31
Aug
17

Raven-killing licence, breeding hen harriers & return of a familiar name at Leadhills Estate

Regular readers of this blog will be very familiar with the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire. We’ve been blogging about it for years, not only as a well known hotspot for illegal raptor persecution but also because of the owners’ links to the establishment and to landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates.

Here’s a map showing the location of Leadhills Estate (dotted lines show the estate boundary of neighbouring Buccleuch Estate, which has in the past been partly ‘managed’ by Leadhills Estate gamekeepers. Estate boundaries from Andy Wightman’s excellent website Who Owns Scotland).

A few months ago we submitted an FoI to SNH on an unrelated issue, and after some prevarication, we’ve finally received a response. Part of that response was quite surprising, on two levels.

First, it turns out that SNH has been issuing licences to kill ravens on Leadhills Estate for the last three years. The evidence supplied to justify the licences seems pretty thin, at best. Have a look at the licence applications, which are remarkably similiar, submitted on behalf of Linlithgow Farms Ltd and the Leadhills Trust here: Leadhills Raven Licence

We don’t know much about the population status of ravens in this part of Scotland but if any blog readers have detailed knowledge, we’d be pleased to hear about it.

However, also of interest to us was the headed notepaper used in the licensing correspondence between the applicant and SNH. Well, well, well, look who’s back:

As many of you will know, this is one of Mark Osborne’s companies. Osborne has a long history with Leadhills Estate. Between 2003-2006 he was listed as a Director of Leadhills Sporting Ltd, a company who held the sporting rights at Leadhills. Osborne resigned in 2006, shortly after the police raided the estate for alleged wildlife crimes (no prosecutions followed).

The sporting rights were later put up for sale in 2008 and Osborne was cited as joint agent (with Savills Estate Agent) in the sale. The sporting rights were again offered for sale in 2013 on a ten-year lease although it’s not clear whether Osborne was involved and it’s not known whether anyone took on the lease. We suspect not, as according to our local sources there hasn’t been any grouse shooting at Leadhills for a number of years; a fact verified by the estate earlier this year in a press release issued by Media House following the reported shooting of a hen harrier on the estate.

The reported shooting of a hen harrier at Leadhills was a bit of a surprise to us. Since the driven grouse shooting stopped and the number of full-time gamekeepers was reduced from ten to two, hen harriers have been making a bit of a comeback here. In 2015 there were three successful nests and this year there are reports of nine nests, and certainly some of those (if not all) have been successful. This is very, very welcome news and we hope, if driven grouse shooting does begin again on these moors, that the hen harriers will continue to thrive.

So, in the absence of driven grouse shooting and the estate’s tolerance of breeding hen harriers, the reported shooting in May of a hen harrier, by an armed man on a quad bike, was very disappointing. This was then closely followed by the reported shooting of a short-eared owl on the estate, this time by an armed man driving a black 4×4 vehicle. Police investigations continue in both cases.

We’re keen to see whether SNH considers the reported shooting of a hen harrier and a short-eared owl sufficient grounds for restricting the use of the General Licence at Leadhills Estate. We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a process that JM Osborne & Co will be quite familiar with; this sporting agency is involved with the management of Raeshaw Estate which had it’s General Licence restricted in 2015 after police uncovered evidence of attempted raptor persecution, and the estate has recently had its subsequent ‘Individual Licence’ revoked and a police investigation is underway for more alleged wildlife crime offences.

Interesting times.

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21 Responses to “Raven-killing licence, breeding hen harriers & return of a familiar name at Leadhills Estate”


  1. 1 Al Woodcock
    August 31, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    I heard about this revelation that 9 harrier nests had successfully fledged something like 30 birds, as it was bragged about on a well known ex keeper’s FB page, and that appears to be the only source, so I was (naturally) sceptical. What they didn’t mention was the fact grouse shooting had stopped on Leadhills. Fancy leaving that glaring fact out of it!

  2. 2 Keith Aspden
    August 31, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Does the applicant have to supply any evidence for raven/predator damage? The number
    of ravens given in the application seems ridiculously high. Is there any attempt by SNH to verify the numbers given in the application?

