Friday December 18 2020, 12.01am, The Times
It is a conversation few grandsons would relish, even a future king.
The Duke of Cambridge, the recently installed patron of a charity that envisions a world where we are “inspired by birds and informed by science”, faces growing calls to address hunting and wildlife management on the Sandringham estate — owned by his grandmother the Queen.
It comes after a protected bird, a little owl, was killed in a trap set by Her Majesty’s gamekeepers on the 20,000-acre estate in Norfolk. The bird was found in a Fenn trap used to kill vermin such as rats, which eat the eggs of pheasants and partridges.
William, who became patron of the British Trust for Ornithology two months ago, was urged yesterday to take action over the incident.
Members of the royal family traditionally attend a pheasant shoot at Sandringham on Boxing Day, although the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh will remain at Windsor this year because of the pandemic.
Chris Packham, the BBC wildlife presenter, called for the royal family to take the lead in reforming shooting to limit the damage to nature.
“It is disappointing that this has happened at Sandringham which ought to be setting a gold standard in terms of shooting practices,” he said. “As much as people like myself do not like the trapping of wild animals to protect shooting interests it is still legal in the UK. If Sandringham is making a mistake and getting away with it, it does not send a good message to other estates.”
Packham added: “I have no problem with people shooting as long as they do it legally and sustainably. Should the Queen be running intensive driven-game shoots, I would make the case that it might be time for her to consider if she wants to do that. It is legal but is it ecologically ethical?
“Charles has always been speaking out about environmental issues and now her grandsons are speaking out on ecological issues. You can’t proselytise about conservation and the environment and then have this happening in your own backyard . . . I would love to see the royal family saying we are not going to do snaring on our land, we are not going to do trapping.”
William and his brother, Harry, shot from a young age, leading to Diana, Princess of Wales, jokingly describing her sons as “Killer Wales”. Harry has hunted far less since meeting his wife, Meghan. William was joined by his eldest son George, seven, on a grouse shoot at Balmoral in August.
The little owl was found in the trap near Flitcham Barns, east of Sandringham, on May 29, although the finder is said to have not reported it immediately. Investigators from the National Anti-Snaring Campaign visited Sandringham on December 8 and claim to have found “dozens” of similar Fenn traps set at ground level.
A Norfolk police spokeswoman said that no offences were committed and officers did not investigate.
The Sandringham estate said: “As a working estate, Sandringham adheres to all the appropriate standards and regulations required.”
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation emphasises that Fenn traps, named after their inventor Alan Fenn, are “perfectly legal”.
Campaigners vented their anger on the website of the National Anti-Snaring Campaign. David Parkin said: “Good start to William’s career as patron of the British Trust for Ornithology?”
Adrian Halliday added: “Prince William professes to be a true conservationist — surely he would be horrified by this absolute disgrace.”
The Royal Society for Protection of Birds said the UK population of little owls fell by about 24 per cent between 1995 and 2008. There are an estimated 5,700 breeding pairs.
The trap designed to dispatch vermin
• A Fenn trap is a spring-loaded mechanism in a box with openings just big enough for its target.
• Hundreds of thousands of the traps are used on shooting estates to kill rats, squirrels and weasels, which eat the eggs of pheasants and partridges.
• Catching stoats in Fenn traps was banned in April because they failed to kill within 45 seconds as per humane trapping standards.
• It is an offence to use any unapproved spring trap. Even legal versions of the Fenn trap can be unlawful in some circumstances, such as on a pole to catch birds.
• Fenn traps are designed to break the animal’s spine. However, critics have pointed out that a trap will sometimes catch another part of the body, resulting in a slow and painful death.
• Five other types of spring trap are approved for controlling stoats.
• Fenn traps are still permitted for weasels, rats and grey squirrels.