owner, William Van Cutsem, is close friends with Prince William while the 4,500 acre Hilborough estate is famed for its partridge shoots. Police told local paper the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) that it was acting on “intelligence” that live pigeons were used as decoy birds to trap birds of prey. This is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
“While in the wood, officers discovered a trap set with a live pigeon. The pigeon was released by officers and is being looked after by another organisation on behalf of the police
“At about 7pm, the officers saw two men in the same wood. The men were stopped and searched, and officers discovered a police-style baton in a vehicle being used by one of the men.
“Four live pigeons, one deceased pigeon and the police-style baton were among the items seized by police. The pigeons are currently being cared for on behalf of the police.”
Nonetheless, the Daily Mail reported Van Cutsem as blaming a “disgruntled former employee” for making a “malicious complaint”.
Gamekeepers persecute birds of prey – or raptors – because they take pheasants, partridges and other so-called ‘game birds’ for food. Shooting estates view this as impacting on their business. The result is what Raptor Persecution UK describes as the “relentless and illegal killing of birds of prey in the UK”.
Raptors are most often killed by guns but gamekeepers can also use traps to capture the birds. These include larsen and multi-catch, or ladder, traps, which use a caged live bird to lure other birds into the trap. These caged birds are known as decoys. Gamekeepers can deploy these traps legally to control corvids such as magpies and crows, in which case another corvid will be used as a decoy. Because these birds are territorial, free corvids will attempt to drive the decoy bird away but get trapped in the process.
However, gamekeepers can use pigeons as decoys to attract raptors, who see the pigeons as prey. This is illegal.
This isn’t the first time circumstances have tied the Van Cutsems to illegal raptor persecution. In 2007, witnesses saw two hen harriers shot out of the sky over Sandringham estate, less than 25 miles from Hilborough estate. The Mirror reported that police questioned Prince Harry along with Van Cutsem. However, police ultimately made no charges.
In 2016, the RSPB filmed a gamekeeper at Mossdale estate in North Yorkshire using pole traps. They were made illegal in 1904. The Mossdale estate is owned by the Van Cutsems. And in 2021, an endangered red kite was found shot dead and hung from a tree in Cockley Cley. The village borders the Hilborough estate.
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