A man from Wiltshire will face court for multiple charges under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. And police have described the case as possibly the largest known raptor persecution incident in England.
Archie Watson will stand trial on 25 May at Swindon Magistrates Court for six charges relating to the Wildlife and Countryside Act and a further three firearms offences. A press release by Wiltshire Police on 6 May described Watson’s case as “potentially the largest English raptor persecution case in terms of the number of alleged victims”.
As the blog RaptorPersecutionUK explained, context for this statement is given by the previous largest known case of raptor persecution. In 2014, gamekeeper Allan Lambert of Stody Lodge in Norfolk was convicted of poisoning 11 birds of prey.
Watson’s arrest happened in September 2020 following a multi-agency investigation that included police, the RSPB and Natural England. A police statement at the time noted the discovery of both buzzard and red kite bodies. Local paper Swindon Advertiser described the recent charges as the result of “almost two years of detailed investigation and forensic analysis”.
It is the first Operation Owl case in Wiltshire since the county’s police joined in 2020. Operation Owl is a national initiative trying to raise awareness of raptor persecution. It was started by North Yorkshire Police, RSPB, RSPCA, and North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks.
Marc Jackson of Wiltshire’s Rural Crime Team said “it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take wild birds” under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. However, he was sober about the reality of raptor persecution and recognised that raptor persecution continues year after year. Jackson continued:
“Operation Owl might be primarily a policing operation but there are many ways that members of the public can get involved by helping to spread awareness of bird of prey persecution, understanding how to recognise the signs, how to record anything you do find and finally how to report this to the police so that we can investigate.”
Further details on what to look out for and what to do if you spot signs of illegal raptor persecution can be found on the Operation Owl website.
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