Posts Tagged ‘Invercauld Estate


Satellite-tagged hen harrier disappears on grouse moor in Cairngorms National Park

Well that didn’t take long, did it? Just a few weeks after fledging, one of the 2017 cohort of satellite-tagged hen harriers has already ‘disappeared’, with its final signal emitted from a grouse moor on the 12th August, the opening day of the grouse-shooting season.

Hen harrier ‘Calluna‘ (photo RSPB Scotland)

RSPB Scotland press release:


RSPB Scotland has issued an appeal for information after a young hen harrier, fitted with a satellite tag as part of the charity’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project, disappeared on an Aberdeenshire grouse moor.

Calluna‘, a female harrier, was tagged this summer at a nest on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge estate, near Braemar. Her transmitter’s data was being monitored by RSPB Scotland and showed that the bird fledged from the nest in July. She left the area in early August, with the data showing her gradually heading east over the Deeside moors. However, while the tag data showed it to be working perfectly, transmissions abruptly ended on 12th August, with no further data transmitted. Calluna’s last recorded position was on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater, in the Cairngorms National Park.

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest raptors and the 2016 national survey results released earlier this year showed that even in Scotland, the species’ stronghold, these birds are struggling. The number of breeding pairs in Scotland now stands at 460, a fall of 27 per cent since 2004, with illegal killing in areas managed for driven grouse shooting identified as one of the main drivers of this decline.

David Frew, Operations Manager for the National Trust for Scotland at Mar Lodge Estate, said: “It is deeply saddening to learn that Calluna appears to have been lost, so soon after fledging from Mar Lodge Estate. Hen harriers were persecuted on Deeside for a great many years, and we had hoped that the first successful breeding attempt on Mar Lodge Estate in 2016 would signal the start of a recovery for these magnificent birds in the area.

Only one month after fledging, and having travelled only a relatively short distance, it appears that we will no longer be able to follow the progress of our 2017 chick. We hope however that the data her tag has provided will help to inform a wider understanding of the lives and threats faced by hen harriers.”

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland said: “This bird joins the lengthening list of satellite-tagged birds of prey that have disappeared, in highly suspicious circumstances, almost exclusively in areas in areas intensively managed for grouse shooting. We are pleased that the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment has commissioned an independent group to look at how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law. We look forward to a further announcement shortly on the membership of this group, and we are committed to assist the work of this enquiry in any way that we can.

The LIFE project team has fitted a significant number of tags to young hen harriers this year, with the very welcome help from landowners, including the National Trust for Scotland, who value these magnificent birds breeding on their property. The transmitters used in this project are incredibly reliable and the sudden halt in data being received from it, with no hint of a malfunction, is very concerning. We ask that if anyone has any information about the disappearance of this bird we urge them to contact Police Scotland as quickly as possible”.


Here’s a map we’ve created showing the location of the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, where Calluna hatched, and the town of Ballater, close to where she disappeared.

The RSPB Scotland press release doesn’t name the estate from where Calluna’s last position was recorded, it just says it was “on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater, in the Cairngorms National Park“.

Hmm, let’s have a closer look at that. Here’s a map showing the grouse moor area a few miles north of Ballater. According to estate boundary details that we sourced from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website, Calluna’s last position could have been recorded on either an Invercauld Estate grouse moor or a Dinnet Estate grouse moor.

If you’re thinking that this part of the Cairngorms National Park looks familiar, you’d be right, we’ve blogged about it a few times before. There was the discovery of an illegally shot peregrine at the Pass of Ballater in 2011, the reported coordinated hunt and subsequent shooting of an adult hen harrier at Glen Gairn on the border of Invercauld and Dinnet Estates in 2013, and then there were the illegally-set traps that were found nr Geallaig Hill on Invercauld Estate in 2016. This area of Royal Deeside is quite the little raptor persecution hotspot, isn’t it?

The evidence just keeps mounting. Is anyone still wondering why the game-shooting industry is so keen to try and discredit the use of satellite tags on raptors?

We wonder what explanations, to avoid the bleedin’ obvious, they’ll come up with this time? Perhaps they’ll suggest Calluna was sucked in to a vortex created by Hurricane Harvey? Or maybe they’ll say she was hit by a North Korean test missile? They might tell us that Vladimir Putin must have hacked the satellite signals? All just as plausible as the usual tosh they trot out, such as how a fieldworker eating a sandwich at a tagging session causes eagles to die (here), or how non-existent wind farms are responsible for the disappearance of eight sat-tagged golden eagles (here), or how ‘activists’ have been killing sat-tagged raptors as part of a smear campaign against the grouse-shooting industry (here), or how a faulty saltwater switch on tags attached to Olive Ridley turtles on the Indian subcontinent means that all satellite tags are unreliable (here).

