Gamekeeper admits wildlife crime spree at Borders estate

Henlaw Wood.
Henlaw Wood.

A wildlife expert has told Jedburgh Sheriff Court how he found more protected species lying dead in a Borders wood than he had seen in any small area in his 40-year career.

Alan Wilson pleaded guilty to shooting dead badgers, an otter, goshawks and buzzards as well as using 23 illegal snares in a small wood on the Berwickshire estate where he worked.

The 60-year-old, who admitted a total of nine offences, will be sentenced at Jedburgh Sheriff Court next month.

Describing the charges as “serious and numerous”, Sheriff Peter Paterson called for a report to see what sentencing options were open to him.

Addressing Wilson, he added: “Society, whatever you may think, takes a dim view on this.”

The court heard how the League Against Cruel Sports had been tipped off by a member of the public out hiking that snares were being operated at Henlaw Wood on the Longformacus Estate.

A research officer visited the scene in March 2016 and found a “stink pit” with a pile of deceased animals designed to attract other animals and various snares in amongst the trees. In May 2017 he returned and found the carcass of a badger and other dead birds.

The site was visited by police officers and Scottish SPCA officers when the full catalogue of the shot protected species emerged and snares found which would have suspended an animal.

David Anderson, conservation manager for Forestry Commission Scotland, attended Henlaw Wood and wrote in his report: “In 40 years working in wildlife management I have never seen so many protected species dead in such a small area.”

The court heard how Wilson was the sole gamekeeper for the Longformacus Estate.

He had previously worked as a gamekeeper in France for 10 years before returning to Scotland, and lived on the estate with his partner.

Wilson pleaded guilty to shooting and killing two goshawks at Henlaw Wood between March 2006 and May 2017, three buzzards, three badgers and an otter. He also pled guilty to charges of using illegal snares and possession of two bottles of carbofuran.

It also emerged that Wilson was fined £400 last year and banned from keeping birds of prey for 10 years after admitting failing to protect an eagle owl in his care from suffering.

He had pleaded guilty to keeping the pet bird in filthy conditions in a pigsty at his home at Henlaw Cottages, Longformacus.

Welcoming Wilson’s guilty plea, the chief inspector of undercover special investigations at the Scottish society for the prevention of cruelty to animals said the case was a testament to the close working relationship between the SSPCA and Police Scotland.

“Wildlife crime is a hugely specialised area and close working relationships such as these are paramount in bringing people who break the law and mistreat wildlife to justice,” he said.

Scottish Land and Estates chairman David Johnstone said the conviction showed that wildlife crimes could be successfully investigated and prosecuted.

“Wildlife crime of any kind is absolutely unacceptable and those who undertake such reckless acts should feel the full force of the law,” he said.

Mr Johnstone added that, in Wilson’s case, the Longformacus Estate – which was being managed for low ground pheasant shooting – had acted swiftly, first suspending him, then terminating his employment.

“The estate is fully aware of its legal responsibilities and continues to take advice to ensure its compliance procedures are as robust as possible,” he said. “We work closely with our members to ensure wildlife crime is prevented and if it does occur then we and our members are committed to helping with the detection and prosecution of those responsible.”