In July 2013, the then Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP announced a series of new measures to tackle the raptor killers. One of these new measures was to give SNH the authority to issue a (temporary) restriction order on the use of General Licences on land where evidence of raptor crime was apparent. The restriction order could be applied retrospectively to incidents that had taken place since 1st January 2014. (See here to read SNH’s framework for implementing such restrictions).
In October 2014, this measure was finally rolled out and we blogged about these General Licence restriction orders, outlining our view on the pros and cons of this approach (see here).
Since then we’ve wondered a number of times about when we might see the first restriction order, because let’s face it, there have been numerous opportunities to apply it. In January this year we asked SNH whether a restriction order had been applied to an estate where a poisoned red kite had been found in July 2014 (see here). A response came back from SNH in February that said no restriction orders had yet been implemented for this case or for any other case (see here).
Roll forward six months to August 2015 (two years after Wheelhouse first announced this new measure) and an FoI was submitted to SNH to find out if any progress has been made. It seems it has.
According to SNH’s response, two (unnamed) estates have been notified of SNH’s intention to restrict the use of General Licences; one was notified on 11th June 2015 and the other on 22nd July 2015. As predicted, and judging by (a) the number of letters SNH says it has sent in relation to these two estates (five), and (b) the length of time that has elapsed since the notification letters were sent, it would appear that both estates have challenged the notification of intent. This was to be expected, of course, especially as SNH can use the civil burden of proof rather than the criminal burden of proof as evidence of suspected raptor crime.
It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out.
In the meantime, here is SNH’s response to the FoI questions:
How many letters of intention to restrict the use of a General Licence has SNH issued to date?
SNH has issued five letters notifying our intention to restrict the use of General Licences on certain areas of land. These five letters relate to two specific proposed restriction areas.
The name of the estate(s) that has received a letter of intention to restrict the use of General Licences.
We have considered this part of your request very carefully, and we have concluded that we are unable to provide this information in response to your request.
The framework for implementing General Licence restrictions is set out on our website, http://www.snh.gov.uk/docs/A1417398.pdf. Although letters have been issued, we have not reached final decisions on whether restrictions on the use of General Licences should be implemented in those cases. After we issue a notification letter, the recipient (the Affected Parties) has the opportunity to submit a response setting out any reasons why they consider that a restriction should not be imposed. SNH will review any submission before reaching a decision on whether or not a restriction should be imposed.
Whilst this decision making process is still underway we consider that it would be unfair to release the names of the estates/land holdings that have received letters. The Affected Parties have not yet had full opportunity to make representations, or for those representations to be considered. We are therefore withholding the names of the estates/land holdings under EIRs Regulation 10(5)(b) (The course of justice), and we have concluded that, in this case, it is in the public interest to do so.
At the end of the decision making process, where we recommend a restriction is imposed, the Decision Notice(s) will be published on our licensing web pages, http://www.snh.gov.uk/protecting-scotlands-nature/species-licensing/, and the information will be fully in the public domain.
The reason(s) given for the intention to restrict the use of General Licences on the landholding(s).
In each of the cases the reason has been that we have received evidence of wild birds being killed illegally, or that there have been attempts to take wild birds illegally either on that land or by persons responsible for managing that land.
The date(s) the letter(s) of intention was sent.
The notification letters were sent out on 11 June 2015 and 22 July 2015 for each respective proposed restriction area.
The start date and end date of the General Licence restriction period (in each case).
These cases are ongoing – no Decision Notice has been issued as of yet.
What measures will be taken to monitor compliance with any General Licence restriction order.
When a restriction is implemented this will mean that General Licences will not be permitted to be used on the land in question. This would mean that any control of wild birds on the land in question would be unlawful (unless covered by an individual licence). As is the case with any area of wildlife crime the policing of this would fall to the appropriate enforcement body, and particularly the Police. We would of course continue to engage with the Police and others in the event of a restriction being put in place to ensure that all were aware of the details of any restriction in this respect.