General Licence restriction – the Raeshaw Estate fiasco continues…

Good grief. Just when you thought this pantomime couldn’t get any more ridiculous….

As many of you will know, Raeshaw Estate in the Scottish Borders was one of the first in Scotland to be subjected to a General Licence restriction, issued in 2015, based on clear police evidence that wildlife crimes had been committed although there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual (see here). The estate contested the legality of SNH’s decision and this was seen as a test case, which went to Judicial Review in 2016. In March this year, the Court of Session upheld SNH’s decision and the General Licence restriction was considered lawful (here).

Here is a map showing the location of Raeshaw Estate, near Heriot in south Scotland (estate boundary details sourced from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website).

For background, there’s been a long history of raptor persecution “nr Heriot“, dating back to at least 2001. Here’s a list we’ve compiled of confirmed raptor persecution crimes, listed in RSPB annual reports and / or the press:

2001 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot Dale”. No prosecution

2003 Feb: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2003 Mar: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2003 Apr: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2003 Nov: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2004 Feb: Carbofuran (possession for use) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2004 Feb: two poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2004 Oct: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2005 Dec: poisoned buzzard & raven (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2006 Sep: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2006 Oct: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2009 Mar: two poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2009 Jun: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2009 Jun: 4 x poisoned baits (2 x rabbits; 2 x pigeons) (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2010 Nov: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2011 Jan: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot” No prosecution

2013 Jun: shot + poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2014 May: crow trap baited with two live pigeon decoys “nr Heriot”. No prosecution (but General Licence restriction applied in Nov 2015)

2014 May: four set spring traps beside live pigeon decoy “nr Heriot”. No prosecution (but General Licence restriction applied in Nov 2015)

2014 May: four shot buzzards “nr Heriot” No prosecution

2015 Jul: shot buzzard “found by side of road between Heriot and Innerleithen” according to media reports (see here). No prosecution

Interestingly, also not included in the RSPB’s annual reports but reported by the Southern Reporter (here) and the Guardian (here), a police raid on Raeshaw Estate in 2004 uncovered nine dead birds of prey, including five barn owls, two buzzards, a kestrel and a tawny owl, described as being “poisoned or shot“. In addition, “a number of illegal poisons were discovered but no-one was ever prosecuted“. According to both these articles, during a further police raid on Raeshaw Estate in 2009 ‘three injured hunting dogs were seized by the SSPCA on suspicion of involvement with badger baiting’. We don’t know whether that resulted in a prosecution.

Also not included in the above list is the sudden ‘disappearance’ of a young satellite-tagged hen harrier in October 2011. This bird had fledged from Langholm and it’s last known signal came from Raeshaw Estate. A search failed to find the body or the tag.

Raeshaw Estate (photo by RPUK)

Once the General Licence restriction was in place in 2015, Raeshaw Estate applied for, and was granted, a number of individual licences, allowing them to continue to carry out various ‘management’ activities (killing corvids and other so-called ‘pest’ species) but under closer scrutiny than they would have been subjected to under the General Licence. We know that between July and August 2016, at least 1,000 birds (294 rooks, 706 jackdaws) were lawfully killed under the auspices of these individual licences (see here). It looked like business as usual for this grouse-shooting estate, even with a General Licence restriction in place.

In 2017 Raeshaw Estate successfully applied for more individual licences that would allow them to continue this lawful wildlife-killing spree. However, in May 2017 after a spot check on the estate by SNH staff, SNH announced it had revoked an individual licence on Raeshaw Estate following the discovery that the terms of the individual licence had allegedly been breached (see here). SNH also reported suspected wildlife crimes to Police Scotland; we await news on this.

Good, we thought. The General Licence restriction was still in place (until Nov 2018) and now the individual licence had been revoked, so we assumed, naively, that Raeshaw Estate would no longer be permitted to kill wild birds during this period.

How wrong we were.

In early October 2017 we submitted an FoI to SNH to ask a series of questions about this issue. Amongst other things, we wanted to know for how long the individual licence had been revoked, and we also wanted to know whether the Estate’s General Licence restriction would be extended beyond the initial three-year period (Nov 2015-Nov 2018) given that further alleged breaches, and suspected wildlife crimes, had been discovered. SNH’s framework for dealing with General Licence restrictions explicitly states that a restriction may be extended in these circumstances:

Where, during a period of restriction, new evidence is received by SNH which provides reason to believe that wild birds have been killed and / or taken, there is intention to do so, other than in accordance with the terms of a Licence and the Licensing manager considers that the existing restriction should be extended, the Licensing Manager will recommend to the Wildlife Operations Manager that the existing restriction be extended“.

