Posts Tagged ‘hen harrier


Decision due on General Licence restriction for Leadhills Estate

On 26 November 2019 Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire, after receiving what it described as “clear evidence” of wildlife crimes from Police Scotland (see herehere and here).

Those alleged offences included the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was given the power to impose a General Licence restriction on estates or individuals in Scotland). SNH also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests had also been disturbed’, although no further detail was provided. The estate has consistently denied responsibility and implied it was the work of ‘bird of prey activists‘.

[This adult male hen harrier was found with his leg clamped in an illegally-set spring trap next to a nest on Leadhills Estate in May 2019. His leg was almost severed and despite the valiant efforts of a world-class wildlife vet, he had to be euthanised]

The General Licence restriction was supposed to be in place for three years but it lasted only 14 days. On 10th December 2019 SNH lifted the restriction because Leadhills Estate had chosen to appeal the decision to restrict.

According to SNH policy, an appeal has the immediate effect of suspending the General Licence restriction from the date SNH receives the appeal letter. SNH then has to consider the appeal and must notify the estate of the appeal outcome in writing, setting out the reasons behind the decision. SNH policy guidelines state it will seek do this within four weeks of receiving the appeal letter.

Those four weeks are now up (Tues 7th Jan was the four week marker) although there was the Xmas break to consider so perhaps it’ll take a bit longer. Although to be frank it shouldn’t take any time at all to reach a decision. SNH has already been through an appeals procedure with the estate – as per SNH policy – when SNH first notified Leadhills that a General Licence restriction was being considered. Leadhills Estate then had an opportunity to state its case and explain why a restriction shouldn’t be made. In this case, SNH chose to crack on and imposed the restriction based on the ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime provided to SNH by Police Scotland. Why there now has to be a second appeal process is anyone’s guess.

Maybe it’ll catch on. Maybe suspects at a police station, having had an opportunity to defend themselves before a charge is laid, will then be given a further 14 days after the charge has been laid to appeal the charging decision all over again and by doing so can have the original charge lifted for at least four weeks while the police/CPS consider the second appeal. It’s genius.

It’s quite likely that a lot of people will be paying close attention to SNH’s decision on whether or not to reinstate the General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate, not least grouse moor owners’ lobby group Scottish Land and Estates (SLE). Leadhills Estate is a member of SLE and Lord Hopetoun of Leadhills Estate is Chair of SLE’s Moorland Group. So far, SLE has not commented publicly on this fascinating relationship.


First Hen Harrier Day event for Wales – 18 July 2020

Save the date folks – 18 July 2020 – as Hen Harrier Day arrives in Wales!

Beginning in 2014, this annual event has since spread across the UK including England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, typically taking place on the weekend before the opening of the grouse-shooting season on 12th August.

It’s brilliant to see people in Wales now stepping forward to host an event and also to see it spreading beyond August. Hen harriers are illegally killed on grouse moors year-round, not just in August, so the more opportunities there are to highlight these crimes, the better.

If you’re on social media follow the organisers of Hen Harrier Day Wales @wcrcuk for more details.


Top ten most read RPUK blogs in 2019

Thanks for all your continued interest and support in 2019….it’s been another very busy year.

Here are the top ten most read RPUK blogs over the last 12 months:

  1. Young golden eagle flying around Cairngorms National Park with an illegal trap clamped to its leg (here)
  2. Two more golden eagles go ‘missing’, on the same morning, on the same Scottish grouse moor (here)
  3. Chris Packham targeted (here)
  4. Hen harrier suffers savage brutality of an illegally-set trap on a Scottish grouse moor (here)
  5. Convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson and his litany of wildlife crimes (here)
  6. More detail emerges about SSPCA/Police Scotland raid at Millden Estate (here)
  7. Disgusting display of savagery on Yorkshire grouse moor (here)
  8. Monumentally inadequate sentence for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson (here)
  9. Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England suggests persecution not an issue (here)
  10. At least 72% satellite tagged hen harriers presumed illegally killed on grouse moors (here)

The blog will reach its ten year milestone in March 2020.

Happy New Year!


Werritty Review: response from RSPB Scotland

Press release from RSPB Scotland (19 December 2019) in response to today’s publication of the Werritty Review on grouse moor management in Scotland.

Independent grouse moor review does not go far or fast enough to tackle raptor crimes

We support the recommendations relating to regulation of muirburn and better safeguards for mountain hare populations, however regret that panel behind the report has not been bold enough to recommend the immediate licensing of driven grouse moors.

Previously Scottish Government Ministers have publicly stated that driven grouse moor owners are ‘in the last chance saloon’, and we now expect these commitments to be honoured.

