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King Charles’ Sandringham estate linked to disappearance and deaths of birds of prey in Norfolk

The King’s West Norfolk estate has been linked to the deaths and disappearances of various protected birds during the last 20 years.

An investigation by The Guardian newspaper has revealed that the royal Sandringham estate has potentially played host to the “poisoning, shooting and disappearance” of some of the UK’s rarest birds of prey since 2003.

Eighteen cases involving suspected wildlife offences or the alleged misuse of poisons, linked to the land and neighbouring farmland owned by King Charles, have been mentioned.

The Sandringham estate has been linked to the deaths and disappearances of various birds of prey
The Sandringham estate has been linked to the deaths and disappearances of various birds of prey

The information has come to light after documents were obtained by the national newspaper using freedom of information legislation.

Police have looked into the issues on a number of occasions, and it is believed that the estate has at times hindered those efforts.

Examples of this have included the “cleaning up” of the suspicious deaths of around 40 wood pigeons, as well as the body of a goshawk being burned – meaning the cause of its death could not be identified.

Birds of prey are protected in the UK because of the importance they play in biodiversity, with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 making killing or disturbing them a criminal offence.

The Lynn News has contacted the Sandringham estate for comment.

The RSPB’s director of conservation, Katie-Jo Luxton, said: “The UK has an ongoing problem with bird of prey persecution, and the majority of cases occur in connection with land managed for gamebird shooting particularly in our uplands.

“The incidents we know of, despite being numerous, are just the tip of the iceberg and this is reflected in the fact that some species remain suspiciously absent from places they should thrive, while others remain rare across the board.

“We need our governments to take these crimes seriously and help ensure better enforcement of existing laws, as well as bringing in essential new legislation such as the licensing of grouse moors.

“It is only through actions such as these that we can meaningfully protect our birds of prey from the routine and relentless persecution.”

Of the alleged incidents at the Sandringham estate, only one has led to a prosecution – with a gamekeeper fined in 2006 after he admitted maiming a legally protected tawny owl in a trap.

Unresolved cases have included the disappearance without trace of two montagu’s harriers, one of which was a female, which directly contributed to the species being red-listed as a critically endangered bird.

Another in 2007 involved Prince Harry, the King’s son, being questioned after a pair of hen harriers were shot over Sandringham, but no charges were brought.

A spokesperson for Sandringham told The Guardian that it “works extensively to protect local wildlife and encourage natural habitats for animals, and is actively involved in projects to reintroduce endangered bird species”.

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