Game-keeper convicted of shooting protected birds in North Yorkshire Police and RSPB investigation

Police recover the bodies of the owls.
Police recover the bodies of the owls.
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A game-keeper has been convicted of shooting and killing two owls and fined £1,200.

Timothy Cowin, 44, pleaded guilty to two charges concerning the intentional killing of two protected short-eared owls on the Whernside Estate in Cumbria, an area managed for driven grouse shooting. He also pleaded guilty to one charge relating to the possession of items capable of being used to commit offences against wild birds.

Cowin appeared in Lancaster Magistrates Court yesterday and was fined £400 for killing each owl and £200 for possessing the calling device, which was forfeited by the court. He was ordered to pay £170 costs and a £40 victim surcharge – a total of £1,210.

Today, North Yorkshire Police, who worked on the case with the RSPB, issued a warning to those that commit crimes against wildlife.

Sgt Kevin Kelly, from North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce said: “Following this conviction, I feel like we have taken another step forward addressing bird crime.

“This is the first courtroom conviction for a raptor persecution case in a number of years and I’m proud of my officers who have persevered through this investigation.

“On the face of things it looks fairly straightforward. However, I can assure you that this case was not. It was extremely complicated with acute matters of law and procedure at the highest scrutiny.”

The court had heard that on April 19, 2017 RSPB officers visited the area and Cowin was seen walking on the moor holding a gun. An RSPB officer saw Cowin shoot and kill two short-eared owls before disposing of their bodies on the moor.

The police were called immediately and, after a pursuit on foot, Cowin was arrested. Both owl corpses were recovered, and a post-mortem examination confirmed they had been shot.

A ‘Fox pro’ calling device – a type of electronic sound luring device – was also found in Cowin’s vehicle and seized. The device was later examined and found to have had the calls of birds of prey added to the device.

Sgt Kelly added: “Cowin has not only let himself down, he has tarnished his former profession and no doubt his actions will have a lasting impact. We will continue to take positive action, to enforce when opportunities arise and keep up engagement.”

Guy Shorrock, RSPB Senior Investigations Officer, said: “Over the years we have had a number of very disturbing reports from people within the shooting industry alleging widespread and systematic killing of short-eared owls on grouse moors in the north of England. The premeditated way these beautiful birds were flushed, shot and hidden was truly shocking. We are immensely grateful for the response of the police to this remote location.”