Given the overwhelming evidence of serious organised crimes perpetrated against our birds of prey, as well as the harm caused to upland habitats and species by grouse moor management practices, we will be asking the Cabinet Secretary to consider the ‘wider societal views’ mentioned by Professor Werritty and make the necessary ‘step change’ to grouse moor licensing, conditional on legal and sustainable practices, and to ensure that this is done as soon as possible. A licensing framework would in our view set a new direction for the legal and sustainable management for large areas of our upland landscapes, as well as providing a meaningful deterrent to wildlife crime.

[Photo: satellite-tagged hen harrier Rannoch was found on a Perthshire grouse moor earlier this year – her leg had been caught in an illegally-set spring trap so she’ll have suffered an horrendous death. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, said: “We commend Professor Werritty and his panel for pulling together such a significant volume of scientific evidence and stakeholder testimony which we will consider in detail. However, we are concerned that more urgency is now needed to address the criminality and poor land management practices on Scottish grouse moors that have been highlighted for decades.

It is very important to remember that the background to this review was the overwhelming evidence base of the link between serious organised wildlife crime and grouse moor management; the ever-intensifying management of this land to produce excessive grouse bags leading to the killing of protected wildlife; as well as public concerns about huge culls of mountain hares; and burning of heather on deep peatland soils. Addressing these issues is now even more essential to combat both the climate emergency and nature crisis, which were confirmed as priorities by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier this year.

Duncan added: “The illegal killing of Scotland’s birds of prey simply has to stop. Those perpetrating these criminal acts have shown no willingness over decades to change their criminal behaviours. Letting this issue languish for another half decade will not help, and we fully expect more prevarication. Even whilst this review has been underway serious and well-publicised wildlife crimes have continued unabated, and delay fails to acknowledge the most urgent circumstances which led to its commission. The Scottish public have had enough. It is now vital that the next steps by Scottish Government are sufficient to bring closure to these appalling incidents, which blight Scotland’s international reputation.”



  1. It is now 20 years since Scotland’s first First Minister, Donald Dewar, described raptor persecution as a “national disgrace”. Subsequently successive Environment Ministers have promised to take firm action if illegal behaviours on grouse moors are not stopped.
  2. The formation of the Werritty Grouse Moor Review Group was announced by the Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, in May 2017, following the publication of a Government-commissioned report examining the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles. This report showed that of 131 birds tracked between 2004-16, 41 disappeared in ‘suspicious circumstances’, primarily on land managed as driven grouse moors. This was the latest in a succession of scientific reports that have conclusively demonstrated the harm that grouse moor management is causing to various bird of prey species and to mountain hare populations. Scientific reports have also confirmed the damage caused by muirburn (burning of heather on open moor) to Scotland’s peat soils – which act as vital carbon stores and are critical to combating climate change.
  3. RSPB Scotland has made the case to the Review Group that grouse moors should be licensed with the sanction to remove licences to operate where raptor and other wildlife crime is occurring to the satisfaction of the public authorities. This action would act as a genuine deterrent to wildlife crime.
  4. RSPB Scotland has also called for the cessation of large-scale mountain hare culls and muirburn on peatland soils. RSPB Scotland believes that licensing of grouse moors should also put in place a framework involving all stakeholders to protect these important public interests in the way our upland landscapes are managed in the future.

SNH reinstates General Licence use on Leadhills Estate during appeal process

In late November 2019 Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire, after receiving what it described as “clear evidence” of wildlife crimes from Police Scotland (see here, here and here).

Those alleged offences included the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was given the power to impose a General Licence restriction on estates or individuals in Scotland). SNH has also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests have also been disturbed’, although there is no further detail on this. The estate has consistently denied responsibility.

[The body of a shot short-eared owl that was found shoved under some heather on Leadhills Estate in May 2017. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate on 26 November 2019.

It lasted for just 14 days.

On 10 December 2019, a notice appeared on SNH’s website announcing that the restriction had been lifted due to an on-going appeal:

This means that Leadhills Estate can, until further notice, go back to using General Licences 1, 2 & 3 to lawfully kill hundreds if not thousands of certain bird species (e.g. crows) on the estate without having to report its activities to anybody.

Leadhills Estate is perfectly entitled to appeal SNH’s decision to impose the General Licence restriction. SNH has a clearly-explained policy on its appeals procedure, which states an appeal must be made within 14 days of SNH’s decision to impose the restriction and that appeal must be in writing. From the information available in the public domain it looks like Leadhills Estate has met this deadline.

An appeal has the immediate effect of suspending the General Licence restriction from the date SNH receives the appeal letter. SNH now has to consider the appeal and must notify the estate of the appeal outcome in writing, setting out the reasons behind the decision. SNH says it will seek do this within four weeks of receiving the appeal letter.

