A conservation award-winning farmer has told of his outrage after being hauled through the courts for disturbing nesting ospreys.
Paul Barnes, Cumbria, was fined £300 with £2,030 costs at Workington Magistrates Court last week for what the RSPB labelled ‘recklessly disturbing a pair of rare ospreys while they were raising their young’.
According to the charity, it was Mr Barnes’ educational wildlife tour which prompted the Schedule 1 male and female to leave the nest for 20 minutes, leaving the potential for their chicks to starve or become vulnerable to birds of prey.
“Luckily this was not the case in this instance, but they should not have been put at risk in the first place,” an RSPB spokesman said.
It was more his disturbance of the ospreys which ‘could have been detrimental to their breeding success’, he added.
Due to the birds’ protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, it is a criminal offence to harm or disturb them during nesting and is punishable by an unlimited fine or a custodial sentence.
But Mr Barnes, who has farmed the same land for 32 years, said he had co-operated with the project on ‘numerous occasions’ and had been the ‘frontline protection for the nest since 2011’.
He said: “When magpies took the day-old osprey chicks, it was me who caught the magpies; and when the nest blew down, I rescued them.
“When I picked up a fallen weak bird and gave it to the RSPB to hand-rear they over-fed and killed it within six weeks.
“The law says carrying out farm practice means you are exempt from prosecution but still I was found guilty.
“There is only one person who has protected that osprey, and that is me.”
Mr Barnes farms all his grass within a Higher Level Stewardship agreement and is within three Sites of Special Specific Interest on the shore of Special Area of Conservation Bassenthwaite Lake.
He said the osprey came to nest on the boundary with neighbours in 2010 and reared its first brood in 2011.
“The osprey has bred successfully for six consecutive years,” Mr Barnes said. “I do not believe I was given a fair trial and intend to appeal if I can afford it.”