The Secret Monitor

The Secret Monitor: Endsleigh Shoot, Devon

Damaging stories from inside hunting, shooting, and the badger cull have been circulating for years. Everything from breaking the law to assaults or harassment of monitors and the public while a police force seems happy to ‘look the other way’.

But there is always someone watching, always someone listening. The Secret Monitor.

In this post the Secret Monitor is reporting from  Devon where they have been talking with local residents about the Endsleigh Shoot. What makes this report particularly interesting is just how interconnected so many various parties are – the Endsleigh and Hardicott Estates, Hotel Endsleigh, and the Endsleigh Shoot itself. The Secret Monitor is not suggesting a conspiracy (criminal or otherwise) but it is fascinating to look at the webs that bind together what might loosely be called the ‘shooting industry’ – and all seemingly at best uncritical and at worst supportive of its practices.


Tamar Valley AONB (now Tamar Valley National Landscape) and the Hotel Endsleigh. Copyright Google Maps


At the heart of this report are the Endsleigh Shoot, and the Endsleigh and Hardicott Estates, which are found at the northern end of the Tamar Valley National Landscape (the rebranded name for Oustanding Areas of Natural  Beauty). 

The Endsleigh Estate was formerly owned by the Dukes of Bedford before it was broken up after the 1950s. It borders the Hardicott Estate which is approximately 33km/21 miles north of Plymouth. 

The owner of the Hardicott Estate, Philip Tuckett, who leases the land for the Endsleigh Shoot self-described as a ‘complete sporting experience’ and ‘famous for birds that are shot in Devon and picked in Cornwall’ – was a former High Sheriff of Devon and a Deputy Lieutenant of Devon. In addition, he was a former director/member of the Endsleigh Fishing Club who owned Endsleigh House. Endsleigh House was sold for a hotel, now Hotel Endsleigh. The owner of the Hardicott Estate signed as the vendor.

When Endsleigh House was sold, one of many clauses in the Title Deeds in favour of the Hardicott Estate stated:

  • ‘not to make any claim in nuisance or otherwise in relation to any lawful agricultural or sporting practice that may take place on the adjoining or neighbouring land of the vendor.’
  • ‘the full and exclusive right and privilege with all persons authorised by the vendor at all times of driving shooting fowling sporting killing and carrying away for his or their own used all manner of game ground game and such deer snipe woodcock wildfowl and other birds or animals as it shall be lawful to shoot kill or take (the “Sported Animals”) on and over the property…’


The Secret Monitor is aware that a number of properties on the Endsleigh estate sold by the fishing club also had clauses/covenants added that referred to not interfering with the shooting on the Hardicott Estate.

So shooting was baked into the future of the Endsleigh Estate. Ironically, the Hardicott Estate owner’s wife, Antonia Tuckett (nee Darwall), wrote a letter to hunting magazine Horse and Hound in 2021 about noisy fireworks frightening animals. Loud, sudden explosions when fireworks go off are well-known to cause panic in wildlife and companion animals alike and it is undoubtedly a serious issue – but then again so is the similar-sounding blast from shotguns.

The four months of pheasant shooting on their land and the impact that has on wildlife (and on local residents) seemed to have passed her by…

(As an aside, if the name ‘Darwall’ rings a bell that may be because of hedge fund manager Alexander Darwall, who bought the 4,000-acre Blachford Estate on Dartmoor in 2022, and promptly tried to ban ‘wild camping’ – because it would impact the thousands of pheasants he’d brought in for a new shoot! The Secret Monitor has been told that Antonia is a cousin of Alexander! What a small world…)

Hotel Endsleigh

A large house on the Endsleigh estate is now a five-star hotel, Hotel Endsleigh. Olga Polizzi bought the hotel in 2004. She is the daughter of hotelier Lord Forte and sister to Sir Rocco Forte – the latter featured in an article in the Daily Mail back in 2008 which explained that ‘Sir Rocco’ had severely damaged his hearing because of ‘long days on the grouse moor ‘ with Rocco himself saying that he doesn’t know anyone of his generation who shoots ‘who hasn’t got some degree of hearing impairment’. When advised to give up blasting birds out of the air, he responded “There was no way I was going to; it’s a great social activity which I do as often as I can.” So often, in fact, that this was the louche who famously lost the opening round of a hostile takeover of the Trusthouse-Forte empire by Granada’s Gerry Robinson because he was 250 miles away – shooting pheasants.

Hotel Endsleigh – which has a very close relationship with the Endsleigh Shoot and is named as a ‘Hotel partner’ on the shoot’s website – has been managed in the past by Olga’s daughter Alex Polizzi of Channel 5’s ‘Hotel Inspector’ fame. Alex is currently listed as Director of the Endsleigh Fishing Club (hotel lands extend along part of the River Tamar and they have fishing rights there) – which of course sold Endsleigh House to Olga Polizzi in the first place…



Endsleigh Shoot

Of most interest to the Secret Monitor is the Endsleigh Shoot, run by a financial advisor who lives in Gloucestershire.