We’ll be monitoring this case very carefully.

There’s quite a lot of deja vu going on here. You might remember that Raeshaw Estate (Scottish Borders) was one of the first to be slapped with a General Licence restriction back in November 2015 (see here). That restriction only lasted for six days before the estate appealed (see here). The appeal failed and two and half months later the General Licence restriction was re-imposed on the estate (see here).

However, a couple of months later the General Licence restriction was suspended again when Raeshaw Estate took SNH to judicial review (see here). Raeshaw lost the judicial review when the court decided SNH had acted fairly so the General Licence restriction was re-instated on the estate, again, approximately one year later (see here). Interestingly, SNH did not backdate the restriction order so effectively Raeshaw Estate didn’t serve a full three-year restriction at all, thanks to all the legal disruption.

During this time Raeshaw employees also applied for individual licences to permit the continued killing of birds on the estate (e.g. 1,000 birds reported killed under one of these licences, see here), but then even the individual licence was revoked after SNH found ‘multiple instances of breaches of conditions of an individual licence that had been granted to cover essential management activities‘ (see here). SNH also said ‘These breaches may also constitute offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, so SNH has reported the details to Police Scotland‘. We’re not aware of any pending prosecution in relation to these alleged offences. And SNH chose not to extend the General Licence restriction further, in light of these breaches, even though it had the powers to do so (see here).

The link between Raeshaw Estate and Leadhills Estate, apart from them both being grouse shooting estates and the subject of a General Licence restriction for ‘clear evidence of wildlife crime’? Leading sporting agent and grouse moor ‘guru’ Mark Osborne, whose company J M Osborne & Co is believed to be involved at both estates (involved as in ‘present’, not involved as in ‘guilty of wildlife crime’ – SNH has made clear that a General Licence restriction does not infer responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals).

Also of interest, to us at least, is the ownership of Leadhills Estate, which has belonged to the same family (the Hopetouns) for more than 300 years, according to the estate’s website:

It’s also of great interest that not only is Leadhills Estate a member of Scottish Land & Estates (who, incidentally, have said absolutely nothing about this General Licence restriction so far), but that Lord Hopetoun is chair of Scottish Land & Estate’s Scottish Moorland Group:

If Leadhills Estate’s appeal fails and SNH re-instates the General Licence restriction, we’ll be expecting a full response from both Scottish Land & Estates and the Scottish Moorland Group.

UPDATE 9 January 2020: Decision due on General Licence restriction for Leadhills Estate (here)


Hen harrier found shot & two others ‘disappear’, all on Scottish grouse moors

Press release from RSPB Scotland (9 December 2019)

Hen harrier found dead while two others disappear in suspicious circumstances

RSPB Scotland is appealing for information following the discovery of the body of a hen harrier found to have been shot and the sudden disappearances of two young satellite tagged hen harriers.

A member of the public found the dead female bird on a grouse moor on the Dumfries-shire/South Lanarkshire boundary near the village of Wanlockhead on 7 June 2019. A post mortem examination of the body by SRUC vets confirmed that the bird had died as a result of “penetrating trauma” injuries of unknown cause, with shooting a possibility. The examination also showed that the bird had previously been shot, with a shotgun pellet recovered from the left breast muscle. An investigation by Police Scotland has not identified a suspect for the bird’s shooting.

The birds who have disappeared in suspicious circumstances were fitted with satellite tags under licence by the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project team this summer while they were still in the nest. Romario, a young male, fledged from a nest on National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, while Thistle, a young female, was tagged on an estate in Easter Ross.

Romario was last recorded on 11 September on a grouse moor between Tomintoul and Grantown-on-Spey, while the last transmission from Thistle’s tag was received on 12 October, from another grouse moor, in east Sutherland. Satellite tags are highly reliable, so sudden stops in transmission give immediate cause for concern.

Since the birds fledged the tags had been tracking their movements as they set out on their own. Romario had made his way slowly north, spending time in western Aberdeenshire, before moving into Moray. Thistle, who had been named by the children of Sunnyside Primary School in Glasgow, headed west to into Strathoykel for almost a month before journeys to the east and north of here. She then returned to Strathoykel, before again heading east prior to her disappearance.

This appeal for information follows the suspicious disappearance of another Scottish harrier tagged by the project being investigated by Northumbria Police – Ada hatched and was tagged in the Scottish Borders this summer and was last recorded in the North Pennines in England, an area known for bird of prey persecution. When she first fledged she had spent some time in lowland East Lothian before heading south; her tag’s last transmission was on 10 October in a grouse moor area near Allendale in Northumberland. RSPB England issued an appeal for information about her last month.

