Posts Tagged ‘Leadhills Estate

24
Nov
20

Laughable denial of raptor killing from grouse moor lobby group in face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary

Last week the BBC Alba’s current affairs programme Eòrpa had a 14-minute feature on the debate around driven grouse shooting in Scotland.

The programme is available to watch on BBC iPlayer for the next 28 days (see here, starts at 00.53 mins to 14.45).

It was good to see yet more exposure of this environmental train wreck and this was a pretty good feature because it included a variety of talking heads and gave some of them enough time to hang themselves.

The line-up included Tim (Kim) Baynes (Director Scottish Moorland Group, Scottish Land & Estates, Gift of Grouse), Jenny McCallum (Spokesperson for Loch Ness Rural Communities, one of the regional gamekeeper moorland groups), Professor Allan Werritty (Chair, Grouse Moor Management Review Group), Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens), Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland), Angus MacLeod (Barvas & Garynahine Estate, Isle of Lewis), Malcolm Combe (University Strathclyde Law School) and Fabien Chaudre (French Agency for Biodiversity).

A highlight was Alison Johnstone’s sarcasm about the concept of driven grouse shooting (see at 5.19 mins) but even she couldn’t top the comedic contribution of Tim (Kim) Baynes, whose straight-faced denial of ongoing raptor persecution on grouse moors, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, was as entertaining as watching Donald Trump declare himself the election victor.

[Cartoon by Mr Carbo]

Here’s what Tim (Kim) had to say:

A generation ago, or two generations ago, the control of birds of prey was fairly routine whether it was for game management, or sheep management, or livestock, but there’s been a huge change in that over the last generation and particularly over the last five to ten years where people have realised that this is not the way to go, they’ve learnt more about the relationships between birds of prey and other species. There will always be these tensions between management activities and birds of prey but I think that people have really realised now that this is, you can’t, you simply can’t go out and kill them and it really very rarely happens now“.

Of course, for those of us who take an interest in this subject, this bare-faced denial is what we’ve come to expect from Tim (Kim) and his ridiculous grouse lobby pals, e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here for a dazzling array of previous denials and spin.

Tim’s (Kim’s) performance on Eòrpa and all these previous years of denial provide a perfect illustration of how the grouse shooting industry has fundamentally failed to self-regulate. ‘Deny everything and carry on’, appears to have been the mantra.

It’s also a perfect illustration of why the Scottish Government, having given the industry chance after chance after chance after chance to clean up its act, is now under unprecedented public pressure to finally act.

And the funniest thing of all of it? All these denials from the Scottish Moorland Group, whose Chair, for years, has been Lord Hopetoun of Leadhills Estate.

You couldn’t make it up.

13
Nov
20

Political questions being asked about out-of-season muirburn licence issued to Leadhills Estate

Over the last few weeks a series of Freedom of Information requests has revealed that Scottish Natural Heritage (now rebranded as NatureScot) issued an out-of-season muirburn licence to Leadhills Estate, allowing gamekeepers to set fire to parts of the grouse moor in September 2020.

Four blogs have been written about it: here, here, here and here.

[Grouse moors at Leadhills Estate, photo by Ruth Tingay]

This licensing decision was astonishing for a number of reasons, not least because at the time muirburn had been banned across the whole of Scotland after emergency Coronavirus legislation was passed in April 2020, but also because Leadhills Estate is notorious as being at the centre of alleged wildlife crime investigations (approx 70) over the last 17 years and is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction, imposed on the estate by SNH because Police Scotland provided ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crimes having being committed by persons unknown in recent years. The estate is reportedly under further police investigation since more allegations have been made this year, so how come it’s receiving ‘special treatment’ from the licensing authority?

Well this is a question being asked by Claudia Beamish MSP, according to her Twitter feed today:

Claudia is very familiar with the recent history of Leadhills Estate as it’s in her south Scotland constituency. Claudia is also the spokesperson on Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform for Scottish Labour so she’s well-versed in these issues and has regularly supported and hosted events for the Revive coalition for grouse moor reform.