The shoot is located in the Tamar Valley National Landscape, a beautiful part of the country described by Sarah Gibson, Tamar Valley National Landscape manager, as “a place to breathe where Nature thrives”. No doubt it is, just not in this particular part of it…


As with so many other shoots, breathless descriptions abound. Their website talks in slightly abstract terms that don’t allow distracting thoughts of live targets, trapping and killing of native predators, or the percussive blast of multiple shotguns to disrupt the fun.

It describes the shooting as taking “advantage of the deep Tamar valleys to offer an outstanding spectrum of high-bird drives with picturesque pegs along the Tamar Valley“. The description of a ‘typical day’ is written in the sort of effusively self-congratulatory language that reinforces just how different – and unempathetic – people who sell killing birds for a day out really are (and it’s not just pheasants they are casual about, it’s spelling and grammar too as the screenshot below demonstrates):

screenshot from endsleigh shoot website


Guns shoot across three steep wooded valleys throughout the day, apparently, with drives tailored to the guests’ shooting. Travelling to Endsleigh and slaughtering pheasants in those ‘steep wooded valleys’ whilst also enjoying everything Hotel Endsleigh has to offer doesn’t come cheap. A listing on the Guns N’ Pegs website suggests that in one date in October 2024 the cost to shoot at Endsleigh will be a staggering £3667 per gun. Rooms at the Hotel start at £305, suites are considerably more.

As the cost of living crisis drags on, it’s shocking to realise just how much some people are willing to spend on killing birds for fun. And how out of touch with normality shooting lobbyists are when they try and flog shooting as a social cohesive for rural communities…


Life for the local residents

if you’re not casually dropping in to blow birds out of the air, being pampered, and then leaving again when you’re done, things do look very different.

Local residents are given no choice when it comes to putting up with the shooting. They have had to call the police about obstruction, shooting from and across rights of way (not a crime per se, but very intimidating), and about shot landing on other properties (which is ‘constructive trespass’, a civil offence).


Endsleigh Shoot 28 October 2023. This scene was photographed on a right of way for hotel guests and staff, Landmark Trust holiday cottage visitors, residents and all the connected custom. Note the firearm (which is presumably ready to fire) and the dead pheasant left lying on the grass verge. After numerous complaints, police later told the Shoot ‘guns’ could not shoot from besides the road.


Most of us would reasonably expect we might get some help in trying to sort these problems out, but they have had markedly little success in even getting a response about what they should do.

One sorry sequence of events told to the Secret Monitor began on 28th November 2023 with an email to the then Tamar Valley Organisation, now Tamar Valley National Landscape, to request a copy of their policy regarding on bird shooting in the Tamar Valley NL.

  • No reply was received.


Another email was sent on 6 December 2023.

  • Again, no reply.


On 19 December the same resident emailed three third-party sites, copying in the Tamar Valley Organisation, to ask if they could help.

  • That email prompted a reply from Valerie Darwall and the information that their request had been passed on to the National Landscape Manager (presumably that would have been Sarah Gibson, who is quoted above).


There was no reply from the National Landscape Manager so on 25 March 2024 another email was sent.

  • On 25 March Valerie Darwall emailed again to say she had requested the National Landscape Manager to respond as a matter of urgency. As of mid-June 2024 when this post was published there had still been no reply.


But who is Valerie Darwall anyway? She is married to Will Darwall – a well-known conservationist in the Tamar Valley National Landscape (TVNL) via Tamara, a partnership scheme with TVNL and others. Tamara has “a 5-year project that aims to create a brighter future for the Tamar Valley and its communities, by creating opportunities and positive change through a programme of 10 exciting projects”. Will Darwall manages the Tamara Partnership team and “overseas [sic] the delivery of the Scheme”. He may not be the ‘National Landscape Manager’ his wife is trying to get hold of, but he sure as heck knows the person who is. Will is also the brother of Antonia – who wrote to Horse and Houd to complain about fireworks and is the wife of the owner of the Hardicott Estate…

Illegal killing of pheasants – on video

While all this was going on, a local resident filmed the illegal killing of numerous pheasants by employees of the Endsleigh Shoot on 19 February 2024 – well outside the pheasant shooting ‘season’ which ends on 1 February in England.

The pheasants were trapped inside a cage on the Hardicott Estate. Two gamekeepers are seen entering and (presumably using a ‘priest’ to smash the skulls of the birds) kill every single pheasant, removing them and throwing them into the back of their vehicle.

While ‘catching up’ undoubtedly goes on out of season (read these comments on the Stalking Directory forum to understand how true that is) these pheasants are now legally ‘wild birds’ and protected by law. They can only be killed if they are sick and a specific licence has been issued by Natural England. Sick birds tend not to be so lively, but had these birds been diagnosed as ‘sick’ (perhaps with extremely virulent Avian Flu H5N1) the lack of biosecurity and personal hygiene precautions in evidence are just staggering.

