A Wiltshire farm gamekeeper has been sentenced for the possession of nine dead raptors.

In England’s largest raptor persecution case, Archie Watson, 21, of Dragon Lane, Manningford Bruce, Pewsey pleaded guilty to possession of dead birds - three red kites, five buzzards and a herring or black-backed gull - contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

He denied killing the birds, which were found in a well following a warrant at the farm where he was employed as a gamekeeper.

Appearing before Swindon Magistrates’ Court yesterday (June 1), he also admitted to failing to comply with the condition of his firearms certificate, in relation to the correct storage of shotguns and ammunition.

Watson received a community order with 180 hours unpaid work and told to pay £393 costs and £95 surcharge.

The court heard how in August 2020, the RSPB passed evidence to Wiltshire Police of suspected persecution of wild birds at a farm in the Avebury area.

This led to an investigation by the police Rural Crime Team into a gamekeeper employed there and he was arrested in September 2020.

Two warrants were carried out in partnership with a number of other agencies including RSPB, Natural England, Hampshire Police and the National Wildlife crime unit

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PC Marc Jackson said: “The court result today is positive and encouraging in the fight against bird crime in the UK. It clearly demonstrates that Wiltshire Police will take robust action against any individual who seeks to break the law by persecuting wild birds.

“We would like to thank the partner agencies who have assisted us during this investigation to reach this positive outcome the RSPB, Natural England, Hampshire Police and the National Wildlife crime unit, as well as other individuals and organisations such as the National History Museum.”

“It is certainly unusual for so many birds of prey to be found dead in such a small area and Wiltshire Police will continue to work with partners to help raise awareness and bring before the courts those who are suspected of committing such crimes within Wiltshire and Swindon.”

Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations, said: “The shocking discovery of this tomb of raptors is a reminder of the horrors of raptor persecution.

“Whilst it is not known who was involved or where these birds were killed, we believe it is highly likely they were illegally killed.”

“Raptor persecution is at an all-time high and overwhelmingly associated with land managed for gamebird shooting.”

“The public plays an important role in helping us identify raptor persecution, so if you have information please contact us along with the police online or by calling 101 to help bring this appalling practice to an end.”