Man sentenced after death of Barn Owl near Scarborough
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A man has been sentenced after the death of an owl that was trapped on an allotment plot in Hunmanby.
On 8 April 2023, a dog walker discovered a badly-injured adult Barn Owl caught in a spring-operated trap in the allotments at Sands Lane, Hunmanby. Despite the bird being rescued and taken to a vet, the injuries to its legs were so severe that it had to be euthanized.
When spoken to by police, the tenant of the plot, Leslie Shooter, 57, stated that he had set a number of traps to control rats. However, he had not covered the traps as required by law, resulting in the trapping of the bird.
Barn Owls are particularly susceptible to disturbance and human interference. They are listed under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, giving them legal protection. The species is also an early breeder, with a typical season being March to September, so any issues affecting adult breeding birds during this time brings additional risks to dependant eggs and young.
Spring-operated traps, often referred to as ‘Fenn’ traps, can be legally operated in the UK, but their use and target species is strictly controlled by legislation. Potential offences include use whilst uncovered, neglect in checking and use to capture wild birds.
Following an investigation by North Yorkshire Police, Shooter was charged with using an animal trap in circumstances for which it is not approved, causing a trap to be set to cause injury to a wild bird and causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal.
After pleading guilty at Scarborough Magistrates Court on 29 June 2023, Shooter was sentenced to a community order with 100 hours' unpaid work requirement, as well as £199 of costs and surcharges.
PC Graham Bilton, Wildlife Crime Officer for North Yorkshire Police, who investigated the incident alongside the RSPCA, said: "Raptor persecution is a national wildlife priority but unfortunately despite the legal protection offered to these birds it continues to be a problem throughout the UK.
"The incident in question, which resulted in the tragic death of the barn owl, could have been avoided had the defendant used the traps in a responsible and lawful way."
Geoff Edmond, RSPCA Inspectorate Wildlife Lead, said: "This has been a very distressing incident and I would like to thank the member of the public who took this Barn Owl to the vet even though sadly - due to its horrific injuries - it could not be saved.
"I believe this incident will have caused upset and concern for the community of Hunmanby, many of whom will have enjoyed watching this Barn Owl.
"By correct training in and knowledge of the use of this trap, this death should not have occurred. I would urge anyone using traps to ensure they are fully conversant with the legislation surrounding them.
"I am grateful that the RSPCA continues to work in partnership with North Yorkshire Police to tackle wildlife and rural crime."
Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations, added: “Raptor persecution is a national issue, impacting on a range of threatened species including public favourites like the Barn Owl, which in this case was inexcusably trapped in a heinous manner. Our thanks go to North Yorkshire Police for bringing this case to justice and highlighting the issue.”