Thanks, Claudia, it’ll be interesting to hear what SNH (NatureScot) has to say about this particular licence.

There’ll be another blog, shortly, on another out-of-season muirburn licence that SNH issued to Leadhills Estate…..

11
Nov
20

SNH grants licence to Leadhills Estate for out-of-season muirburn

Leadhills Estate, which has been at the centre of over 50 police wildlife crime investigations in the last two decades, has had two gamekeepers convicted for committing wildlife crime offences during that time, and is currently the subject of a three-year General Licence restriction, imposed after Police Scotland found ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crimes having being committed by persons unknown in recent years, and is under further police investigation since more allegations have been made this year, was granted a licence by SNH to undertake out-of-season muirburn on estate grouse moors in September.

There have been some jaw-dropping revelations on this blog over the years but this one is right up there.

[Muirburn on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

A quick recap of the situation (for those who want more detail please see the links to previous blog posts below).

In April 2020 the Scottish Government temporarily banned all muirburn in Scotland under emergency Coronavirus legislation (see here).

Despite being in the middle of a pandemic, in July 2020 Mark Osborne, acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, applied to Scottish Natural Heritage for an out-of-season licence to conduct muirburn on the estate in September after spraying some areas with glyphosate (see here).

Scottish Natural Heritage (now rebranded as NatureScot but that’s irrelevant) refused the licence application in August (here) and Osborne immediately appealed the decision (see here).

That’s where we left the saga last time. Here’s what happened next…..

SNH was obliged to consider Osborne’s appeal, although it wasn’t obliged to overturn it’s previous decision to refuse permission.

Here’s how SNH’s reconsideration went:

According to the Freedom of Information documents that have been released, that’s it. That’s the extent of the discussion at SNH about whether Leadhills Estate should be given permission to set fire to its grouse moors out of season and in the middle of a global pandemic.

A couple of days later SNH wrote to advise Osborne of its U-turn decision and sent him the licence, as follows:

There has been some discussion amongst RPUK colleagues and associates about whether SNH’s decision to issue this licence was a breach of the Government’s emergency Coronavirus legislation which had temporarily banned muirburn until the official season opened on 1 October 2020. I might return to that topic.

However, of greater interest, to me, is how SNH’s decision-making on whether to issue an out-of-season muirburn licence apparently failed to consider the wider picture of what’s been going on at Leadhills, and especially the current three-year General Licence restriction placed on the estate, by, er, SNH. Didn’t anybody think about that?

Ah, well somebody did, but unfortunately it seems this person’s expert input wasn’t invited as part of the decision-making process:

There’s quite a lot to take in about this case, and the details and circumstances of this particular licence. An FoI has been submitted to SNH to see the licence return which, as detailed in condition #9, should have now been submitted to SNH by Osborne.

And it turns out that this isn’t the first year that SNH has granted an out-of-season muirburn licence to Leadhills Estate. More on that shortly.

For some reason, the phrases ‘taking the piss’ and ‘impotent licensing authority’ are uppermost in my mind.

19
Oct
20

SNH considers appeal from Leadhills Estate to undertake out-of-season muirburn

Earlier this month two blogs were published here about an application from Mark Osborne (representing the Leadhills Estate) to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH, now re-branded as Nature Scot) for a licence to undertake out-of-season muirburn on the grouse moors of Leadhills (see here and here).

A bit of scene setting – regular blog readers will know all about Leadhills Estate and the catalogue of raptor persecution incidents that have been recorded there since the early 2000s, and the fact that this estate is currently the subject of a three-year General Licence restriction, imposed by SNH after even more alleged offences were uncovered there in recent years, including the discovery of this male hen harrier that was found in 2019 with an almost severed leg caught in an illegally-set trap next to its nest site (see here). Nobody was prosecuted for this barbaric killing.

[Chris Packham holds the corpse of the illegally-trapped hen harrier. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Since the General Licence restriction was imposed in late 2019, further alleged offences have been reported at Leadhills and are the subject of ongoing police investigations (see here) including the alleged shooting of a(nother) short-eared owl by a masked gunman on a quad bike as witnessed by a local resident and his eight year old son (see here).