We’ll be updating this page throughout the day if and when statements are made by the following:

Response of Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham –

Response of Alexander Burnett MSP (Conservative, Aberdeen West) –

Response of Cairngorms National Park Authority – Grant Moir, Chief Exec of CNPA said: “A hen harrier has once again disappeared in the Cairngorms National Park, with a satellite tracker ceasing to transmit. The Park Authority is determined to stop these recurring disappearances. Earlier this week the CNPA met with Police Scotland to discuss how increased use of special constables can help to tackle wildlife crime in the Cairngorms National Park. We also continue to work on other solutions to these issues. The CNPA look forward to the establishment by Scottish Government of the independently-led group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management and will feed in to that review“.

Response of Scottish Land & Estates – David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, said: “Estates in the area have welcomed a number of hen harriers to the area during August and only today one moor reported three harriers. Local land managers reject the inference that the loss of signal from this tag is connected to grouse moor management and are now offering every assistance in searching the area where the last transmission was recorded. They are dismayed that they were not informed earlier that the tag had stopped transmitting nearly three weeks ago, as this would have assisted the search“.

Response of Scottish Wildlife Trust – Susan Davies, director of conservation at the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) said: “It’s extremely disappointing to learn that yet another hen harrier has disappeared over a grouse moor. The most recent surveys show that hen harrier numbers are declining in most parts of Scotland and that illegal persecution is a factor in this decline. Anyone who has information on this bird’s disappearance should contact Police Scotland immediately. 

The Trust has repeatedly called on the Scottish Government to be tougher on wildlife crime and introduce a system of licensing for grouse moor management to encourage sustainable practices. We welcome the recent announcement that a working group will be formed to look at the environmental impact of grouse moors and options for better regulation, and we stand ready to assist this group in any way possible“.

Response of Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association – A spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The SGA would urge anyone who saw the bird or knows anything about it to contact Police Scotland. This is the first we have heard of this. Obviously any news like this is very disappointing. The SGA condemns raptor persecution and if any of our members are convicted of a wildlife crime they are removed from our organisation. We have learned from those monitoring tags that birds can move some distance away from where they were last recorded so it is important that, if people know anything, they alert the Police immediately.”

Response of Scottish Moorland Group –

Response of Grampian Moorland Group –

Response of GWCT – Nothing, nada, zilch. But on Twitter they announced the availability of the new GWCT Xmas Cards. That’s nice.

Response of BASC –

Response of Countryside Alliance –

Response of Scottish Association for Country Sports – (from The Times) – Julia Stoddart, head of policy for the SACS, lamented the practice of killing hen harriers to protect grouse. “However, we would remind the RSPB that tag technology can fail for a number of reasons, and that raptors are susceptible to natural causes of death as well as to illegal persecution“, she said.

Other media coverage:

BBC news here

Scotsman here

Press & Journal here

UPDATE 2 September 2017: On cue, Scottish landowners’ rep throws false allegations at RSPB (see here).

UPDATE 4 September 2017: Political silence in response to missing hen harrier Calluna (see here).

UPDATE 5 September 2017: Scottish Land & Estates and their indefensible distortion of the truth (see here).


Public funds being used to promote Glendye grouse moor

Yesterday we blogged about the illegally-set traps that had been photographed on a grouse moor at Glendye Estate in Aberdeenshire (here). We await the result of a police investigation to determine who was responsible for setting those traps (but we’re not holding our breath).

Meanwhile, as taxpayers, you’ll all be thrilled to learn that your money is being used to promote grouse shooting on Glendye Estate. This estate is listed on the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group’s website, which is part-funded with a grant from VisitScotland.

We already knew that the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group is promoting a sporting agent with a criminal conviction for raptor persecution (see here), so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to find them also promoting a grouse moor where illegally-set traps have been discovered. In fact the SCSTG was already doing this because Invercauld Estate is also being promoted as a ‘sporting provider’ on the SCSTG website – you’ll recall that illegally-set traps were discovered on an Invercauld Estate grouse moor last summer and this resulted in what we believe to be a ‘cover-up’ by the authorities (see here).

