Regular blog readers will know that in November 2015, SNH issued two General Licence restriction orders on the Raeshaw Estate and neighbouring Corsehope Farm in the Scottish Borders (see here). This was in response to alleged raptor persecution crimes (see here), although there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution and the estates have denied any responsibility.
The General Licence restriction orders were supposed to last for three years, starting 13 November 2015 and ending 12 November 2018. However, since being implemented, these restriction orders have been on and off as Raeshaw Estate mounted a legal challenge against their use. This legal challenge resulted in a judicial review, which was heard in January 2017, and we await the court’s findings.
Meanwhile, unbelievably, SNH issued two so-called ‘individual licences’ (see here) – one to Raeshaw Estate and one to Corsehope Farm, allowing the gamekeepers to continue the activities they would have undertaken had the General Licence restriction orders not been imposed (i.e. killing so-called ‘pest’ bird species). In our view (here) this was a ludicrous move because it totally undermined the supposed ‘sanction’ of the General Licence restriction. RSPB Scotland shared our view (see here).
SNH responded by saying the individual licences represented “robust regulation” (see here) and argued that the use of the individual licences would be “closely monitored” and that the gamekeepers would be “under tighter supervision” than they would have been if using a General Licence (see here).
As a reminder, here are copies of the two individual licences:
Raeshaw Estate individual licence here (valid 10 June 2016 – 31 December 2016)
Corsehope Farm individual licence here (valid 1 July 2016 – 31 December 2016)
As a condition of each individual licence, the estates had to submit to SNH, within one month of the licence expiry date, a log of all activities undertaken under each licence.
Last month we submitted an FoI to SNH asking for copies of these logs, as well as asking for details of the number of visits SNH staff had made to the two estates to check for licence compliance (you know, that ‘close monitoring’ and ‘tight supervision’ SNH had been promising). What we discovered validates all our earlier concerns about this so-called ‘sanction’.
Here are the two logs submitted to SNH by the gamekeepers, detailing what species they’d killed, where, and when. The first log is for three crow cage traps placed on Raeshaw Estate and the second log relates to a single crow cage trap situated on Corsehope Farm (believed to be operated by Raeshaw Estate gamekeepers):
In total 294 rooks and 706 jackdaws were killed between 19 July and 25 August 2016. This amounts to 1,000 birds.
SNH staff undertook one compliance check visit for each estate. Both visits took place on 25 August 2016. The visit to Raeshaw Estate took 2.5 hours and the visit to Corsehope Farm lasted for one hour.
We’ve mapped the position of the four crow cage traps (note that the grouse moor at Raeshaw Estate lies directly to the west of these traps (the dark brown area).
These findings raise a number of questions and further concerns:
- The licence returns only refer to two species of birds that were caught and killed using four crow cage traps. Are we to believe that no other form of avian ‘pest control’ took place on either land holding between 10 June and 31 December 2016 (the duration of the individual licences)?
- For what ‘purpose’ were 294 rooks and 706 jackdaws killed? According to the individual licences (see above), the purpose was to “Prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuff for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland water” and in the case of the Corsehope Farm individual licence, also to “prevent the spread of disease“. Can SNH explain the specific purpose of allowing these birds to be lawfully killed (i.e. if it was to protect livestock, what was the livestock and what threats do rooks and jackdaws pose? If it was to protect crops, what sort of crop and what threats do rooks and jackdaws pose? etc etc).
- What steps did SNH take to ensure that these 1,000 birds were not killed in order for the estates to produce artificially high densities of gamebirds for shooting? (This would be illegal).
- Why were 294 rooks allowed to be killed when this species has suffered a 37% decline in Scotland between 1995-2014, which would trigger a formal Amber listing if the listing criteria were applied at a Scottish level instead of a UK level (as pointed out to SNH by RSPB Scotland here)?
- Does SNH believe that one visit (per estate) for the duration of these six-month long individual licences equates to “close monitoring“, “tighter supervision” and “robust regulation“. If so, how?
- What did SNH staff do on their 2.5 hour visit to Raeshaw Estate? Did they just visit the three known crow cage traps or did they search the rest of this 9,000 acre estate to search for unlicensed (and thus illegal) traps?
- What did SNH staff do on their one hour visit to Corsehope Farm? Did they just visit the one known crow cage trap or did they search the rest of this farm for unlicensed (and thus illegal) traps?
- Are we still expected to believe that a General Licence restriction order is an effective sanction for alleged raptor persecution crimes, and if so, how?
We’ll be asking these questions to the SNH licensing team. If you want to join in, here’s their email address: email@example.com