General Licence restrictions reinstated on Raeshaw and Burnfoot Estates

On 4th November 2015, SNH announced its decision to apply General Licence restrictions to four properties in response to raptor persecution crimes that had occurred there.

General Licence restrictions are a relatively new sanction in the fight against raptor persecution, brought in by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in July 2013 and have been available for SNH to use since 1st January 2014 (see here). The restriction orders announced by SNH in November 2015 were the first to be applied.

There were two restriction orders. Restriction #1 applied to parts of the Raeshaw Estate (a grouse moor in the Borders) and parts of the neighbouring Corsehope Estate, where, as we understand it, gamekeepers from Raeshaw Estate also carry out ‘pest’ control.

Restriction #2 applied to parts of the Burnfoot Estate (a grouse moor in Stirlingshire) and parts of the neighbouring Wester Cringate Estate, where, as we understand it, gamekeepers from Burnfoot Estate also carry out ‘pest’ control.

The specific reasons for applying these restriction orders have been shrouded in secrecy. We do know the general reasons behind both of them because an SNH spokesperson mentioned them during a radio interview in early November (see here). We know that the restriction on the Raeshaw and Corsehope Estates relates to “the illegal placement of traps” and the restriction on the Burnfoot and Wester Cringate Estates relates to “issues associated with poisoning birds of prey and illegal use of traps“.

We have speculated previously about what these incidents might be, by cross-referencing reported (published) incidents of raptor persecution in the two areas concerned but we really should emphasise that it was only speculation. It is highly probable that other incidents that may have occurred have not been recorded in the public domain so it’s impossible for us to state, unequivocally, which incidents have triggered the General Licence restriction orders on these estates. Only SNH and Police Scotland (who provided the evidence on which SNH has based its decision) know the actual reasons for applying the General Licence restrictions on these particular estates (and presumably the estates’ lawyers are also now aware of the evidence) and so far they haven’t been willing to be transparent about those reasons.

The restriction orders were due to begin on 13th November 2015 and run for three years, ending 12th November 2018. We blogged about these restriction orders and the implications to the estates here.

However, on 19th November 2015, six days after the restriction orders had begun, SNH suspended both restriction orders because the Estates were appealing SNH’s decision to enforce the restrictions. We blogged about that here and the following notices appeared on SNH’s website:

SNH GL restriction 1 SUSPENSION - Copy

SNH GL restriction 2 SUSPENSION - Copy

It all went quiet since the appeal process began but then yesterday, quietly, two and a half months on from the suspension, the following appeared on SNH’s website:

GL restriction 1 - Copy

GL restriction 2 - Copy

It would appear, then, that the Estates’ appeals have failed and SNH has decided to go ahead and apply the restrictions. From our perspective, SNH deserve credit for pushing ahead and sticking to their guns on this, although it’s disappointing that they didn’t issue a press statement yesterday to announce their decision and instead it’s been left to those of us who monitor these things to bring it to the public’s attention. Nevertheless, if the evidence of raptor persecution crimes on these estates is sound (we don’t know that it is but presumably SNH think it’s sound or they wouldn’t have applied the restrictions), then a three-year ban on the use of General Licences could have a considerable impact on the game-shooting activities of these estates, and perhaps more importantly, should also be a good deterrent for others.

It sounds good on paper, and it is a way of penalising estates where raptor persecution occurs but the evidence isn’t good enough to meet the criminal standard of proof needed to charge a named individual and take him/her to court – a regularly occurring problem in this area of wildlife crime. However, it’s not quite as good as it sounds.

First let’s just review what these General Licence restriction orders mean:

Basically, the following activities, usually permitted under General Licences 1, 2 and 3, are now not permitted on these estates until 13th November 2018 –

The killing or taking of the following species:

Great black-backed gull, carrion crow, hooded crow, jackdaw, jay, rook, ruddy duck, magpie, Canada goose, collared dove, feral pigeon, wood pigeon, lesser black-back gull, and herring gull.

