A gamekeeper who was responsible for “one of the worst wildlife crimes in recent years” has escaped a prison sentence after a sheriff said his hands had been tied by the Scottish Government.
Sheriff Peter Paterson ordered 61-year-old Alan Wilson to carry out 225 hours of community service while claiming that official guidance against short term sentences had limited his options and ruled out a jail term.
Wilson previously pleaded guilty to nine offences on the Longformacus sporting estate in the Scottish Borders.
Jedburgh Sheriff Court heard last month that the League Against Cruel Sports was tipped off by a member of the public that snares were being operated in Henlaw Wood on the estate.
A researcher subsequently found a "stink pit" containing a pile of dead animals designed to attract other wildlife.
Wilson admitted shooting dead two goshawks, three buzzards, three badgers and an otter. He also pleaded guilty to using 23 illegal snares and possession of two bottles of highly toxic carbofuran pesticide.
Sheriff Paterson told him yesterday that the offences merited a custodial sentence but he was unable to send him to jail as "special circumstances" had to apply to impose a short term sentence of up to a year.
Instead, he ordered Wilson to carry out 225 hours of unpaid work over the next 18 months and imposed a night time curfew at his home.
The court heard that the Scottish Parliament was currently reviewing the guidelines for wildlife crime, with the Scottish Government considering increasing the maximum prison sentences available to five years.
The sheriff added: "If it was not for the provision against short term sentences then in my view a custodial sentence would be appropriate. The sentencing options open to me at the moment do not reflect society's views."
Outside the court, Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said Wilson was responsible for one of the worst wildlife crime incidents in recent years.
He added: ”The sheriff clearly wanted to give a custodial sentence and said so but was unable to do so because of the inadequacy of the Scottish legislation to deal with wildlife crime.”
An undercover officer for the Scottish SPCA said it was a “despicable case of serious and systematic crimes to indiscriminately remove wildlife from an estate”.
He added: “The sheer volume of dead wildlife discovered is truly shocking. Some of the equipment in Mr Wilson’s possession has been unlawful for decades yet it was evident it had been recently used to trap wild animals.
"We will never know the total number of animals which perished due to Mr Wilson, though had it not been for the robust intervention of Police Scotland, the Scottish SPCA and our other partner agencies, many more would have suffered and perished."
Wilson’s lawyer said background reports highlighted that he had taken matters into his own hands and did not blame his employer or anyone else.
A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association said Wilson’s behaviour was a “gross breach” of its wildlife crime policy and reflected negatively on the entire profession.
He added that his membership would be terminated immediately.