Why is public funding being used to promote a ‘sport’ that is mired in illegal activity? It’s bad enough that public funds are being used to promote such an environmentally damaging ‘sport’ but to promote estates where criminal activities have been uncovered is scandalous. Why is the Scottish Government still turning a blind eye to what’s going on on some of these estates, despite incident after incident after incident after incident after incident after incident being uncovered? Scottish Ministers are being made to look like fools.


Minutes of meeting between Cairngorms National Park Authority & Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association

ALMDLast month we blogged about a comment that had been made during an official meeting between the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) and the SGA. The comment came from a CNPA Board member (Eleanor Mackintosh) who was advising the gamekeepers to ‘cover up’ dead mountain hares so that photographs of the corpses couldn’t be published on social media (see here).

That meeting between the CNPA and the SGA was triggered by the SGA’s anger over a blog that had been written by Will Boyd Wallis (CNPA’s Head of Land Management & Conservation) in August, where Mr Boyd Wallis had raised legitimate concerns about some aspects of intensive grouse moor management (see here).

The SGA was furious about that CNPA blog, for a number of reasons (see below). The SGA asked for a meeting with the CNPA to discuss these concerns and the meeting was arranged, apparently after the ‘intervention‘ of Fergus Ewing MSP, who is Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy & Connectivity, but whose remit does not cover the National Parks (Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has responsibility for the National Parks).

Chairman of the SGA, Alex Hogg, wrote to the CNPA requesting a meeting. We got a copy of his letter via an FoI request and here it is: sga-letter-requesting-mtg-with-cnpa-sept-2016

It’s an entertaining read. In it, Alex claims there’s no need for concern about the potential environmental harm of dumping tonnes of medicated grit on to the grouse moors because there’s no scientific evidence to show any damage. He also suggests that if the CNPA was concerned about potential environmental damage then the CNPA would be looking at the issue of dogs and livestock (which have also been wormed) defecating all over the Park. Hmm. If dogs and livestock had been wormed every day with a drug that was 10-20 x the strength permitted for use in the UK, and those piles of faeces were placed at every 100 metres across the grouse moor, for up to eight months of the year, as are piles of medicated grit put out for red grouse, then he might have had a valid point. Unfortunately for Alex, there is growing scientific evidence that the drug used in medicated grit (Flubendazole) is actually highly toxic to some aquatic organisms (e.g. see here) and, given the extent of its use on intensively managed grouse moors, this is exactly why Leeds University is offering a PhD scholarship to examine this issue in more detail (see here).

Anyway, on to the actual meeting itself. This took place on 29 September 2016 at Glenlochy in the National Park (an interesting choice of venue given the raptor persecution crimes that have been recorded in the area). In attendance were several representatives of the CNPA, several from the SGA, including Bert Burnett, some gamekeepers, and local SNP councillor Geva Blackett, who used to work as the SGA’s Parliamentary Officer many moons ago and who is married to Simon Blackett, the (now retired) Estate Factor at Invercauld Estate.

The minutes can be downloaded here: minutes-cnpa-sga-mtg-29-sept-2016

These minutes are well worth a read, not just because they expose the buffoonery of the SGA, but also because they provide an insight to the astonishing display of deference from the CNPA officials towards the SGA.

The meeting covered many topics and we won’t go in to all of them here because you can read them for yourselves and have a good giggle (whatever you do, don’t diss red grouse by calling them willow grouse!). The main thing we want to focus on is the discussion about gamekeepers getting licences to monitor and ring raptors and waders within the National Park.

Geva Blackett is pushing the CNPA to support this idea, and according to Bert Burnett, “no training is needed”. He really doesn’t have a clue, does he?!  The CNPA seems equally as ignorant, claiming that they’d like to support this initiative because they’d like to know about raptor numbers within the Park. Er, have they not heard of the award-winning Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme? A multi-partner scheme that holds all the raptor monitoring data collected across Scotland? Apparently not.

What’s even funnier about the SGA’s demands to get licences is that just this week, Bert Burnett and a couple of his cronies (including a convicted falcon thief) have launched a social media campaign designed to portray raptor fieldworkers in a negative light. They’ve trawled the internet and come up with some old photographs of raptor tagging activities (one photo is at least 13 years old!) and have made wholly unsubstantiated allegations about the behaviour of those featured in the photographs (unbeknownst to Bert, one of the photographs is actually from a project in North America, not from Scotland!). Apparently, these nest visits cause birds to desert. Hmm. And the evidence for that is where, exactly?

