Gamekeepers caught with banned poisons should receive mandatory jail sentence

Yesterday the Scottish Rural Affairs & Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon, gave evidence to the cross-party Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) committee which is currently considering Stage 1 of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

We’ll come back to the wider evidence session in another blog because there were some interesting and important discussions but one point raised deserves an immediate reaction:

Possession of banned poisons.

Here’s the mini transcript:

ECCLR Committee Member Rachael Hamilton MSP: I will go back to the categorisation of wildlife offences and the different tiers of the penalty system. We heard evidence that perhaps possession of illegal pesticides should be categorised as a tier 1 offence, because they are currently illegal anyway. Do you have any comments on that point and do you have any plans to have an amnesty on illegal pesticides prior to the bill being passed? People should not possess illegal pesticides anyway, so using them in connection with animal crimes should attract the highest and severest category of penalty.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon: That has been the feeling behind that issue. As you said, possession of such pesticides is already illegal and there are offences in place to deal with that individual issue separately. Using such pesticides as part of another offence would attract the higher penalty. As they are already illegal and there are offences attached to them, using them in relation to any other offences could well attract severe penalties.

In relation to your amnesty point, I would be happy to consider looking at the matter.

Scottish Government Wildlife Management Team leader Leia Fitzgerald: Just to clarify, there was a previous amnesty, which was quite successful and resulted in a lot of pesticides being handed in. We could speak to stakeholders about whether that is something that could be done again. We would hope that we got all of what we needed after the last amnesty, but we can look at the matter.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon: I will happily get back to the committee and let you know how we get on with that.


Is the Scottish Government seriously considering yet another amnesty for banned poisons, which would be the third amnesty in the 15 years since it became an offence to even possess these deadly toxins, let alone use them? (The Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005).

The first amnesty took place in 2011 (see here), six years after the ban was first introduced. The second amnesty came four years later in 2015 (see here).

Since then poisoning crimes have certainly dropped in Scotland, probably thanks to the increase in satellite-tagged raptors, whose tags lead researchers to the poisoned corpses that would otherwise remain undetected, and also due to the introduction of vicarious liability legislation in 2012 which made it possible for landowners to be prosecuted for raptor persecution crimes committed by their gamekeeper employees. However, these poisoning crimes haven’t been totally eradicated and we’re still reading reports about illegally-poisoned birds (and some dogs) that have died after ingesting banned poisons in Scotland including some that were killed this year, and some even inside the Cairngorms National Park (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

[An illegally-poisoned buzzard found on the boundary of a sporting estate in Perthshire. Contributed photo]

How many more chances is the Scottish Government planning on giving to these criminals? How many more get-out-of-jail-free cards will be dished out?

Why can’t the Scottish Government, 15 years on, implement a zero tolerance policy on this vile and primitive crime that not only risks the lives of wildlife and domestic animals but puts humans at risk as well? In the most recent criminal case, a Scottish gamekeeper was found with two cartons containing the banned poison Carbofuran. He was carrying one of these containers in his bum bag – presumably he wasn’t just taking the container out for company every day – and yet 180 schoolchildren were put at risk when they attended the grouse shooting estate on an officially-sanctioned school trip. Can you believe that? The gamekeeper was convicted for possession (along with a litany of other wildlife offences) and received a community payback order. No fine, no jail sentence, no deterrent whatsoever. Compare and contrast to how illegal poisoners are dealt with in Spain (see here, here and here).

The criminals who persist with such reckless activity in Scotland deserve a mandatory custodial sentence – there can be no more excuses, no more discussion and certainly no more amnesties.


22 Responses to “Gamekeepers caught with banned poisons should receive mandatory jail sentence”

  1. December 18, 2019 at 4:48 am

    amnesty..the clearest signal yet that the justice system in Scotland, in its present form is hopelessly unequal to the task of stopping the wildlife criminals who are running large parts of our country. Enough!..Give SSPCA powers, increase sentencing to allow for surveillance, stop pussyfooting around with pathetic initiatives which include criminals….amnesties in the past have very obviously not stopped the problem.

    • 2 Robin Bailey
      December 18, 2019 at 8:47 am

      I agree. Enough is enough. It is now time to take serious action against these criminals. Tough sentences and hefty fines should be the order of the day!

  2. 3 Perry
    December 18, 2019 at 9:01 am

    Utter Joke but not funny Lets see what this govenrment does, no excuses show whos boss in Scotland. Ps Dave is correct SSPCA MORE POWERS…………….

