Posts Tagged ‘Leadhills Estate


Parliamentary questions asked about poisoned peregrine at Leadhills

Peregrine poisoned Leadhills Feb 2014Three weeks ago we blogged about the discovery of a poisoned peregrine in the Leadhills area of South Lanarkshire, and the alleged response of Police Scotland & NWCU, who both seemed reluctant to handle the case (see here, here and here).

The authorities have refused to discuss the incident, claiming it would be inappropriate to comment on an on-going investigation. We argue that answering questions about how an initial telephone call was handled would have no impact whatsoever on any ‘investigation’ (and we don’t even believe there is an investigation, as the person who reported the dead bird has apparently been told by Police Scotland that a witness statement is not required!!!).

This stone-walling response is pretty common and we’re used to it by now. Many of us have written to the Environment Minister to demand an explanation about why the police and the NWCU allegedly ignored this reported crime but so far we’ve heard absolutely nothing in return. This silence doesn’t fill us with confidence that raptor persecution is being taken seriously.

One MSP isn’t satisfied with this official wall of silence.

Liam McArthur MSPLiam McArthur MSP, a Scottish Liberal Democrat representing the Orkney Islands (a very long way from Leadhills!!) has submitted a series of parliamentary questions about this Leadhills case, and more generally about the effectiveness of current enforcement measures to deal with raptor persecution. Good on him.

Question S4W-20745: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014

To ask the Scottish Government what steps Police Scotland is taking to ensure that its staff are aware of their responsibilities regarding the protection of protected species. [Current Status: Expected answer date 15/5/2014].

Question S4W-20746: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will hold an inquiry into reports that Police Scotland told a member of the public that the poisoning of a peregrine falcon in the Leadhills area was not a police matter. [Current Status: Expected Answer date 15/05/2014].

Question S4W-20747: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to combat illegal raptor persecution in the Leadhills area. [Current Status: Expected Answer date 15/05/2014].

Question S4W-20748: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014

To ask the Scottish Government whether there is sufficient evidence to assess the effectiveness of the new enforcement measures to tackle raptor persecution announced by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change on 1 July 2013. [Current Status: Expected Answer date 15/05/2014].


Official statements about the Leadhills poisoned peregrine

Following on from Saturday’s blog post about the poisoned peregrine that was found in the Leadhills area and the appalling response from the police (see here), we expected to read some official statements today from the likes of Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, PAW Scotland, Police Scotland, National Wildlife Crime Unit, Scottish Land & Estates, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association etc etc.

Here’s what we found:


Why did we expect a response? Well, partly because of all the rhetoric we’ve been fed over the past few years about how stamping out wildlife crime is a priority for Police Scotland, for the Government, for SLE, for the SGA etc etc, and partly because this particular incident is number 45 on a long list of other raptor persecution incidents reported from the Leadhills area since 2003 (and we know there are many more incidents that went unrecorded because we’ve reported some of them ourselves!).

We know that over 50 of you have emailed the Minister (thank you) to demand some specific action, including an inquiry into PC Everitt’s alleged refusal to accept this incident was probably a wildlife crime, and to insist that SNH now use their new powers to restrict the use of General Licences in the Leadhills area.

The Minister has 20 working days in which to respond. For those of us who wrote to him over the weekend, that means he has to respond by 2nd May 2014. However, we know from previous incidents that the Minister usually waits until the very last day of that 20-working day period before he actually does respond. If we were cynics we would think that these delayed responses were designed to ‘wait out’ the public’s anger which will probably have subsided by the time the 20 working day deadline has expired.

We also know from past experience that the Minister will likely tell us that he can’t comment about Police Scotland procedures (e.g. “it’s a police matter and it would be inappropriate for me to comment”) and that he can’t comment about the potential withdrawal of General Licences (e.g. “it’s an SNH matter and it would be inappropriate for me to respond”).

He might surprise us but none of us are expecting him to. So, in anticipation of a feeble, question-dodging response, we thought we’d bypass him and go directly to those agencies ourselves.

