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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Keeper fined over rare bird death
Hen Harrier
Hen harrier: Vulnerable species
A gamekeeper has been fined 2,000 after he admitted killing a rare protected bird.

Douglas Ross, 33, shot a young female hen harrier last July at Dallas, near Forres in Morayshire.

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said the hen harrier was one of the most rare and vulnerable species in Britain.

Ross is the first person in the UK to be convicted of killing one of the birds.

It is a horrible irony that this is the first successful prosecution for the crime of killing a hen harrier, because this is probably Scotland's and Britain's most persecuted bird.

David Dick of the RSPB
Ross' not guilty pleas to shooting a second bird on the same date, having the birds in his possession and carrying a shot gun for the purpose of killing a wild bird, were accepted by the Crown.

Sentencing Ross at Elgin Sheriff Court, Sheriff Kenneth Forbes said hen harriers were a rare and vulnerable species.

The court had been told that Ross had been employed as a part-time gamekeeper at Craigmill Estate, of which Mill Buie is a part, at the time of the offence.

Depute fiscal Sharon Ralph said hen harriers were a specially protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act with an estimated UK population of 570 pairs, the vast majority of which were in Scotland.

Video cameras

She said it was felt by the RSPB that the species were persecuted by gamekeepers and two RSPB protection officers had been watching a nest at Mill Buie because eggs had been destroyed there in the past and they saw it as vulnerable.

She said the RSPB also set up two video cameras 130m from the nest and at the beginning of June 2000 four young hen harriers were born, two male and two female.

The court was told that RSPB officers saw a man turn up at the nest site on 6 July.

He fired a shot towards the bird which was about 20m away from him.

An RSPB video clip of the event was then shown to the court.

Defence advocate Peter Gray said Ross had been attempting to restore an area for grouse shooting after around 25 years of neglect.

Acute frustration

He had shot the bird "in a moment of acute frustration" and he had pled guilty.

Sheriff Forbes said: "I accept that there is a degree of remorse in your case and I accept there is a high likelihood that there will be no repetition of this particular case."

Speaking outside the court after the case, RSPB senior investigations officer David Dick said: "It is a horrible irony that this is the first successful prosecution for the crime of killing a hen harrier, because this is probably Scotland's and Britain's most persecuted bird."

"Within the limitations that the Wildlife Countryside Act has, which is basically a fine, that is a very good fine.

"It'll certainly send out the message that even in remote moorland areas like this people carrying out these sorts of crimes will have to watch their backs."

Mr Dick said the RSPB was hoping for a new Scottish Wildlife Act to be passed which would have the power to imprison people accused of such offences.

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