Bert has also claimed that raptor monitoring, ringing and tagging is “completely unregulated and those doing it are totally non accountable for their actions”. This exposes Bert’s lack of knowledge about the training and qualifications needed for this work, and also his ignorance about the high level of reporting required by the licensing authorities.

Strange, isn’t it, that if Bert thinks all this monitoring and ringing is ‘bad’, that at this meeting with the CNPA he is pushing for gamekeepers to be issued with licences to do the same work!

And if Bert/the SGA and co are so upset about satellite-tagging, why are they not kicking off about the GWCT’s woodcock satellite-tagging project?

And if Bert/the SGA and co are so upset about the ‘welfare’ of satellite-tagged golden eagles, why do we never see them kicking off about eagles that have been found poisoned, shot or trapped on driven grouse moors?

What is obviously going on here is a desperate little smear campaign designed to coincide with the forthcoming review of raptor satellite tag data, as requested by Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham (see here). This review, due out in the spring, is expected to be damning. We already know that many satellite-tagged raptors ‘disappear’ on grouse moors, and we also know that many satellite-tagged raptors have turned up either poisoned, shot or trapped on grouse moors. This review will pull all of those data together and it is predicted to be a shocking read.

The SGA knows this, hence these latest tactics to try and discredit the raptor workers.

Now, what was it that Tim (Kim) Baynes of the Scottish Moorland Group told that parliamentary committee last week? Ah yes, it was this:

We would very much like to see greater cooperation between ourselves, the Raptor Study Groups and the RSPB“.

It’s pretty clear the SGA has not received this message, or if it has, it’s chosen to ignore it.

But you carry on, Bert, because what you’re doing is political suicide. By asking your cronies to send (no doubt illiterate, baseless rants) to Roseanna Cunningham, complaining about Scottish Raptor Study Group members, she will see that the SGA is trying to undermine her review of the satellite tag data, and she’ll also recognise that the SGA’s claims of ‘partnership working’ with other members of the PAW Raptor Group are nothing more than lip service. PAW partners? Piss-poor partners, more like.

Photograph: dead golden eagle ‘Alma’, found poisoned on a grouse moor on Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. Her corpse was only found because she was wearing a satellite tag, fitted by Scottish Raptor Study Group member and internationally-recognised expert Roy Dennis. It’s no surprise then, that the SGA wants to put a stop to satellite-tagging.


Illegally-set traps on Invercauld Estate: not another cover up?

Cairngorms Invercauld - CopyIn July we blogged about the discovery in June of a critically-injured Common gull that had been found caught in two illegally-set spring traps on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park (see here).

We also blogged about a bizarre press statement from Invercauld Estate (issued via the GWCT’s twitter feed) in which they denied any illegal activity had taken place or if it had, it was perhaps a set-up ‘intended to discredit the grouse industry‘ (see here).

We also blogged about the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association’s response, which was an announcement that they would conduct their own enquiry before commenting further (see here).

We also blogged about Police Scotland’s view that a Common gull had been found caught in an illegally-set trap but ‘despite a thorough investigation‘, Police enquiries had failed to find further evidence to proceed with a potential prosecution and ‘there are at present no further investigative opportunities available‘ (see here).

In September, through a series of FoIs, we uncovered a very interesting letter, dated 27 July 2016 and written by Angus McNicol, who identified himself as the Estate Manager for Invercauld Estate. The letter was addressed to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham. A copy of the letter was also sent to the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA). It was written, in our view, to reassure the Cabinet Secretary and the CNPA that Invercauld Estate takes wildlife crime very seriously and that they’d ‘taken action’ in this case. The specific action taken was unknown (to us) because that part of the letter had been redacted. We’ll come back to this.

Since then, it all went quiet, apart from a persistent rumour (we’ve been told this by five separate, well-informed sources) that a gamekeeper had been sacked as a result of this incident. This claim has also been made on the ParksWatchScotland blog (here), which says: ‘Unusually, the gamekeeper in this case has been dismissed, although he apparently has not been charged‘.

Hmm. Naturally, we wanted to find out if this rumour had any basis.

We knew that Grant Moir (CNPA Chief Executive) had asked for a meeting with Invercauld Estate and the sporting partner ‘to discuss the issue’ of the illegally-set traps – he had said so in a press statement in July (here). Perhaps the minutes from that meeting would reveal whether a gamekeeper had been sacked, so we asked, via FoI, for a copy of those minutes.