If any of you are also interested in doing this, here are some useful contact details:

To find out why Police Scotland and the NWCU failed to act when this crime was reported to them, there are three key players to contact -

The Police Scotland Wildlife Crime Portfolio is led strategically by Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham. Email:

Police Scotland Wildlife Crime Portfolio Lead Officer is Det. Sup. Cameron Cavin. Email:

Police Scotland Wildlife Crime Coordinator is Sgt. Andrew Mavin. Email:

We’re sure all three gentlemen would love to have the opportunity to explain what happened (or more to the point, why nothing happened) and how their failure to respond fits in with their much-publicised approach to tackling wildlife crime (see here for details).

To ask SNH whether they will be enacting the new enabling clause in the 2014 General Licences and thus restricting their use in the Leadhills area, contact the Chief Executive of SNH, Ian Jardine. Email:

We’re still interested in what the Environment Minister has to say about it all, of course. For those of you who haven’t yet emailed him to demand robust action, here’s his email address:

They might all think that by keeping quiet for a few days we’ll all forget about it and move on to something else. They’d be pretty stupid to think so.


Poisoned peregrine found nr Leadhills boundary: police response appalling

Peregrine poisoned Leadhills Feb 2014In the middle of February, a member of the public found a dead adult peregrine falcon in suspicious circumstances close to the boundary of Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire.

The person who found it immediately ‘phoned Police Scotland and asked them to attend. The person was told that it wasn’t a police matter. The person queried that response and asked the Police to double check. The Police said ‘No, definitely not a police matter, call the RSPB’.

The member of the public was clued-up enough to know that it wasn’t an SSPCA matter because the bird was already dead (and therefore the SSPCA had no powers to investigate). So the person called the RSPB for help.

According to information provided to us by the member of the public, the RSPB called the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) and spoke to PC Charlie Everitt, who allegedly told them it wasn’t a police matter as there was no evidence of a crime having been committed. The RSPB asked if they could retrieve the corpse and permission was granted (this permission is needed for any RSPB-collected evidence to be admissible in a future criminal case, as the RSPB do not have any investigatory powers).

The RSPB collected the dead peregrine and submitted it for a post-mortem and it then went on to SASA for toxicology analysis.

We’ve been waiting to hear the results of those tests before we blogged about the incident.

Yesterday the results were made public – the peregrine had been poisoned (the name of the poison has not been released). However, the news didn’t come in the form of an all-singing-all-dancing Police Scotland press release. It came out, almost buried, in a BBC News article about the mass poisoning of red kites and buzzards in the Black Isle (see here).

We have several serious concerns about this incident.

First of all, the Police Scotland response. The operator who took the first telephone call didn’t realise that this was a police matter. That’s almost forgiveable – perhaps they were new, inexperienced, whatever. It’s not good enough though – had the member of the public not been clued up enough to know that they could contact the RSPB, this incident would have gone un-investigated and unrecorded.

Charlie Everitt NWCU with Alex Hogg SGA from PAW Scotland website Photo by Kenneth StephenOf greater concern is the alleged response of PC Charlie Everitt of the NWCU (pictured on the right of this photo, shaking hands with SGA Chairman Alex Hogg as they sign an MOU for greater partnership working on wildlife crime). For those who don’t know, PC Everitt is employed as the Scottish Investigative Support Officer at NWCU and one of his main roles is to focus on raptor persecution. Here is a description of his full role as documented in the Scottish Government’s report Wildlife Crime in Scotland, 2012:

The Scottish Investigative Support Officer (SISO) plays a significant role in partnership working and is jointly funded by SNH and Police Scotland. The SISO post (held by PC Charles Everitt) focuses on issues of significant threat in Scotland (raptor persecution and the illegal taking of freshwater pearl mussels). In addition, he leads and furthers investigations by providing expert advice, acting as a single point of contact and by providing corroboration to Wildlife Crime Officers” (see here, page 30).

