A GAMEKEEPER accused of setting illegal snares to trap mountain hares on the Lochindorb Estate had the charge against him dropped by the prosecution on Wednesday.
The dramatic twist to the groundbreaking trial came on the third day of the hearing before Sheriff Ian Abercrombie.
Gamekeeper Kevin Begg and Head keeper David Taylor from the Lochindorb Estate faced allegations of setting illegal snares to trap mountain hares on the estate on April 14, 2009.
It is the first time such a prosecution has been sought.
But with the prosecution evidence coming to a close depute fiscal Ian Smith told the sheriff he was not seeking a conviction against Begg and he now intends to call him as a witness against his colleague, Taylor.
Earlier the court heard evidence from SSPCA Inspector Alastair MacGregor (45) who told the court of
an interview that took place with Taylor in a police car near Grantown-on-Spey on July 29,2009.
The inspector accompanied the investigating police officer PC Eric Sharkey. At the interview Mr MacGregor said head keeper, Taylor had told them that the snares found on the hill would have been set by himself and Begg.
Mr MacGregor said Taylor was asked if they had a licence for snaring mountain hares and he said they had been advised by their solicitors as long as they were not trying to eradicate the species ‘there was not a problem’.
Mr MacGregor said his understanding of the law was that if they did not have a licence what they were doing was illegal. Mr MacGregor, a former gamekeeper also told the trial he disagreed with the policy of the agency he worked for that there should be a ban on all types of snaring.
Asked by Taylor’s solicitor David McKie what the SSPCA position was on snaring he replied that organisation’s view was it was cruel and should be banned.
"That’s not my personal position," he said and he accepted that snares set in the correct manner was quite lawful.
Taylor (64) of Relugas Kennels, Dunphail and Begg (45) of Keeper’s House, Lochindorb had denied setting illegal snares that were non-selective on April 14, 2009 on land near to Lochan-t-Sidhien and the B9007 road on Lochindorb Estate for the purpose of taking or killing mountain hares.
The court heard hares carry a tick which can be damaging to grouse stocks and it is the first time since the legislation was introduced in the mid-1990s that a case of this kind had ever come to court.
Mr MacGregor said his understanding of the law was that if they did not have a licence what they were doing was illegal.
Mr MacGregor also claimed on an inspection of the hill where the snares were set on April 14 with PC Sharkey he found red deer droppings.
Mr McKie asked if he was sure about that because Taylor would be later claiming in evidence that there had not been red deer on that hill for 40 years.
The solicitor asked if he was saying this to strengthen the Crown case.
But Mr MacGregor insisted he saw red deer droppings.
Earlier another wildlife expert had told the trial the snares set by the keepers were non-selective, and had the potential to trap other wild animals and birds.
Former wildlife officer with Tayside police Alan Stewart from Methven, Perthshire told the trial the higher the ground the snares were set on the fewer species of animals there would be to become trapped in them.
"But I don’t know how you can exclude all other species from being trapped. It’s possible but improbable. You could set a hundred of these snares and go for days without any bi-catch (a non targeted species of animal."
However he added: "I have no doubt that whoever set these snares wanted to catch mountain hare and where these snares were set 99 per cent of the time they would catch what they wanted to catch."
He told the trial he could not see any way of eliminating the potential for catching a species other than mountain hares.
Northern Constabulary Wildlife Officer Eric Sharkey (45) conceded that some of the snares may have been outwith Lochindorb Estate boundaries. But he believed they would have been set by the same people.
He said the matter was reported to him by a lady who had been walking on the hill early in April.
PC Sharkey at an earlier sitting of the trial described in evidence how he fell after getting his foot caught in one of the snares when he investigated the area with Mr MacGregor.
He said he had neutralised the snares.
The court has been told how the snares operate with a W shaped wire straddling tracks through which the hare will travel with a snare hanging down from the wire about five inches from the ground to entrap the animal.
The trial continues.