Eight months ago (March), a significant haul of pre-prepared poisoned baits was discovered on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire. The baits comprised chopped up pieces of rabbit, liberally sprinkled with the banned poison Carbofuran, that had been placed inside two gamebags that had been hidden inside a wood next to a grouse moor.
The discovery was made by fieldworkers from Project Raptor and they duly reported their finding to the police. We waited for a press release and an appeal for information from the police but nothing came, so three months later (June) we blogged about it (here) because, unlike the police, we considered it a newsworthy item in the public interest, as apparently did BBC Scotland (here).
Recently, an update on the police investigation appeared on Project Raptor’s website:
“24th October 2013. Project Raptor have contacted South Lanarkshire police and they have now informed us that evidence gathered from the two game bags has come back negative. This means that unless further evidence comes their way then this case is just another in a long line of wildlife crimes that have taken place within the Leadhills area over the years that will never be solved”. See here for full update.
When Project Raptor says that ‘evidence gathered from the two gamebags has come back negative‘ they do not mean that the analysis of the poison came back negative – SASA has already confirmed the poison found on those baits was Carbofuran and they included the incident in their quarterly report on poisoning incidents. Rather, what we think Project Raptor is referring to is that any fingerprint or DNA testing that might have been done on the two gamebags has come back negative.
This means that there is no evidential link between the two gamebags and any individual person and therefore it is not possible to charge anyone for committing an offence in relation to these items.
This case is an excellent example of just how difficult it is to bring illegal poisoners to justice. It’s not the fault of the police that there isn’t enough evidence, although to be frank they are not blameless in this particular situation – had they had the foresight and interest to install a covert camera overlooking the site where the poisoned baits had been found they may well have caught the criminal(s) in the act of retrieving the bait or even adding more bait to the secret stash. They could (should) also have conducted a thorough search of the surrounding area, particularly the adjacent grouse moor, to see whether any of the baits had already been placed out on the hill. Given that one of the bags was full (of bait) and the other bag was only half-full, this would have been a reasonable assumption, especially given the reported history of poisoned baits being found on this estate (see here). Instead, the police decided to arrive on site in two marked police vehicles (thus alerting everybody to their presence and allowing any nearby criminal to hide any other incriminating evidence) and they quickly removed the gamebags and left the site without conducting a wider search. On top of all that, they still have not issued a press release about this case, giving us the impression that they’re just not all that bothered. At the very least they should be alerting the general public to the potential threat of people and their pets stumbling across what is a fatally toxic poison in a publicly-accessible area.
So is that it, then? Will the discovery of these baits (which we believe to be the biggest stash of pre-pared baits found since 32 poisoned baits were found on Glenogil Estate in 2008) just be conveniently ignored and everyone carries on as usual? For certain, these baits will not feature in any ‘official’ raptor persecution statistics because, as we were recently told by the Environment Minister’s office, where poisoned baits have been discovered but ‘no raptors were involved’ they cannot be listed as a raptor persecution incident. We don’t actually know whether ‘no raptors were involved’ at Leadhills because the police didn’t conduct a search to look for poisoned carcasses!
It looks certain that no action will be / can be brought in the criminal courts. But what about other types of action?
There’s the possibility of civil action – we will wait to see whether any single farm payments are withdrawn from Leadhills Estate by the Scottish Executive (as they were from Glenogil Estate in 2008 – see here) although we suspect any such action would be strongly challenged by the estate precisely because there is no evidential link between the baits and any employee of Leadhills Estate.
Great, isn’t it?
Is there any other type of action? Well, yes, there is. What we would really like to see is action taken by Scottish Land and Estates, the representative body of Scottish landowners. The only response we saw from SLE about the discovery of the poisoned baits on Leadhills Estate was a false accusation levelled at this blog for reporting the incident! (see here).
Interestingly, in a comment made on Mark Avery’s blog today, SLE Chief Executive Doug McAdam claims, “…..a range of partners, Scottish Land and Estates included, invest a significant amount of time and resource into working with and through PAW Scotland to help achieve this [eradication of golden eagle persecution], not just for golden eagles though, but all wildlife crime” (see here for his full comment).
So what, exactly, has SLE done about the continuing issue of alleged and confirmed illegal raptor persecution on Leadhills Estate? We’ve asked this time and time again but the question is just met with silence every time.
We’re not sure that Leadhills Estate is a member of SLE, although given that the owner of Leadhills Estate (Lord Hopetoun) also just happens to be a Board member of SLE, it would be quite strange if Leadhills Estate wasn’t an SLE member. Why doesn’t SLE publicly condemn the crimes that are alleged and confirmed at Leadhills Estate? If Leadhills Estate is an SLE member, why hasn’t SLE kicked them out, just as they did with Glasserton Estate earlier this year following the conviction of their gamekeeper (see here). McAdam may argue that nothing has been proven at Leadhills in relation to the latest discovery (in terms of a legal evidential link) and that would be accurate, but there is a long, long, long, long list of alleged and confirmed incidents from this estate, dating back decades (see here), several of which have resulted in criminal convictions.
It seems to us that SLE is repeatedly turning a blind eye to reported activities on this estate that the rest of us can see very clearly. Why would they do that if they’re so keen to eradicate raptor persecution?