PC Everitt is well aware of the long list of recorded raptor persecution incidents in the Leadhills area, and especially the frequency with which poisoned baits have been found. Here is our list of 44 known reported incidents in this area between 2003-2013. The latest poisoned peregrine becomes #45:

2003 April: hen harrier shot

2003 April: hen harrier eggs destroyed

2004 May: buzzard shot

2004 May: short-eared owl shot

2004 June: buzzard poisoned (Carbofuran)

2004 June: 4 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran)

2004 June: crow poisoned (Carbofuran)

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 February: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 April: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 February: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 March: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran)

2006 April: dead buzzard (persecution method unknown)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 May: poisoned egg baits (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2006 June: 6 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned egg bait (Carbofuran)

2006 September: 5 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran)

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2007 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2007 April: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran)

2007 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2008 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2008 October: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2008 November: 3 x poisoned ravens (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2009 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2009 March: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned magpie (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2010 October: short-eared owl shot

2011 March: illegally-set clam trap

2011 December: buzzard shot

2012 October: golden eagle shot (just over boundary with Buccleuch Estate)

2013 June: significant cache of pre-prepared poisoned baits found in woodland next to grouse moor

2013 August: red kite found shot and critically-injured in Leadhills village

Based on the bulging intelligence file available, PC Everitt, the lead intelligence officer for raptor persecution crimes in Scotland, should have immediately suspected this was a potential poisoning incident and should have either attended the scene himself or at the very least, directed a local Wildlife Crime Officer to attend. Why didn’t he? That deserves an inquiry.

Another concern is the pathetic publicity of this incident. Was it a case of ‘this is a good day to bury bad news so let’s sneak it out while everyone’s focusing on the mass poisoning incident in Ross-shire’?, because that’s what it looks like.

However, the biggest concern of all is that here, yet again, is another illegal raptor poisoning incident in the Leadhills area. The scale of these crimes in this one area is phenomenal. The number of criminal convictions in relation to the number of incidents is disgraceful – only two convictions have ever been secured here – and both involved gamekeepers employed on the Leadhills Estate.

With the number of confirmed poisoned raptors in Scotland this year already at 17, no more evidence is required to show that government initiatives and partnership working is wholly ineffective. Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse MUST respond robustly and we must hold him to account.

We urge you to email Mr Wheelhouse and demand the following action:

1. Launch an inquiry into why Police Scotland told a member of the public this was not a police matter, and publish the findings.

2. Launch an inquiry into PC Everitt’s alleged response to this incident, and publish the findings.

3. Launch an inquiry into Police Scotland’s media response to this wildlife crime, and publish the findings.

4. Launch an inquiry into why illegal raptor persecution continues to flourish in the Leadhills area, and publish the findings.

5. Insist that SNH uses the new enabling clause in the General Licences to withdraw their use in the Leadhills area with immediate effect.

6. Insist that Mr Wheelhouse stipulates the exact time scale he intends to use to ‘see whether his new enforcement measures [introduced in July 2013] take effect’.

Environment Minister’s email address:


Poisoned baits found on Leadhills Estate: ‘case closed’

One year ago, almost to the day, a significant haul of pre-prepared poisoned baits (36 in total) was discovered in two game bags that were hidden in woodland next to a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate. The 36 chopped up pieces of meat had been liberally sprinkled with the deadly banned poison, Carbofuran.

We blogged about this discovery in June 2013 (see here). We were highly critical of the police, who had failed to issue any press statement whatsoever, despite the proximity of the poisoned stash to a public caravan park (see photo, which we took in Feb this year). NB: This caravan park has no connection whatsoever to the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate.

Leadhills RPSWe were also critical of the police investigation, which included arriving on scene in marked police vehicles, thus notifying any poisoner(s) of their presence and allowing the poisoner(s) valuable time to hide any remaining evidence. We also criticised their failure to conduct a police search of the adjacent moor for any evidence of baits that had already been set out. Their failure to conduct an immediate search was particularly stupid given (a) the known history of poisoning incidents in this area and (b) the knowledge that one of the two game bags was only half full of baits.

In November 2013 we blogged about the high probability that a prosecution would not be forthcoming in this case (see here).

Today, we have just read a SASA report that confirms our suspicions. This incident is recorded as:

No suspect identified. Case now closed“.

The Untouchables get away with committing a serious wildlife crime, again….


Leadhills Estate: “no plans to sell”

leadhills-contributedLast week we blogged about a forthcoming meeting at Leadhills Village Hall to discuss a proposal for a community land buyout scheme at Leadhills (see here).

That meeting took place on Saturday 18th January 2014 and a ‘community company’ has now been formed with the purpose of registering an interest in Leadhills Estate. [The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 provides an opportunity for rural communities to buy land. If a rural community is interested in buying land, the community can register an interest in buying the land, then if the landowner decides to sell, the community has first choice to buy that land - see here for further information].

