Hampshire gamekeeper fined £2,000 for unlawful persecution of birds of prey

We are back to day-before-Christmas warning after a state authority is fined £2,000 for unlawful persecution of raptors

A Hampshire gamekeeper has been fined £2,000 for illegally killing birds of prey.

Declan McCausland, 31, had claimed he mistook eagles for his dog when shooting one of the predators.

But Isle of Wight magistrates heard he had fired at two stags of a target range by mistake – killing three merlins in April 2012. He was also convicted of failing to prevent the death of a young lapwing in 2015 by allowing the bird to die from an electric shock caused by a drone camera he had fitted to one of the stags.

McCausland pleaded guilty in July to all three charges – a case that appeared in court on Friday after Justice Sue Cornwall ruled there was evidence to prove he had targeted birds of prey.

The Isle of Wight-based gamekeeper also admitted shooting a hen harrier in 2015.

He was represented by his defence solicitor, Peter Humphrey, who told the court: “I wouldn’t say he was a rogue player. There were a number of incidents on the Isle of Wight, including an incident near Merlins’s Beach in which there was a fault with his rifle.”

“He admits to using that firearm as a shotgun. He did not shoot at the birds by mistake. He had not discharged his firearm into the sky. He had fired it into the gun club. He was just on target.

“He does not deny he mistook the eagles for a dog. There were no lethal bullets in the pair of guns. He does not deny his gun was correctly pointed in the direction of the birds.”

Humphrey claimed that after shooting a hen harrier McCausland watched for a while, but admitted he then felt “nauseous” and “put out”.

McCausland denied 10 counts of illegal persecution of birds of prey or similar-type species at the Isle of Wight magistrates court. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

McCausland pleaded guilty to illegally targeting four birds of prey – three harriers and one small stag – but denies 11 counts of unlawful persecution of birds of prey or similar-type species.

However, Judge Edmund Keene said the court would need to recognise a presumption of innocence until there is a hearing before magistrates.

The prosecution is the third under a 2013 legislation that forces the Game and Wildlife Order Disclosure and Licensing Scheme, which provides information about people guilty of a serious offence to public authorities.

Keene warned McCausland about how the law could be used when he gave an indication of possible sentences.

He said: “Mr McCausland’s case has been brought because of concern that there was a serious violation of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the distress was deliberate.

“I accept there was a serious offence. It was clearly serious in its wrongness and should have been remedied. But I appreciate that, just for that, there will be a need to consider things differently.”

The court heard McCausland had entered the Isle of Wight Game Farm on Friday to avoid a custodial sentence.

He will be sentenced on 10 December.

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