We received a response from the CNPA in mid-November which confirmed that two meetings had indeed taken place:

Meeting 1 (22 August 2016) with the following people present: Peter Argyle (CNPA Convener), Grant Moir (CNPA Chief Executive), Hamish Trench (CNPA Director of Conservation & Visitor Experience) and Invercauld Estate’s sporting partner from the Micras beat (his name was not given).

Meeting 2 (25 August 2016) with the following people present: Peter Argyle (CNPA Convener), Grant Moir (CNPA Chief Executive), Hamish Trench (CNPA Director of Conservation & Visitor Experience), the Chair of Trustees for Invercauld Estate (name not given) and the Manager for Invercauld Estate (name not given but presumably this was Angus McNicol, the author of the letter from Invercauld Estate to the Environment Cabinet Secretary).

According to the CNPA’s response to our FoI, ‘The purpose of both meetings was to discuss the recent incident and understand the actions taken by the estate and sporting partner. As a result of the meetings we will now be meeting with the other sporting partners on Invercauld Estate‘.

Interestingly, according to the CNPA, there isn’t a record of the minutes from either of these meetings.

So, we’re still none the wiser about whether a gamekeeper was sacked by Invercauld Estate, which brings us back to that redacted letter from Invercauld Estate to the Cabinet Secretary. Was the readacted part of that letter a statement from Invercauld Estate, saying that they’d sacked a gamekeeper as a result of this incident?

If so, that’s incredible. A wildlife crime took place on Invercauld Estate in June 2016 (that’s undeniable). Has Invercauld Estate identified a suspect and sacked him/her? And if so, does the Scottish Government know about it, does the Cairngorms National Park Authority know about it, and does the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association know about it (given they were conducting their ‘own enquiry’ in to this incident back in July)?

The question then becomes, does Police Scotland know about it, and if so, will they be prosecuting? If not, why not?

Some transparency about this case wouldn’t go amiss.


An interesting letter from Invercauld Estate

In July we blogged about the discovery in June of a critically-injured Common gull that had been found caught in two illegally-set spring traps on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park (see here).

Cairngorms Invercauld - Copy

We also blogged about a bizarre press statement from Invercauld Estate (issued via the GWCT’s twitter feed) in which they denied any illegal activity had taken place or if it had, it was perhaps a set-up ‘intended to discredit the grouse industry‘ (see here).

We also blogged about the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association’s press statement, which said the SGA was conducting its own enquiry (see here).

We also blogged about Police Scotland’s view that a Common gull had been found caught in an illegally-set trap but ‘despite a thorough investigation‘, Police enquiries had failed to find further evidence to proceed with a potential prosecution and ‘there are at present no further investigative opportunities available‘ (see here).

So that looked like the end of it. Until, through a series of FoIs to the Scottish Government and the Cairngorms National Park Authority, a very interesting letter has emerged.

The letter, dated 27 July 2016 (so a week after the original story had broken) was written by Angus McNicol, who identifies himself as the Estate Manager for Invercauld Estate, and was addressed to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham. A copy of the letter was also sent to the Cairngorms National Park Authority. It’s a fascinating read.

Here is a copy of the letter: Invercauld Estate letter

Having read it, our first question was, ‘Why was this letter written?’ That’s a hard question to answer because we can’t get inside Mr McNicol’s head to read his thought processes. We can, though, speculate about the intentions. In our opinion, this letter was written to reassure the Cabinet Secretary that Invercauld Estate takes wildlife crime seriously and they’ve done something about it.

You’ll see that one paragraph in this letter has been partially redacted (by the Scottish Government – and, incidentally, the copy of the letter received from the Cairngorms National Park Authority was redacted in exactly the same place). It’s this partial paragraph that interests us the most. Here it is:

Invercauld redacted

Let’s focus on the sentence immediately before the redaction begins. “Whilst this was a press report, we decided to act on the worst case scenario, taking the report at face value“. Assuming that the ‘worst case scenario‘ might have been that an Estate employee was responsible for illegally setting the traps, the Estate ‘decided to act‘. What action they took is unknown, because that bit has been redacted. But interestingly, the word ‘gamekeepers’ appears later in the same paragraph.

