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  1. ITV Report

Farmer convicted of osprey disturbance has conviction quashed

A Lake District farmer convicted last year of disturbing an osprey nest has had his conviction quashed.

Paul Barnes strongly denied two charges, that allege he had intentionally or recklessly disturbed a male and female osprey which were in a nest at Bassenthwaite in June of last year.

Paul Barnes outside Carlisle Crown Court after his conviction was overruled

The charges emerged after 59-year-old Mr Barnes, of Braithwaite, near Keswick, was seen to be driving a tractor and a trailer containing children close to the nesting site as he conducted one of many educational visits which have become a regular part of his farming business.

Two adult ospreys were said to have left their nest for around 20 minutes.

Mr Barnes was convicted on both charges after a magistrates' court trial in August but lodged an appeal.

The trial began earlier this year at Carlisle Crown Court, and after two adjournments, concluded earlier today.

A judge and two magistrates ruled the case should be stopped - and Mr Barnes' appeal upheld - after legal submissions were made during an application by his barrister, Peter Glenser QC.

Judge James Adkin - sitting with two magistrates - summed up the three main strands of Mr Glenser's submissions.

"An individual in authority told Mr Barnes to carry on farming as usual," noted Judge Adkin.

"Observations had been undertaken of (nest) disturbances not wholly dissimilar to the current circumstances - in some cases arguably worse. They are characterised as agricultural disturbances and not criminal offences.

"Combined with these features there has been a lamentable failure by the prosecution to adhere to the (legal document) disclosure regime."

As a result, the appeal panel concluded the court proceedings should halted, and Mr Barnes' appeal against conviction was upheld.

In response, Mr Barnes - a farmer for 35 years and also a trained primary school teacher who has won national awards for conservation and children's education - spoke "emerging from 18 months of turmoil" which had a "massive impact on family life".

"I'm pleased with the outcome; relieved. But I wasn't totally disappointed after the trial because I knew that all the evidence hadn't been heard," he said.

Moving forward, Mr Barnes said he looked forward to developing a "fruitful partnership" with all groups and individuals who had a genuine osprey interest.

In a statement the Lake District Osprey Project said :

The fact that the case has been stayed (halted) and therefore the appeal upheld must not detract from the issue regarding the disturbance of protected birds, such as ospreys. The judge made it clear that disturbing these special birds will not be tolerated and we will not hesitate to contact Cumbria Police if future incidents occur.

"The Lake District Osprey Project, a partnership between the Forestry Commission, Lake District National Park and the RSPB, aims to ensure the continued success of breeding ospreys at Bassenthwaite. Since the birds returned in 2001, ospreys have raised over 30 chicks and delighted over a million visitors. Ospreys, like all birds of prey, are protected by law and it is a criminal offence to harm or disturb them during the nesting period."

– Lake District Osprey Project