Rid­dle of rare bird of prey in­cin­er­ated on Queen’s es­tate

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By An­drew Young

A PO­LICE in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched af­ter a pro­tected bird of prey died in mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances at the Queen’s Nor­folk re­treat and was then in­cin­er­ated.

A wildlife char­ity alerted of­fi­cers af­ter the track­ing de­vice the young goshawk had been wear­ing near San­dring­ham was re­turned to its staff by post.

The Bri­tish Trust for Or­nithol­ogy (BTO) re­ceived the pack­age, along with a San­dring­ham com­pli­ments slip, just days af­ter pick­ing up sig­nals from the de­vice in­di­cat­ing the bird was alive and well. And when the char­ity con­tacted es­tate staff to re­cover the bird, it was told its re­mains had been dis­posed of.

The San­dring­ham probe is the third po­lice in­quiry con­ducted in the past ten years into the sus­pected deaths of hawks on the es­tate or bor­der­ing land.

The rare goshawk was one of five chicks fit­ted with so­lar-pow­ered track­ing tags last sum­mer, al­low­ing BTO staff to mon­i­tor them. The two-month-old fe­male left its nest on July 23 and flew north, spend­ing 11 days fly­ing around the 20,000-acre San­dring­ham Es­tate and nearby vil­lages. Its tag re­vealed it was in trees 185 yards west of San­dring­ham House at 6.28pm on Au­gust 8.

Fur­ther sig­nals were sent at 6.27pm on Au­gust 10 and 12.26pm on Au­gust 11 from ex­actly the same point in the car park of the San­dring­ham es­tate of­fice, sug­gest­ing the bird was not mov­ing and prob­a­bly dead.

BTO spokesman Paul Stan­cliffe said es­tate staff ap­peared to have posted the tag, along with the com­pli­ments slip, to the char­ity’s head­quar­ters in Thet­ford on the afternoon of Au­gust 11. The pack­age was de­liv­ered by Royal Mail later the same day and the char­ity con­tacted the es­tate to ask what had hap­pened to the goshawk.

A mem­ber of staff said the bird had been found dead on Au­gust 9 and was ‘dis­posed of’ as it had been dead ‘for a long time’ and was de­com­pos­ing, ac­cord­ing to Mr Stan­cliffe.

The char­ity, whose pa­tron is Prince Philip, alerted po­lice as it had ‘ini­tial un­cer­tain­ties’ about the story, be­cause the bird’s tag showed it alive on Au­gust 8.

Po­lice later found San­dring­ham’s ini­tial ac­count was in­ac­cu­rate due to ‘a break­down of com­mu­ni­ca­tion’ as the staff mem­ber who spoke to the char­ity had not talked di­rectly with the gar­dener who found the bird. The gar­dener claimed the bird had been alive when he found it be­side a perime­ter fence, but it was in a poor con­di­tion and quickly died.

Es­tate staff told the po­lice they had put the body in an in­cin­er­a­tor. ‘The po­lice came back to us about three weeks later and said they had found no sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the bird’s death,’ said Mr Stan­cliffe, who added that he would have pre­ferred the body to have been re­turned to the BTO for a post­mortem to ‘rule out foul play’.

He said: ‘The bird could have died from nat­u­ral causes, but we do not know.’

Killing a goshawk is an of­fence un­der the Wildlife and Coun­try­side Act, car­ry­ing a max­i­mum penalty of a £5,000 fine and six months’ im­pris­on­ment.

Nor­folk Po­lice said: ‘A thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion was car­ried out and no wrong­do­ing was iden­ti­fied.’

A Buck­ing­ham Palace spokesman said: ‘We note the find­ings of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.’

Po­lice launched an ear­lier in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter a rare Mon­tagu’s har­rier mys­te­ri­ously van­ished on land bor­der­ing San­dring­ham in 2014. The bird had been fit­ted with a track­ing de­vice by the RSPB, but no body was found.

In 2007, two vis­i­tors at the Ders­ing­ham Bog na­ture re­serve claimed they were watch­ing two hen har­ri­ers fly­ing over San­dring­ham when they were blasted out of the sky. Po­lice in­ter­viewed Prince Harry and his friend Wil­liam van Cut­sem, who were shooting duck and pi­geon nearby at the time. The pair and a game­keeper de­nied any knowl­edge of the in­ci­dent and no bod­ies were found.

Mys­tERy: A pro­tected goshawk, in­set, and San­dring­ham House

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