The use of the following methods to kill/take these species are not permitted:

Pricking of eggs, oiling of eggs, destruction of eggs and nests, use of Larsen trap, use of Larsen Mate trap, use of Larsen Pod trap, use of multi-catch crow cage trap, shooting with any firearm, targeted falconry, and by hand.

So one of the main questions now is, how will the restriction orders be enforced? Who is going to monitor whether any of the above activities are still taking place on these estates? Daily checks by SNH? Daily checks by Police Scotland? Of course that’s not going to happen. Perhaps intermittent, and one would hope, unannounced, checks will take place, but again, that seems unlikely given the scarcity of available resources. A restriction order will only be effective if it is suitably enforced and we just don’t see how it can be, especially as we anticipate more and more General Licence restriction orders being made across the country. Incidentally, there was a discussion about this very topic at a recent RACCE parliamentary meeting but we’ll be blogging about that separately in the near future.

The second issue is that even though the General Licence restrictions are now in place, the affected estates still have a get-out clause because individuals from those estates can apply to SNH for an individual licence that would allow them to continue the activities that were previously permitted under the General Licence. This clause just makes a mockery of the whole principle of General Licence restrictions. What’s the point of applying a General Licence restriction order if it can be side-stepped so easily? According to SNH (see here), individual licences will be considered on merit on a case-by-case basis, and as such may not be available to all who apply, but those who do apply successfully will apparently be ‘subject to strict conditions and compliance monitoring measures’. Again, how will those ‘strict conditions’ be enforced and who will monitor them?

The third issue is whether these General Licence restriction orders will remain in place for the full three year term. The Estates have been through SNH’s appeal process, and failed, but there is now a strong possibility that they could opt to try for a Judicial Review if they feel that SNH has acted unfairly in applying these restrictions to their properties. That would be quite interesting on a number of levels, not least in that it might offer us (the public) some transparency about these cases and inform us about the evidence used by SNH to make their decisions.

In the meantime, if any of you are out and about on these four estates and you notice that the (above listed) traps are in use or you see gamekeepers shooting at any of the (above listed) species, you should report it immediately. Here are the maps which show the areas where the General Licence Restriction Orders are in place:


Raeshaw Corshope GL restriction map 2015


Burnfoot Wester Cringate GL restriction map 2015

24 Responses to “General Licence restrictions reinstated on Raeshaw and Burnfoot Estates”

  1. 1 steve macsweeney
    February 4, 2016 at 11:45 am

    It’s a result!
    Let’s be positive!
    A lot of this is down to RPS, so give yourself a huge pat on the back from me , well done!!

  2. 2 Doug Malpus
    February 4, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you RPS, this is good news. But as said in your article how will it be monitored and will it stop the criminals xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx. xxxxx need gaoling, hefty fines and banning from carrying out animal related businesses. Pet owners that mistreat their animals can be banned from keeping pets, for life!

    Will any authority be so strong?

    [Ed: Doug, slightly edited. Please note the wording on SNH’s General Licence restriction order: ‘This restriction does not imply responsibility for the commission of crimes by any individuals’].

  3. 3 nirofo
    February 4, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    Excellent news RPS, it’s an outcome we didn’t expect, however, as you say, without comprehensive monitoring of activities on the estates in question for the duration of the bans, I doubt it will have little effect on the illegal persecution of raptors xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx. One thing it does do is to set a precedent which may help to make other estates think of the consequences xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx I suppose once they’ve thought about it they will just carry on as normal.

    It is however another tool added to the box and may help add pressure to the estates already being intensely watched for the slightest misdemeanour.

    • 4 nirofo
      February 5, 2016 at 2:51 am

      Explain to me what was wrong with the words you crossed out, there were no identifying names, nothing incriminating, liable or abusive ???