  3. December 18, 2019 at 9:14 am

    I have read the proposed new legislation, although not with complete understanding. I do not see that anyone caught with pesticides in future will necessarily be tried in solemn court, much less be facing a mandatory jail sentence. I would be happy to learn hat I am incorrect in my understanding.

    [Ed: Hi Alex. I think you’ve misunderstood the post. It’s not being suggested that the ECCLR committee or the Environment Minister are calling for mandatory jail terms for those found in possession of banned poisons. That’s kind of the point – we’re calling for it whereas a Committee member and the Minister are discussing another poisons amnesty!

    There’s a statutory minimum jail sentence of 5 years for possession of an illegal firearm (unless ‘exceptional circumstances’ can be applied). We’re arguing that the possession of an illegal poison is just as serious an offence with potentially just as fatal consequences.

    The rest of your comment has been deleted as it’s not relevant to this post. We’ll be blogging about the wider evidence session shortly].

    • December 18, 2019 at 10:29 am

      It was not that I did not understand that it was RPUK calling for a mandatory prison term. I was saying, that, far from the present proposals in the new legislation providing for a substantial punishment, there is no guarantee that a simple fine or community order could still result from a conviction if the Crown Office and/or the court does not wish to treat the offence as seriously as many of us would wish. i believe that the government has made clear over several years that they would wish video evidence in wildlife crime and the crimes themselves more generally to be treated more seriously but the opposite has happened in reality.

  4. 8 petersonderborg
    December 18, 2019 at 9:23 am

    Carbofurane has been illegal for years, yet it is being used routinely on the estates.
    There is clearly a supply route.
    And therefore an amnesty will have little effect.
    Those supplying should be dealt with in the same way drug dealers are sentenced. xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

    • 9 Les Wallace
      December 18, 2019 at 4:47 pm

      I’m sure someone once mentioned that it’s probably coming in from Southern Ireland. It wouldn’t be difficult if it is, there are clearly routes to take things in and out of there which are being used with little risk of detection. The non native deer the muntjac has started popping up in Ireland, somebody is taking them across from old Blighty and letting them go. The best explanation why anyone would do this very bizarre thing is that as there’s no close season for shooting them (they can breed at pretty much anytime of the year) so it’s to provide all round deer shooting for the hunting community. The muntjac is small, but getting a still substantial, living breathing mammal across the Irish sea illegally couldn’t be that easy an endeavour. It would be easier for the same networks/routes to be used to get banned poisons back into the UK, perhaps the same people are involved there would be shared ‘sympathies’. During the time we’ve been having these amnesties how much new carbofuran etc has flowed into the country? If live deer can be smuggled, some containers of dodgy pesticide should be a piece of piss. The SSPCA need to be given more powers, they and the police need to be doing more raids and the penalties for employees/employers increased. Amnesties and rhetoric aren’t working and in parts of the UK where there’s little likelihood of sat tagged raptors being present poison might be getting used a lot more than we believe – use of poison on the North York Moors is surely far less risky than it is in the Angus Glens?

  5. 10 John Davidson
    December 18, 2019 at 9:34 am

    No amnesty! No quarter, just step up detection, prosecution and conviction!!!

  6. December 18, 2019 at 10:23 am

    I wouldn’t care about amnesty if i didn’t think it was just kicking the can further down the road. If there was an amnesty 1 month before severe and strict new laws which would bring in jail terms for possession it would make sense to me but so far this Bill doesn’t fulfil any of that caveat.

  7. 12 Dougie
    December 18, 2019 at 10:29 am

    More mind numbing thinking from the government.
    An amnesty is nothing more than an opportunity for a criminal to dispose of weapons that he/she has, for whatever reason, no further use without the risk of prosecution.
    Is anyone really so bereft of wisdom and judgement that they could actually believe that an amnesty will produce less poisoned birds and animals.
    Having containers to collect some old poison will do nothing other than free the owner from a minute risk of prosecution.
    Wildlife criminals will soon source new supplies of poison should they so wish.

