Raymond Elliott from Branston, in Staffordshire, has been forced to pay £1,500 and branded a criminal after trapping one of the grey squirrels that had been raiding his bird feeders and drowning it in a water butt. A neighbour reported him to the RSPCA, which took him to court. He appeared at Burton Magistrates’ Court in the first case to be brought under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act in respect of a non-domestic animal.

“This is an injustice,” said Mr Elliott. “People do it across the country all the time, they are just making an example of me. I do not feel what I did was inhumane or cruel.”

The landmark case sets an important precedent for killing grey squirrels and could lead to hundreds of other prosecutions across the country. The RSPCA warned that the method of despatch advocated in official guidance — that squirrels should be caught in a sack and killed with a single blow to the head — could also now fall foul of the law. It implied that the only humane way to despatch a pest would be to take it to a vet for a lethal injection at a cost of up to £70. An RSPCA spokesman said: “Drowning grey squirrels causes unnecessary suffering, as this case demonstrates.”

Doug Walton, for the defence, described Mr Elliott as a man of good character. He added: “The drowning of squirrels and rats is a widespread practice, so what are the alternatives for these people? Realistically, I can’t see many opting to take the creatures to the vets to pay to have them euthanised.”

The rest of this article appears in 28th July issue of Shooting Times.

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