Well, guess what? Raeshaw Estate’s original General Licence restriction has NOT been extended – why the hell not?

And even more jaw-dropping, it turns out that even though SNH has revoked one individual licence, Raeshaw Estate can simply apply for another one, and another one, and another one, ad infinitum!!!

Here’s SNH’s response to our FoI:

How on earth is this allowed to go on?

It could be argued that SNH is simply following the General Restriction framework guidelines (in terms of considering further individual licence applications), and we have some sympathy with that, but, presumably SNH was involved in the drafting of these guidelines and even if they hadn’t noticed this glaring loophole at the time of drafting, it’s surely apparent now and SNH should be pushing for an urgent revision. And it does not explain why SNH has not extended Raeshaw Estate’s original General Licence restriction. If SNH has identified alleged breaches that were considered sufficient evidence to result in a revocation of an individual licence, why are these alleged breaches not considered sufficient evidence to extend the original General Licence restriction, as per the SNH guidelines?

It could also be argued that even though Raeshaw Estate is allowed to apply for as many individual licences as it likes (despite these repeated alleged licence breaches and alleged wildlife crimes), SNH may refuse to grant any more. We do know, from correspondence between Raeshaw Estate’s lawyer and SNH, released as part of our FoI resonse, that Raeshaw Estate was planning to submit another individual licence application “for 3 cage traps in order to control rooks in particular which were spoiling feeders for pheasants“. We have submitted another FoI to determine whether SNH has granted any further individual licences, even though there is yet another on-going criminal police investigation in to alleged wildlife crimes on this estate.

Watch this space.

17 Responses to “General Licence restriction – the Raeshaw Estate fiasco continues…”

  1. 1 Secret Squirrel
    November 8, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    ““for 3 cage traps in order to control rooks in particular which were spoiling feeders for pheasants“

    That one line just shows the mentality of these people. If it gets in the way, kill it.

  2. 2 Pete Hoffmann
    November 8, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Lack of enforcement might encourage vigilateism.
    Quod licet jovem , licet bovem?

    • 3 Alex Milne
      November 8, 2017 at 2:46 pm

      I, for one, do not recommend this course of action. Please read up about BAWC and watch, record, report. The criminals have little to complain about but keep bringing up damage to what they say is lawful equipment, a criminal offence, far more likely to be prosecuted than raptor crime, and a setback for what many of us are trying to achieve.
      I’m happy with lawful disturbance on shoot days at a pinch, but not criminal behaviour of any sort.

  3. 4 Paul V Irving
    November 8, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    you really couldn’t make this stuff up and be believed. What SNH should quite clearly be doing based on this evidence is extend the licence restrictions and withdraw all individual licences from this estate. Perhaps they have caught the debilitating spinal disease rife within the higher echelons of Natural England.

  4. 5 Doug Malpus
    November 8, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Licences or not, xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx

    Although, to some extent it show’s the SNH are taking some notice but sadly little action.


    [Ed: Not sure if you are referring to this specific estate, Doug, but if you are, this would be libellous. Comment edited to be on the safe side]

  5. 6 Simon Tucker
    November 8, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    Is SNH incompetent, corrupt or both? There is no justification at all for killing rooks or jackdaws: it is just a hangover from the old days that needs consigning to the dustbin of history.

  6. 7 Ernie Scales
    November 8, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Wow who knew that rooks would eat grain and therefore cost the estate money! And how much does a cage trap cost? Surely the position should be that, until the estate is proven to be whiter than white, all restrictions should remain in place and all new applications rejected. But perhaps SNH don’t see the obvious.

  7. 8 Tony Warburton MBE
    November 8, 2017 at 7:59 pm

    SNH goes from bad to worse. They are now neck and neck with Natural England for incompetence. And why doesn’t Rosanna Cunningham step in? She has gone as silent as the last useless incumbent. It is sickening and Paul Irving says it all.

  8. 9 Mike
    November 8, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    I really don’t think we’d be surprised at anything by way of behind the scene stories emanating from SNH and EN now – but I bet there are plenty!

  9. November 9, 2017 at 12:05 am

    You couldnt make this level of incompetence up! Time for another parliamentary question.
    In the light of the recent revelations over the complete ineffectiveness of the suspension of the general licence, what steps is she taking to close the loop holes?
    Could the minister tell the house how many of the senior officers at snh shoot grouse for fun?

  10. November 9, 2017 at 10:13 am

    To employ an old-fashioned, but entirely apposite expression, SNH (and EN) now seem in their handling of this matter little more than a 21st century “Fred Karno’s Army”. One has to wonder too to whose tune they are marching.