It’s pretty clear this is nothing more than routine ‘tidying up’ of healthy birds. Healthy birds no longer ‘required’ because they can’t be shot again until the autumn and may be attracting predators like foxes in the meantime. It makes you wonder how often a blind eye is turned to this practice, especially when a Devon and Cornwall Police ‘Wildlife officer’ stated to the resident who reported this crime that ‘they are their birds and therefore can do what they like with them‘. That’s simply incorrect, and thankfully an investigating officer disagreed.

The Secret Monitor was sent a video of the incident which has been slightly edited for length, but is otherwise unchanged:

WARNING: Many people will find this footage distressing.

It’s not unusual for even wildlife crime officers not to know wildlife law (anyone who sabs or monitors fox hunts will know that all too well), but there is even more to this story.

The Secret Monitor was shown a series of emails which documents that the video evidence posted above was first sent to the police on 21 February 2024. The resident concerned “originally and probably naively” thought their prompt action would result in the trap being taken down immediately. Not quite. After several conversations with the police a witness statement was finally taken by telephone on 4 March 2024, but the trap was only taken down a few days before that on 29 February – more than a week after it was reported.

Discussions with the police had confirmed that the only defence that the perpetrators had was if the birds were diseased. This fitted with the research the residents had undertaken to work out that they had indeed recorded a crime taking place. So why was the cage not removed earlier?

There followed yet another silence, but almost two weeks later, on Tuesday 26 March, they received an update from their police contact who responded after speaking with his sergeant. Incredibly they were told that:

One rule?

To their credit, the resident raised a number of extremely valid concerns with the police – concerns that are summarised by the Secret Monitor below and which will (again) be recognised by many of us working in this sector:

  • How a law is enforced should be independent of public opinion. Witnessing the illegal killing of dozens and dozens of birds is a crime regardless of a perceived ‘backlash’ and should be acted upon,


  • According to a 2018 article by the Law Society even six years ago an average day of court time costs £2,692. Many court cases must therefore cost more than any gain from the eventual fine/outcome. It should not be a determinant of whether they are heard in court or not.


  • Wildlife crime isn’t headline-grabbing, but very many people do care and are outraged and offended by it. Yes, other people view ‘bloodsports’ as acceptable, but far more of us do not. If the law isn’t enforced when wildlife crimes are committed, what recourse does the public have?


  • In this case a report was made by a member of the public who was brave enough to come forward and who provided the appropriate evidence, yet the police still just gave the gamekeepers a caution. Who takes that decision – essentially deciding that a law is not ‘important’ – and under what pressure? The ‘fieldsports’ lobby is very influential, but it’s surely just a coincidence that prominent estates and a former High Sheriff of Devon are involved, and that the former attorney-general Sir Geoffrey Cox, the Conservative MP for Torridge and Tavistock (since the General Election was called he is now the candidate of course) lives just two miles from Endsleigh: he regularly plays the ‘rural community card but has a poor voting record when it comes to biodiversity and is a known supporter of foxhunting (he has been photographed hosting the Lamerton Hunt on land he owns in Devon)…


  • Yet again the perpetrators, their employers, and supporters of wildlife crime learn they might receive nothing more than a “slap on the wrist” for breaking the law. This is another example of people who feel entitled, who are usually armed, and who are getting away with crime. This is extremely intimidating for anyone who risks coming forward to challenge them.


Nothing happens in isolation

As Protect the Wild showed with its digging into the tangled relationship between the Emily Estate, the Newt in Somerset (which Emily Estate owns), and the criminal Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt (which the Newt refuses to stop hosting and the Emily Estate allows to ride over its land), nothing happens in isolation.

As stated at the start of this article there is no evidence of a conspiracy, but it is clear that the main players – the estates, the hotel, and the shoot – all know each other, support each other, and are inextricably linked. It is perhaps pointless to speculate what pressure might have been applied to ensure that no action was taken against two gamekeepers who broke the law because frankly gamekeepers are always getting away with breaking the law – even when there is so much clear evidence. It’s shameful and only reinforces the view of shooting that many have: that it is entitled, couldn’t care less what anyone outside their circle thinks, and is underpinned by a horrible lack of welfare for the ‘live targets’ it sells to its clients

  • Shooters themselves have been called ‘wilfully blind’ on numerous occasions: in other words, they don’t appear to want to know (or even care) what goes into a day out blasting pheasants, partridges, or grouse out of the air: criminality, the disturbance of people who don’t share their need to kill, the relentless slaughter of native predators and ‘surplus’ birds alike. It is just – as the ‘typical day’ screenshot above shows – all about spending inconceivably large amounts of money to have fun, knocking down as many live targets as possible, congratulating themselves on their good taste and social circles, then going home again and forgetting all about it.