Gamekeeper James O'Reilly
Gamekeeper James O’Reilly

A gamekeeper on a Stirlingshire sporting estate caught a bird of prey in a type of trap that has been illegal for decades, a court has heard.

James O’Reilly set the gin trap on the family-owned 5000-acre Cardross Estate.

The offence came to light on 22 March 2013 when a local man walking his dog found a buzzard caught by the leg.

O’Reilly, 50, was ordered to carry out 240 hours of unpaid work after having pleaded guilty to four charges under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Stirling Sheriff Court heard on Wednesday how a dog-walker found the distressed buzzard caught in a trap by its leg next to a decomposed deer carcass.

The “otherwise healthy bird” was said to have “suffered tremendously” before it was eventually found and handed to the Scottish SPCA.

Despite efforts to save it, it had to be humanely destroyed days later.

Police said the small, factory-made gin trap was of a kind not sold in the UK.

Strict conditions

Shona McJannet, prosecuting, said: “This type of trap has been illegal for decades.”

A gin trap “very similar” to the one that caught the buzzard was found in an outbuilding near O’Reilly’s tied cottage on the estate.

The court heard that O’Reilly, now of Stronachlacher, in the Trossachs, was no longer employed on the estate.

He pleaded guilty to illegal trapping and improper use of snares.

Sheriff Anderson said there were strict conditions on the methods gamekeepers could use.

He told O’Reilly: “It is clear that in this case you have flagrantly ignored these restrictions, using traps which have been illegal for years.

“In other circumstances a custodial sentence would have been appropriate but I do take into account that fact that you are a first offender.

“It seems to me that this offence is approaching the most serious end of these offences, and that is reflected in the number of hours you will have to carry out.”

Helen Nisbet, deputy head of Police Scotland’s Serious and Organised Crime Division, said: “Birds of prey are given strict protection by our law.

“This case involved serious contraventions of those laws.”

‘Legal ignorance’

A spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “This is the first we have heard about this case but, as an organisation, we are appalled.

“These actions have no place in modern gamekeeping and show ignorance of the legal requirements which are involved in being in the profession. They are an affront to all those who advocate high standards.”

A spokeswoman for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said: “Birds of prey are given strict protection by our law.

“It is highly important to preserve Scotland’s natural heritage, including the wildlife that forms part of it. Our wildlife laws exist to provide this protection.

“This case involved serious contraventions of those laws.

“COPFS will continue to prosecute such cases where appropriate to ensure that offenders are brought to justice.”

On Thursday, the owner of Cardross Estate said its reputation had been “unjustly tarnished by the publicity around these court proceedings”.

Sir Archie Orr Ewing said: “The estate does not have any involvement whatsoever in the sporting management of the land in question.

“The area of land where these offences occurred is let on a long-term lease to a third party who has full rights and responsibilities for the management of sporting activity.

“The gamekeeper is employed by the third party and has never been employed by the estate.”

Source: BBC News

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