And then there was the individual licence that SNH issued to Leadhills Estate to shoot crows between April and June this year (see here). One of the conditions of that licence was that a return had to be made to SNH within one month of the licence expiring. An FoI request revealed that the estate had breached this condition (see here).

And then there’s the additional context of ALL muirburn being temporarily banned in Scotland until 30 September 2020 under emergency Coronavirus legislation.

The first of the two blogs written earlier this month about the licence application for out-of-season muirburn at Leadhills this summer can be read here.

The second blog detailed SNH’s initial refusal to issue a licence to Osborne/Leadhills Estate, and Osborne’s subsequent appeal of that decision (see here).

This latest blog details SNH’s consideration of Osborne’s appeal, which took place in late August 2020.

So, Osborne had been notified by SNH, in mid-August, that a licence to undertake out-of-season muirburn was not going to be issued. Osborne immediately sent a letter of appeal to challenge that decision and here’s what happened next:

There was some internal dialogue at SNH on 20th August 2020, between unidentified staff members, as follows:

On 24th August 2020 SNH wrote back to Osborne and asked him to provide more detail about his licence application:

Two days later, Osborne responded with the additional information SNH had requested:

The following day, 27th August 2020, SNH wrote back to Osborne saying that if the requested photos could be supplied then a site visit from SNH at Leadhills wouldn’t be necessary:

Later the same day Osborne sent over three photographs and a further explanatory email:

The next blog will examine SNH’s response to Osborne’s licence application appeal…..coming shortly.

06
Oct
20

What happened next with licence application for out-of-season muirburn on Leadhills Estate

Further to yesterday’s blog where it was revealed that earlier this summer, Mark Osborne, the agent/manager at Leadhills Estate had applied to SNH for an out-of-season muirburn licence to allow him to set fire to parts of the grouse moor after being sprayed with toxic glyphosate (see here), here’s what happened next.

[Setting fire to the grouse moors at Leadhills in previous years. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

SNH’s licensing department sent Osborne’s 2020 licence application to other members of staff for their comments. It’s interesting to note that Leadhills Estate applied for a similar licence in 2019 but this was refused, for reasons not yet known. Those documents have been requested from SNH via a Freedom of Information request but haven’t yet arrived.

It’s not known how many members of staff were invited to comment on Osborne’s 2020 licence application, or from which departments, because SNH has chosen to hide some internal correspondence on this issue (for example, there is no indication in the material released under a Freedom of Information request that Leadhills Estate’s status of being subject to a General Licence restriction for ongoing wildlife crime was even considered at this stage) but the following response was given by SNH’s Uplands and Peatlands Officer, who, alarmingly, doesn’t seem to think there’s any issue in principle with spraying the grouse moor with glyphosate and then setting fire to it, but does argue that this could be undertaken during the muirburn season (starts 1st Oct) and doesn’t require a special out-of-season licence:

Subsequently, SNH decided to refuse this latest licence application and notified Osborne on 14 August 2020 as follows:

On 18th August 2020 Osborne appealed the decision, stating that the glyphosate spraying had already been undertaken:

On 21st August 2020 SNH wrote back to Osborne to say they were treating his appeal as a formal complaint. Osborne wrote back the same day and said he wasn’t making a formal complaint, he was appealing SNH’s decision to refuse the out-of-season muirburn licence:

More to come on this saga…..

UPDATE 19th October 2020: SNH considers appeal from Leadhills Estate to undertake out-of-season muirburn (see here)

05
Oct
20

Licence application for out-of-season muirburn on Leadhills Estate

Do you remember back in April, during lockdown, Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman secured an amendment to the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill (Emergency Bill) that meant that ALL muirburn was banned (temporarily, until the emergency regs were revaluated on 30 Sept 2020) (see here). This temporary ban was intended to relieve pressure on emergency services, who frankly had better things to do than attend wildfires that had resulted from poorly-managed muirburning on grouse moors.