  4. 5 jack Fitzgerald
    February 4, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    If the vile conservatives get their way, in England we wont even have a wildlife crime investigation team! Its a disgrace. The sooner this anti-wildlife, pro-hunting elitist scum are booted out of government the better!
    The nation is against hunting! So, because they cannot bring it back legally they, in typical slimey conservative style, sneek in a way to allow people to persecute animals with no wag of wver being caught, by removing the only service funded to investigate them. Its the same with the Badger cull, it doesnt work but gives thd upper classes an opportunity to kill something. Unbelievable how a minority elite can do as they please. Why cant this country see what they are doing?! Manipulating the system toset e their own ends?! The nation needs to wake up!

    • February 4, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      Jack – thanks for your comment.

      Just wanted to point out that the National Wildlife Crime Unit (to which you appear to refer) is not “the only service funded to investigate wildlife crime”. The NWCU doesn’t actually investigate as such, but provides ‘intelligence’ and support to police officers and other statutory agencies who are authorised to investigate wildlife crimes.

      In our opinion, it won’t make a blind bit of difference to the investigation of raptor persecution crimes whether the unit receives further funding or not. They’ve had very little impact in this area, particularly for raptor persecution crimes associated with grouse moors.

      Having said that, what they do do well is CITES/international wildlife trade work, and for that reason alone they are worthy of further funding. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that if they don’t get any more funding, wildlife crime investigations will suddenly stop. They won’t!

  5. 7 Tony Warburtopn MBE
    February 4, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    At least it’s a start, and better than the appeal winning. I agree that with no-one monitoring these estates xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx, any positive results will be difficult if – as is guaranteed – the killing goes on unobserved. Also, the miscreants (I am trying to be polite here!) will undoubtedly be ultra careful to do their murky deeds more secretly now. BUT if we are lucky enough to get proven proof of a wildlife crime being carried out on these estates we will have the chance to find out what happens next. Who knows, ‘Aileen the Silent’ might even speak!!!.

  6. 8 Nick Gordon
    February 4, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    A result of sorts at least, and dare I say it gives us a little room for cautious optimism? I certainly hope so. It will though, as you say, be interesting now to see how this develops in terms of the application of, and appeals against, these restrictions – it seems to me that the gaming industry as a whole is continually determined to push all the boundaries of existing legislation in order to protect their interests.
    Great reporting as ever RPS, thank you for your continued efforts.

  7. February 4, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    I wonder if an FOI would reveal any non-general licence applications on that land?

  8. 10 Jack Snipe
    February 4, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    I find it utterly depressing that this is being heralded as a victory, or even “a step in the right direction.” When the news was first announced publicly when the restriction orders were initially imposed, it became clear that a substantial percentage of interested parties on the anti-grouse shooting side believed that a temporary punitive ban on grouse shooting had been imposed. If only! RPS has always been completely clear about what the restriction covers, but there appears to be a widespread lack of awareness of the LACK OF ANY SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES for the estates in question. We may as well celebrate the fact that Ruddy Ducks are safe from the guns of the gamekeepers.

    Of the species listed in the general licence, only three are of any interest to the grouse shooting industry: Great Black-backed Gull, Carrion Crow and Hooded Crow. The impact of the gull on grouse in these areas is of no significance whatsoever, despite the alarmist nonsense spouted by the rural alliance. The predation effect by crows is of very low significance, these species remaining on the list only due to unscientific scaremongering and old wives’ tales. In any case, the estate can continue to control numbers of the crows very effectively by intensively persecuting them on neighbouring land without breaching the licence restriction. I suspect they will have conducted a drive to eliminate as many as possible on site before the restriction comes into force, and once crow densities are reduced to near zero it takes much longer than five years for them to recover. In my experience most driven grouse moors in Scotland support very low crow numbers on a permanent basis.

    So apart from the shame imposed on the estates in question, the so-called punishment and therefore the deterrent effect are minimal, quite possibly non-existent. If we think they’ll be the slightest bit worried, or that their behaviour will change in future, then we’re delusional. A very hollow victory, and in my opinion no progress whatsoever. If anything it’s a distraction from the task in hand and effective enforcement of the law.