However, a spokeswoman for Leadhills Estate is reported to have said there are no plans to sell.

Last September we blogged about the Leadhills Estate shooting lease being up for sale (see here). It would appear that the lease is still available, according to the listings on Savills website (see here). We wonder what’ll happen if nobody comes forward to take on the 10-year lease?

There’s an article in today’s Herald about the Leadhills community meeting that took place on Saturday (see here). We’re reproducing it here as the Herald likes to limit access to its on-line paper so there are some who may not be able to read the article on the Herald’s website. Here is the article:

A community is looking to buy-out all or part of a huge sporting estate amid claims more could be done to support the local population.

A packed public meeting in the village hall of Leadhills, in the hills of South Lanarkshire, has agreed to investigate a potential buy-out under land reform legislation.

This could give the community the right to first refusal if all or some of the Leadhills Estate comes on the market.

However, they do not have the absolute right to buy like crofting communities enjoy whether the owners want to sell or not.

For centuries the Leadhills Estate had been owned by the family of Lord Hopetoun. His main base is Hopetoun House on the outskirts of Edinburgh which is regularly cited as one of Scotland’s finest stately homes and is now owned by a charitable trust.

But Leadhills is run primarily for grouse shooting and has been linked to wildlife crime. Its sporting rights over 11,500 acres are being offered for lease for a 10-year period along with a head keeper’s house and up to six under keepers’ houses – price on application.

Many among the 350 people who live in and around Leadhills believe the estate could work better for the community.

As the name suggests, the area was a major lead mining centre, until the industry’s decline in the 1930s. Local people looked to the Highlands and Islands where their counterparts had taken control of their own destinies and most of the 500,000 acres now under community ownership. It was decided to see if something similar might work in Leadhills.

Freelance illustrator Andrew Foley, who attended the weekend’s meeting with his wife, said the houses in the village were “cradled in the middle of the estate”.

“The general feeling of the group that has put the community buyout proposal forward is that they would like a greater stake in that land.

“There was a lot of interest and there was a majority who wanted to investigate this. But I got a sense there were also some who were not totally on board,” he said.

Meanwhile Anjo Abelaira, who works freelance in the marketing and tourism sectors in Scotland and Europe, said: “I came here five years ago and fairly quickly realised there was a general feeling that the estate could provide a lot more opportunities for the local community than it did.

“A few of us got together and started to talk about what more could be done with this amount of land so close to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“We had a lot of ideas from tourism to hydro to farming, instead of it just being for shooting playground. It is the size of the island of Guernsey, so it should be able to offer more than it has done as just a sporting estate.”

He said 57 people had signed forms agreeing for a community company to be formed with the purpose of registering an interest in the estate. This is well over the 10% legally required and a steering group has now been set up.

A spokeswoman for the estate said: “Leadhills Estate is very much part of the community and has always welcomed the opportunity to support local initiatives.

“Leadhills is a productive farming estate and grouse moor and marketing for a new sporting tenant is well underway. The Trustees are very much committed to Leadhills, have an ongoing programme of investment and there are no plans to sell.

“We are, however, interested in discussing ways in which all interested parties can work together to stimulate greater economic growth in the area.”


A community buyout proposal for Leadhills?

RK Leadhills 2013This looks interesting….

There will be a public meeting at 2.30pm next Saturday (January 18th 2014) at Leadhills Village Hall to discuss the possibility of a community land buyout scheme at Leadhills, South Lanarkshire.

The meeting, which is open to everyone, will hear talks from two prominent figures involved with community land buyout schemes as well as presentations by local residents on the community land buyout process and the benefits these schemes can bring.

A brighter future for the wildlife in and around Leadhills? We think so.

Further details of the meeting here

Photo: this red kite was found critically-injured in Leadhills village in August last year. It had been shot. It didn’t survive (see here).


Poison awareness posters appear in Leadhills village

Leadhills village in South Lanarkshire has been saturated with a series of ‘poison awareness’ leaflets and posters, alerting the local community to the discovery of highly toxic (and illegal) poison on the surrounding hills earlier this year (see here). The poster warns the public of the dangers of coming in to contact with this poison (Carbofuran) and also provides contact telephone numbers (police, SSPCA and RSPB) if anyone finds any more or has information about who might be putting out the poison.

