Police investigate Cambridge rowers for “causing unnecessary suffering to an animal” after wildlife are killed

The crime carries a penalty of up to six years in prison.

cam cambridge students ducklings may bumps river Rowing University of Cambridge

The Tab can reveal that Cambridgeshire police have narrowed down their investigation of anti-avian crimes on the Cam.

Cambridgeshire police have begun investigating two potential offences – which may have been committed accidentally by oar-happy rowers – “criminal damage and causing unnecessary suffering to an animal” following reports that a cygnet and a number of ducklings were killed on the River Cam in Cambridge.

Officers were called at about 12.50pm on Saturday (June 11) with reports that the animals were killed after a group of rowers ploughed through them. In an appeal for information, Chief Inspector James Sutherland said: “I believe there was a large number of people in the area at the time of the incident and would ask that any witnesses contact us, particularly those who may have video footage.”

The offences are now being investigated by the Rural Crime Action Team.  The latter comes under the remit of the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, and comes with a maximum penalty of six years in prison or £20,000 in fines.

This year, the waters of the Cam during May Bumps turned a slightly pinker shade of murky after multiple deaths on the river. On June 10, a duckling was reportedly killed by a crew making its way to the start line.

The following day, one cygnet and a number of ducklings were ploughed through. Some reports claimed that one or more of the ducklings had been decapitated by the oars.

A representative for the police told The Tab they could not comment on whether they had identified specific colleges or students while the investigation was ongoing.

Two dead ducklings were rescued from the Cam. Photo credit: Geoff Robinson.

On 4 July, a member of the Rural Crime Action Team contacted the Cambridge University Combined Boat Clubs (CUCBC) to warn that “all coxswain are responsible for their actions and that prosecutions could result under the wildlife and countryside act [sic] 1981”.

His email continued: “The Rural crime action team are currently investigating possible offences against swans and cygnets on the Cam. There is continued evidence being provided to us of potential offences.”

The original email contained photos of the “swan incident”, although these were not included in the version supplied to The Tab. It is not clear whether this incident is separate to the incidents of June 10 and 11, which included ducklings and a cygnet.

The email was forwarded on to captains and coxes, suggesting that it may be “more appropriate to draw blades in as opposed to lifting them”.

However, Robert Shearme, who rowed in May Bumps, said: “There was someone deliberately baiting the swans into swimming into the paths of boats with bread. It seems that people who dislike rowing, especially college rowers, are trying to make us look like wildlife killers. This has happened several times. Someone was baiting them into the paths of fully moving VIIIs and then shouting at the rowers.”

ARC is committed to ending animal exploitation.

A representative of Animal Rights Cambridge told The Tab that while there had been some progress, they would be willing to “start a campaign with demos and race disruptions once again if things are not put right”.  He said that in 2012 they had successfully delayed May Bumps for two hours by taking to the river “in a boat dressed as swans”.

A university spokesperson said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation.”

The Tab has disabled comments to prevent the identification of individuals who may be involved in the investigation.