  3. 3 Dave Dick
    August 31, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    As I have personally witnessed the finding of multiple poisoned ravens and baits – all reported to police at the time – I am disgusted by the SNH granting licences to kill ravens here. These poisonings were at a raven roost – birds will have been coming in from a very large area, as with harriers such persecution has a much bigger effect on geographic distribution…and I have to wonder that with such a callous disregard for wildlife xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx, how many ravens were actually killed under licence?

  4. 4 lothianrecorder
    August 31, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    As per Bird Atlas 2007-11 Raven densities were in the area of the estate were pretty typical of much of southern Scotland and northern England, but lower than peaks in Hebrides, Wales, etc https://blx1.bto.org/mapstore/StoreServlet?id=456

  5. 5 Marco McGinty
    August 31, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Perhaps it’s time for GL restrictions to apply to the sporting agencies as well, leading to nationwide restrictions if any criminal behaviour is suspected.

  6. 6 lizzybusy
    August 31, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    The licence application is a disgrace. The quality of the ‘evidence’ of harm is pretty much non existent – absolutely pathetic. No photos of harm caused or numbers of ravens, no numbers of animals injured or harmed, no dates or details of incidents. It’s sickening.

  7. 7 Secret Squirrel
    August 31, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    Ah, the old ‘pecking out the eyes of lambing ewes’ lore. Is there any actual evidence of this?

    • 8 Iain Gibson
      August 31, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      The answer to that question appears to be no. Following the significant increase in Ravens (in the Clyde recording area) during the period 1996 to 2008, I seized the opportunity to carry out a three-year study of close observations of Ravens interacting with fields of lambing ewes. My study area extended from Inverclyde to Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire, with a Raven population of 13 breeding pairs and an estimated 150 non-breeding immature birds. The largest single flock of non-breeders interacting with lambing ewes numbered 113 birds, and a typical single gathering was of 30-40 birds. I’m currently preparing a short paper summarising my results, which were derived from a total in excess of 80 hours of recording activity budgets over three lambing seasons. In addition, I monitored Ravens regularly on a more casual basis over a ten-year period. I have also carried out extensive searches of literature on the subject. While it is true that there are many anecdotal reports of Ravens killing lambs, these are based almost entirely on hearsay reports rather than any systematic study of birds in the field. Without going into detail at this point, I can say in all honesty that not once did I see any behaviour which I would have interpreted as a Raven killing or even attempting to kill a healthy lamb. A search for filmed evidence of such behaviour revealed absolutely nothing, although I had plenty of putative examples supplied via the internet. A recent BBC Landward episode revealed what they described as “shocking” evidence a film of a Raven walking casually past a ewe with two lambs. The Raven paid absolutely no attention to the ewe or her lambs, nor vice versa, so it was never properly explained why this was “shocking.” Gamekeepers and shepherds I have spoken to on the subject insist on having seen Ravens inflicting all sorts of atrocities on ewes and lambs, but from my own experience I feel like they’ve been watching an entirely different species. However, possibly the main hurdle in convincing them they’re mistaken is an advisory note from Scottish Natural Heritage inviting them to apply for a General Licence exemption to cull Ravens. This note begins by stating explicitly that Ravens do occasionally take lambs. SNH has been challenged on several occasions to justify this statement, but have produced only bland assurances that the behaviour has been “well documented.” Quite simply it is only rumour, speculation and anecdotal evidence which has been documented, not scientific evidence. I have witnessed Ravens exploiting a situation where a sheep or lamb is disabled, usually moribund, and the birds have started to eat the soft parts. This is not pleasant to witness, but is only natural, and in my personal experience, seems to occur very rarely. The Ravens are merely performing a function carried out by vultures or any other natural scavenger in different circumstances. The economic loss to the farmer is relatively insignificant or even non-existent. To hear that some estates have been poisoning Ravens is extremely worrying, because it could partly explain why the population of non-breeding flocks in my study area has almost completely vanished over the past few years.

    • 9 Nimby
      September 1, 2017 at 12:08 am

      Presumably SNH will have requested and been provided with photographic evidence?

