A 21-year-old Wiltshire man is due in court for deliberately harming legally protected British birds of prey in what is being called ‘potentially the largest English raptor persecution case in terms of numbers of victims.’ 

Raptor persecution is the illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey like peregrine falcons, red kites and hen harriers. 

Archie Watson, a 21-year-old gamekeeper from Dragon Lane in Mannigford Bruce near Pewsey, faces six charges under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and three firearms offences and will be appearing before Swindon Magistrates Court on Wednesday, May 25.

The case has been brought after almost two years of detailed investigation and forensic analysis in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and other partners. 

PC Marc Jackson of the Rural Crime Team said: “This is the first case in Wiltshire to be run under Operation Owl since Wiltshire Police joined in 2020. Operation Owl addresses the issues of Raptor persecution across the UK.”

“Wiltshire is known for its wonderful countryside, which is home to many species of birds – including protected birds of prey (also known as raptors) such as buzzards and red kites.”

“Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take wild birds.

"Nevertheless, birds of prey are still shot, poisoned and trapped and the Rural Crime Team receive several reports each year regarding suspected illegal killings.

“Operation Owl might be primarily a policing operation but there are many ways that members of the public can get involved by helping to spread awareness of bird of prey persecution, understanding how to recognise the signs, how to record anything you do find and finally how to report this to the police so that we can investigate.”

Things like a dead bird of prey lying next to dead pigeons, rabbits, pheasants or other poisoned baits, live birds caught in any trap, spring traps out in the open that are not enclosed and any spring trap on top of a post are known signs.

If members of the public come across any of the above, they are encouraged to record it with photographs or video but to not touch or disturb anything, approach anyone, or move around the area too much. 

People are advised that if the crime or suspected crime is still taking place at the time to call 999, but to call 101 if the suspected crime is no longer taking place. When connected to the police, ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer.