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:
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:
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:
Parts of RAESHAW ESTATE & CORSEHOPE ESTATE in the Borders:
Parts of BURNFOOT ESTATE and WESTER CRINGATE ESTATE in Stirlingshire: