Protected animal killed at Prince Charles’s holiday home

Royal gamekeeper Robbie Elliot guilty
Robbie Elliot admitted a charge at Stonehaven Sheriff Court

A gamekeeper on the royal family’s Highland estates at Balmoral has been fined after a badger was killed by one of his snares, breaching wildlife crime legislation.

Robbie Elliot, 45, admitted he had failed to check a snare at least once a day at Birkhall, Prince Charles’s Scottish holiday home at Balmoral which he inherited from the Queen Mother after her death. The snare had killed a badger, which had lain there for at least two weeks.

Elliot was fined £450 at Stonehaven sheriff court today for breaching the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 after Sheriff Patrick Davies rejected a defence plea for leniency.

Elliot’s lawyer, David McKie, told the court the gamekeeper could lose his general licence if he was convicted. But the sheriff responded: “I must seek to punish you appropriately and I must also seek to deter others from falling into human error such as your own.”

The gamekeeper was, however, cleared of a second similar charge of failing to check a snare after pleading not guilty to that offence.

The snares were placed near a “stinkpit”, where animal carcasses are dumped into a small pit to lure predators such as foxes, stoats and weasels, which are then snared and killed by gamekeepers.

The act makes it illegal to set traps to kill badgers but there was no proof Elliot knew there were badgers in the area.

The act also requires gamekeepers to check snares at least once a day to minimise cruelty to animals.

Animal rights groups have complained that snares are unnecessarily cruel and indiscriminate but their demands for snaring to be banned were rejected last year by the Scottish government. Sporting estates and gamekeepers insist snaring is an essential tool to protect grouse and pheasant and said they were used responsibly.

Ian Hutchison, a former policeman who runs the welfare group Scottish Badgers, said badgers were still being routinely killed in snares and gamekeepers repeatedly failed to check them correctly. His trust knew of 12 badgers being killed this year by snares.

“I’m disappointed that it’s a professional gamekeeper. Irrespective of who he’s employed by, he’s seen fit not to abide by the regulations,” Hutchison said. “I know it has special significance: the royal estates should be setting an example to everybody.

“But professional gamekeepers keep telling us that they know what they’re doing and don’t need them banned because they’re a necessary tool but here’s a professional gamekeeper completely ignoring the existing regulations.”

McKie said the “stinkpit” was in woods near Birkhall, used for a pheasant shooting by Prince Charles, which had a significant fox problem. “It has never, ever caught a badger because badgers were not known to be present on the estate,” he said.

A Balmoral estate spokeswoman said the royal family took wildlife offences “very seriously”. She said that Elliot, who was suspended over the incident but then reinstated, would again be subject to an internal disciplinary procedure.