Is this community initiative the work of a local estate? Or the local police? Or the local council? Or PAW Scotland? Nope, none of the above. It’s the handiwork of Project Raptor.

It’ll be interesting to see how long the posters and leaflets remain on display. Last year we blogged about the mysterious disappearance of another sign at Leadhills (see here).

PR Leadhills flyer



No prosecution for poisoned baits found on Leadhills Estate?

leadhills estateEight months ago (March), a significant haul of pre-prepared poisoned baits was discovered on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire. The baits comprised chopped up pieces of rabbit, liberally sprinkled with the banned poison Carbofuran, that had been placed inside two gamebags that had been hidden inside a wood next to a grouse moor.

The discovery was made by fieldworkers from Project Raptor and they duly reported their finding to the police. We waited for a press release and an appeal for information from the police but nothing came, so three months later (June) we blogged about it (here) because, unlike the police, we considered it a newsworthy item in the public interest, as apparently did BBC Scotland (here).

Recently, an update on the police investigation appeared on Project Raptor’s website:

24th October 2013. Project Raptor have contacted South Lanarkshire police and they have now informed us that evidence gathered from the two game bags has come back negative. This means that unless further evidence comes their way then this case is just another in a long line of wildlife crimes that have taken place within the Leadhills area over the years that will never be solved”.  See here for full update.

When Project Raptor says that ‘evidence gathered from the two gamebags has come back negative‘ they do not mean that the analysis of the poison came back negative – SASA has already confirmed the poison found on those baits was Carbofuran and they included the incident in their quarterly report on poisoning incidents. Rather, what we think Project Raptor is referring to is that any fingerprint or DNA testing that might have been done on the two gamebags has come back negative.

This means that there is no evidential link between the two gamebags and any individual person and therefore it is not possible to charge anyone for committing an offence in relation to these items.

This case is an excellent example of just how difficult it is to bring illegal poisoners to justice. It’s not the fault of the police that there isn’t enough evidence, although to be frank they are not blameless in this particular situation – had they had the foresight and interest to install a covert camera overlooking the site where the poisoned baits had been found they may well have caught the criminal(s) in the act of retrieving the bait or even adding more bait to the secret stash. They could (should) also have conducted a thorough search of the surrounding area, particularly the adjacent grouse moor, to see whether any of the baits had already been placed out on the hill. Given that one of the bags was full (of bait) and the other bag was only half-full, this would have been a reasonable assumption, especially given the reported history of poisoned baits being found on this estate (see here). Instead, the police decided to arrive on site in two marked police vehicles (thus alerting everybody to their presence and allowing any nearby criminal to hide any other incriminating evidence) and they quickly removed the gamebags and left the site without conducting a wider search. On top of all that, they still have not issued a press release about this case, giving us the impression that they’re just not all that bothered. At the very least they should be alerting the general public to the potential threat of people and their pets stumbling across what is a fatally toxic poison in a publicly-accessible area.

So is that it, then? Will the discovery of these baits (which we believe to be the biggest stash of pre-pared baits found since 32 poisoned baits were found on Glenogil Estate in 2008) just be conveniently ignored and everyone carries on as usual? For certain, these baits will not feature in any ‘official’ raptor persecution statistics because, as we were recently told by the Environment Minister’s office, where poisoned baits have been discovered but ‘no raptors were involved’ they cannot be listed as a raptor persecution incident. We don’t actually know whether ‘no raptors were involved’ at Leadhills because the police didn’t conduct a search to look for poisoned carcasses!

It looks certain that no action will be / can be brought in the criminal courts. But what about other types of action?

There’s the possibility of civil action – we will wait to see whether any single farm payments are withdrawn from Leadhills Estate by the Scottish Executive (as they were from Glenogil Estate in 2008 – see here) although we suspect any such action would be strongly challenged by the estate precisely because there is no evidential link between the baits and any employee of Leadhills Estate.

Great, isn’t it?

