Walkers are being asked to be on the alert for wildlife poisoning after a Scottish gamekeeper was found guilty of setting carcasses laced with poison to attract birds of prey.
George Aitken of Lauder, in the Borders, was sentenced by Selkirk Sheriff Court to 220 hours of community service for the offences, which he admitted. He also set traps containing live pigeons to lure raptors.
Aitken, 56, arrived at court wearing a full-face ski hood and combat jacket. He was caught last year in an operation run jointly by police, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Scottish Society for the Protection of Animals. Pheasant carcasses containing the highly toxic and illegal substance carbofuran were found close to the Southern Upland Way.
A member of the public alerted authorities to the poison-laced birds, which investigators said had probably been set to kill birds of prey in the area.
Bob Elliott of the RSPB said generally the instances of poisoning were declining, but there were still areas where he believed it was happening. He said: “The general public is far, far more educated nowadays about these things. But there are some big, big holes where we are still not seeing birds of prey in some of the game-rearing areas of Scotland.
“We would urge everybody to make it stop, basically. I would hope one day we would be able to stand here and have a conversation about when we remember how poisonings used to occur in our countryside.”
Aitken admitted eight charges relating to the setting of the banned substance and the setting of illegal, home-made traps at Blythe Farm, near Lauder. Bob Elliott called the laying of carbofuran in the countryside as a national disgrace. The pesticide is one of the most toxic known, with doses as low as 1ml fatal to humans.