Driver must pay for hitting seagulls

A South Brighton man must pay $4570 after DOC says he accelerated his ute through a flock of seagulls, killing three birds.

Twenty-seven-year-old George Waller admitted the charge of killing protected wildlife when he appeared before Judge John Macdonald in the Christchurch District Court today.

Judge Macdonald reduced the fine for Waller’s clean record, his co-operation with the Department of Conservation after the September 29 incident, and his guilty plea.

The fine was $3000 and Waller must also pay $1570 for DOC’s costs.

Waller had earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of killing “absolutely protected wildlife” – red-billed gulls – in an incident at Kaikoura.

At 1.20pm he was driving his black utility vehicle when he slowed for a speed hump before accelerating directly at a flock of 24 gulls on the road. The flock was unable to escape in time and three birds were struck and killed by the vehicle. DOC said it was unable to find out how many were injured.

Judge Macdonald said the red-billed gull was one of three native gull species found in New Zealand, and was absolutely protected.

“While still relatively common, red-billed gull numbers have been decreasing at an alarming rate and the species is classified as at risk,” the judge said. Under the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act, it was regarded as a “taonga species”.

Members of the public reported the incident and there was security camera footage.

Waller admitted the facts but denied he had accelerated. He said he anticipated the seagulls would fly away, but felt some bumps.

The judge noted Parliament had increased the penalty under the Wildlife Act – the maximum was now imprisonment for two years or a fine of $100,000.

He said the case differed from others because the driving had been a spontaneous act, rather than someone hunting the wildlife. Waller may have believed the seagulls would have flown away and none would be hit.

After imposing the fine and costs, Judge Macdonald told Waller: “I trust you have learnt from this and won’t do this sort of thing again.”