A land manager has become the second person in Scotland to be convicted of the “vicarious liability” offence, which confers responsibility for wildlife offences committed by a worker.
Self-employed game farmer Graham Christie, 56, was fined £3,200 after he pleaded guilty to crimes committed by James O’Reilly, a gamekeeper employed by him.
Mr O’Reilly, 50, of Stronachlacher, in the Trossachs, was sentenced to 240 hours of unpaid work earlier this year after he pleaded guilty to intentionally trapping and injuring a buzzard, contrary to the Wildlife and Country Act 1981.
Stirling Sheriff Court heard that Mr Christie leased part of Kingussie-based 2,023ha (5,000-acre) Cardross Estate in Stirlingshire to use for his business, Dunmhor Shooting.
He had employed Mr O’Reilly as head gamekeeper with responsibility for pest control on this part of the estate.
Despite veterinary treatment for the severe injury caused to its leg, the buzzard had to be euthanised as it would never be suitable for release back to the wild. The bird of prey had been in good condition otherwise, the court was told.
The law placed responsibility on Mr Christie unless he could show that he took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to prevent Mr O’Reilly from committing the offences.
When asked by police how he was able to see what was going on ensure everything was done properly and professionally, Mr Christie stated: “Well I can only tell that by the amount of pheasants that were shown on a shoot day and that he was very good to be fair.”
David McKie, defending, said: “This is like the situation in the licensed trade where a person sells a bottle of Buckfast to a 15-year-old and the licence-holder bears responsibility.”
Speaking after sentencing, Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, said: “It is shocking that in 21st century Scotland, someone employed as a professional gamekeeper has not only unlawfully targeted protected birds of prey, but has used a trap that has been illegal for decades.
“It is also appalling that a game farmer is so preoccupied with the production of pheasants for sport shooting that he has disregarded his responsibility to ensure that his employee was complying with the law.
“We hope that this sends out the clear message not only that Scotland’s birds of prey are fully protected by law, but it is the responsibility of all those involved in the ownership or management of gamebird shoots to ensure that these laws are complied with.”