A MEMBER of an exclusive £2,000-a-year shooting syndicate killed a young swan after mistaking it for a goose and gunning it down with both barrels of his 12-gauge shotgun, a court was told yesterday.
Harrogate magistrates heard how electrical company director and divorced father-of-two Simon Quince fatally injured the juvenile male swan while taking part in a pheasant shoot on land in North Yorkshire.
Quince, 36, of Hart Hills, Hemingfield, near Barnsley, pleaded guilty to a charge brought under the 1971 Criminal Damage Act of destroying the mute swan, the property of the Crown.
He also admitted using lead shot to shoot a wild bird, the first prosecution to be brought under 1999 Environmental Protection Regulations which restrict the use of lead shot in favour of steel or combination pellets.
Kim Coley, prosecuting, told the court that nine guns had been involved in a beater-driven pheasant shoot at Spellow Grange Farm in Minskip Road at Staveley, near Knaresborough, on December 8.
In the first drive, Quince had bagged two pheasants, and when the second drive took place he had been stationed at the end of the line near a disused railway track.
Mrs Coley told magistrates that it was a cold day with a clear blue sky and snow was on the ground when Quince spotted four birds he believed were geese. He discharged both barrels, hitting one of the quartet, which fell to ground.
The court heard that Quince realised immediately something was wrong and put his gun away before the swan was taken to a vet in Boroughbridge. However, the bird was found to be too badly injured to save and was put down.
In an interview with North Yorkshire Police, Quince said he had been shooting for three years. In his first year he went to local shoots for woodcock, pheasant and duck, and while he did not shoot during the second year, he then joined the Spellow Grange syndicate.
He maintained that he had not known he was firing at a swan, was unaware he could not use lead shot and wished he had done more research before going on the shoot.
Geoffrey Rogers, defending, told the court that Quince, who had never been in trouble with the law before, felt embarrassment, regret and remorse.
Mr Rogers said Quince was not a particularly experienced shot and two barrels he had discharged at the swan had been the last he had fired. He had not picked up his gun since except to hand it to police.
Quince had paid about £2,000 to be involved in the syndicate which allowed him 10 days shooting a year, although he had been making his first visit and had now been “dismissed” from the shoot.
Mr Rogers said: “On the spur of the moment and because of inexperience he thought it was a goose.
“It was only when it landed on the floor that he and others thought there was something odd, and when they went across they realised it was a swan.”
Quince was fined £445 and ordered to pay £85 in costs along with a £15 victim surcharge for shooting the swan, and he was given a £100 fine by magistrates for using lead shot.
Outside the court, RSPB species policy officer Jeff Knott said he was happy with the outcome of the case and confirmed the lead shot prosecution was a first in the UK and would act as a timely reminder to other shooters.