Gamekeeper convicted as birds of prey die in trap

A gamekeeper in the Scottish Borders has been convicted today after two supposedly protected birds of prey (a barn owl and a goshawk) died inside a trap which he neglected to check.

There’s an article about this case in the Border Telegraph this evening, which I’ll copy below, and then I’ll add some further commentary below that.

Here’s the Border Telegraph piece:

Borders gamekeeper ‘recklessly’ killed two protected birds

A GAMEKEEPER who recklessly killed two protected birds on a Borders estate by leaving open the door of a multi crow cage trap [Ed: see commentary at foot of this blog] has been fined £300 at Selkirk Sheriff Court.

An owl and a goshawk perished from exposure and a lack of food and water at Cathpair Farm near Stow on September 13 last year.

Fifty-three-year-old Peter Givens, of Keepers Cottage, Cathpair, pleaded guilty to recklessly taking and killing the wild birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

[A barn owl. Photo by Anan Kaewkhammul]

His lawyer explained that Givens had used the crow trap for the lambing season earlier in the year but thought had had [sic] secured it properly when no longer required.

Wildlife and environmental crime depute fiscal Joe Stewart said: “An ecologist carrying out a survey on the estate came across a crow cage trap near some woodland.

“He noticed a barn owl lying deceased in the trap which was in an advanced state of decomposition and had obviously been there for a long time.

“The door was closed and the trap was in use.

“The local wildlife police attended carrying out a search and he found another bird in the trap which was a goshawk.”

An identification tag on the trap was traced to Givens.

Mr Stewart said the trap should have been removed.

Givens’ lawyer said his client had been a gamekeeper for more than 30 years and had no previous convictions.

He said around the start of the COVID pandemic in March 2020 the trap was put in place and checked on a regular basis in case other birds were trapped.

He explained that there had been a lot of crows at the start of the lambing season but this had tailed off by May.

The lawyer continued: “He thought the trap had been deactivated. There was no intention to keep the trap operating.

“What happened on September 13 came as a shock to him and a source of embarrassment and sadness for the damage he has caused.

“He has accepted he failed to deactivate the trap properly.

“He accepts his conduct was reckless but it was not intentional and he is very remorseful.”

Sheriff Peter Paterson said: “This was an oversight rather than an intentional act.

“It was not a deliberate act to trap predators with the unintended consequences.”

Sheriff Paterson added: “I take into account your spotless record and while this was reckless, it was not intentional.”

He reduced the fine from £375 to £300 to reflect the guilty plea with a £20 victim surcharge added.


Ok, so first a technical correction on the court reporter’s write up in the Border Telegraph. The article states the gamekeeper had killed the two birds of prey ‘by leaving open the door of a multi crow cage trap’. This can’t be accurate. Had he left the door open, the barn owl and the goshawk would have been able to escape! What is more likely to have happened is the gamekeeper kept the cage door shut, which is an offence if the trap is no longer in use because, as we’ve seen, birds can enter the trap through a roof opening (either a ‘ladder’ or funnel design) but then they cannot escape back up.

Anybody who operates a multi-cage crow trap under the General Licences in Scotland MUST render the trap ‘incapable of use’ if the trap is not being used, and this means either removing the door entirely or padlocking it open. Leaving the door closed when the trap is not in use is an offence.

I was interested to read the gamekeeper’s lawyer’s defence: “…..the gamekeeper thought he had secured it properly when no longer required“. I’m not sure how someone can believe they’ve secured a cage trap ‘properly’ if they haven’t obeyed the General Licence terms and conditions and either (a) removed the door or (b) padlocked it open. There’s no possibility of ‘accidentally’ doing half a job here – you either remove the door or you don’t, or you padlock the door open, or you don’t.

I was also interested to see that the guilty gamekeeper was 53 years old and had been a gamekeeper for ‘more than 30 years’. These were details given by his lawyer in his defence. I’d argue that those details should have gone against the gamekeeper – he’s been in the wildlife-killing business for long enough to know the risks and certainly to know the law. Indeed, I understand Peter Givens was the former Head Gamekeeper on nearby Raeshaw Estate. This is an estate that has been at the centre of multiple wildlife crime investigations for many, many years and was the subject of the very first General Licence restriction in 2015, based on clear police evidence that wildlife crimes had been committed there, although there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual (see here).

Even after the General Licence restriction was imposed on Raeshaw Estate, even more alleged wildlife crimes were uncovered which resulted in the estate’s Individual licences being revoked by SNH in 2017 (here).

