A fishery owner who killed an otter that had been eating his valuable carp in front of horrified campers has been jailed in the first prosecution of its kind in the UK.
Stuart Jones, 54, shot the Eurasian otter in the head with a rifle in a ‘barbaric and inhumane’ incident in July last year.
The carnivorous mammals remain heavily protected by British law after almost going extinct in the 1950s due to pollution from pesticides and habitat loss.
Bournemouth Crown Court heard how Jones, who owned Lyons Gate Campsite and Fishery in Dorchester, Dorset, had ‘planned’ the creatures’ demise’ by setting traps for the animals, which had been targeting his four fishing lakes of carp, worth up to £40,000 each.
Father and son James and Lee Ritchie were with Tony and Karen Keane at the lake between July 7 and 11 last year when they saw a fisherman catch the otter in a net and shout for someone to fetch Jones, Victoria Hill, prosecuting, said.
Ms Hill told the court: ‘They became aware the defendant was trying to trap otters because they were on the lakes and eating his fish.
‘They thought it was being caught to be relocated but when the defendant arrived with his wife and daughter he was carrying a rifle.
‘He pulled the bolt back on the rifle, put it to the back of the otter’s head and pulled the trigger. The otter seemed to thrash a few times and then it was deceased.’
Reading a statement from James Ritchie, Ms Hill said: ‘I feel complete shock this has happened. I would certainly not ever go back to the site again, I’d rather give up fishing, a sport I have done for 30 years.’
Ms Hill added: ‘If people were to behave in the way this defendant has, the impact on the otter population as a whole would be devastating. That’s why they are a protected species.’
Otters have a limited impact on the fishing population within this environment and are actually a positive feature as they demonstrate good quality water for fish,it was said in court.
There was also a chance the otters in the lake could have been drowned by a fox trap Jones had set up over the opening of an overflow pipe that could not have held the animals’ weight and would have sunk to below water level, Bournemouth Crown Court heard.
A report from Dave Webb, founder of the UK Wild Otter Trust, described the execution as ‘barbaric and inhumane’.
Jamie Porter, defending, said his client – who has now sold the fishery after 17 years of ownership – ‘found the otter a nuisance, as chicken farmers find foxes’ and had considered putting up a fence but rejected the idea as ‘two rods for a day pitch are £6 – it is not a high income business’.
He continued: ‘He had rather a lot of otters on the site at that time, at least three, and clearly wasn’t thinking clearly when he took the action he took.
‘He may well have taken the view the people around him were entirely sympathetic to the action he was going to take. He badly misjudged his audience and as a consequence finds himself here today.
‘It was utterly inappropriate. He has handed back his rifle licences and no longer engages in any activity at all to do with wildlife.’
He added that Jones had ‘disposed’ of the animal in the ‘cleanest, kindest and quickest way’ like a vet would.
However, Judge Stephen Climie said: ‘If they are ill and need to be put to sleep yes, but in the context of this case it was both unnecessary and illegal.’
Jones pleaded guilty to two counts of killing and trapping a protected species.
He was sentenced to two months in prison after being prosecuting for killing a wild protected animal under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations Act 2017 and for setting a trap for a protected animal under the Wildlife and Countryside act 1981.
Judge Climie told the former fishery owner he could not suspend the sentence because ‘the point has to be made’ and he had deliberately tried to avoid the law which has been in place since 1981.
He said: ‘You had planned the demise of this otter and had set up your own makeshift traps. You were aware that it was illegal to trap and/or kill this species but despite that knowledge you continued with the plan you had.
‘You went with one clear intention in mind to kill that otter. Your motivation was both financial and reputational.’
Mr Webb said it was the first case of its kind in the UK and he was ‘over the moon’ with the outcome, which would ‘send a stark warning to other fishery people’.
The CPS also intends to pursue a Proceeds of Crime Act application for the cost of otter fencing, which can be up to £20,000 – the action Jones should have taken to stop the otters from eating his fish.