Raeshaw & Burnfoot Estates taking SNH to court over General Licence restriction orders

scales-of-justiceEarlier this week we blogged about how Scottish Natural Heritage had finally issued General Licence restriction orders on two sporting estates in response to raptor persecution crimes that had reportedly occurred on those properties. The two estates are Raeshaw (a grouse moor near Heriot in the Scottish Borders) and Burnfoot (a grouse moor in Stirlingshire) – see here for our earlier blog on this and for an explanation about how these restriction orders work.

This was an important decision by SNH as it was the first time they had imposed the sanction since it became available for use on 1st January 2014. As such, this is a bit of a test case.

We had speculated about whether the estates would try for a Judicial Review, on the grounds that SNH had acted unfairly in applying these sanctions. Today, an article by Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald confirms that they are indeed going to try for a Judicial Review (see here).

A Judicial Review is not about whether the principle of applying a General Licence restriction order is fair or unfair per se, but is more about the process underlying SNH’s decision. Did SNH act lawfully and follow the right procedures when it made the decision to apply GL restriction orders to these two estates? That’s what the court will have to decide, assuming that the estates’ case gets past the preliminary stage of Judicial Review which involves seeking permission from a Court of Session judge to proceed to a full review.

Assuming it does reach full Judicial Review, the court’s decision will be an important one that will affect whether SNH may apply the same administrative procedure (see here) when considering applying GL restriction orders on other estates where raptor persecution crimes have been uncovered. We wonder whether SNH will delay implementing any more GL restriction orders on other estates while this Judicial Review process is underway? We’ll have to wait and see.

Many commentators on our earlier blog (here) suggested that the GL restriction order wasn’t worth the paper it was written on in terms of the (in)effect it would have on the management practices of these two estates. So it’s interesting to us that the Raeshaw and Burnfoot Estates have decided to go ahead and apply for a Judicial Review, because this type of court action is not a cheap option. To us, this indicates that the GL restriction order is seen as a significant blow by these estates, otherwise why would they bother going to the expense of taking court action?

Also of note in Rob’s article is confirmation of the evidence SNH used in its decision to apply the GL restrictions. At Burnfoot Estate ‘there had been a poisoned red kite, a poisoned peregrine, and a red kite found injured in an illegal trap; the kite had to be subsequently euthanised’. We’ve blogged about these offences here.

At Raeshaw Estate ‘illegal traps had been set’. We’ve previously speculated about whether the illegal traps reported here were found on the Raeshaw and Corsehope Estates. This has not been confirmed.

Both estates have denied any wrongdoing. According to David McKie, the defence agent acting for both estates, “Responsible game management practices are at the heart of what Raeshaw and its employees do” and “Burnfoot consider the decision of SNH to be unjustified and unfair“.

SNH said the police evidence was “strong” and “While it is very clear that offences have been committed, as is often the case with these types of crime, it hasn’t been possible to gather the evidence to identify the person responsible“.

We’ll be following this case with interest.

13 Responses to “Raeshaw & Burnfoot Estates taking SNH to court over General Licence restriction orders”

  1. February 7, 2016 at 11:02 am

    ‘To us, this indicates that the GL restriction order is seen as a significant blow by these estates, otherwise why would they bother going to the expense of taking court action?’
    Hear, hear.

  2. 2 Alex Milne
    February 7, 2016 at 11:09 am

    The media may take some interest in the matter now, so that is positive. That such a weak organisation such as SNH has done this can hardly be spun as a result of the good management practices of the estate, as I’m sure that they would have us believe. The actual effect on the practise of keepering on the estates may not be great, but the fallout may yet be significant.
    Please keep up the good work. I’m even more impressed.

    • 3 Marian
      February 7, 2016 at 12:47 pm

      So “Responsible game management practices are at the heart of what Raeshaw and its employees do” – who killed these birds then, the fairies?

  3. 4 Simon Tucker
    February 7, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Does anybody expect the establishment, in the form of the judiciary, to find in favour of anything other than the landed gentry? I may be old and cynical but I wont be surprised. What is needed is for the Scottish government to remove the derogation from the EU Nature Directives. If they did that the issuing of general licences would be illegal.

  4. 5 Jack Snipe
    February 7, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    I know it won’t be popular to say this, but you seriously underestimate the enemy. I’m sad that my efforts to explain the insignificance of this “punishment” have fallen on deaf ears with RPS at least. The rather obvious explanation why the estates are taking it more seriously is simply because of the legal precedent, which they see as the thin end of the wedge. Even more importantly, they do not stand alone, and have the support of some very wealthy and powerful organisations, individuals and other estates associated with the grouse shooting industry and the hunting and shooting elite. They have cleverly manipulated not only the system, but also have an organisation like RSPB virtually eating out of the palms of their hands. Until we face up to that, understand the hidden agendas and the arrogance of the upper classes who control this so-called ‘sport,’ we will get nowhere fast. They see us as a bunch of left-wing loonies, a slightly annoying irritation to be eliminated. Study their blogs if you don’t believe me, and consider the abuse heaped upon Chris Packham for daring to be a celebrity who speaks out. Sad to say, the more extreme among them, i.e. the majority, relish the fight we put forward, because they know that in the end they are going to win.