      My observations of corvid ‘attacks’ on lambs / ewes has been similar to those Iain below describes (they do a good job cleaning up afterbirth). Note however mine are made in England not Scotland.

      • 10 Secret Squirrel
        September 1, 2017 at 2:12 am

        Thanks both, online videos appear to show Ravens pecking at the remains of birthing sac etc on the hind legs of ewes rather than attacking the sheep themselves

        • 11 Iain Gibson
          September 1, 2017 at 2:59 pm

          I should have including my main findings, that the Ravens gather in lambing fields primarily to clean up afterbirths, and I would concur with Secret Squirrel’s observations of them cleaning up the hind quarters of ewes which have recently given birth. One of my main regrets is not having had the equipment to photograph or video the behaviour I observed, some of which would surprise many people. The delicate manner in which a Raven (sometimes two) pecks away the remains of the birth sac from the back end of the ewe is an amazing thing to witness, especially the way that the ewe will contentedly stand perfectly still while the Raven ‘performs its duties.’ This behaviour is not uncommon, it just takes a lot of patient observation (and good optical equipment) to record it. Surely the BBC Natural History Unit could capture this on film without too much trouble? It might counter a lot of the unjustified prejudice against the species. SNH only helps to perpetuate the myths, with their rather loose interpretation of ‘evidence.’ I believe they are under pressure to please the ‘stakeholders’, or ‘customers’ as they sometimes call them, despite all the fine words about relying on science.

  8. August 31, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    I wonder if they would issue a culling license for ‘chavs’ then a lot of the fly tipping would be resolved, never mind the raven’s.

  9. August 31, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    It’s appalling that a licence was issued on the application as submitted. Under “Describe damage caused, including evidence it was caused by Ravens” there is absolutely zero evidence provided. And the box marked “Evidence of damage occurring, e.g. photos” is left unchecked. Because they have no evidence, yet SNH consider this to be sufficient grounds to kill wildlife. I’m appalled – but not surprised.

  10. 14 Paul V Irving
    August 31, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    All their application shows is that they have ravens probably coming to the lambing fields to eat afterbirths and any dead lambs. there is no evidence of them killing or attacking ewes. They should surely have to provide proper evidence to get a kill licence, the fact that they have not is quite frankly appalling.

  11. 15 Phil Benzie
    August 31, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    Your statement regarding the number of pairs of hen harriers that have colonised Leadhills since the end of grouse shooting is incredible ( nine pairs! ). Surely that is the most stunning indictment of grouse moor management strategies ever. The government should be shown that evidence immediately.

  12. August 31, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    “…… Hen harriers will continue to thrive ……” I love the irony RPUK !

    Ravens are scavengers & I have indeed witnessed them also feeding on nearly dead sheep that were not going to survive & had indeed been left uncared for as they declined.

    Ravens are not true predators & do not threaten upland livestock economies in any way.

    What is shocking is not the keepers’ & shepherds’ dislike of them [ convenient scapegoats for poor husbandry ! ] but the agencies use of anecdote, not science.

    Keep up the pressure !

  13. 17 Dylanben
    August 31, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    I note that the estate’s organisation is such that a licence return for 2016 was not submitted on time and that a licence application for 2017 was not submitted until 30/03, notwithstanding the damage period being cited as beginning just two days later on 01/04. If Ravens were really the threat that they were claimed to be on these estates, you would have thought that they’d have been up to speed with their paperwork. The granting of licences to kill on the basis of such poor evidence of damage caused (ie none) begs the question as to what game SNH is playing here.

  14. 19 Chris Dobson
    August 31, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    I’m particularly struck by the lack of photographic evidence. All it would take is a camera & a couple of hours around the lambing ewes, & we’d all have to shut up. When evidence is so easy to gather, one has to question why it’s not been gathered & used

  15. August 31, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    Presumably there is no need for real evidence when everything is gleaned from old wives tales or something your grandad used to tell people down the pub. It’s country lore not law.

  16. 21 Mairi L
    September 1, 2017 at 7:54 am

    News update -‘The bank was robbed last night. Joe Bloggs walked past the bank. Joe Bloggs robbed the bank.QED’


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