For the first time in the UK a gamekeeper has been jailed for persecuting birds of prey, a sentence which conservationists are hailing as historic.
George Mutch, 48, received four months in prison in Aberdeen Sheriff Court after being found guilty last month on four charges: illegal use of a trap; illegal killing of a goshawk; illegal taking of a goshawk; illegal taking of a buzzard.
The offences took place on 5,500 acre Kildrummy Estate in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire in 2012, which is owned by a Jersey-based company.
It was one of the first cases in Scotland that hidden camera footage, obtained by the RSPB was allowed as evidence in court.
It revealed the Mutch had killed a juvenile goshawk by removing it from one of the traps and beating it on the head several times with a stick.The gamekeeper could be seen putting a buzzard and another goshawk in white sacks on the camera footage then walking out of view with the bags in his hands. It is not known what happened to these birds.
Sheriff Noel McPartlin said the persecution of wild birds was a “huge problem” and described the killing of the goshawk as a really serious offence. He said: “This was a determined course of action. Having regard to the gravity of the offence, I am of the view that there is no other method of dealing with you which is appropriate to this case other than the imposition of a custodial sentence.”
Duncan Orr Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: “This sentence is a historic, landmark result.
” We would like to thank the Crown Office and Police Scotland for helping to bring this case to a successful conviction, as well as the exemplary work of the RSPB Scotland investigations team. This penalty should be a turning point, sending a clear message to those determined to flout our laws that wildlife crime will not be tolerated but instead will be treated with the seriousness that it deserves. Wildlife criminals must expect no sympathy from now on.”
Sara Shaw, procurator fiscal for wildlife and environment, said: “Birds of prey are given strict protection by our law. Goshawks in particular are rare birds: the court heard evidence in this case that there are only about 150 nesting pairs in Scotland.
“It is highly important to preserve Scotland’s natural heritage, including the wildlife that forms part of it. Our environmental laws exist to provide this protection. This case involved serious contraventions of those laws. The conviction of Mr Mutch and the severity of the sentence given by the court highlights that message.”
Defence lawyer David McKie said his client had now been suspended from his job and could be forced to move home because his house was tied up with his employment. Mr McKie said police had also turned up at Mutch’s home to take away guns and could revoke his gun certificates because he had now been convicted of a crime.
A spokesman for Scottish Land & Estates, the landowners organisation, said: “The illegal killing of any bird of prey is unacceptable and anyone who engages in such activity can, rightly, expect to feel the full weight of the law. There are many people and groups working together to eradicate wildlife crime and significant progress has been made However, it is important that this effort is sustained.”
A spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The SGA has taken the ultimate sanction available to it, as an organisation. Mr Mutch will no longer hold SGA membership. The court has made its decision and Mr Mutch will now have to live with the consequences of his actions. ”
A spokeswoman for the RSPB said that while gamekeepers had been jailed in the past for the likes of badger bating, this was the first time in the UK that crimes against raptors had carried a custodial sentence.
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