Later in the letter, Mr McNicol reiterates that ‘action‘ had been taken:


So, was the ‘action’ to which Mr McNicol refers, disciplinary action against one or more Invercauld Estate gamekeepers in relation to this crime? Has somebody been sacked?

If that’s actually what happened, and if Mr McNicol has admitted this in writing, wouldn’t that trigger an investigation in to a potential vicarious liability prosecution?

Is that why, later in the letter, Mr McNicol goes to great lengths to explain the measures that Invercauld Estate has put in place to ensure its staff do not commit wildlife crimes? These measures, explained in such detail, might form the defence of ‘due diligence’ – remember, if an estate is accused of being vicariously liable for certain wildlife crimes, a defence of due diligence is permitted (see here).

Whether an estate’s attempts at due diligence are a sufficient defence to an accusation of vicarious liability is for a court to decide. We presume, if our interpretation of what happened is accurate, that both the Scottish Government and the Cairngorms National Park Authority have notified Police Scotland about the content of Mr McNicol’s letter and Police Scotland will now be following this up with an investigation? Time will tell.

The content of Mr McNicol’s letter raises some other interesting points.

Why, if Invercauld Estate has taken action against an employee, did the Estate deny in their original press statement that the offence had even taken place or claim that if it had, it had been a set-up ‘intended to discredit the grouse industry‘?

Who is the person/organisation that conducted “independent searches of hill ground and of buildings on the Estate to check for illegal traps, snares and illegal pesticides“? Presumably it wasn’t the GWCT – they can hardly be classed as being ‘independent’ if they’re publishing press statements on their twitter feed on behalf of Invercauld Estate. And presumably it wasn’t anybody from Scottish Land & Estates – they can hardly be classed as ‘independent’ as Mr McNicol states Invercauld Estate is a member of SLE. And presumably it wasn’t anybody from the SGA – they can hardly be classed as ‘independent’ as Mr McNicol states that ‘all the relevant staff are members of the SGA‘. So who was it?

When did these ‘independent searches of hill ground and of buildings on the Estate to check for illegal traps, snares and illegal pesticides” take place, and how often have they been conducted?

Why did Police Scotland, as part of what they described as a ‘thorough investigation‘, only speak to a representative of Invercauld Estate (Mr McNicol)? Why didn’t officers question, under caution, the gamekeepers who work on the part of the Estate where the illegally-set traps were found?

It’s all very interesting.

Perhaps we’ll get some answers once the SGA has finished its enquiry in to what happened. Presumably they’ll be publishing their findings in due course….


Coordinated hunt & shooting of a hen harrier in 2013 – location revealed

A couple of years ago (20 June 2014) we blogged about the alleged coordinated hunt and shooting of a male hen harrier on a grouse moor in Scotland (see here).


This alleged crime had actually taken place in May 2013 – it was reported to Police Scotland by the two members of the public who had witnessed the event, Police Scotland investigated but no further evidence was available to take the case forward.

For some reason, Police Scotland failed to publicise this incident or appeal for information, despite hen harrier persecution being a UK National Wildlife Crime Priority. Instead, it was left to the RSPB to issue a press release over a year later (see here) as part of a wider call for more sporting estates to take action to protect hen harriers.

At the time, the location of this incident was pretty sketchy. The RSPB press release said it took place ‘on a moor in the eastern Cairngorms, within the boundary of the Cairngorms National Park’.

But then roll on to late 2015 and the publication of RSPB Scotland’s 20-year review of raptor persecution crimes. If you have a look at Table 3 in this report, which details confirmed incidents of persecution or attempted persecution (excluding poisoning) of birds of prey in Scotland 2013, the following information appears:

HH shot Glen Gairn

According to this table, a hen harrier was shot at ‘Glen Gairn’ in Aberdeenshire in May 2013. We presume, given the date and location, this is the same incident as referred to in that 2014 RSPB press release.

So, Glen Gairn. Where’s that then?

Well, would you believe, part of Glen Gairn appears to lie at the eastern boundary of Invercauld Estate, not a million miles from where those illegally-set spring traps were recently discovered at Gellaig Hill. (Map detail created from information provided on Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website).

Glen Gairn final - Copy

Now, we should urge caution here before anyone jumps to conclusions. This map is slightly misleading because it suggests that Glen Gairn lies entirely within the boundary of Invercauld Estate. It doesn’t. Glen Gairn extends east across the river, beyond the Invercauld Estate boundary, and on to the grouse moors of neighbouring Dinnet Estate.

