A national figure in the field sports industry has been fined £4,000 for allowing a pole trap to be used to protect his partridges and pheasants from birds of prey.
Michael Wood had denied allowing traps “big enough to kill a mink” to be set by employees at his Yorkshire farm to break the legs of predators such as raptors.
Wood, Chairman of the Game Farmers’ Association, believed he was “targeted” by the RSPB who viewed him as “public enemy number one,” his lawyers told Scarborough Magistrates Court.
But Wood, 69, who lives in a Grade Two listed manor house near York, passed two of the traps on his farm near Pickering and must have known they were there, the court ruled.
He was also ordered to pay £750 court costs and a £120 victim surcharge, giving a total legal bill of £4,870, following the undercover surveillance by RSPB investigators.
Eventually, five traps were found on Westfield Farm at Cropton following the two day stake-of the pens used to breed game birds for the gun using intensive farming.
Prosecutor Martin Hawes told Scarborough Magistrates two employees, John Sellers and Richard Hodgson, who had set up the traps had been dealt with separately.
He continued: “Mr Wood owned and managed the farm.
“The Crown’s case is he must have known these traps were there and that he knowingly promoted their use.
“Mr Wood’s case is he did not know they were being used and the two members of staff involved were on a frolic of their own.
“The Crown say he drove past two of them and they would have been apparent to him.”
Senior RSPB investigator Guy Shorrock said he arrived at the farm on June 10 last year and monitored the rearing pens for the game birds 320 metres away from dawn to dusk and overnight.
He and a colleague Howard Jones kept the site under observation with a telescope and binoculars and set up a covert video camera in a hedge, the trial was told.
Mr Shorrock said the pole trapping method had been outlawed for years.
It involved placing a rat trap on a platform on top of an elevated pole which would be attractive to birds of prey to perch on.
The rat trap was usually attached to the platform with twine or wire and once the bird was caught it usually fell off the perch in the trap, it was said.
Because the rat trap was secured to the platform it meant the bird could not fly off.
But the trap would then fall off and the trapped bird might not be noticed for some time, the court heard.
Mr Shorrock was taking some photographs of the traps when Wood drove up behind him in a corner of a field, the magistrates were told.
The investigator gave a false name and claimed he was looking for hares to photograph.
But Wood was suspicious and the investigators quickly packed up their equipment on a nearby hill, leaving the secret camera running, the court heard.
The following morning they alerted police and began a systematic search of the farm with an officer from Malton Police Station.
They found five traps tied to the side of the rearing pens, two of which the investigators had been aware of.
Three were standard size but two were slightly larger and “large enough to kill something as big as a mink,” Mr Shorrock added.
Defending solicitor Richard Atkins suggested Mr Shorrock must have known of Wood’s position as Chairman of the Association, the trade body for breeders who supply the field sports industry, and should not have let the traps remain after seeing his employees setting them.
He added: “The very name of the charity is the protection of birds. You left traps in situ. Is that a contradiction in the aims of the Society?”
But Mr Shorrock said he was helping tackle a national problem and “needed to send a deterrent message as part of the big picture”.
Wood had complained to North Yorkshire Police professional standards, blaming the RSPB for the death of 220 young fowls in a shed during the on-site investigations.
But the court heard that the investigators had been cleared by the police investigation.
Wood, of Manor House, Sinnington, York, denied an offence of .permitting a spring trap to be used but was convicted.
Magistrates ruled that it was “inconceivable” that Wood would not have spotted one of the pole traps being used as he drove around his land.
RSPB Investigations Officer Mr Jones, said: “It is time that these cruel traps were consigned to the history books, but as long as they are being used we will continue to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
“We would like to thank North Yorkshire Police and the CPS for bring this case to court. We would appeal to any members of the public out enjoying the countryside who see any of these traps to report them to the RSPB.”
It was the fourth successful conviction brought by the RSPB nationally for pole trap offences in the last two years. All involved estates rearing gamebirds for shooting.
The court heard the two farm workers who actually set the traps had been cautioned by Pickering police shortly after the original incident.