Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent
One of the Queen’s gamekeepers at Balmoral is being prosecuted for wildlife offences after two badgers were killed by snares laid on the estate. Robbie Elliot is to appear at Stonehaven sheriff court next month. He has been accused under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 of failing to properly check the snares, an offence which carries a maximum penalty of a £10,000 fine or 12 months in jail.
It is understood the badgers were found in May last year, trapped in snares in a forested area of the Highland estate near Birkhall, the Scottish summer holiday home of the Prince of Wales.
Gamekeepers are legally required to check snares every 24 hours. Elliot, 45, has denied the charges of failing to do so at earlier hearings.
Originally bought for the royal family by Prince Albert, Birkhall was inherited by Prince Charles from the Queen Mother, and in 2005 he spent his honeymoon there with the Duchess of Cornwall.
A spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace confirmed that Elliot was suspended last year after the incident came to light, but had since returned to duty. “Due to the time factor and the business of the estate his suspension was lifted, pending the outcome of the prosecution,” she said.
Last year, the then Scottish environment minister, Mike Russell, rejected calls from animal rights groups for snares to be banned, claiming they were valuable for controlling predators such as rats, stoats and foxes. But he announced plans for tougher legislation to control their use, including identification tags on snares, catches to stop them closing too tightly and restrictions on placing them where they could cause unnecessary suffering.