And do you remember the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire? You know, Lord Hopetoun’s gaffe with it’s very very very long history of people finding illegally poisoned, shot and trapped birds of prey, illegally-set traps and poisoned baits on the estate? A history that continues and has resulted in the estate currently being the subject of a three-year General Licence restriction after Police Scotland told licensing authority SNH there was ‘clear evidence’ of ongoing wildlife crime, although insufficient evidence to identify an individual suspect (see here).

Well, that information provides the backdrop for the next few blogs about Leadhills Estate.

Jaw-dropping audacity on every level.

First of all, take a look at this. It’s an application from well-known grouse moor manager/agent Mark Osborne to SNH, made on 15th July 2020, asking for an out-of-season licence to set fire to parts of the grouse moor on Leadhills Estate.

Have a read of the licence application details, consider the necessity of the proposed work, consider the estate’s current status of being sanctioned, and consider whether it would be appropriate for SNH to approve this application.

More to come…..

UPDATE 6 October 2020: What happened next with licence application for out-of-season muirburn on Leadhills Estate (here)

UPDATE 19 October 2020: SNH considers appeal from Leadhills Estate to undertake out-of-season muirburn (here)

UPDATE 11 November 2020: SNH grants licence to Leadhills Estate for out-of-season muirburn (here)

UPDATE 13 November 2020: Political questions being asked about out-of-season muirburn licence issued to Leadhills Estate (here)

25
Aug
20

More on Leadhills Estate’s individual licence to shoot crows

Back in November 2019, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire following ‘clear evidence from Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on this estate’ (see hereherehere, here, and here).

Those alleged offences included the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that had been ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 2014. SNH also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests had also been disturbed’, although there was no further detail on this. The estate denied responsibility, obviously.

[This male hen harrier was found with its leg almost severed, caught in an illegally-set trap next to its nest on Leadhills Estate in 2019. Despite valiant efforts by a top wildlife surgeon, the bird didn’t survive. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

As regular blog readers will know, a General Licence restriction is supposed to prevent an estate from killing so-called ‘pest’ species (e.g. crows) that would otherwise be permissible under the General Licences but estates can still apply to SNH for an ‘individual licence’ to circumvent the General Licence restriction and continue killing birds, albeit with a bit more paperwork to complete.

This ridiculous situation is a legal quirk, outlined in a Judicial Review, and isn’t SNH’s fault (although SNH could be doing a lot more to point out the system failings to the Scottish Government). Basically if a penalised estate isn’t provided with an opportunity to apply for an individual licence the estate could argue the system was unfair and the legality of the General Licence restriction probably wouldn’t stand. If further wildlife crimes are discovered on the estate when an individual licence is in place, SNH can revoke the individual licence but the estate can simply reapply for another one. We’ve discussed how the General Licence restriction is a wholly ineffective deterrent plenty of times in the past, (e.g. see herehereherehere) and last year we even gave evidence to this effect alongside RSPB Scotland and others to a Scottish parliamentary committee (here).

In July this year we discovered via a freedom of information request that SNH had indeed granted an individual licence to Leadhills Estate that was valid between 27 April – 1 June 2020. It permitted the shooting of two species, hooded crow and carrion crow, in a limited part of the estate and apparently to protect lambs (see here).

One of the conditions of the licence was that the estate had to submit a return to SNH no later than 1 July 2020, documenting all shooting and scaring activities undertaken under this licence.

We wanted to see this return and we also wanted to know the details of the compliance checks undertaken by SNH. SNH has stated previously that any individual licences issued to Leadhills Estate would be ‘closely monitored’ and this ‘tighter supervision is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime’.

Another FoI was submitted and here is SNH’s response:

It’s all very interesting, isn’t it?

But not as interesting as the fact that Police Scotland are currently investigating a number of new alleged wildlife crimes on this estate (see here) including the alleged shooting of a(nother) short-eared owl by a masked gunman on a quad bike as witnessed by a local resident and his eight year old son (see here).

