Trapping a gamekeeper

There can’t be many people in Scotland who haven’t seen the press coverage this week following the sentencing of Alan Wilson, a gamekeeper convicted of nine wildlife offences for causing in the deaths of dozens and dozens of animals and birds.

The case against Mr Wilson started months ago with an initial find and an overwhelming feeling that all was not right within a relatively small area of woodland situated by a grouse moor on Longformacus Estate, a grouse moor and pheasant shooting estate. I was originally alerted to this estate some years ago when a member of the public, living in the village of Longformacus, contacted me to say that they were concerned that the village cats were going missing and they suspected it may have something to do with the gamekeeper. Some time later a woman contacted me to say that when she was hiking on the hills, she came across some snares which she wasn’t sure were legal or not. The location for the snares was Henlaw Wood, situated on the edge of Longformacus grouse moor.

As part of ongoing field survey and research work, we visited the site where these snares had been highlighted to us. Within the woodland we discovered snares that were set across a wide area. We also found a stink pit. Stink pits are created by gamekeepers to lure animals into snares and are effectively a pile of mostly dead and decomposing wildlife such as deer, foxes, mountain hares, brown hares, rabbits, crows, magpies, jays, jackdaws, ducks, fish and even geese. I have also come across a number of cats thrown into the pile. These animals will be surrounded by a ring of wire snares and sometimes branches may be built to make a two-foot high wall on the ground throughout the area to lead the unsuspecting animals towards the stink pit. Astonishingly this is all legal if the animals being used are not livestock or protected and the snares are set according to the law, even if the stink pit may also bring protected animals, such as Pine Marten and badger towards the snare traps. It isn’t unheard of either for cats or dogs to be caught in snares set around a stink pit. This method is common, and many will be used across Scotland throughout the year.

Legal Stink pit to attract wild animals to snare traps. Longformacus Estate. May 2017

After a while within Henlaw Wood it became apparent that it required further attention and after discovering a goshawk trap and a fen spring trap, placed on the ground next to a dead staked out pigeon it didn’t take long before we uncovered the first remains of birds of prey. Hidden close to the fen trap and pigeon bait we uncovered a goshawk. The injuries to one of its feet suggested that it may have been caught in the fen trap, and later analyses concluded that it had been shot. Assisting the Scottish SPCA and Police Scotland with what we had found in this woodland, we also uncovered a shocking and gruesome list of further wildlife criminality. One raptor after another was being pulled from the ground or from behind trees. There were dead badgers and later an otter was also found. All had been shot. Some of the raptors may have been caught in the traps first, but that wasn’t proven. The fresh remains of a peregrine falcon were also found hidden, but the game keeper’s later bargaining plea saw this bird not counted in the final charges which Alan Wilson eventually pleaded guilty to.

Spring trap (Fen trap) found by dead pigeon which was staked into the ground. Suspected to target Raptors. Longformacus Estate. May 2017 (2)

Further evidence was found at Alan Wilson’s house and surrounding area including a log book which showed how dozens of cats had been killed as well as 100 hedgehogs and hundreds of birds, reconfirming, if it was ever needed, how wildlife and even domestic animals were systematically being wiped out in the most grotesque and indefensible way. We will never know just how many animals suffered and died in the hands of Alan Wilson, protected or otherwise, but one thing was always clear to me, that Alan Wilson is not the first person to carry out such atrocities to our wildlife and he won’t be the last.

Did this gamekeeper show any remorse for the countless crimes he committed and suffering caused? I think the question was instantly answered, as If I had any doubt anyway, when I saw Alan Wilson run out of court, after avoiding a jail sentence, waving his arms in the air with a big smile on his face. You decide.

At least for now there is a little amount of respite for the local wildlife of that area, just a little, as it is a grouse moor after all. But of course, the native wildlife will never really be free of persecution whilst these estates operate in the way they do...

A League investigator and field research officer

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