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Saturday, 26 July 2014

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Gamekeeper clubbed trapped buzzards to death

A gamekeeper who helped run a Cumbrian pheasant shooting club used a fence-post to batter to death two birds of prey.

Buzzard man photo
Colin Burne at the trap

A judge was shown sickening video footage of the moments when 64-year-old Colin Burne killed two buzzards which he found in a cage trap intended for crows in a forest near Penrith.

Burne, of Winters Park, Penrith, was given a 70-day jail sentence but the judge suspended the sentence after hearing that he has terminal cancer.

Burne admitted killing the buzzards, which are a protected species and destroying up to a dozen birds in the same way over the last five years.

Peter Kelly, prosecuting at Carlisle Magistrates’ Court, said a member of the public walking in Whinfell Forest, near to the Center Parcs holiday resort, came upon a crow trap cage in which there were three live buzzards.

That person was concerned enough to report the matter to the RSPB and they investigated.

“As a consequence, they set up a covert camera overlooking the crow trap,” said Mr Kelly, explaining that one of the birds was released because of concern about it appearing to be exhausted.

A witness who spoke to Burne said the defendant had assured him he would release the buzzards unharmed.

The cage was later found to be empty and when the investigators checked the CCTV footage they saw Burne go into the cage, armed with a length of fence-post.

He then grabbed each buzzard by the wings and clubbed them about the head repeatedly. Once dead, he threw the birds into a plastic white bucket before taking them away to hide them in undergrowth nearby.

When he was later interviewed by the police, Burne initially denied hurting the birds but admitted his guilt after being shown the video.

He explained that he was one of a seven strong pheasant shooting club called the “Cliburn Shoot,” which reared and shot game birds in the Whinfell Forest.

Mr Kelly said: “He said he hadn’t deliberately set out to trap buzzards, but they occasionally ended up in the trap – a couple of times a year.

“He agreed his behaviour was unacceptable. He’s aware of the level of protection these birds have. Over the last five years, he’s caught 10 to 12 buzzards in the same circumstances and behaved in the same way.”

John Smith, for Burne, said his client insisted the crow trap was not baited, though the RSPB say they found a dead pheasant inside it.

He said the Cliburn Shoot was not a commercial venture but Burne, who is retired, had taken on the role of controlling predators. Burne claimed he had seen buzzards kill as many as 20 pheasants.

“He is no longer part of the shooting syndicate and will play no further part,” said Mr Smith, adding that his client has terminally ill with inoperable bowel cancer.

Passing sentence, Judge Gerald Chalk told the defendant: “I want people to understand that this type of conduct will result in a prison sentence.”

He suspended the prison term for a year because of Burne’s medical circumstances and ordered that he also pay £85 prosecution costs and an £80 victim surcharge.

The RSPB’s head of investigations Bob Elliot said the charity depended on information from the public when enforcing the protection birds have under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

He said: “The problems we have are on large shooting estates and grouse moors, often in remote places.

“It’s happening all over the place and this is very much the tip of an iceberg.

“We depend on the information we get from the public and would urge anybody with information about this kind of thing to get in touch with us or the police.”

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