Is there any other type of action? Well, yes, there is. What we would really like to see is action taken by Scottish Land and Estates, the representative body of Scottish landowners. The only response we saw from SLE about the discovery of the poisoned baits on Leadhills Estate was a false accusation levelled at this blog for reporting the incident! (see here).

Doug_McAdam from Moorland ForumInterestingly, in a comment made on Mark Avery’s blog today, SLE Chief Executive Doug McAdam claims, “…..a range of partners, Scottish Land and Estates included, invest a significant amount of time and resource into working with and through PAW Scotland to help achieve this [eradication of golden eagle persecution], not just for golden eagles though, but all wildlife crime” (see here for his full comment).

So what, exactly, has SLE done about the continuing issue of alleged and confirmed illegal raptor persecution on Leadhills Estate? We’ve asked this time and time again but the question is just met with silence every time.

We’re not sure that Leadhills Estate is a member of SLE, although given that the owner of Leadhills Estate (Lord Hopetoun) also just happens to be a Board member of SLE, it would be quite strange if Leadhills Estate wasn’t an SLE member. Why doesn’t SLE publicly condemn the crimes that are alleged and confirmed at Leadhills Estate? If Leadhills Estate is an SLE member, why hasn’t SLE kicked them out, just as they did with Glasserton Estate earlier this year following the conviction of their gamekeeper (see here). McAdam may argue that nothing has been proven at Leadhills in relation to the latest discovery (in terms of a legal evidential link) and that would be accurate, but there is a long, long, long, long list of alleged and confirmed incidents from this estate, dating back decades (see here), several of which have resulted in criminal convictions.

It seems to us that SLE is repeatedly turning a blind eye to reported activities on this estate that the rest of us can see very clearly. Why would they do that if they’re so keen to eradicate raptor persecution?


The untouchables

Last month we blogged about getting our hands on the Leadhills Estate Game Book and our interest in the lists of killed ‘vermin’ dating over several decades (see here). These ‘vermin’ lists include the usual species that are typically referred to as ‘vermin’ by the game-shooting industry: species such as foxes, stoats, weasels and crows. However, also included on these ‘vermin’ lists are supposedly protected species such as birds of prey, ravens, otters and badgers. We said we’d blog about the lists in more detail when we had more time.

Leadhills game book vermin lists

Since then an independent academic has contacted us to ask whether we’d consider allowing access to the documents so the data could be analysed, in combination with other data sources, to provide a ~50 year dossier of alleged illegal raptor persecution incidents recorded at Leadhills Estate, stretching from the 1970s right up to the present day. These results would be written up as a peer-reviewed paper in a scientific journal. We think that such a paper would hold much more gravitas than a simple analysis of a sub-set of those data written up for this blog so we have agreed to pass the information to the academic. We look forward to seeing the results in due course.

So as not to steal the academic’s thunder we won’t be writing in detail about the contents, but we did want to share one startling statistic.

We looked at the number of killed ‘hawks’ listed in the Leadhills Estate Game Book, just between the years 1980-1987. The vermin lists in the Game Book stretch well beyond these years but we selected this particular period because we wanted to compare the figures with the RSPB’s published figures for all of Scotland during this period (the RSPB data were published in McMillan’s 2011 paper – here).

Here’s what we found:

RSPB: Number of illegally killed raptors recorded for the whole of Scotland between 1980 and 1987 = 91 birds.

Leadhills Estate Game Book: Number of illegally killed raptors recorded on Leadhills Estate between 1980 and 1987 = 383 birds.

The difference between these two figures gives a very clear illustration of a situation that conservationists have been arguing for decades: that is, the ‘official’ recorded figures of illegally-killed raptors that are published each year by the RSPB are just the tip of a bloody great big massive iceberg. Just on this one estate (Leadhills), more than four times as many raptors were recorded illegally killed during this seven-year period than those officially reported throughout the whole of Scotland. That’s just one estate. Think what these figures would look like if we had access to the vermin lists of other estates across Scotland!

