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Historic conviction of gamekeeper for possession of a dead red kite

Last modified: 26 May 2011

Flying red kite

A dead red kite was found in the back of an estate vehicle

A gamekeeper on the Moy estate has become the first person in Scotland to be convicted of possessing a dead red kite since the species was reintroduced to the country 22 years ago.

RSPB Scotland has welcomed the successful prosecution of James Rolfe, who was fined £1,500 at Inverness Sheriff Court  today (Thursday 26th May) for a crime committed in June last year when he was working at the Moy shooting estate near Tomatin in Inverness-shire.

The protected bird of prey was recovered by police during a search in June 2010. A post mortem revealed the kite, whose remains were found in the back of an estate vehicle, had broken legs and had died as a result of a blow to the head..

Over a five week period, the remains of a further two dead red kites, six illegal baited spring traps, a trapped hen harrier, and a poison bait laced with a banned agricultural pesticide were also recovered from the estate. No arrests or charges have been made in connection with these incidents.

Police were first alerted to Moy Estate in May 2010 when a satellite-tagged red kite, monitored by RSPB Scotland staff and adopted by pupils at a local primary school, disappeared.

A bid to find the missing kite (conducted on 1st May 2010) uncovered a severed red kite leg and wing tags belonging to the bird, hidden in holes under a covering of moss.

Two weeks later a second red kite was found lying close to a suspected grouse bait by members of the Highland Raptor Study Group conducting survey work.  The kite was subsequently confirmed by Scottish Government testing to have been poisoned with a banned pesticide. Nearby a male hen harrier was found, held by the leg in an illegally-set spring trap. Miraculously the hen harrier survived this ordeal and was subsequently released back into the wild.   Other traps, hidden under a thin layer of moss, were found close by.

A multi-agency operation on 3rd June last year, led by Northern Constabulary under search warrant, led to the discovery of the third red kite in the back of a vehicle being used by Rolfe, two more baited spring traps and four leg rings originally fitted to golden eagle chicks prior to their fledging from nests in Sutherland & Grampian, and on Mull and Skye. These rings must have been removed from the dead eagle, but how Rolfe came into possession of them is unclear.

The case has prompted RSPB Scotland to call for more information to be provided by responsible landowners and their employees to help the police identify those people in the countryside who deliberately and indiscriminately kill protected birds of prey.

Populations of some of Scotland’s most spectacular bird of prey species, including golden eagles, hen harriers and red kites are being undermined by illegal activity.  71 red kites have been confirmed as illegally poisoned by the Scottish Government’s Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) laboratory between 1989-2010. The places where these crimes are taking place are now targeted by the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Police, but often more intelligence is required on precisely who is carrying out these crimes and how they can be caught. Such information is vital if this serious problem is going to be tackled and enforcement of wildlife legislation improved.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland Head of Species and Land Management said: “Today’s historic conviction is testament to the committed efforts of Northern Constabulary and the procurator fiscal concerned, who have worked tirelessly to bring this case to resolution. We know that red kites and other protected birds of prey are routinely killed in Scotland, yet successful convictions, such as this, are few and far between. We call on all responsible landowners and their employees to provide the authorities with more information on the perpetrators so that they can be brought to justice. The litany of dead birds found in this area shows that killing birds of prey has been going on for far too long in our countryside.”


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