  11. 12 Iain Gibson
    November 9, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    It would be interesting to hear how the licence applicant defines “spoiling” of feeders by Rooks. Something that only Local Recorders and bird recording enthusiasts seem to know is that Rooks have been declining seriously in recent years due to “improvements” in agricultural practice and the over-use of pesticides, so it is even more infuriating to know that gamekeepers are targeting them for trivial reasons. Scottish Natural Heritage has seriously compromised its original objectives by virtually colluding with bodies enacting bad practice, on the principle that anything goes so long as it is deemed to be legitimate. I can’t see this appalling situation ending soon, unless some fundamental changes in legislation are introduced. Again, those of us who understand ecological relationships know that there is no justification in the modern age to continue persecuting any mammalian or avian predators, including foxes and crows. There is a serious case for getting rid of Victorian practices and restoring lost species like Eurasian Lynx. For now our immediate priorities should focus on species which we are realistically capable of rescuing, like Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle. I honestly believe that without RPUK we’d be making very little headway, but thanks largely to them optimism is now possible.

    • 13 AlanTwo
      November 10, 2017 at 10:12 am

      Talking of rooks, one of the most revolting practices to watch from the blood ‘sports’ brigade is the shooting out of rookeries at the nestling stages. Groups of ‘sportsmen’ shooting up at the nests, while leaves, twigs, dead and injured nestlings rain down around them.
      This is another activity that I think could do with bringing to the attention of the general public.

      • 14 Iain Gibson
        November 10, 2017 at 11:45 am

        Totally agree, AlanTwo. I’ve often wondered what your average birdwatcher would think if they witnessed this appalling practice, or if it was secretly videoed and shown on TV. It is truly gruesome, and difficult not to become even more angry because the people doing it (not just gamekeepers) are getting such obvious pleasure at the ‘sport.’ It is but one of the practices I’ve noticed has become far more common in the countryside since access legislation was passed (in Scotland), the Labour Party finally banned fox hunting, and the Countryside Alliance was formed. Along with increased persecution in the shooting of foxes and various other examples of extreme ‘pest control,’ it’s as if the ‘true countrymen’ are mounting revenge, and making the wildlife suffer fr it. One of the worst examples in my area was the destruction in one day of Lanarkshire’s largest rookery – almost 1,000 nests containing broods blasted out of the nests by a gang of about a dozen arseholes (sorry, but I can’t think of any polite way of describing them). At the time I knew it was pointless reporting to the police, as what they were doing is allegedly perfectly legal, but have since wondered if the SSPCA could do anything under cruelty to animals legislation. In my local recording area (Clyde), the Rook population has declined by around 30%, (from a previous total of 46,138 nests), since this practice took off in a big way. Carrion Crow has almost become a rarity in some parts where it was formerly common.

        • 15 AlanTwo
          November 10, 2017 at 1:04 pm

          Regarding the ‘allegedly perfectly legal’ status of blasting rooks’ nests, it’s a good example of the complete uselessness of current licensing regulations. As I understand it (correct me if I’m wrong, RPUK), shooting nests out is only legal if:
          It can be shown that the birds are causing significant financial losses;
          All non-lethal alternatives have been tried, and
          The landowner has given permission.
          In practice, anyone sick enough to enjoy doing this can do so wherever they feel like it with total impunity.

          • 16 Iain Gibson
            November 10, 2017 at 2:19 pm

            Killing of crows, including Rooks, are covered under the terms of the Open General Licence, and I don’t think this requires any evidence of commercial damage having to be proved. This is supposed to apply to licences for shooting Goosanders or Cormorants, for example, where fish stocks are supposedly being affected. SNH issues licences with stated quotas, but this is not monitored, of course. No gamekeeper I know has to prove anything about crows, they can just kill as many as they like. One countryside ranger I worked alongside about 30 years ago ‘moonlighted’ as a part-time gamekeeper, and once in the course of shooting out local Carrion Crow nests, he shot and killed a brood of Merlins in an old crow nest. It made me wonder how many similar errors occur.

            • 17 AlanTwo
              November 10, 2017 at 7:15 pm

              Iain, I’m not an expert and I could be quite wrong, but in England I thought it went something like:
              There is an application form for a license available on paper and on the internet that requires, among other things, the information I mentioned. Farcically, you don’t actually have to fill in the form to get a license, but you are expected to behave as if you had completed it successfully and, if challenged, justify your actions against the conditions of the virtual license that has been ‘issued’ in this ridiculous way.
              In reality, you can pretty much blaze away at whatever you fancy. It’s a great cover for shooting out the nests of anything you don’t like.

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