Regular blog readers will know we’ve been writing about the General Licence (GL) restriction order placed on Raeshaw Estate (Scottish Borders) for some time (see here for a summary). The restriction order was implemented due to alleged raptor persecution incidents reportedly taking place on the Estate (according to evidence provided by Police Scotland), even though nobody has been charged with any criminal offence and the Estate has denied any responsibility.
This restriction order, placed by SNH in November 2015, has been on and off for months, temporarily suspended and then reinstated as Raeshaw Estate mounted various legal challenges over the following months.
Currently, the GL restriction order is back in place, although the courts have now authorised a Judicial Review of the process used by SNH to implement this restriction. We don’t know when that Judicial Review will take place.
In the meantime, in June 2016 we learned (see here) that even though the GL restriction order was back in place, SNH had issued what it called an ‘individual licence’, permitting the Estate to carry out some activities (bird-killing) that the GL restriction was supposed to prevent! In our opinion, issuing an individual licence completely defeats the object of implementing a GL restriction order in the first place. But not according to SNH. They issued a statement and we were particularly interested in the following bit:
“In response to an application from Raeshaw Farms Limited, we have granted them an individual licence to carry out some activities otherwise permitted under General Licence. This licence is subject to specific conditions and controls. This will allow the business to continue to operate but under tighter scrutiny rather than the relatively ‘light touch’ approach to Regulation that General Licences afford”.
We wanted to know more about this ‘individual licence’, e.g. its duration, what activities were permitted/not permitted, and particularly the details of the ‘specific conditions and controls’ of that licence. So we (and a couple of others, thank you) submitted some FoIs to SNH to try and find some answers.
What we’ve found is a woefully inadequate system that has not received the promised “tighter scrutiny” and is wide open to abuse.
Here is a copy of the ‘individual licence’: Raeshaw Individual Licence 1_June2016
As you’ll see, ‘individual licence’ is a bit of a misnomer as it names one licence holder but then a further five ‘agents’ who are permitted to use this ‘individual’ licence.
This licence is valid from 10 June 2016 to 31 December 2016. The specific conditions include set dates for when certain species can be killed and the area where this killing may take place. Of interest to us:
- Carrion crow, magpie and greater black-backed gull may only be taken or killed UNTIL 30 JUNE 2016.
- Rook, jackdaw and wood pigeon may only be taken or killed UNTIL 31 AUGUST 2016.
Why are these two conditions of interest to us? Well, because another condition of this licence (condition #5) is that ‘Prior to exercising this licence, SNH licensing must be provided with details of the number, type and locations of deployment (to 6-figure grid reference) of all traps proposed to be used under this licence‘.
We asked SNH how many traps the licence holder had proposed to use, and the date that SNH received this information.
SNH’s reply: ‘The licence holder informed us on 12 July that they intended to deploy 3 multi-catch traps (ladder traps) at specified locations from 15 July“.
So, the individual licence only permits the taking and killing of carrion crows until 30 June 2016, and yet the licence holder notified SNH in mid-July that three crow traps would be deployed from 15 July 2016. Eh? How will the licence holder prevent carrion crows from entering these, er, crow traps, and if the carrion crows do enter, how will SNH know whether those carrion crows have been released unharmed?
Ah, well that’ll be the “tighter scrutiny” employed by SNH, right? They’ll have been monitoring the use of these traps to check for compliance, right?
Well, not quite. We asked SNH how many visits SNH (or an agent thereof) had made to this Estate to check compliance with licence conditions, and the dates those visits took place.
SNH’s reply (on 11 August 2016): “We have not yet visited the estate. However, compliance checks are an important part of the licensing process and will be carried out“.
We’ve also discovered that SNH has issued a second ‘individual licence’ to Raeshaw Estate. This one can be downloaded here: Raeshaw Individual Licence 2_July2016
This second licence permits the licence holder (and three agents) to kill certain species on the neighbouring Corsehope Farm. The licence is valid from 1 July 2016 to 31 December 2016.
Under this licence, collared doves, feral pigeons, wood pigeons, jackdaws, magpies, rooks and carrion crows may be taken or killed on this land until 15 October 2016 ‘to prevent damage to crops’ (ahem).
Also under this licence, all the above species plus greater and lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls may be taken or killed on this land until 31 December 2016 ‘to prevent the spread of disease’ (ahem).
So, although the first licence (covering parts of Raeshaw Estate) only permitted the killing of certain species until 30 June 2016 and some other species until 31 August 2016, this second licence permits the unlimited killing of these same species on neighbouring land until 31 December 2016.
Can somebody please remind us what was the purpose of issuing a General Licence restriction order in the first place? Wasn’t it supposed to be a sanction/punishment for reported raptor persecution incidents? What’s the point of having a licensing system and supposed sanctions, if those sanctions can be sidestepped by simply issuing another licence and then not bothering to monitor compliance with those licence conditions?