A YORK man whose hobby was snaring wild song birds was caught setting traps by the roadside while going to Seamer Horse Fair, a court heard.

Alan Smith, 59, was staying on a site in Gate Helmsley, en route to the fair, when he placed a cage in a nearby hedge.

The trap, containing a Goldfinch and food, was designed to lure a second Goldfinch onto a perch, after which the cage door would slam shut.

Prosecutor Katy Varlow said the bird - which Smith said he had got from a man in a pub in Leeds - was "extremely agitated".

She added: "It would not go on the perch. It was banging against the side of the trap. It was clearly not used to being in captivity."

Wildlife officer PC Graham Bilton, based at Eastfield, near Scarborough, removed the cage but Smith and his fellow travellers were off the site, Scarborough magistrates heard on Monday.

However, the officer caught up with the same group of caravans when they pitched camp for a second time a few days later at Scagglethorpe, by the A64.

Again, a cage had been laid out to snare a second Goldfinch, and this time a Goldfinch already caught in the wild was inside as a decoy, Ms Varlow continued, adding: "Small finches are extremely popular to be targeted for illegal trapping.

"They're protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act but very popular with the travelling community due to their melodic song and colourful attractive plumage."

Smith, of The Clifton Caravan Site in Water Lane, York, was given a six month community order.

He was also fined £100 with £85 costs and ordered to pay a £60 surcharge and £150 court charge.

Presiding magistrate Pam Macfie said: "This is a most unusual case."

Smith admitted eight offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of taking and possessing wild birds, using a trap and using the birds as decoys earlier this month.

Ian Brickman, mitigating, said: "He has no particular use for the birds. It's just a hobby.

"There was no suggestion the cage was in itself cruel."

PC Bilton said after the hearing: “It is important that those responsible for committing wildlife crimes are brought to justice. This type of crime can have a dramatic effect on local fauna and flora, yet often go unreported and are difficult to investigate.”

RSPCA Inspector Geoff Edmond said the case highlighted the illegal trapping of song birds - which was just as much a problem as the targeting of birds of prey.

He said: "It highlights our concern that birds are still being illegally taken from the wild when people should be able to enjoy seeing them and feeding them in the countryside."