‘Monumentally inadequate’: Exotic bird breeder who killed 5 red kites avoids prison

A wildfowl breeder who killed 15 wild birds including five red kites has been handed a community payback order in what prosecutors say is the first conviction of its kind in Scotland.

On 19 May, Barry Nicolle, a 67-year-old man who runs an exotic wildfowl breeding farm in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, was ordered to complete 216 hours of unpaid work within 12 months after previously pleading guilty to 14 charges including the illegal poisoning of five red kites and ten rooks. 

He also pleaded guilty to the possession of several highly toxic pesticides, using a crow trap illegally, and an air weapon licensing offence. 

Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) issued a statement last week confirming that between May 2019 and February 2020, Nicolle laced a mandarin duckling and a mallard duck with banned pesticides, as bait. He did so to attract and kill scavenger birds to protect his collection of exotic and ornamental waterfowl “from a perceived threat”, it said.  

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The statement added that Nicolle placed poisoned bread on fence posts around his land, which is just 150m from a nearby primary school, in the playground of which all ten dead rooks were found. 

The case dates back to 2019, when the court heard that numerous reports of dead red kites in the Kirkpatrick, Durham, and Springholm areas were made to Police Scotland, the RSPB, and to the Scottish Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Inspectors by members of the public.  

Speaking after the sentencing, Fiona Caldwell, who leads on wildlife and environmental crime for COPFS, said: “The laying of bait laced with poisons was shockingly irresponsible and Nicolle has shown an utter disregard for the wildlife laws which serve to protect these species”.  

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, added that the NGO welcomed Nicolle’s conviction: “The placing of poison baits out in the open is illegal, dangerous and indiscriminate. It is exceedingly fortunate that Mr Nicolle’s repeated actions did not result in serious injury to a young child.”

However, wildlife conservationist Dr Ruth Tingay, who is a co-founder of campaign group Wild Justice and author of the Raptor Persecution blog, described the sentence given by the court as “monumentally inadequate”. 

In a blog post published last week, Tingay said that she felt “incredibly sorry for the multi-agency investigators in the latest case, who have clearly worked hard to bring a successful prosecution against Nicolle”. 

“In my opinion this pathetic sentence doesn’t reflect their efforts, doesn’t act as a deterrent for others, and certainly doesn’t reflect the seriousness of Nicolle’s crimes, which he knowingly committed, repeatedly, over a period of months.”

According to COPFS, Nicolle’s case is believed to be the first Scottish conviction in which multiple birds of prey have been killed with poison. 

In a statement issued by the RSPB, the NGO said that according to the Sherriff's comments in court, Nicolle's crimes were serious enough to cross the threshold for prison to be considered. However,  because he had no previous convictions, in light of his age, and because of sentencing guidelines regarding custodial penalties of less than 12 months, a community order was served.