There is no evidence nor indeed suggestion that Peter Givens was involved in any of those alleged offences but the point of highlighting this background is that he would certainly have been aware of the police investigations and thus the importance of adhering to the law, which he failed to do in this latest case (which incidentally did not take place on Raeshaw Estate – Givens has since moved to a smaller shoot].

The lawyer also made a point of telling the Sheriff that Givens had no previous convictions, and his ‘spotless record’ was taken in to account by Sheriff Paterson when Givens was sentenced.

And the punishment for ‘recklessly’ killing two Schedule 1 birds of prey? A £300 fine and a £20 victim surcharge.

You can decide for yourselves whether this will be sufficient deterrent for other gamekeepers to ensure they adhere to the terms and conditions of the General Licences to prevent protected species being trapped in a literal death trap and starving to death.

35 thoughts on “Gamekeeper convicted as birds of prey die in trap”

  1. Should have been a 4 figure sum per bird as a fine or preferably as a victim surcharge and jail time. “Sorry Mr Sheriff it wasn’t deliberate it was an accident” —-My Arse, what a gullible fool the sheriff is.

    1. The Sheriff probably is not a gullible fool – more likely is provided with complimentary invites to the shoots !!!

  2. Yet another case of our legal system accepting what I view as a contrived context designed to lower the culpability of an offender of a “profession” coated in teflon, for reasons much discussed on sites designed to combat crimes such as these. I can’t imagine such leniency being given to badger baiters orm hare coursers who lack the support of rich landowners… or the acceptance of such a flimsy, and many might say fraudulant mitigation.
    This is yet another reason to develop different tactics where surveillance is embarked upon with the end game being it’s presentation to the public via social media. It appears to be working well for the Sabs who are combating the same demographic in the same field of crime.
    As it stands the publication in a small newspaper and on social media sites only followed by the dedicated few — and this is not taking away from your own much appreciated gargantuan efforts — is not reaching as many of the public as we would wish.

  3. This surely can’t be true? Gamekeepers are all whiter than white! Every single crow cage trap or snare in the country is fastidiously checked when they are supposed to be! So I’m told.

  4. Good that a wildlife crime has been successfully prosecuted. Many thanks to the ecologist who reported it and to the team who secured the conviction.

    1. Sheriff Peter Paterson said: “This was an oversight rather than an intentional act.

      “It was not a deliberate act to trap predators with the unintended consequences.”

      Of course it was. The whole thing was just an unfortunate accident. Any fool can see that.

      Think again Mr. Sheriff. Perhaps you have not noticed that there are quite a lot of people about who don’t swallow everything they are told.

      Is Holyrood running training courses for the judiciary ?

  5. Jesu….is £300 all those beautiful creature’s lives are worth. Is the taking of innocent lives so normalised, so deeply embedded in the minds of these imbeciles. I despair.

  6. Firstly it is great to get a prosecution. Only possible because traps are tagged and there is named person responsible. Could part of the proposed licencing system be that a named person be responsible and liable for all wildlife crimes on each estate perhaps the Head Keeper or a named owner (no offshore companies allowed).

    A gamekeeper of thirty years had no previous convictions – given the difficulty of securing convictions there must be very few keepers with “previous.”

    The fine seems paltry. I understood that penalties had increased for wildlife crimes. Are these in force yet?

    1. Yes, the increased penalties were enacted in the Animals & Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, five years (!) after Professor Poustie’s recommendations to the Scottish Government. As this wasn’t enacted until Nov 2020, and Peter Givens’ crimes were discovered in September 2020, I doubt very much whether the penalties can be applied retrospectively.

  7. The lawyer also made a point of telling the Sheriff that Givens had no previous convictions, and his ‘spotless record’ was taken in to account by Sheriff Paterson when Givens was sentenced.

    “Spotless record”, all that means is, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  8. I wonder if the “local wildlife police” drove in and marched straight up to this one trap to examine it? I would like to think they kept it quiet for a few days while they secretly poked about the rest of the Estate to see what else he had going on. A good opportunity to learn more about the little tricks of the trade of this guy, which might give some indications about what he may have passed on (re working practices) to lads who have worked under him down the years.

  9. Great analysis. Reveals how uninformed the Sheriff was. Crazy that we rely on these individuals tome and again to decide and sentence. Tune and tyrone again they let raptors down. Can an appeal be lodged by WJ? I’d contribute.

  10. Sheriff Peter Paterson says “It was not a deliberate act to trap predators with the unintended consequences.”

    Why did the sheriff call an owl and a goshawk predators? Is this an indication of how he thinks of the birds? And if so, why does he think that way. And if he does believe that owls and a goshawks are predators, was he in a position to judge the case anyway?

