£500 fine for man who mistakenly shot buzzard on Ralia Estate pheasant shoot

From an article in today’s P&J:

A protected bird of prey died when an oil executive shot a buzzard he thought to be a pheasant when it flew out of woods on a Highland estate, a court heard yesterday.

Keith Riddoch, of Craigden in Aberdeen, was on a shoot on the Ralia Estate near Newtonmore last November when he made the fatal mistake.

[Ralia Estate in the Cairngorms National Park. Estate boundary details from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website. Map by RPUK]

Even after he fired the first shot of the day, the 65-year-old self-employed consultant was convinced he had bagged a hen pheasant.

But all but one of his fellow “guns” on the same shoot knew that the bird was a raptor. Riddoch was informed of his error at the end of the shoot, Inverness Sheriff Court was told.

[Photo from P&J]

They said it was the first time in their experience that a raptor had been shot by mistake.

The buzzard was so badly injured by the shotgun blast, it had to be destroyed.

Riddoch yesterday denied injuring the bird by recklessly shooting it on November 26 last year at a corporate shoot.

However after hearing evidence from the people accompanying him, including gamekeeper Alistair Lyon, Sheriff Margaret Neilson convicted the businessman of a contravention of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. She fined him £500.

Riddoch refused to comment after the trial, but told the court: “I made a genuine mistake. I didn’t misassess the situation.”

Defence solicitor David McKie accepted his client had made a mistake, but added: “It was negligent or perhaps careless, but not reckless.”

It was accepted by both prosecution and defence that a buzzard was of a similar size and colour as a brown female pheasant.

Mr Lyon was in charge of the outing where beaters scared the birds out of woods into the line of fire.

The 52-year-old gamekeeper told the court: “It was the first shot of the day and I glanced round. I saw the bird falling. It was a brief glimpse. But it didn’t look right. Buzzards fly differently to pheasants. But if it just came out of the trees it would look similar.”

Defence solicitor David McKie said the guilty verdict may have wider consequences for his client, saying he frequently travelled to the USA and the conviction could present problems for entry to the country.

He could also lose his shotgun licence.


Could lose his shotgun licence? Good grief! If he can’t differentiate between a pheasant and a buzzard he shouldn’t be let anywhere near a bloody shotgun!

This is an interesting case. We’re pleased to see a prosecution and even more pleased to see a conviction, which are all too rare, but we’re left wondering how this crime came to the attention of the Police. Did somebody from the shoot alert the Police? Good on them if they did.

43 thoughts on “£500 fine for man who mistakenly shot buzzard on Ralia Estate pheasant shoot”

  1. In all probability it was a genuine mistake, borne of ignorance. The problem is that a. this sort of thing isn’t really the problem and b. the shooting industry will trumpet this as evidence that wildlife crime is prosecuted. Thye may even claim that the gamekeeper reported it to show what good chaps they all are!

    1. It’s about the context. As a member of the general public it would be an easy mistake, but if you shoot, you should know what you are bloody well aiming at. Perhaps bird ID should form part of a licence application. They may be both brown but they are not alike by any stretch of the imagination.

      1. I think pretty much every member of the public should be able to tell the difference between a pheasant and a buzzard. They are so different.

        1. I would actually disagree with you there. I meet quite a lot of people nowadays who haven’t a clue about anything to do with natural history. It isn’t the point in question here because this guy was shooting, but I find that an increasing number of folks walk around with their eyes shut these days. When working with school groups it can be quite revealing just how many know absolutely nothing about the outdoor environment.

  2. The telling line is, of course, “They said it was the first time in their experience that a raptor had been shot by mistake.”

    Why would you say that? Why wouldn’t you say, “It was the first time in their experience that a raptor had been shot”?

  3. Also, if we take this story at face value and accept that it was a genuine mistake, (with the very least that should happen being the bloke’s gun license be removed indefinitely), why did the people who spotted the mistake – all but one of his fellow guns and the keeper – not tell him straight away?

    The only answer to this is that word was spreading among the company that they were going to be shopped to the cops and they were playing damage limitation and getting ready to sacrifice the fall guy.

  4. This highlights the need for a written and practical test before a Shotgun Certificate or Firearms Certificate is issued which I understand is the case in many other countries. Even if it was shot as a genuine mistake there is no excuse for ignorance. Those carrying and using firearms should be able to identify the species being hunted as legal quarry before the trigger is pulled.

    The man has clearly shown himself to be unfit to hold a Shotgun Certificate.

    I, too, am intrigued who reported the incident.

    1. Indeed. No excuse for ignorance especially when one is responsible for something as dangerous – to man and beast – as a shotgun. If people are going to be shooting birds it is surely a bare minimum requirement that they need to be capable of reliably identifying their target within the space of time that a shot presents itself and to have the self control to not pull the trigger if there is any doubt about the identity of the target.

