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