More publicity needed for wildlife crime-related subsidy withdrawals

VL subsidy removal Sunday Mail 22 March 2015 - CopyRegular blog readers will know how difficult it is to find out whether farms and shooting estates that have a proven link with wildlife crime have had any of their agricultural subsidies withdrawn as a result of their non-compliance with the subsidy regulations.

A good example is the ridiculous on-going saga of Stody Estate in Norfolk – blog readers have, for the last six months, been asking the Rural Payments Agency about any potential subsidy withdrawal, ever since their gamekeeper Allen Lambert was convicted of poisoning 11 birds of prey last October (see here for blog posts). We’re still non the wiser.

You’d think, given the potentially large sums of money involved, that the authorities would be shouting about these penalties from the rooftops. The realistic threat of having thousands of pounds of public money removed from your business is an excellent deterrent and is far greater than the typically pathetic fine imposed by the criminal justice system.

Another case in point is that of Ninian Johnston Stewart, the first landowner in Scotland to be convicted under the vicarious liability legislation. Johnston Stewart received a puny £675 fine for his crimes (see here). His gamekeeper, Peter Bell, convicted of poisoning a buzzard and having a stash of banned poisons capable of killing 10,000 birds received a £4,450 fine. Johnston Stewart’s miserable fine is hardly likely to see other landowners quaking in their tweeds.

However, in March we were able to blog about Johnston Stewart’s subsidy penalty, which amounted to almost £66,000 (see here). Now THAT’S a deterrent!

But where did we get this information from? We didn’t read about it in a Government press release. We didn’t read about it in the mainstream media. Nor did we read about it on SLE’s website.

The place we found it was in the RSPB’s Legal Eagle newsletter; an excellent publication but one of specialist interest that is probably mostly only read by those with a special interest in crimes against birds of prey.

Here it is: Legal Eagle 75 March 2015

Since then, we’re only aware of a couple of other publications that have mentioned it. One, authored by RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations Ian Thomson, appeared in another specialist journal, Scottish Justice Matters Vol 3(1). This can be downloaded here:

SJM Vol 3 March 2015

The other publication that we’re aware of was much more mainstream – the Sunday Mail (22nd March 2015) had a headline-grabbing article, ‘One poisoned buzzard costs landowner £65k’.

We were pleased to be quoted in this piece, as follows:

We welcome this landmark conviction, though the criminal sanction of a £675 fine was derisory and offers little deterrent to other potential offenders. However, the civil sanction of almost £66,000 subsidy removal is a more fitting deterrent and as such we’d like to see improved transparency and publicity when these sanctions are imposed“.

Well done to the RSPB for getting the info out there in the first place, and thanks to journalist Billy Briggs for reading this blog and taking the story to a wider audience.


5 Responses to “More publicity needed for wildlife crime-related subsidy withdrawals”

  1. 1 Jeremy Greenwood
    March 30, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    The problem with the withdrawal of agricultural subsidies fro estates that engage in wildlife crime is not that it is so difficult to discover the facts about individual cases but that the EU revised the regulations, so that things such as persecuting raptors are no longer to be taken as failures to comply with the requirements of the subsidy. In other words, this penalty is no longer available to the authorities.

    • March 30, 2015 at 7:22 pm

      Indeed, although offences that took place in 2012 (i.e. those that occurred on Stody Estate) should still be eligible for subsidy withdrawal, right?

      The withdrawal of the subsidy sanction makes it even more important that other, newer sanctions, are applied. Ref: removal of Open General Licences in Scotland in areas where wildlife crime is suspected. This sanction became available to SNH in July 2014 (and could be back-dated to offences that took place since 1st January 2014) – that’s almost 9 months ago. How many OGLs have been removed to date? According to the SNH website – none.

      • 3 Ravenwing
        March 31, 2015 at 10:49 am

        As I understand, the last comment from Mr Greenwood is not quite accurate. The Basic Payments Scheme started in 2015 – unfortunately this has indeed removed some of the linkage to protection of wild birds. However, offences in relation to pesticides remain, so laying poisoned baits or poisoning a raptor would be still relevant. Similarly damaging the qualifying feature of an SPA is relevant – so killing a hen harrier in the North Pennine SPA would make an individual liable to a withdrawal of subsidy, but not on farmed land outside such a designated area.

        • 4 Alex Milne
          April 1, 2015 at 12:05 pm

          If that is the case I’m quite heartened by it, although it seems that many cases no not succeed, or are not taken up even now.

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