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Pair fined over `barbaric' trap.

Byline: By Neil Mckay

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has attacked fines given to gamekeepers for using a trap outlawed 99 years ago.

Their 4ft-high moss-covered pole trap was used to kill birds on Stanhope Common in Weardale, County Durham.

A court was told David Dixon, 50, of Keepers Cottage, Stanhope - head gamekeeper on the 7,000-acre Croglin Estate grouse moor - and underkeeper Ian Smith, 39, of Hope Level Cottages, Stanhope - used the trap to try and catch a hen harrier.

The protected bird is targeted by game enthusiasts because it hunts grouse.

Dixon and Smith admitted setting the trap and possessing a short-eared owl when they appeared before District Judge David Kitson at Bishop Auckland Magistrates' Court yesterday.

They said they had been trying to catch crows.

Dixon was fined pounds 100 for each offence, and Smith pounds 50. Both were ordered to pay pounds 210 costs.

Guy Shorrock, investigations officer for the RSPB, yesterday described the fines as "surprisingly low". He said: "Considering this sort of barbaric trap - which will snap a bird's leg off - has been illegal for almost 100 years, and considering the maximum fine for each offence is pounds 5,000, we did feel the fines were on the low side."

The court was told a walker had found the 4ft-high spring trap set on top of a post, disguised with moss, and reported it to the RSPB. They investigated and found feathers belonging to a short-eared owl around the base of the post.

Bill Brabbam, prosecuting, said when officers returned, the pole trap was at the same place. A hen harrier was seen over the common and officers suspected the trap was set to catch it.

The RSPB set up a covert operation at Crawleyside, Stanhope, and last April saw Dixon go to the trap and take something away. He was later seen crouching on moorland. Investigators found a short-eared owl buried at the spot.

Smith was later filmed re-setting the trap. Police were called and DNA tests confirmed that blood on the trap belonged to a short-eared owl.

Stephen Graham - for Dixon, Smith and their employers, Croglin Estates, of Wellingborough, Northants - said both men were of previous good character. They had been reprimanded and given verbal warnings by their employers.

Dixon, Smith and Croglin Estates also admitted three offences relating to the keeping of pesticides. Smith was fined pounds 50 on each of the three counts, Dixon pounds 100, and Croglin Estates pounds 2,000 on each count.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 13, 2003
Words:418
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