A GAMEKEEPER employed to look after National Trust land near Sheffield has been found guilty of trying to trap and kill birds of prey – and issued with a hefty £10,000 bill for prosecution costs.
Glen Brown, aged 39, must also complete 100 hours of community service after using an illegal cage trap, baited with a live pigeon, to catch a sparrowhawk in the Upper Derwent Valley.
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Brown, of Old Henry’s Schoolhouse in the Upper Derwent Valley, trapped the birds to protect grouse on the land where he worked, which was leased by the National Trust to a third party.
The traps he used were designed to catch crows, rooks and jackdaws – but were illegal for snaring birds of prey.
The RSPB used covert video cameras placed in Howden Moor to capture images of Brown in action last April and May which were used during a 10-day trial. Brown was arrested following the surveillance operation.
He denied the charges against him but was convicted of all seven – using a trap for the purpose of killing or taking wild birds, intentionally taking a wild sparrowhawk, possessing a pigeon loft and pigeons capable of being used for committing the offence, and four charges related to causing suffering to a pheasant, a carrion crow and a pigeon.
Although cage traps are legal in certain circumstances for predator control, it is unlawful to use a pigeon as bait or to capture birds of prey.
Prosecutor Rod Chapman told Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court the cage trap was first found by RSPB employee John McMahon in April last year. On his first sighting it contained a crow and appeared to be lawful, Mr Chapman said.
But on a second visit he found the cage to contain both a carrion crow and a pheasant – not one of the target species. The pheasant had to be removed and later killed because of head injuries it had suffered during its confinement.
During a third visit to the trap the RSPB found a white feral pigeon alone in the trap which, again, was not a suitable decoy bird.
And, Mr Chapman said, the most likely species to be attracted by a pigeon was ‘birds of prey, raptors – and a bird such as a sparrowhawk will be attracted to a pigeon’.
“It will enter the trap, kill the pigeon and find it cannot get out,” he said.
After the case RSPB investigations officer Mark Thomas said Brown’s conviction sent a ‘clear message’ that bird of prey persecution remains ‘a serious and orchestrated crime’.
“Bird of prey persecution is a UK wildlife crime priority, and it is vital Government and the police lead a renewed and concerted effort to afford birds of prey the protection they are due,” he said.
In the past decade, the RSPB has become increasingly concerned about the poor breeding success of birds of prey in the northern Peak District. In 2006, the society produced a report, Peak Malpractice, which graphically outlined its concerns in relation to goshawks and peregrines on the north east Peak moors.
The breeding success of both species has since also collapsed in the adjacent Derwent Valley, prompting the undercover investigation which led to Brown’s arrest.
Derbyshire is the third-worst county in the UK for crimes against birds of prey, according to the RSPB.