  9. 11 I C T
    February 4, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    Thanks for the maps, looking forward to some exploration.

  10. 12 AnMac
    February 4, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    I like the above comments from ‘Jack Snipe’. I think he sums it all up quite well and make us all aware that in the real world nothing will change very much. The miscreants will simply change tack to evade the legislation now supposedly in place.

  11. February 4, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    Anything which gets through the very “unlevel playing field” which is our legal system is and should be seen as a victory for conservation in Scotland..however, I agree that stopping their ability to kill a few pest species/vermin/varmints, even if it was enforced, is unlikely to help protected species on these estates..it may make the killing of protected species a bit more difficult for them if they cant use crow traps I suppose….What is needed of course is the licensing of the entire shooting estate, which can then be withdrawn – as has been shown in Spain.

    • 14 Jack Snipe
      February 5, 2016 at 1:51 pm

      Dave, I don’t find the use of terms like “pest species” or “vermin” helpful. It sounds too similar to the language of gamekeepers and their ilk, and perpetuates the perception of predators as undesirable. The grouse shooting community uses these very words to describe Hen Harriers and Peregrines, as you well know! I feel the need to reiterate my point that not only does it not make life any easier for protected raptors, a restriction on killing crows and gulls has no economic or any other significant detrimental impact on grouse shooting. We should be pressing for independent scientific research into the question, rather than relying on the biased science, historically funded largely by the game shooting industry. Maintaining the “pest species” status of crows and gulls is all part of the strategy deployed by self-interested game keepers and managers. They will be laughing up their sleeves at this feeble “punishment”, and as I’ve already pointed out they are aware of some very simple ways of getting around the ban. Their prime concern is being able to continue killing foxes, stoats and mountain hares, plenty work to keep them going throughout the 5-year general licence restriction.

  12. 15 keen birder
    February 4, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    Its not worth the paper its written on, waste of time completely, there will be no one there to police this .

  13. 17 NorthernDiver
    February 5, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Slightly off topic, but there are two recent articles about grouse moors and hen harriers in the Craven Herald lauding the praises of grouse moors and the Moorland Association. [Use Craven Herald’s search box for Amanda Anderson].

    Please can those of you with more knowledge than me consider writing or posting a response online? Otherwise, the shooting estates are getting away with promoting themselves to the general public as guardians of biodiversity and good land management.

    The Johnston Press, who own many local newspapers, seem very pro-game shooting. I’m just afraid that the truth is being kept from the public by this biased media propaganda.

    Thanks, Marian for bringing the LibDem article to my notice.

  14. 21 Jack Snipe
    February 5, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    Gobsmacking nonsense, and as usual given a free endorsement by RSPB, right at the top of the list of partners. This whole project is so disingenuous I really think the RSPB would have little to lose by pulling out, which they could so easily justify. However, everyone will be pleased to hear from the Director of the Moorland Association that there are apparently 6,500 breeding pairs of Hen Harrier in the UK – so who needs an action plan? A slip of the keyboard finger presumably, surely not deliberate obfuscation?

    Moorland Association director Amanda Anderson said: “We are delighted that the recovery plan has been launched to help hen harriers breed sustainably across their former range in England. The plan contains exciting new actions that we are looking forward to working on with others to ensure they are successful.”

    What is missing from the story is the key plank of the conspiracy, sorry recovery plan – the proposed threshold of one pair of Hen Harrier in each ten-km square (100 square kilometres), a ridiculously low density of a bird which if left unmolested should achieve densities of up to ten times that. This is what the Moorland Association means by the euphemism “breed sustainably.”

    The “brood management” element proposes that if the density exceeds one pair, all other broods are removed from nests, reared in captivity and released in southern England lowland habitats. At least this is one part of the conspiracy that the RSPB are, so far, distancing themselves from, although they have not ruled it out. I would suggest that to entertain one ounce of that ridiculous proposal would be nothing short of naive.

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