    1. I agree. I was not surprised by much in this story, but calling them predators immediately puts the dead birds in the “bad” category in many peoples minds.
      I think his flimsy mask of impartiality slipped with that one word and showed his true colours.
      I have many friends who live in the borders and I cannot believe the stories they tell of the power that landowners have even in this day and age. This shows the truth of those stories.

      1. Yes of course you are right Keith, but I did frown a bit myself wondering in what sense the Sheriff used that word. It would have been more appropriate if he had said something like “protected birds”. I know from my time keeping company with shooting types that the word “predator” (context often derived solely from BASC or GWCT booklets) is used as a modern version of “vermin” and is used in their ‘good species vs bad species’ bulls–t narrative.

        1. Thankyou SM. Really didn’t think I’d need to explain the context especially to Keith. Even Blue Tits are predators if you need to go that far, I know that as well.

        2. Ps to the above, and hopefully still in-topic. Just watched a YouTube vid that popped up ‘recommended’. “Dave Carrie -Grouse Shooting (Nidderdale)”.
          I had to smile at the guy sticking with the term ‘vermin’ and at what seemed like a tactful edit at about 4mins 2secs.

  11. Maybe we are being too hard on Sheriff Paterson. The following was reported in an online newspaper in 2019 :-

    “Earlier this month he (Sheriff Paterson) criticised Scotland’s weak wildlife crime laws after a gamekeeper convicted of killing protected birds of prey and mammals avoided a prison term.

    Alan Wilson, 60, pleaded guilty in July to shooting and trapping badgers, an otter, goshawks and buzzards and installing 23 illegal snares.

    Sheriff Paterson said such crimes usually deserved a prison sentence, but the Wildlife and Countryside Act only allowed sentences of up to six months, and Scottish ministers recently introduced a presumption against jailing offenders for less than 12 months.

    He said: ‘It highlights the difficulties with the legislation. If it wasn’t for this provision then in my view a custodial sentence would have been appropriate.'”

    And to look on the positive side – it was a conviction; it’ll be on record for that gamekeeper and that estate. Those concerned are now in the spotlight and any further crimes (if noticed ) will exact higher penalties (one would hope). So let’s give Sheriff Patterson our support not derision.

  12. “Givens’ lawyer said his client had been a gamekeeper for more than 30 years and had no previous convictions.” xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx

    “He explained that there had been a lot of crows at the start of the lambing season but this had tailed off by May.” Killed them all.

    “This was an oversight rather than an intentional act.– He got caught.

    These traps are xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx they have no place in the modern world.

  13. Perhaps there should be a change in the law, so that the doors into crow traps are required to be fitted with a spring or other mechanism which means the default position of the door is always open, and it takes deliberate action to close the door? This would mean that no one could accidently or forgetfully leave the door closed as suggested by this defendant- an excuse which no doubt will be offered by others who deliberately leave the door closed!

    1. I think you are being too fair and reasonable there John – I often catch myself doing the same. The truth is there is no reason for corvid traps being anywhere other than in storage outwith the nesting & lambing season. Any other reason given is in my opinion just an excuse to keep them out for the happy accident of catching any unsavoury beastly predatory verminous species that is knocking about.

  14. At least it’s a Prosecution finally,but what a ridiculously low fine ,for the lives of a Goshawk and Barn Owl, 2 of Our most protected Birds supposedly ! .Pathetic ,Ps worryingly if this had occured in England the case would have been thrown out ,as gamekeepers in England don’t even need their I D on traps as far as I’m aware,which speaks for itself dosn’t it ! ?

    1. Interesting to see The Guardian buying into the ‘Grouse shooting is beneficial to the environment’ propaganda. I assume that Patrick Barkham doesn’t possess a mind of his own.

    2. Rumour has it the keeper had to be sedated to get him out of his plus-fours! A canny bit of PR dressing like a birdwatcher. In all previous media outings the typical grousekeeper look has to me reinforced the feeling of continuity at Swinton, and not of the recent radical change that they want to project. A key strategy to make the non-shooting and rightly very sceptical end of the guest spectrum feel less awkward when patronising the various attractions at the Estate.

      If it is all true and as they say it is – and if (critically) it is not just the several well known, named and easily recognisable individual Harriers that are welcomed, but also all of your other un-named, un-tagged and non-distinctive Buzzards, Kites, Goshawks, SEO’s and Sparrowhawks that have found a loving embrace at Swinton – then I will happily eat my hat.

      But I am fairly sure that my hat is perfectly safe. Only time and a lot of corroboration from other sources who are observing things very closely will tell.

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