Scottish gamekeeper pleads guilty to animal cruelty offence

A Scottish gamekeeper has been banned from keeping birds of prey for 10 years after keeping an eagle owl in a cramped pigsty.

The large owl was discovered by SSPCA investigators last summer.

This week gamekeeper Alan Wilson admitted failing to protect the bird from suffering when he appeared at Jedburgh Sheriff Court.

The court heard how the 59-year-old kept the owl in a filthy boarded-up pigsty at his home at Henlaw Cottages, near Longformacus.

Photos by SSPCA

Jedburgh Sheriff Court was told that investigators received a tip-off and found the owl in “utterly unacceptable living conditions” on June 5 2017.

Gamekeeper Wilson pleaded guilty to the offence under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2006.

Wilson was ordered to sign over custody of the owl to the Scottish SPCA and in addition to the 10 year disqualification, he was fined £400.

An undercover Scottish SPCA spokesman said: “This case involved an eagle owl who had its welfare compromised by being kept in utterly unacceptable living conditions.

The Scottish SPCA worked in partnership with Police Scotland to seize and rescue the bird as well as providing expertise.

Both wild and captive raptors can suffer if their welfare falls below that of adequate standards.

Eagle owls are large, strong predators and like all captive predators require specialist care and expertise.

The eagle owl is currently being cared for by the Scottish SPCA and is doing well.”

Excellent partnership-working between Police Scotland and the SSPCA. Well done to all involved.

We believe this case is connected to the multi-agency raid on a game shooting estate last June (see here). It is not known if any further charges are being brought in relation to that raid.

It’s not the first time a gamekeeper with an Eagle Owl has come to the attention of the authorities in this region. In April last year we blogged about an unidentified gamekeeper who had been photographed with a tethered Eagle Owl on a grouse moor in the nearby Lammermuirs (see here).

28 thoughts on “Scottish gamekeeper pleads guilty to animal cruelty offence”

  1. That must be a mistake, we all know how gamekeepers are the custodians of the countryside and the real conservationists.

    Is it not possible that the eagle owl flew into that prison cell and was simply unable to free itself? My only real surprise is that the gamekeeper hasn’t done xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx and either shot his own bird or poisoned it.

  2. I am not referring to this or any other “live” case when I say to the readers of this blog, that Eagle Owls have been successfully used to lure in birds of prey [which will attack other predators, particularly near their own nests] to nets – the birds are then ringed and released unharmed. …Just saying….

      1. Very unlikely. It is very difficult to train owls to hunt and the relinquish the prey they have caught. This makes them the most difficult of all predators to train for hunting.
        Also gamekeepers are interested in culling high numbers. This is never possible with trained birds of prey.

        There was no mention of any breach of the law regarding the origin of the owl so one could assume it was purchased legitimately.

  3. Wonder why a gamekeeper would wish to keep a large again predator?

    Wonder why a gamekeeper who is well able to care for the needs of a great many birds ( pheasants, partridge and grouse)
    Would not provide an eagle owl basic care ?

    Its a mystery to me?

  4. I’m not sure whether or not Dave Dick’s tongue was firmly in his cheek, but although Eagle Owls have been used for luring birds of prey in the manner he described, I doubt that the gamekeeper involved is a qualified bird ringer. Some gamekeepers do keep birds of prey, especially Eagle Owls, as a side hobby and for ‘sporting’ purposes. However it is not unknown for keepers to assist the local fox hunt by taking along a stooge Eagle Owl under the pretext of it killing the foxes after the hounds have flushed them from cover, ‘accidentally’ of course. If the owl is being kept as a working bird rather than a pet, it is almost customary to house them in cramped dark conditions, just like some shepherds chain up their sheepdogs.

    1. “If the owl is being kept as a working bird rather than a pet, it is almost customary to house them in cramped dark conditions”
      I don’t recognise the circumstances described in this comment. Can you back this up by quoting evidence?
      If it is a regular occurrence why so few prosecutions?

      1. No comment on the conviction or the actions of the individual involved? only interested in deflection of the issue at hand?

        I recognise this type of defense, are you by any chance involved in game shooting?

        1. No.
          Interested in the accuracy of this blog which is generally very good and inaccuracy detracts from its veracity.

      2. My evidence is my own eyes and experience over many years of dealing with the farming and shooting community. I have no friends who are gamekeepers these days since they became aware of my conservation politics, but used to speak in confidence with some, and after a few drinks down the pub there’s nothing they like better than to gossip about their peers. As for Eagle Owls, although I would never keep a captive raptor myself, I was not criticising falconers who generally take great care of their birds, only the gamekeeprs who treat their birds of prey as just another tool in their armoury.