  5. More idiots with guns . Whilst beating I have seen dogs being shot , beaters being peppered with shot , chinless wonders regularly shooting “down the line” , birds and animals being horribly wounded to crawl away and die . But because they were the spaver relations of some lead munching toff ,or owned some car dealership worth millions they were handed one of the scariest, potentially dangerous hand weapons known and set loose on the countryside with no practice, no licence, nothing .
    And they have the bloody cheek to suggest that the raptor workers lack training . They are a bunch of inbreds that inhabit a parallel universe.

    1. I cannot stress too much what a horrible weapon a shotgun is and those who have not fired one or seen its effect at close range have little idea how scary it is . Remember that during the first world War use of shotguns by the Americans elicited a diplomatic protest from the German government claiming that shotguns caused excessive injury and that any troops found with then would be executed.
      Yet we allow anybody some no more than children to wander around our countryside and blast away , perhaps we should lodge a diplomatic protest.

    2. J.Coogan,more than dogs get shot,in years gone by when beating for the toffs was the only way to earn a bit of Christmas beer money I collected some pellets in my backside which meant a trip to the local hospital to get them removed. It was on a local grouse moor and after the whistle had gone to end the drive. It also after the lunch break where no doubt drink had been taken. I did get £5 extra for my troubles.

  6. The bloke is a clown and shouldn’t be anywhere near a shotgun, how many other clowns are walking around with shotguns. But it’s those bastards who are up on the heather moors who we want , they are the root of all the evil that is going on.

  7. I don’t believe a word of his defence!
    I am in a position to make sure all gun licences ( and import licences) match up with the firearm in question and get to talk with a lot of these “shooters” on a daily basis!
    Most of them will shoot anything that moves within there range! Rats, red squirrels, Raptors , pigeons, dear ,ect, indiscriminately!
    They come to our country because of the ” fantastic amount of wildlife ” there is in this country to shoot! And the fact of more controlled gun laws in there own country that won’t allow them to use lead shot in there cartridges or cultivate wildlife to be shot!
    So they end up here spraying toxic lead everywhere whilst depleting all our finest wildlife!
    Including buzzards, falcons and kites !! Disgraceful, and we allow it!

  8. Agree with all the comments above but would add that all shoots ought to be dry. I’m not saying that this man was under the influence but shoots often include lunch with wine and a dram after. Guns, alcohol and idiots are a lethal mix.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, SB. I understand that with some shoots the drinking starts well before lunch, especially if the weather is not too clever. I especially liked your final sentence.
      A (half) serious suggestion – might a petition calling for all shoots to be dry, and making it an offence to consume alcohol while involved in activities involving the discharge of guns, be a useful move at this juncture?
      It might draw attention to yet another dodgy aspect of shooting that many people are not aware of, and it might be quite difficult for politicians, the police and the shooting brigade to argue that it’s OK to mix guns and alcohol on a regular basis.
      I think quite a few ‘moderate’ folk might see the logic of this, both on public safety and wildlife protection grounds.

      1. I think that’s a good idea – after all it is not legal to drink & drive or rather, there are strict limits. Cars & guns are both lethal weapons needing a clear head and quick reactions. My partner’s ex-employer went shooting game and got a face full of lead pellets from a fellow shooter’s gun, losing the sight of one eye and damaging the other. This was, of course, in North Yorkshire that haven for protecting wildlife (!!).

  9. “A buzzard is the same size and shape as a female pheasant”. Yeah right and my name’s Rambling Sid Rumpo and I live on the moon.
    Utter bollox. xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx. Shouldn’t be let loose with a spud gun, never mind a lethal weapon

  10. Can’t believe a person who holds a shotgun certificate and is on a pheasant shoot, (with others) wasn’t careful enough to ID his species before pulling the trigger. Sounds like a rank beginner, who really should have been supervised. Problem with a lot of rich guys, is; they won’t take a telling from anyone (and definitely don’t like being described as a beginner) and just blast away and think, ‘Oops’ will cover any deficiencies in abilities, or judgement. And no one dared to mention the ‘mistake’ until after the shoot was over? Don’t think that is the kind of shooting I used to do.

  11. It’s like mistaking a cow for a deer. Easy mistake to make as it has 4 legs and a head. Fine the wealthy guy £500. That will teach him. #SportMyArse

  12. Interesting blog. Shot by mistake, I can think of two cases of Mute Swans being shot by mistake for geese and both with lead! Then there are the other birds one hears of allegedly being shot on drives or shot at. Grey Partridge on an August grouse drive only missed because the loader knocked his gun up ( I was there!), loader had to do the same again on the next drive but that would have been a beater shot in the face! Anyway back to birds shot on grouse drives ( allegedly) Hen Harrier 2 ( both Nidderdale AONB), Eagle Owl ( Nidderdale AONB), Buzzard ( missed and keeper was furious it was shot at, Nidderdale AONB), Kestrel, missed ( Nidderdale AONB) racing pigeon ( Nidderdale AONB), Peregrine (Bowland AONB). These are just the ones you hear about, although apart from the racing pigeon these were not mistakes! The only ones prosecuted were the swans.

