A 69-year-old woman has been cleared of two charges of plundering a Highland river for freshwater pearls.
In a trial conducted via video links across Scotland at Inverness Justice Centre, Sheriff Gary Aitken presided in the sheriff court in the trial of Isabella Newlands of Tulloch Road, Perth.
She had been accused of intentionally killing dozens of the protected freshwater pearl mussels in the River Spey, near Grantown-on-Spey, on June 10 2018.
She also denied possessing or having in her control six pearls, derived from mussels, at her home when police raided it on December 14 2018.
After hearing from wildlife police liaison constable Andrew Courts, fiscal depute Joe Stewart withdrew the first charge.
Sheriff Aitken, who had previously read a lengthy document of agreed evidence, then found the second charge against Mrs Newlands not proven.
He said he believed her 71-year-old husband, Hugh, that the pearls had been in his family for decades and gathered by his late father 70 years ago when pearl fishing was legal.
Mr Newlands said that they were his birthright and family heirlooms which would be handed down to his family, which included 35 grandchildren and more than 30 great-grandchildren.
Mr Newlands said he was not a well man and had not fished for pearls for more than 30 years. He said his wife suffered from arthritis and was not fit to fish for pearls any longer.
Mr Newlands told the court that he had campaigned for licensing of pearl fishing which would have ensured that pearls could be gathered without the mussels being harmed. He said he had not pearl fished since before 1998.
He told the court: “I have been involved all my life trying to get the law changed so that the pearls can be taken safely, leaving the mussels intact. If people knew how to do it properly and were licensed, then it could continue.
“The mussels are important for ensuring we have fresh water in our rivers and for the salmon industry.”
Pearl fishing was made completely illegal by an EU directive in 2006.
PC Courts said he found dozens of dead and discarded mussels on the banks of the Spey after a report by a water bailiff.
Several months later, he executed a search warrant of the Newlands’ home on December 14 when six pearls were found in a relatively new prescription envelope in an Irish trinket box.
It also contained other heirlooms of Mr Newlands’ family members – a tradition, he said, of travelling people of which he and his wife were a part.
Travelling people made their living from pearl fishing, then selling them on either individually or making jewellery.
No other evidence of paraphernalia associated with pearl fishing was found in the search of the Newlands’ home.