Wyming Brook, by Sarah Sidgwick
© Wyming Brook, by Sarah Sidgwick

Birdwatchers confronted by masked men

On Tuesday evening two birdwatchers were confronted by masked men on Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust’s Wyming Brook nature reserve.

George Taylor and his girlfriend, both keen volunteers and supporters of the Trust, were returning from one of their regular walks through the reserve leading up to open access land at Ash Cabin flat, when they were met by men in balaclavas and camouflage gear who were blocking the car park exit and preventing them from leaving.

Liz Ballard, Chief Executive of Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust, said:

“This must have been a frightening experience for George and his girlfriend, and certainly not what they expected at the end of an evening walk through through this beautiful reserve.”

The Trust understands the masked men were gamekeepers from the nearby Moscar Estate working with the police, who arrived to question and search George and his girlfriend. The police officer referred to some video footage and told them they were both suspected of snare tampering. In the end there was no such footage, or evidence of any kind, not even a damaged snare.

Liz Ballard with George Taylor at Wyming Brook nature reserve
Liz Ballard with George Taylor at Wyming Brook nature reserve

As a result George has complained to South Yorkshire Police. The Trust understands from George that a Sergeant has since apologised on behalf of South Yorkshire Police for how they treated George and his girlfriend, stating that the officers involved were not trained wildlife crime officers and were out of their depth in dealing with something of this nature. From the apology that George has received from the police, it appears that his complaint was fully justified. There are still a number of unanswered questions that George is pursuing.

Liz Ballard added:

“We welcome the fact that South Yorkshire Police are taking such a proactive approach to ‘rural crime’ issues, it is something we ourselves have been calling for. However, it is disappointing to hear the full account as to how the police approached this situation. Officers need to be well trained in this area of law and consider the evidence before the accusation.”

We hope that South Yorkshire Police will be equally proactive in dealing with illegal snare setting. We would welcome the opportunity to work with the police and help bring the perpetrators of wildlife crime to justice as well as raise the public’s awareness of wildlife law. We are seeking the opportunity to discuss this with South Yorkshire Police wildlife crime officers.

Liz added:

“We really want to encourage people to continue to come and visit Wyming Brook Nature Reserve and help us look after this special place for wildlife”

We also want to be clear: Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust does not condone people tampering with, cutting or removing snares. This is against the law and criminal damage. Please don’t do it. If you do suspect an illegal snare has been set, then take a picture, with GPS and a date stamp, possibly even measure the height off the ground and then report it to the police, and share it with the Trust by emailing takeaction@wildsheffield.com. Please visit birdersagainst.org/rrr for more information about the best way to report wildlife crime.

There are some good examples of estates where land managers are trying to work with nature, such as the Fitzwilliam Wentworth Estate, who are improving habitat for golden plover. However, elsewhere, estates are intensively using snares and stink pits, often to the apparent detriment of non-target species. The Trust is firmly against the excessive use of snares and stink pints. We are concerned that snares and traps may be being set for badgers and affecting non-target species such as mountain hare. We believe stink pits should be banned and snares controlled as they are in Scotland. We call on these estates to consider alternative approaches to managing these internationally important moorlands for wildlife in the National Park. For more information about our campaign on this issue visit wildsheffield.com/campaign/our-moors