    1. In the case of the Bowland shoot where a Peregrine was allegedly shot two police officers were apparently present but note . THERE WAS NO PROSECUTION.

        1. I do indeed Mick yes and you know exactly who I mean too. If either of them read this blog they will know who we mean and know we know.

    2. Going on those records Paul Spec Savers would do a roaring trade with a mobile clinic on the Nidderdale moors or is it something in the water

      1. Not a case of not being seen it is a case of those seeing it are of the same mind and complicit or will not report for fear of loosing jobs, shooting invites etc. One was seen by a shoot security guy who told me but said if I reported it he would deny it.( he needed the work)
        The Eagle Owl was seen by a guest on the shoot who walked off in disgust and has not been back to that rather notorious estate to shoot since. One of the harriers was investigated but oddly there were no witnesses even after the culprit bragged about it at the after shoot dinner in a pub.
        The Bowland one was the worst where two serving police officers were present and almost certainly saw the alleged event, one is still in the police. But of course these are only allegations.
        I was at the Grey Partridge event and was the beater very nearly shot in the face, gun knocked up and I was hitting the deck! Foreign paying client was not allowed to shoot the rest of the day. I was also at the shoot of the Kestrel event but didn’t see it, I was told afterwards by one of the flankers.

  13. My passion is birds of prey they are so beautiful, I agree this gentleman had to be brought to justice, there is a big difference between a bird of prey and pheasant no excuse for what he did.

  14. Would a conviction for shooting a creature prevent him entering the USA? Maybe they make exceptions for this particular crime!

  15. I’ve mentioned this before, but a good time to repeat it – I have been told by a volunteer at one of our red kite feeding sites that in the very early days they still maintained a pheasant shoot alongside the reintroduction! It seems this came to an end very quickly when some of the pheasant shooters took pot shots at the kites ‘mistaking’ them for pheasants. Think just blasting anything that moves when you’ve spent significant spondolics for a day’s shooting may be more the real cause if not outright raptorphobia, but anyways these people shouldn’t have a gun. Another point was this was on a corporate day out, I’ve heard that some of the big banks take their clients out for a day’s shooting too. About time corporations stopped their execs/members partaking of this particular ‘sport’ when there are thing so much better for wildlife and society they could be doing? The local conservation group hosted groups from RBS and the DWP doing practical conservation work in a woodland within an area of social deprivation, I know this is not quite the same as ‘corporate hospitality’ days, but at least the latter shouldn’t be so bloody damaging and contentious.

    1. Yet when Kites were first introduced to North Yorkshire on the Harewood estate the keepers were more than happy to report and show photographs of a long branch featuring a mixture of roosting Red Kites and Pheasants packed like roosting Starlings.

  16. I havnt read all the posts. but the old saying, ‘ignorance is not an excuse’ ( or something like that), is the point here. Assuming it was a mistake, and he just shot at a biggish, brown bird as soon as left tree cover, is criminal enough.Can you imagine if deer hunters shot at big brown ‘things’ moving out of tree cover without being pretty sure of the target, how many game keepers could get injured.
    The estate owners should be fined also; they should be made responsible for any acts committed on their land whether directly at fault or not….though, as noted, we dont know how the information got out, so this could lead to more cover ups.

  17. A buzzard is shot by mistake maybe quite rare, though buzzards shot deliberately or deliberately killed by other means is probably quite common.

  18. “I made a genuine mistake. I didn’t misassess the situation.”

    What a moronic statement! If he didn’t missassess the situation how come he shot a protected species in the belief that it was a pheasant?

  19. I have been by the Ralia Estate several times in the last year and each time I have seen buzzards in the woods around North Drumochter Lodge where it appears this pheasant shoot took place. I find that interesting, as while the estate does lots of crow trapping, it appears to tolerate and possibly welcomes buzzards. What is unexplained in this case is whether the estate gave any warning to shooters that other birds than pheasants, including buzzards, might be flushed from the wood. If they did give a warning and the man ignored it that might just explain the referral to the police. The lesson here, in terms of the drive to license shooting, is that a requirement of any shooting license should be that the holders of the license ensure guests can identify different bird species and have the self-control not to shoot at something they cannot identify.

  20. i agree that ‘Ignorance is not an excuse. before going on a pheasant shoot these people must be shown photographs of what not to shoot and look first before you pull the trigger. There are too many licences given far too easily.

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