  5. I do hope his wrist isn’t hurting too much. Next question is ‘where did he get his owl from”? And wait for the Moorland Mob and SGA to claim the owl was being used to attract crows – and of course you are right Dave, this would be for ringing purposes – their necks probably if they were only wounded! And we shouldn’t forget that as Mick reminds us, gamekeepers are great conservationists who love birds of prey and are the real guardians of the countryside! Well at least Wilson didn’t plead ‘not guilty me lord’, and it was a sort of miracle in itself – the CPS didn’t throw it out. Oh I forgot, he pleaded guilty didn’t he, so even they couldn’t crawl out of slapping his wrist. RPUK, do we know if he’s a member of the SGA, and if so, are they going to throw him out? And also does he still have his job? If so, which Estate does he work for?

  6. Stranger and stranger , the plot thickens .
    Lets not kid ourselves we know why these poor birds are kept,( just look at the state of that magnificent bird) they are “working” birds, kept under the same disgusting conditions as most of them keep their dogs and ferrets.
    The dogs of one keeper I knew were only taken out, ALL YEAR on shooting days . For those that don’t know, that means months and months on end locked up . Then he wondered why they went crazy when let out. They were fed crap and their life expectancy was very short . I know at least one occasion when he shot one of his dogs with his own shotgun because” it was done” without seeking veterinary help . I often heard him bragging about this, it made him a” hard man” in his mates eyes.
    These bastards are sub human, and it is still happening right now.

    1. It cracks me up on those ‘The True Story of…’ videos from Pace Productions when they’ve obviously got the least objectionable keepers available, tarted them up and stuck them in front of the camera where they adopt a very, very sweet tone of voice and do their best to look all hurt, misunderstood and unappreciated. You’d think they were girl guides. Of course it falls to bits when they get to the slightly gruffer ones the moment they utter ‘vermin’ shows you just can’t polish a turd. Vermin is a word like witch, a projection of bile and ignorance that actually denigrates the person using it.

      1. Yes, the gentle craft of intensive grouse moor management in a romantic setting with lovely gentlemen doing a wonderful job of trying to gain sympathy from those who don’t know otherwise! The Pace brothers do a podcast, Les, and they’ve interviewed some interesting people. I recently listened to their chat with the GWCT’s Andrew Gilruth. Interesting stuff, but they hang onto Gilruth’s every word and suggest listeners re-visit the videos Chris Packham/Mark Avery made where they criticise driven grouse shooting and compare them with Gilrith’s ‘facts’ to get the truth. The trouble with those two is that they’re utterly biased in favour of shooting, of course.

        1. I’ve heard the podcast they did with Adam Smith of the GWCT and Duncan Orr Ewing of the RSPB. Duncan did very well and I noticed that when he said that since they’ve ‘diversified’ at their Abernethy reserve away from a purely ‘sporting’ estate this has resulted in more employment this was met with absolute silence from the others, there’s more employment created by moving away from the traditional ‘sporting’ estate and they know it. Rather sneakily when the session was made available the Pace brothers claimed in their introduction, recorded post interview, they’d went easy on the RSPB!

  7. I’ve seen footage of a large bird of prey being carried on a quad bike and used for what purposes I do not know during illegal fox hunting. what I saw was abusive to the bird. these people are all brutal thugs and the law is often disinterested in the law being broken on openly on the side of the criminals breaking the animal welfare laws and anti hunting laws.

  8. This is an excellent example of what the SSPCA can bring to the table.

    Those with the view that wildlife crime should only be the responsibility of police take note. True partnership working has been shown time and time again to be the key to success in what is a very difficult area.

    It is beyond belief why SOME within the police,Snh,government and COPFS should be so unwilling to promote a true partnership approach and not the lip service approach of what is PAW.

  9. Remember clutches of these birds have disappeared from English moors . These have probably been captive bred or traded through their murky grape vine. Marta is correct they are brutal thugs.

    1. I suppose it’s cheaper to rob a nest of chicks (if you can find one), but it is not difficult to purchase an Eagle Owl through various falconry websites. An Eagle Owl would typically set you back £200-300.

  10. I think all gamekeepers should have unannounced visits from the SSPCA and police animal welfare people as I do not believe this is an isolated incident. Gamekeepers are not countryside guardians they are merely cruel lackeys who protect their masters interests. How can you love one species but be so cruel to others? I realise there will be a cost and the BASC (the shooting association) should pay as they gain lots of subsidies etc. so it should be down to them to fund these audits.

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