A GAMEKEEPER on an expensive shooting estate has been fined after admitting setting a trap which could injure wild birds.

Harrogate Magistrates Court heard the RSPB and two expert witnesses were convinced Ryan Waite, who maintained the Swinton estate 10,000-acre grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales, had intended to target birds of prey.

RSPB investigators covertly filmed Waite, of Healey, near Ripon, resetting a spring-loaded pole trap on top of a six foot tree stump in June last year.

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Kim Coley, prosecuting, said Waite was also filmed removing the trap when officials visited the area over a separate matter.

She said: “Given the nature of the shooting estate and how it makes its living and its primary business is raising birds there is every motive to trap raptors.”

Waite, 26, maintained he had set the trap to catch grey squirrels.

When asked by magistrate Dr John Garroway why he had targeted grey squirrels, Waite replied it was because they were an alien species, could damage trees in a nearby wood and threatened birds such as woodcocks.

Waite, who previously admitted setting the trap, said: “I have no real problems with birds of prey. They don’t affect my line of work.”

Wildlife consultant Stewart Scull said: “I have never seen a spring-trap used in this way to catch squirrels.”

He added squirrels would have been unlikely to visit the stump as it was surrounded by bracken.

Mr Scull said as a qualified gamekeeper Waite should have known the danger the trap would present to birds of prey.

Magistrates fined Waite £250 and found he had been reckless as to whether wild birds would be injured.

A spokesman for the Swinton Estate said the state “unequivocally” condemned any illegal activity on its estate.

It released a statement which read: “The Swinton Estate had been made aware that there was an on-going police investigation into the setting of a trap illegally which concerned a member of staff.

"It is very disappointing to learn that the member of staff in question has broken the law. The Estate unequivocally condemns any illegal activity and it will take a firm disciplinary stand against any member of staff found to be in breach of this policy.”

The case comes months after the RSPB declared areas of the Yorkshire Dales no fly zones for birds of prey.

The charity says the sparsity of raptors in the dales is due to persecution by gamekeepers.

After the case an RSPB spokesman said he was disappointed magistrates had not found Waite to have intentionally targeted birds of prey.

Mike Kenyon, Mr Waite’s solicitor, said the RSPB had poured a large amount of resources into demonising Waite for something he had not done.