Egg collecting is the easiest of wildlife crimes for courts to understand. The perpetrators effectively ‘steal’ the eggs of protected species, and they go equipped to do so often travelling large distances in the process, There is no doubt this Victorian era ‘crime’ can have a serious impact once species are rare, restricted in range or they are slow breeders that don’t relay once a clutch is taken. And the number of eggs taken can be considerable -see here. Accordingly the courts take a pretty dim view of this practice and the sentences reflect this.
Rather perversely the courts don’t seem to take quite such a robust view of those people charged with illegally killing protected species such as hen harriers, red kites, golden eagles or peregrines. Indeed quite often charges are dropped or not pursued and lesser charges involving the possession of illegal poisons pursued instead. For example a charge against shooting manager Dean Barr of the Skibo Estate in Sutherland, for the possession of enough of the banned pesticide Carbofuran to kill every bird of prey in Scotland several times over, resulted in a £3,300 fine. Nobody was charged with the deaths of two golden eagles and a sparrowhawk poisoned with the same pesticide, or the laying out of a poisoned bait found on the same estate.
This is not unique. A quick look at the fines levied by the Courts shows that egg collectors are regularly dealt with far more robustly than people who trap, poison or otherwise destroy adult birds – particularly birds of prey.
This despite the fact that such activity is far more damaging at a population level than egg collecting – serious though that is. The theft of a clutch of eggs destroys a pair’s nesting attempt for one spring, but the killing of an eagle removes it’s breeding potential for maybe ten or fifteen years.
Stuart askes everyone to look at these cases:
a) Perth Sheriff Court – 24th March 2010: gamekeeper pled guilty to shooting a buzzard and possession of Carbofuran & Chloralose – fined £400 for killing the buzzard and admonished for possession of banned poisons.
b) Lanark Sheriff Court– 5th January 2012: gamekeeper pled guilty to killing four buzzards by poisoning – sentenced to 100 hours community service (this was his second conviction for wildlife offences in two years)
c) Forfar Sheriff Court– 3rd April 2012 – gamekeeper pled guilty to illegally trapping a tawny owl and illegal use of a crow trap – admonished.
All reputable land managers condemn such activity unreservedly. But it continues to stain the reputation of the sporting community.
The people who poison and trap raptors often have heavy duty legal teams to plead their mitigation and defence – in contrast to the egg collectors, but I don’t think that explains the trend. Rather courts are often faced with people who live locally who stress their ‘stocks’ are suffering or livestock decimated. With limited evidence for either. But this is wrong headed. It is a serious crime. So when might a custodial sentence be used to crack down on a kite, eagle or peregrine killer?
Editor’s Comment, Stuart your last question is a question we would all like to know the answer to.