  8. 13 George M
    December 18, 2019 at 11:05 am

    An amnesty is simply another public relations slight of the hand which allows positive publicity in as much it shows to a largely uneducated audience that more and more gamekeepers and land managers are currently seeing the light. As has been said in previous posts they obviously have an efficient supply line in regards to these poisons and won’t make one bit of a difference.
    Isn’t it a bit odd that such a simple but clear understanding of the dynamics involved in some way escapes MSP Mairi Gougeon, especially as her constituency involves the Angus Glens, notorious for it’s poisoning of birds over the years. As she is also the Hen Harrier Species Champion, in addition to being the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Environment, one might have thought that she indulged in lateral thinking from time to time in areas that are vital to her job.
    Hopefully not simply a new face to tutored by Fergus Ewing in more of the same.

  9. 14 Taddy Of Kentoo
    December 18, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    ‘Keepers caught with banned poisons should receive mandatory jail term’ Face the facts that we are all well aware of..No mystery at all… Birds, land mammals,wildlife,being targeted, poisoned,shot,trapped, are being eradicated by the establishment plain and simple.. The police commissioners, politicians and judges are sucking up and completely controlled by the establishment.
    Amnesty, laughable!Convicted keeper community payback! The ultimate deterrent! Laughable!!
    Revive coalition, keep up the good work!
    Feeling rather SICK & extremely ANGRY referring to George M concluding sentence & the name, FERGUS EWING! Xxxxxx Xxxxxx Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxxxxxx

  10. 15 John Keith
    December 18, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    Yet again this report illustrates that our Government is prepared to go on with words rather than action.
    My reading of the quote from the civil servant (Scottish Government Wildlife Management Team leader Leia Fitzgerald) is that they would be prepared to move forward, so it seems it is the minister who is bending over backwards.

    If we were being treated as adults we could be told why our Government is soft-peddling on countryside and environment issues.

  11. December 18, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    Is there any information available on the response to previous amnesties and of who might have complied ? Would voluntary compliance have guaranteed complete anonymity ? Might there be records of what would have been turned in ?
    I had thought that previous amnesties were directed at the general public for a wide range of substances. It’s highly unlikely that anyone who still has what are now banned substances, would comply – even less likely than last time unless they really feared the consequences.

  12. 19 Mr Greer Hart, senior
    December 18, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    Before coming on to this site, I had made a donation to Fauna and Flora International to help with their determined work to save the Saker Falcon from obliteration in Kyrgystan, where its numbers have fallen, due to the illegal international trade in such birds for falconry; a donation off to Birds International in their work to save jungle birds in Indonesia noted for their “singing”, which can bring big cash prizes for the best birds; a conversation with a man in South Africa about poaching of wildlife there; checking that my monthly donation to the RSPB to help fight the crime under discussion, was being met by my bank, and checking on various rainforest protection organisations requiring petitions to be signed and donations sought, for areas crucial to the survival of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet. Such a process goes on day in day in my life, and that of many people world wide. When it comes to my island, Britain, I really am in despair that a country such as ours, which has given the world so many wonderful humane acting charities for mankind and other forms life, can still allow the criminal waste of our Birds of Prey, along with a host of other creatures, with every right to live and procreate their kind, just to please a selfish and cruel minority of influential people.

    To shilly shally over whether to act decisively on the issue of applying deterrent sentences, against those who flaunt the law by poisoning and other illegal methods, our protected bird life, reveals a form of collusion, based probably on an undue influence by vested interests, and by a delusion that the “industry” of driven game bird shooting is crucial to the Scottish economy, I thought I was going to get through reading the comments on this site without finding a mention of Fergus Ewing, the valiant defender and protector of all things nasty when it comes to activities involving animal welfare and protection of the natural environment Scotland will only succeed in having a more humane policy towards wildlife and animals in general, when it has installed Environment Ministers who do not support and sustain egregious and inhumane practices with regard to our natural landscape. To allow schools to pay visits to shooting estates alleged to be associated with illegal practices, indicates a cynicism towards such vulnerable young people. What we require in our schools is a policy to ensure that compassion should be shown to all forms life, that are not a threat to humanity, and not one that only consolidates attitudes that should be out-of-date as forms of cruelty, doctored up to appear as rural sports, and the correct management of our natural environment by gamekeepers and others. Anything else is complete tosh, and any MSP who accepts the present attitudes being criticised here, should be ashamed of him/herself, as there is no justification from holding back in applying prison sentences on those using dangerous substances, and contemptuously break the law in doing so.

    Finally, the valiant and persistent condemnation of such criminal activity, by this site, and those who comment on it, is to be commended. It makes me glad that such a courageous and ethical opposing force exists, and by that existence, shames our Government, and those politicians who accept all that is required of them to blindly support.

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