Former gamekeeper fined for aiming gun at protected bird

A former Deeside gamekeeper who took a shotgun on to a neighbouring estate and aimed it a hen harrier has been fined £500.

Stonehaven Sheriff Court was told that Colin Marshall had “contemplated” killing the protected bird, but made no attempt to do so.

The 22-year-old was filmed by members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds training his shotgun, but not firing, on the Crannach Estate near Ballater.

Marshall’s guilty plea brought the case, which has been going on since 2003, to an abrupt end part way through his trial yesterday.

The RSPB later hailed the outcome as a small victory in its campaign to eradicate the “persecution” of hen harriers by gamekeepers.

Marshall admitted two charges – entering the Crannach Estate with a firearm and possessing a shotgun capable of being used to kill, injure or take a wild bird. Not guilty pleas to a further two charges, of attempting to kill, injure or take a hen harrier and of intentionally disturbing its young, were also accepted.

At the time of the incident, on June 25, 2003 he was a gamekeeper on the Dinnet Estate, which shares a border with the Crannach.

A hen harrier had recently been seen nesting close to the boundary on the Crannach side and the nest was being monitored by RSPB officers.

Procurator fiscal Neil Shand said two officers, equipped with video cameras, were observing the site when Marshall appeared in a Landrover that evening.

At about 9.40pm he got out of the vehicle, armed with a single-barrelled shotgun.

He was walking carefully towards the spot where the hen harrier had last been seen when the bird suddenly took flight, “alarm-calling loudly”.

“The bird went past and he raised the gun and aimed but did not shoot,” Mr Shand said.

When detained and interviewed, Marshall claimed he had been there looking for fox cubs.

Defence agent Tom Cruickshank said Marshall was also aware of the hen harrier’s presence and had considered shooting it. “The hen harrier got up within 25 metres of him and almost as a reflex he raised his gun,” Mr Cruickshank added.

“He realised it was a hen harrier and did not fire.”

Sheriff Patrick Davies warned Marshall that the offence could have attracted substantial fines, but took account of his low income and the fact he was no longer a gamekeeper.

The first offender is now living and working as a landscape gardener in Belfast.

As well as the £500 fine, Marshall’s shotgun was forfeited.

Speaking after the verdict, the 22-year-old said he was glad the case was over but was not happy with the fine. “Nothing wrong was done in my eyes,” he added.

The RSPB said it was delighted with the conviction and described the unlawful killing of hen harriers as one of Scotland’s most serious wildlife crimes.

Just 620 pairs of the birds were found living in the UK at the last count, in 2004.

RSPB wildlife crimes investigation officer Andrew Stronach added: “The main thing is letting the public know how common and widespread this sort of persecution is.

“It is normally gamekeepers on grouse shooting estates who persecute such birds of prey.”

Source : Aberdeen Press and Journal