    • 6 nirofo
      February 7, 2016 at 4:56 pm

      Almost exactly what I’ve been saying for years, estates will do what they want, how they want and when they want, they have no scruples, to think otherwise is an illusion. Without big guns to fight them we’ll just be scirmishing with them on their terms.

      [Ed: slightly edited to avoid defamation]

  5. 7 Andrew Walker
    February 7, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    This is more about the sporting industry showing that it will defend itself robustly. Even if they lose they will have demonstrated that they are prepared to challenge anyone that stands in their way or attempts to restrict their business.

    The Raeshaw investigation was bungled by the police and another lost opportunity. If the estate had been found guilty after a trail the guilty person would have been automatically prevented from using the OGL and SNH would be in a better position to remove it from the estate.

  6. 8 AnMac
    February 7, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    It is interesting to read about what the two estates have now done. To me, it is a case that they have been ‘snared’ by their own management practices and are now shouting out that that it is ‘unfair’ ! Poor souls.

    Now they know what it must be like to be a bird or animal caught in one of their traps. The only difference being that they are more than likely to be killed, unlike the landowning gentry who will try to talk their way out of the problem by involving appeals to the judiciary.

    I just hope too that the Scottish government will finance SNH to fight this forthcoming court action. As their funds are under severe pressure due to cut backs. It is more than likely that some other part of their work suffers due to this forthcoming judicial review if it is allowed to go forward.

    • February 8, 2016 at 11:39 am

      This is coming closer to a direct confrontation between the scottish government and the landowners – bring it on – some of our representatives will now be seeing the reality of what they are up against rather than hiding behind the shooting industry myths of wise management and tolerance. This fight is all about power..and who can manipulate the justice system in their favour.

  7. 10 Tony Warburtopn MBE
    February 8, 2016 at 11:58 am

    I take all the points being made, but if this challenge gets wide media attention – which we all hope – then at least the ‘man in the street’ will at long last get to know what is happening in the name of ‘sport’. And don’t underestimate the ‘power of the people’s voice’ – remember, people = votes!

  8. 11 Jack Snipe
    February 8, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    I’d be delighted to be proved wrong, but I don’t see this particular issue getting wide media attention, or turning into a direct confrontation between the Scottish government and the landowners. As far as the public is concerned, it’s just some bird lovers getting upset at some country people killing a few crows. I believe my case is justified by the widespread apathy over the matter among “our own people,” i.e. the birders and cosy once-a-month nature lovers who get together in a village hall somewhere to listen to a speaker talking about their holiday to the Galapagos. I’m not decrying their activity, but when it comes to standing up for nature, or taking action to protect or protest, it’s the usual handful who are prepared to put their head on the block.

    Raptor Persecution Scotland does a terrific job of investigating and presenting facts and arguments to those of us who subscribe, but I’ve been doing some investigation of my own (mainly but not exclusively with local SOC members), and find that the vast majority had never heard of RPS until I mentioned it. Even more shockingly, most had no knowledge of Mark Avery’s petition, and of those who had, most admitted not having signed it. When asked why not, the usual response was a shrug of the shoulders. In addition I have raised the issue at a number of meetings, including some with local authority representatives, and there has been a general feeling that we should be accommodating the grouse shooting interests and “working with them, not against them.” When confronted by the wider range of environmental issues affected by grouse moor management, I’m usually faced with blank expressions or accused of exaggerating.

    I can’t go on the usual rant without mentioning the RSPB. In my opinion there is a general feeling of outrage over the key issue of raptor persecution, which is not tapped into effectively by any organisation. The way the case is presented through RSPB communications gives an impression of distance, always with a subtext of tolerance towards the pleasurable killing of certain species, including game shooting. This sends out a mixed message to RSPB members, and in casual conversation over the years I’ve found that many ordinary RSPB members are surprised if informed that the RSPB not only doesn’t campaign against killing wildlife for fun, but seeks to reassure shooting organisations that they are no threat to their so-called sport. So long as our major conservation club continues to take such a duplicitous stance, I feel it is almost impossible to make serious inroads to solving the raptor persecution problem. My worry is that eventually society will allow them to carry out the much vaunted control of raptor numbers that the shooting lobby persists with.

    However I’m not a complete pessimist, and believe that ethically and morally we are on solid ground. Almost certainly most of the people are on our side when it comes to how we treat and respect nature. It’s just that although we can reinforce our feelings and commitment to change within our own peer group, we’re palpably ineffective at getting the message across to the wider public. The task is difficult because we’re up against some of the most powerful (and well funded) interest groups in the land. If RPS could grow and direct the obvious investigative and communicative skills to widening the influence of their hard work, and the RSPB changed tack on tacitly supporting the killing-for-fun brigade, we could make a real difference.

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