Scottish gamekeeper jailed for bird crime in national first

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Sheriff in Aberdeen yesterday jailed gamekeeper George Mutch for crimes against birds of prey. It is believed to be the first time anybody has been imprisoned for raptor persecution in Scotland.

Wildlife criminals must expect no sympathy from now on


Mutch, 48, killed a protected goshawk, and used illegal traps to capture a buzzard and a second goshawk. He was convicted last month of four offences, which he committed in 2012 in Aberdeenshire.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) used hidden cameras to record Mutch's crimes, one of the first times such footage has featured in a Scottish wildlife trial. The video shows Mutch remove a juvenile goshawk from one trap and beat it to death with a stick. He removes the other goshawk and the buzzard, putting them in sacks which he then walks away with. Their fate is unknown.

Sheriff Noel McPartlin called Mutch's conduct "a determined course of action. Having regard to the gravity of the offence [of killing the goshawk], I am of the view that there is no other method of dealing with you which is appropriate to this case other than the imposition of a custodial sentence." Sara Shaw, Scotland's procurator fiscal (prosecutor) for wildlife crime, explained "Goshawks in particular are rare birds: the court heard evidence in this case that there are only about 150 nesting pairs in Scotland." She said the law was there "to preserve Scotland's natural heritage, including the wildlife that forms part of it."

A goshawk in Croatia in 2013, from file.
Image: Krzysztof Wiśniewski.

David McKie, defending, detailed other sanctions his client had already suffered. His employers on the Kildrummy Estate have suspended him, and police have seized his guns; he may lose his gun licence because of his conviction. The Scottish Gamekeepers Association separately announced Mutch's expulsion from the group's ranks.

RSPB Scotland's Duncan Orr-Ewing called the sentence a "historic, landmark result" and "a turning point, sending a clear message to those determined to flout our laws". Landowners' body Scottish Land and Estates also had no sympathy: "The illegal killing of any bird of prey is unacceptable and anyone who engages in such activity can, rightly, expect to feel the full weight of the law."

The RSPB said it may be the first such jailing anywhere in the UK. The group said other wildlife crimes, such as against badgers, had previously attracted prison terms. "We would like to thank the Crown Office and Police Scotland for helping to bring this case to a successful conviction, as well as the exemplary work of the RSPB Scotland investigations team" said Orr-Ewing. He added "Wildlife criminals must expect no sympathy from now on."

Scotland's goshawk is the northern goshawk, Accipiter gentilis. Internationally, the species has a wide range and a large population through much of Europe, North America, Russia, and northern Asia. It is therefore ranked as least concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. However, the bird does face persecution and nest robbing by humans. Indirect human impacts include deforestation and, according to a 2012 study, wind farm developments. Scotland has invested heavily in wind power over the last decade.