AN award-winning gamekeeper was told his reputation will be tarnished forever after he allowed the setting of illegal cage traps to catch birds of prey.

James Benjamin Shuttleworth, the headkeeper of Snilesworth Estate, Northallerton, North Yorkshire, admitted five charges of knowingly permitting the use of a live trap for the purpose of killing or taking a wild bird.

The 41-year-old appeared before Scarborough magistrates yesterday with David George Cook, underkeeper, and Charles Lambert Woof, beatkeeper.

Cook, 18, admitted two charges of using a cage trap holding a live pigeon for the purposes of killing or taking a wild bird. Woof, 23, pleaded guilty to one count of the same charge.

The RSPB launched a undercover investigation in May after a local farmer found portable cage traps containing live pigeons in secluded woodland on the Snilesworth Estate, which is home to the Snilesworth Shoot.

Cage traps can be used legally to control crows, but the use of live pigeons is forbidden - as is trying to trap wild birds of prey.

On May 29, the RSPB filmed Cook visiting the traps and giving grain to the pigeons.

Two days later, they returned with the RSPCA and North Yorkshire Police.

Tim Ryan, mitigating, said Shuttleworth's guilty pleas indicted he realised he was responsible for the actions of Cook and Woof. Mr Ryan said the gamekeeper's work life had been affected by his "acrimonious" divorce.

Shuttleworth had previously been awarded the Purdey Award for Game and Conservation in 2005 in recognition for his "excellent skills and remarkable achievement of the restoration of Snilesworth".

Cook was given a 12-month conditional discharge and Woof was handed a fine of £100. They were told to pay £43 costs each. Shuttleworth was fined £1,250 with £43 costs.

Chairman of the bench John Brett said: "You are a highly experienced and respected gamekeeper who has taken full responsibility of managing not only your estate but also your workforce.

"They clearly carried out your instructions and were left with minimal supervision to conduct a task, which has got laws and regulations that were not adhered to.

"You have pleaded guilty and, in that respect, your reputation will be tarnished and you will have to live with this wherever you work within the gamekeeping community."

Speaking after the court case, the RSPB's Guy Shorrock said: "We are really pleased with the outcome, but it is a further shocking indictment on the illegal activities that are taking place on many upland shooting estates within Britain.

"We believe there was a clear campaign of illegal trapping taking place on the estate and the court's comments have reflected how seriously they have viewed Mr Shuttleworth's activities."