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Butterfly collector who netted protected species avoids prison

By Rod Minchin

A collector who captured and killed specimens of Britain's rarest butterfly has been spared jail.

Philip Cullen (57) was given a six-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work for capturing the globally endangered Large Blue butterflies at two protected sites.

He was also given a five-year criminal behaviour order banning him from three nature reserves popular with the Large Blue (Maculinea arion).

Bristol Magistrates Court heard that Cullen scrambled over locked gates and was seen swiping a child's net at a Large Blue before leaving the Daneway Banks in Gloucestershire with a plastic bag containing glass jars.

The following day, volunteers at the Collard Hill site in Somerset challenged Cullen after seeing him with the small net. Police later raided his home in Bristol and found a large number of dead and mounted butterflies, including Large Blues.

Unemployed Cullen had labelled two of the butterflies, which he claimed were from France, 'DB' and 'CH', the initials of the two sites where he had been seen.

Prosecutor Ian Jackson told the court: "These charges are brought on the grounds of endangering a species. A rare and beautiful butterfly that has once been found extinct and is struggling to establish a foothold."

Following a trial last month, magistrates convicted Cullen of six charges relating to him killing, capturing and possessing the Large Blue butterflies. Cullen, of The Grove, Warmley, Bristol, had previously admitted two other charges of possessing other protected species of butterfly.

Michael Hartnell, defending, said: "He accepts the enormity of what he has done.

"He only had one from each site but he accepts that if everybody did that they would die out. He is extremely remorseful. His interest in the countryside and wildlife is one he has had for a long, long time."

He said he also regularly helps his elderly parents and fears he will soon become a full-time carer for them.

Susan Helfer, chair of the bench, told Cullen: "We have decided these offences are so serious that they cross the custody threshold. These offences were deliberate and pre-planned and were committed in the knowledge that you were capturing and killing an endangered species and the risk of that butterfly becoming extinct in this country." He was also told to pay £300 prosecution costs and an £80 victim surcharge.

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