Stirlingshire gamekeeper sentenced to community service for setting illegal victorian gin trap to catch buzzards

_83125624_james_oreilly-webA gamekeeper on one of Scotland’s most popular sporting estates has been successfully prosecuted for using inhumane victorian gin  traps outlawed in Britain for more than 50 years. James O’Reilly, 50, was caught after a member of the public found a seriously injured buzzard, which later had to be put down, in one of the traps and alerted the authorities. Several other traps, a “stink pit” full of decomposing bait and a snared fox were then found near his staff cottage on the family-owned 5000-acre Cardross Estate near Flanders Moss in Stirlingshire.

O’Reilly baited the trap that caught the buzzard by leaving a deer carcass beside it, in an area known to be popular with goshawks, red kites and white-tailed eagles. Stirling Sheriff Court was told the “otherwise healthy bird” would have “suffered tremendously” before it was eventually found by a dog walker on March 22, 2013, and handed to the Scottish SPCA. Despite efforts to save it, the bird had to be humanely destroyed days later.

Dead buzzard with meat

Prosecutor Shona McJannet said there had also been a potential to trap “other, very iconic species”. She said: “The trap used was one that would never have been legal and there is evidence that it had not been checked for a period of 24 to 48 hours.”

Ms McJannet, the Crown Office’s specialist wildlife prosecutor, said O’Reilly’s job as gamekeeper on the estate involved maximising the number of birds available for shooting by managing their habitat and controlling predators such as crows, stoats, weasels and foxes.

She said: “Historically, gamekeepers legitimately controlled birds of prey but this practice became wholly illegal in 1954.”

Describing the scene discovered by the dog walker, Ms McJannet added: “There appeared to have been considerable blood loss. The buzzard was flapping about, trapped by the leg.

“The man opened the jaws of the trap and stood back, thinking the buzzard would fly off, but it moved very little, and was apparently unable to fly.”

The court was told that skin and soft tissue was missing in an almost complete ring around the buzzard’s leg, which Mc McJannet said would have taken “several days” to occur.

Police went to the scene the next day and found a small, factory-made gin trap of a kind not sold in the UK.

O’Reilly had also set two snares in the nearby vicinity and police found a midden or “stink pit” full of plastic bags containing the rotten remains of unidentified carcasses near his cottage, as well as a decomposed fox carcass in another snare.

Experts said the fox would have been in the snare for at least 24 hours before it died.

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

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.

Stephen Maguire, defending, said: “I have to recognise on his behalf that a serious offence has been committed here.

“In the [social background] report he explains what pressure he was under at the time, quite apart from what pressures he was under from above. He is no longer in this trade any more.”

Sheriff Peter Anderson ordered O’Reilly to to carry out 240 hours of unpaid work as part of a community payback order and warned him he could have been jailed.

He said: “As a gamekeeper you are given the right to carry out actions that cause animals real suffering. You are given that right under strict conditions on the kinds of traps that you can use and the methods you can use, and the steps that you have to take to ensure that suffering is kept to a limit.

“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.”

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “O’Reilly’s crimes came to light when dog walkers on the estate came across a buzzard caught in a trap.

“It would appear that the buzzard came down to feed on the deer carcass and walked on to the trap, which closed over one of its legs causing severe injuries.

“The Scottish SPCA took the bird for veterinary treatment but due to the extent of the injury it had to be euthanised. Not only did police find illegal traps in the area but they also identified a number of illegal snares, one of which had the barely identifiable remains of a fox carcass inside.”

PC Malcolm O’May, Forth Valley Division wildlife crime liaison officer, said: “Crimes of this type are notoriously difficult to detect and throughout this investigation we were assisted by various partner agencies in what turned out to be a very complex and protracted enquiry.

“It is only by working with our wildlife crime partners that we can achieve successful outcomes like this. This said we may not have even known about the crimes had it not been for those members of the public who were vigilant and promptly reported what they had found.

“I am extremely grateful for their assistance and the efforts they made in attempting to preserve the birds life.”

  • Police appealed for information after the discovery of an illegally trapped red kite on moors west of Stirling this month.

The bird also had to be put down because of the severity of its injuries.

The kite was found in distressed and seriously injured on Wednesday, 13 May.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “This was clearly an intentional act with the sole purpose of trapping this type of bird of prey. It was a very specific act for a very specific purpose.

“Police Scotland’s Specialist wildlife crime liaison officers are investigating and working closely with landowners, the RSPB and the Scottish Raptor Study Group to identify those responsible.

“We are asking people who live and work in the area, or who may have been visiting to come forward if they saw anything or if they have any information that may help catch those responsible.”

Information can be given in confidence by contacting Police Scotland on 101. Alternatively, members of the public can contact the independent crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online.

1 comment to Stirlingshire gamekeeper sentenced to community service for setting illegal victorian gin trap to catch buzzards

  • nirofo

    The use of barbaric gin traps has been banned for more than 100 years, every gamekeeper knows this full well, they know the severe pain and damage they can inflict on any animal or bird caught in one, and yet they still use them? It’s obvious to any person regardless of who they are that these devices are designed to cause maximum suffering and long drawn out death, you only have to see one or even a photo of one to know that this is true. Anyone who has any feelings whatsoever for wildlife would baulk at the idea of setting one purposely to trap and maim a bird of prey, James O’Reilly knew this when he set the trap, he had no feelings for the pain and suffering he was going to bring to the wildlife he was going to catch in his gin trap. It’s a crying shame Sheriff Peter Anderson didn’t consider the suffering of the wildlife when he handed out his sentence to this uncaring criminal, jail would have been the only justice he would have recognised, not the paltry and quite honestly, laughable 240 hours of unpaid work as part of a community payback order.