Police probe traps baited with live pigeons on Norfolk estate

The gated private road to Hilborough House.

The gated private road to Hilborough House. - Credit: Evelyn Simak/Geograph

A police investigation is under way into whether live pigeons were used as bait to kill birds of prey on a Norfolk estate.

Officers went to the Hilborough House estate belonging to William van Cutsem, 42, a close friend of Prince William and godfather to Prince George, as part of a probe into alleged wildlife offences.

It follows an allegation that illegal methods had been used to kill wildlife that posed a threat to the 4,500-acre estate's renowned flock of wild partridges.

It is illegal to target protected birds of prey such as buzzards or use outdated traps and poison to cull predators.

Hilborough gamekeepers use legal methods for vermin control, including the shooting of foxes and trapping of crows.

A report in the Mail on Sunday newspaper said that the probe may have been launched following a malicious complaint, and there is no suggestion the allegations are in any way related to Mr van Cutsem himself. 

Hilborough House

Hilborough House, part of the 4,4000 acre estate near Swaffham. - Credit: Archant

Norfolk police confirmed officers from the Operation Randall rural crime team and other agencies had attended woodland close to the A1065 at Hilborough at 5pm on April 29.

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A spokesperson said it came after they “received intelligence” that a bird of prey had been caught in a trap baited with a live pigeon, an offence under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

“While in the wood, officers discovered a trap set with a live pigeon. The pigeon was released by officers and is being looked after by another organisation on behalf of the police,” they added.

“At about 7pm, the officers saw two men in the same wood. The men were stopped and searched, and officers discovered a police-style baton in a vehicle being used by one of the men.

“Four live pigeons, one deceased pigeon and the police-style baton were among the items seized by police. The pigeons are currently being cared for on behalf of the police.”

The investigation is on-going and witnesses or anybody with information is being urged to come forward, the spokesperson added.

William van Cutsem

William van Cutsem. - Credit: Archant

Prince William is said to be a regular visitor to the Hilborough estate, near Swaffham, which has won awards for its conservation work protecting endangered species, including curlews, lapwings and grey partridges.

Mr Van Cutsem's father Hugh, a friend of Prince Charles, who died in 2013, bought the estate in 1986 and began a programme to restore conditions for game and wildlife. It is now regarded as one of the UK’s best game shoots. 

Mr Van Cutsem has been approached for comment.

• Anybody with information is asked to contact PC Chris Shelley, a rural crime officer at Norfolk Police, on 101 quoting investigation number 36/31685/22.