Despite laws to protect them, hen harriers remain one of the UK’s rarest and most persecuted birds of prey. From satellite tagging data they are known to be ten times more likely to be illegally killed over grouse moors where the land is managed specifically to raise artificially high numbers of red grouse, which are then shot, than any other land use.

Studies suggest there are only around 575 pairs of hen harrier remaining in the whole of the UK and Isle of Man. The vast majority of these pairs – 460 – are in Scotland, making the population here crucial to the future of this species in the UK.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager said: “We’re devastated to have lost more young birds in suspicious circumstances. The UK’s hen harrier population is in such a precarious position it means that every bird really does count and to have these ones disappear at such a young age is really concerning. Sadly, incidents such as this have become common place for our project with tagged hen harriers disappearing at alarming regularity every year, and it’s really worrying that a young female bird has been shot.”

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland said: “The project satellite tags don’t stop transmitting if a bird dies of natural causes. To have them go offline suddenly and without warning strongly suggests the hen harriers have been the victims of crime, as in the case of the shot bird. Scotland is leading the way in the UK in terms of legislation to tackle bird of prey persecution, but continuing incidents such as this show that existing measures are not enough. There needs to be robust regulation of driven grouse shooting if crimes against some of this country’s incredible wildlife are to be brought to an end.”

If anyone can provide information about these incidents or any illegal persecution of birds of prey, please contact Police Scotland on 101, or call the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.



Special Constables pilot scheme in Cairngorms National Park a waste of time & money

Two and a half years ago, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a pilot scheme whereby Police Special Constables would be deployed in the Cairngorms National Park to tackle wildlife crime.

This initiative was one of a number of measures announced in May 2017 in response to the findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review which showed clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution, particularly on some driven grouse moors in and around the Cairngorms National Park (CNP).

This RPUK map shows the last known location of satellite-tagged golden eagles that were either found illegally killed or had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in and around the CNP (data from the golden eagle satellite tag review):

Golden eagles are not the only victims of wildlife crime in and around the CNP. This RPUK map below, based mostly on RSPB data, shows raptor persecution incidents between 2005-2016. Only one of these (just outside the CNP boundary on Kildrummy Estate) has resulted in a successful prosecution. With such clear evidence of wildlife crime it’s easy to see why the CNP was chosen as the first location for this pilot scheme.

This pilot scheme was the Government’s alternative to extending the powers of the SSPCA to allow it to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crime (including raptor persecution) – a decision made after six years of Governmental deliberation under five different Environment Ministers.

It also emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it has now reneged (see here).

The idea was that the police special constable scheme could be rolled out across Scotland “if judged to be successful” in the CNP, but we weren’t told the criteria that would be used to judge this ‘success’.

The scheme was formally launched in March 2018 (see here) and nothing more was heard of it.

Just over a year later in April 2019 we asked the Cairngorms National Park Authority the following questions about the scheme:

Here’s the response:

So basically after a year of operation, one of the main project partners couldn’t tell us anything about the scheme.

Fast forward six months to November 2019 and Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell thought it was time more questions were asked. Here are his two Parliamentary questions and Roseanna Cunningham’s answers:

S5W-26349 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government how much funding (a) it and (b) the Cairngorms National Park Authority allocated each year to the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

Roseanna Cunningham: The Scottish Government agreed to contribute £18,000 and the Cairngorms National Park Authority agreed to provide £10,000 for the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

S5W-26346 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government what the outcome was of the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project; how many constables participated each month in this, and how many suspected crimes they reported, also broken down by how many led to subsequent (a) arrests, (b) charges, (c) prosecutions and (d) convictions.

Roseanna Cunningham: a)The Scottish Government is currently undertaking an evaluation of the Special Constable Pilot Project in conjunction with Police Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. We will announce a decision on the future direction of the project in due course.

b) There were five special constables in the project, employed on a part-time basis.

c) and d) From the information gathered in the review conducted by Police Scotland, there were no recorded crimes reported by the Special Constables during their patrols in the 12 month trial period. However, Special Constables were involved in meeting stakeholders and partners operating within the Cairngorms National Park to build relationships and understand the needs and demands of National Park users which will aid future intelligence gathering.

Gosh, it’s easy to see why the Scottish Government’s evaluation of the pilot scheme is taking so long, what with having to count ZERO reported wildlife crimes.

Meanwhile satellite tagged raptors continue to disappear in suspicious circumstances in the Cairngorms National Park (white-tailed eagle here; hen harrier here; hen harrier here and hen harrier here); birds are still being illegally poisoned in the Cairngorms National Park (here) and birds of prey are still being caught by illegally-set traps in the Cairngorms National Park (golden eagle here).

But it’s ok, nothing to worry about because £28K has just been spent on ‘building relationships and understanding the needs and demands of National Park users’.


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