We don’t know exactly where in Glen Gairn those two members of the public watched the alleged coordinated hunt and then shooting of that male hen harrier in 2013. It could have been on the Dinnet side of the Glen, or it could have been on the Invercauld side of the Glen, or it could have extended across both sides of the Glen. We don’t know, but presumably Police Scotland will know if those two members of the public were able to give accurate grid references.

As so often happens, there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution so we have no idea who was responsible. It must have been the handiwork of those pesky moorland fairies. They do seem to be quite active in this part of the Cairngorms National Park, don’t they?

Photo of a male hen harrier by Robin Newlin


Police statement on illegal traps found on Invercauld Estate

A few weeks ago we blogged about the discovery of two illegally-set spring traps and a critically injured Common gull found on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate (Cairngorms National Park) in June 2016 (see here). We later blogged about the Estate’s subsequent denial that illegal activity had taken place and the Estate’s ‘understanding that the Police had not found evidence of illegal activity’ (see here).

Cairngorms Invercauld - Copy

We asked Police Scotland to clarify whether evidence of illegal activity had been found on Invercauld Estate (we didn’t ask who had found such evidence, just whether any evidence had been found). Here is the response from Police Scotland:

Thank you for your email to ACC Graham and concern about wildlife crime in Scotland.

The RSPB media release refers to an incident that it reported to both Police Scotland and the SSPCA following the discovery by two members of the public of a Common Gull caught in an open spring (Fenn) trap on the Invercauld Estate. As a result of the injuries sustained in the trap the bird was euthanized by an SSPCA officer who attended and the full circumstances along with clarification of an illegally set trap were subsequently passed to Police Scotland. Once aware of the specifics and having confirmed the availability of resources from partner agencies, Police Scotland  accompanied by specialist RSPB and SSPCA staff undertook a search of the area using powers available under S19 Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. That search was only able to identify signs of what appeared to have been trap-setting activity on the hillside i.e. holes in the ground but no actual traps. However, in light of the initial observations by the members of the public police officers spoke with representatives from Invercauld Estate. Unfortunately, the Estate was unable to shed any further light on this suspected illegal activity.

Other than the witness statements, there is no further evidence available from the initial discovery of the trapped bird and as previously highlighted the joint partner agency search failed to uncover any traps in place on the hillside. As a consequence, and despite a thorough investigation, there are at present no further investigative opportunities available to Police Scotland.

Police Scotland is committed to tackling wildlife crime and works closely with fellow members of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (Scotland) to address wildlife crime issues across Scotland. We would encourage anybody with information about those that commit wildlife crime to contact Police Scotland by telephoning 101 or by contacting Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.


 Andrew Mavin

 Sergeant Andrew Mavin

Scottish Wildlife Crime Coordinator

Specialist Crime Division

Police Scotland


It’s a carefully worded statement but even so, is still quite opaque. The statement appears to confirm the discovery of an illegally-set trap (“….along with clarification of an illegally set trap….”) [actually, the gull’s legs were caught in two illegally-set traps, not just one] but then later it mentions ‘suspected illegal activity‘, although this appears to be a direct reference to other potential trap-setting activity on the hill, and not a direct reference to the two illegally-set traps that were reported by two hill walkers and then by the attending SSPCA Inspector.

Whether illegally-set traps were found on Invercauld Estate is not in question. The evidence, collected by the SSPCA Inspector, shows that two illegally-set traps had been found and that they’d caused appalling injuries to the trapped Common gull. The unanswered question, as ever, is who set those traps?

Invercauld gull

We will wait with interest to see whether SNH imposes a General Licence restriction order on this part of Invercauld Estate. Remember, even if there is insufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution, SNH may still impose this penalty if they consider the evidence is sufficient to warrant a GL restriction penalty. We may have to wait a while to find out, because SNH appears to have stopped issuing GL restrictions while it waits for a court decision on whether the process it uses to impose a GL restriction is fair. As you may remember, the Raeshaw Estate in the Scottish Borders has called for a judicial review of SNH’s decision to impose a GL restriction (see here) and we understand that the court has recently granted permission for the judicial review to take place.

While we wait for that judicial review, we will have more to write about the Invercauld Estate case… this space.

In the meantime, you might want to consider signing THIS PETITION calling for the licensing of all gamebird hunting in Scotland (online petition currently at 3,089 signatures)

When you’ve done that, please consider signing THIS PETITION calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting (online petition currently at 79,404 signatures).

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