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.