Now, there’ll be some in the game-shooting industry who will argue that raking over historical persecution records dating back 30 years is irrelevant. They’ll claim that although persecution was common practice several decades ago, things have now changed for the better and it’s only the odd ‘rogue’ estate that are still at it. This, of course, is absolute nonsense. Anybody who bothers to read through the pages of this blog will know that that is simply not a true statement. Sure, some estates have since got their acts together and are now supporting healthy raptor populations on their land (e.g. see Atholl Estate in McMillan’s 2011 paper above) but these estates seem to be exceptional: there are many, many other estates that are still, even to this day, systematically and illegally persecuting raptors and many of them seem to have a curious immunity to prosecution.

leadhills estateLeadhills Estate has been at the centre of allegations of wildlife crime for a very long time. The list of confirmed reported incidents dating from 2003 to 2011 makes for shocking reading (see here). Of these 41 confirmed incidents, only a couple have resulted in a prosecution and a conviction.

Earlier this year we reported the discovery of a substantial illegal stash of poisoned baits that was reportedly found on the estate (see here). Unsurprisingly, six months later we’re still waiting for Police Scotland to issue a statement.

What was particularly interesting about this incident was the reaction of the Scottish landowners’ organisation, Scottish Land and Estates. They refused to discuss the incident, citing an ‘on-going police investigation’ (how very convenient – this excuse relieves them of having to comment on any alleged persecution incident that never gets resolved – i.e. most of them). They also wrote to the Environment Minister and posted an article on their website complaining about the alleged incident being reported on this blog (see here). They gave an impression of being more outraged by the reporting of the incident than they were of the alleged discovery of a big stash of deadly poisoned baits on a Scottish sporting estate.

Now, compare that reaction to their response to the conviction of gamekeeper Peter Bell earlier this year. Bell was convicted of four offences including the poisoning of a buzzard on the Glasserton and Physgill Estates. Immediately following his conviction, Scottish Land and Estates issued a statement to say that Glasserton had been booted out of their organisation (see here). So why didn’t SLE issue a similarly strong statement when the poisoned baits had allegedly been found at Leadhills? They could argue that nothing is proven until a conviction has been secured, as in the Glasserton case. But if that is their argument, then why didn’t they distance themselves from Leadhills Estate when a Leadhills Estate gamekeeper (Lewis Whitham) was convicted of laying a poisoned bait in 2010 (see here)? Why is Leadhills Estate, with its long, long, long history of alleged wildlife crime, treated so differently to an estate like Glasserton, which in relative terms barely registers on the persecution radar? Back in June we asked SLE to provide some transparency about their relationship with Leadhills Estate (see here). They still haven’t.

There may be some who will argue that things are about to change at Leadhills Estate with the shooting lease now up for sale; the sales document itself makes for an interesting read – note the reason given for the current tenants’ departure and the fate of the gamekeepers currently employed on Leadhills Estate: Leadhills brochure 2013

Yes, there may well be a change in the tenancy but will that make any difference? There have been numerous shooting tenants at Leadhills Estate over the years and yet, if the available data are to be believed, the background level of alleged persecution has remained constant.

The raptor killers, whoever they are, appear to be untouchable.


Red kite found shot at Leadhills

RK Leadhills 2013A juvenile red kite was found critically injured in the village of Leadhills on 8th August. It’s injuries were so severe the bird had to be euthanised. See here for an SSPCA press release, and well done to them for not only getting this info out in good time but also for saying it how it is – none of this ‘the bird’s death was not by natural causes’ rubbish that we saw Police Scotland put out a few months ago when a shot red kite had been found in Aberdeenshire (see here).

This latest incident will come as no surprise whatsoever to anybody who has been following this blog.

If you’re new to this blog and don’t know what happens to birds of prey at Leadhills, try reading this as a little introduction and for even more info just click on the Leadhills Estate tag and read on.

So, here we are again, reporting yet another crime against a bird of prey at Leadhills. Not to worry though, especially if you happen to be the RSPB Scotland Director – he has recently agreed to hold the 2014 Scottish Birdfair at Hopetoun House, returning for the third consecutive year. For those who don’t know, the Hopetoun family own Leadhills Estate and some of them live in Hopetoun House. The Earl of Hopetoun also happens to serve on the Board of Directors at Scottish Land & Estates.

Needless to say, we’ll be blogging some more in due course about the RSPB’s decision to return to Hopetoun House, and we still need to blog about the Leadhills Estate Game Book that has found its way into our hands. We’ve also got some other stuff about Leadhills to talk about…it’s just a question of finding the time…

More soon….

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