Two brothers who disturbed a colony of Britain’s rarest seabird when they went on Coquet Island in the breeding season will be sentenced tomorrow.
The maximum fine is £5,000 per bird affected, so Derwick and Leslie Ramsey, of nearby Amble, could theoretically be told to pay up to £710,000 each.
After the case, RSPB senior investigations officer Mark Thomas said globally threatened roseate terns were the rarest bird in the North East. It would not be known until the colony flew back from its winter home in Africa if these two incidents last summer had done lasting damage to the ‘fragile’ population.
Derwick Ramsey denied disturbing the terns, but the case was found proved by magistrates at Bedlington last Thursday. He told the court the birds had been alarmed by a warden shouting at him.
He said that after landing in his boat, he had been told by RSPB staff how vital it was to leave the breeding birds in peace and so he had stayed in the water until the tide allowed him to sail home.
But the prosecution said he had caused a ‘domino effect’ of alarm as he made a complete circuit of the island.
He had landed at the bird sanctuary without permission last July 20 to pick winkles to sell. His children wanted pocket money to go to the planned Jessie J concert at Alnwick, he said.
In summer, the island is home to the country’s only breeding colony of the extremely rare roseate tern. There were 71 pairs last year.
Leslie, 41, of Charles Road, admitted disturbing the terns two days later when he went to collect winkles. He said his brother had told him nothing of the first incident and both denied knowledge of the ban on visitors to the sanctuary.
He and Derwick, 42, of Dandsfield Square, were both cleared of having boats capable of being used for a Wildlife and Countryside Act offence. If convicted, they could have had their boats confiscated. The bench said it was clear their only purpose had been to collect winkles.
Barry Row, defending both brothers, said the boats could no more be legally linked to any offence than could wearing socks.
Jonathan Moore, prosecuting, said Derwick had been reckless after being warned by wardens how to avoid disturbing the nervous terns.
He said the warden being accused of causing the alarm had been described by Derwick in interview as ‘muttering’ rather than shouting.
Magistrates adjourned sentence for probation reports. Mr Thomas said after the case that the RSPB was working with Natural England and island owner the Duke of Northumberland to protect the birds and increase their numbers, so incidents like this were unhelpful.
“We are pleased that the case has been won and regardless of sentence, it reinforces the message that you cannot land on Coquet Island.”