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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 November 2006, 17:03 GMT
Man fined for disturbing ospreys
The ospreys were repeatedly circling above Ashcroft
A bird watcher who pitched his tent too close to the nest of one of Scotland's rarest birds could have caused a conservation disaster, a court heard.

Stirling Sheriff Court was told how Robert Ashcroft, 43, went to a remote spot in the Trossachs to photograph duck and red kites.

He camped 60ft from a tree used by ospreys in a nature reserve.

Ashcroft, from Largs, in Ayrshire, admitted recklessly disturbing wild birds on a nest and was fined 300.

The case is believed to be the first successful prosecution since the UK-wide 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act was amended by Holyrood to make it easier to punish people who disturb wild birds.

Mr Ashcroft's activities could have affected the success of the birds' entire breeding attempt and could have caused them to abandon the site altogether
Keri Marshall

The court heard how Ashcroft took up bird watching after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

He was discovered by officials from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) standing only 20ft from the osprey nest.

He was unaware of the adult ospreys, one with a fish in its mouth, repeatedly circling above him.

The court was told that the nest at the site, near Port of Menteith, in south Perthshire, was an artificial one, but since it was built nine years ago had been used by a breeding pair for the last seven years.

Prosecutor Keri Marshall said the RSPB officers visited the site on 3 July, 2005 and immediately noticed the adult pair circling distractedly.

Ms Marshall said neither bird was calling to the chick, as would be normal and the officers realised something must be wrong.

Childhood hobby

They then noticed Ashcroft's tent, which was being used as a photographic hide and ordered him to leave the area.

Ms Marshall said: "Mr Ashcroft's activities could have affected the success of the birds' entire breeding attempt and could have caused them to abandon the site altogether and build another nest in another area, which might not be suitable due to environmental factors."

The court heard that the birds did eventually settle back into their routine and successfully raised their chick.

Stirling Sheriff Court
The court heard the nest had been occupied for seven years

Defence solicitor Laura Jackson said Ashcroft, a first offender, was a respectable married man and the technical manager of a factory.

She said that after being diagnosed with MS in April that year he was advised to take more exercise so had rekindled a childhood hobby of bird watching and photography.

"He had been in the area to watch ducks and red kites and pitched his one-man's fisherman's tent unaware of the presence of the nest," she said.

Miss Jackson added that Ashcroft had always denied planning to remove chicks from the nest and said this had now been accepted by the prosecution.

A spokesman for the RSPB said: "Previously, it was necessary to show that any disturbance was intentional, which was far harder to prove.

"This sends a signal to people that Scotland's wildlife is valuable yet vulnerable and must be protected."

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