Gamekeeper who killed badger keeps job

A Gamekeeper convicted of deliberately snaring and killing a badger has been fined £1,200 but will not lose his job.

Steven Harmson, 47, was found guilty of two offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act last month.

He was fined for the offences at Aberdeen Sheriff Court yesterday but it emerged he will keep his position at the Findrack Estate at Craigievar, near Alford, even if he loses his firearms licence.

Defence solicitor Tom Cruickshank said: “His employer will keep him on even if the police decide to take action in regards to his fire arms licence.”

The news was condemned by The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which stumbled across dozens of dead animals including badger, roe deer, foxes and a rabbit caught in free running snares on the estate.

Senior investigations officer Dave Dick said last night: “This a substantial fine in a Scottish court and should send out a strong message that the breaking of wildlife laws is a serious matter.

“I am concerned, however, to hear reported the fact that the estate will be continuing to employ Mr Harmson as their head gamekeeper, after he has been convicted of such serious offences.

“In my 21 years of experience in the field of wildlife crime investigation the sacking of estate staff for wildlife offences is extremely rare and once again, the public will wonder whether gamekeepers’ employers are fully committed to stamping out such crimes on their land.”

Harmson, of Hillhead of Findrack, Torphins, was convicted of deliberately setting a snare near the entrance to a badger’s sett on the estate and failing to check traps daily.

The badger was found dead in the trap. Another was found dead elsewhere and a third had been caught but broke loose from a snare.

The offences were committed between February 1 and August 8, 2003.

During the course of the trial, the court heard that Harmson and his assistant had drawn the snares – tightening the loop so that no animals could be caught – but someone had set them again.

Rather than tightening and strangling an animal – as with self-locking snares – free running snares tighten when an animal struggles and loosen when it relaxes.

Animals can then be released or destroyed when the snares are checked – a task supposed to be carried out at least once every 24 hours.

Sheriff Annella Cowan, who took more than two hours to consider her verdict, ruled Harmson was responsible for the snares and she found it impossible to believe that someone else had maliciously set them when a neighbouring gamekeeper with 30 years of experience had never come across such a thing.

She said it was obvious the hole was a badger’s sett and the only inference that could be drawn from the snare being set close by was that Harmson wanted to catch it.

Harmson, who has worked at the estate for 15 years, was ordered to pay £600 for each charge.

A spokesman for Grampian Police said it was not clear if any action would be taken to rescind Harmson’s gun licence.

He said the officer who investigated the case may send a report to the firearms administration department at police headquarters in Queen Street, Aberdeen, if Harmson is considered a threat to the public.

Harmson refused to comment as he left court yesterday. It is understood he may appeal his sentence. No one at the Findrack Estate, owned by the Salvesen family, was available for comment.

Ian Hutchinson, development and education officer at Scottish Badgers, described Harmson’s fine as a “significant” penalty for a first offender.

He added that he hoped it would send out a strong message that cruelty against badgers would not be tolerated.

Mr Hutchinson said: “The fiscal service went to great lengths to make sure this went to court and we are grateful.”

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