A gamekeeper was yesterday fined £1500 after being found in possession of a dead red kite.
James Rolfe was found with the protected bird of prey at the Moy Estate during a police raid last June.
The 20-year-old was a trainee gamekeeper and claimed to have found the bird dead in a fenn trap, used for catching stoats and weasels.
When he appeared at Inverness Sheriff Court, Rolfe pleaded guilty to having the dead red kite in his possession on 3rd June.
The court heard how police attended the Moy Estate on 3rd June, armed with search warrants, including for Rolfe’s house at The Gate Lodge, Moy.
When officers arrived, Rolfe was standing outside his house, beside his landrover.
He was searched and on the ground at his feet, police found a bird’s identification ring.
Officers then searched the landrover and found a dead red kite.
Rolfe’s defence agent Iain Fleming told the court his client had gone out to check fenn traps on the grouse moor that morning and had discovered one which had been "disturbed."
He approached the trap and found the dead bird.
The court heard how the bird had died from blunt trauma to its head.
"He took the wrong option," Mr Fleming said. "What he should have done is contact his superior and advise them of the existence of this bird in the trap. He didn’t do that, what he did was pick up the bird and put it in the back of his landrover. He came upon the bird in the course of his duties and then acted inappropriately."
Mr Fleming added his client had been employed as a trainee at the time and had lost his employment as a result of the incident.
He has since struggled to find work and moved home with his parents at Maryburgh, Dingwall.
"He will require to live with this stain for quite a considerable time," he added. "He made a wrong decision about what to do with what he came across."
Mr Fleming said his client had panicked when he saw the police and removed the bird’s identification ring which he then dropped on the ground.
Fining him £1500, Sheriff Margaret Neilson said: "The conviction on your record is probably more punishment than any I could give you.
"You have pleaded guilty to a very serious charge. Clearly, you were aware of what you should have done when you came across the dead red kite but chose not to do that, then made matters worse by removing the leg ring from the bird.
"You made a quick but very wrong decision."
Northern Constabulary says it is committed to tackling crimes against wildlife and take them extremely seriously.
"The persecution of these magnificent species is illegal, unacceptable and has an unwelcome and negative impact both on the natural environment and local economy," said Northern Constabulary’s wildlife crime co-ordinator, Chief Inspector Matthew Reiss.
Meanwhile, 44-year-old Dean Barr, of East Lodge, Skibo Estate, Clashmore, Dornoch, also appeared yesterday and was fined £3300 after pleading guilty to having Carbofuran, an illegal pesticide, in a storage room at Overskibo Farm buildings, Clashmore, Dornoch, on 8th May last year.
Around 10kg of Carbofuran was recovered and, according to depute fiscal Ian Smith, it was considered by the RSPB to be the largest find of an illegal poison in the UK.
Mr Smith said it was enough to wipe out the entire golden eagle and red kite population in Scotland several times.
Barr, who is the shooting manager at the estate, was charged after a police search found the bodies of two dead golden eagles and a sparrow hawk. They had been poisoned by Carbofuran.
Barr’s solicitor David McKie told the court the Carbofuran his client had dated back to the 1990s, when he worked in the Borders. At that time, Carbofuran was legal and was used to prevent damage to crops by insects.
He had it in the Borders and took it with him when he moved to Skibo in 2008, even though it became illegal in 2005. Mr McKie told the court his client didn't know how to dispose of it.
"He should have phoned the police and handed it over," Mr McKie stated. "He simply didn't know what the best thing to do with it was. He is very clear he didn't use it.
"What we are dealing with here is a foolish act of omission. That was all it was, it wasn't used at any time."
He stressed his client was not responsible for the killings, a position accepted by the Crown.
"He has the full support of his employers and I am assured by his employers if they thought for one moment he had been involved in the use or dissemination of this material they would not be supportive," he said. "They are very clear about that."