Man shot swan because he thought it was a goose

A member of an exclusive £2,000 a year shooting syndicate killed a young swan after mistaking it for a goose and hitting it with both barrels of his 12-gauge shotgun, a court was told on Monday.

When 36-year-old Quince, of Hart Hills, Hemingfield, near Barnsley, pleaded guilty to a charge brought under the 1971 Criminal Damage Act of destroying Crown property, a mute swan, he also admitted using lead shot to shoot a wild bird, the first prosecution to be brought under 1999 Environmental Protection Regulations restricting the use of lead shot in favour of steel or combination pellets.

Prosecutor Kim Coley said nine guns had been involved in a beater-driven pheasant shoot 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 said it was a cold day with a clear blue sky and snow 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.

Quince realised immediately something was wrong and put his gun away before the swan was taken to a vet in Boroughbridge where it was found to be too badly injured to save and was put down.

In a police interview Quince said he had been shooting for three years. In his first year he went to local shoots for woodcock, pheasant and duck, did not shoot at all in the second year and then joined the Spellow Grange syndicate.

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.

Mitigating, Geoffrey Rogers said Quince, who had never been in trouble with the law before, felt embarrassment, regret and remorse. He had made a serious mistake which had been a salutary lesson to him.

He 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 the police.

Quince had paid about £2,000 to be involved in the syndicate which allowed him 10 days shooting a year, though he had been making his first visit and had now been ‘‘dismissed’’ from the shoot.

‘‘On the spur of the moment and because of inexperience he thought it was a goose and 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,’’ said Mr Rogers.

Quince was fined £445 with £85 costs and a £15 victim surcharge for shooting the swan with a £100 fine for using lead shot.

Outside the court RSPB species policy officer Jeff Knott said he was happy with the outcome and confirmed the lead shot prosecution was a first in the UK and would act as a timely reminder to shooters.