The question now is, in light of these new alleged offences and the obvious conclusion that imposing a three-year General Licence restriction did not prevent further wildlife crime taking place, as SNH thought it might, will SNH now extend Leadhills Estate’s three-year General Licence restriction as its policy allows if further evidence of wildlife crime is uncovered during the original three-year restriction period, and refuse the individual licence that the estate appears to want for next spring? Is there any point to further licence restrictions? It seems pretty ineffective, to be honest.

There are another couple of questions, too, but these are for Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the grouse shooting owners’ lobby group. We’ve been asking these questions for years but SLE hasn’t replied yet. Can’t imagine why. These are really questions that should be asked by the so-called ‘partner organisations’ that serve alongside SLE on the so-called ‘partnerships’ such as the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Raptor Group with its zero tolerance for raptor persecution. Here are the questions again, for old times’ sake:

  1. Is Leadhills Estate still a member of SLE?
  2. Is Lord Hopetoun of Leadhills Estate still Chairman of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group?

TAKE ACTION

If you’re concerned about the level of illegal raptor persecution in the UK, especially the high incidence of killing that takes place on or close to driven grouse moors, you can sign this e-action which urges your politician to take note and actually do something about it.

Launched two weeks ago by three organisations: Wild Justice, the RSPB and Hen Harrier Action, so far over 86,000 people have signed up. All you need to do is enter your postcode and a polite, pre-written email will automatically be sent to your parliamentary representative asking them to stop ignoring this issue.

If you want to add your voice and give your elected politician a polite nudge, please sign up HERE and pass this link on to others.

Thank you

15
Aug
20

‘Everywhere we go there are dead animals’ – local residents detest grouse moor management

There’s a very interesting article in The Times today, debunking the picture often painted by the grouse shooting industry of moorland community harmony – a rural idyll where local residents are deliriously enthralled by the activities of the local grouse moor managers and thankful for the boost that grouse shooting brings to the local economy, without which the local community would apparently collapse. Oh, and it’s where unicorns live, too.

If the Campaign for the Protection of Moorland Communities (C4PMC) wasn’t so busy astroturfing for the grouse shooting industry, this story (below) is the one it should be telling, instead of spending thousands of pounds on Facebook to promote abusive and personal attacks on decent, hardworking conservationists who are simply seeking grouse moor reform (e.g. see here).

Today’s article in The Times comes on the back of last week’s news (here) that Police Scotland are investigating alleged wildlife crimes on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire (yes, that place again), including the suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier and the shooting of a(nother) short-eared owl. The estate has denied all responsibility, obvs.

Written by journalist Lucy Bannerman, it takes a slightly different angle and focuses on the impact on local residents of having to live in the shadow of an estate as notorious as Leadhills.

Bannerman writes:

The estate has a notorious reputation as an alleged wildlife crime hotspot, where local monitors claim that at least 50 protected birds of prey have vanished or been found dead or dying in traps or by poisoned bait. One villager claims that even her cat has been poisoned.

The brazen manner of the latest killing, of the short-eared owl, has enraged residents, who are so sick of finding poisoned carcasses on the grouse moors around their homes that they have another name for the area: Deadhills.

“It’s devastating to lose another bird”, Steph Spode, 35, a local mother of four, said. “When you live here, you look around and at first you think, wow, look at those mountains. After a little while, you start to realise there’s nothing here. No trees. No wildlife. I can’t hear animals. I can’t see birds. When I go hiking there’s dead animals everywhere. What’s going on?“‘

It’s no surprise that there are ‘dead animals everywhere’ – a report published just yesterday (here) by the League Against Cruel Sports, as part of the Revive Coalition for Grouse Moor Reform, indicates that up to a quarter of a million animals are killed on Scottish grouse moors every year, many in the most gruesome and barbaric way imaginable.

Here’s a video we made last year with Chris Packham about the miserable death of a hen harrier, a supposedly protected species, that was found caught in an illegally-set trap at Leadhills last year:

The residents of Leadhills are not the only moorland community to speak out. Increasingly we’ve been hearing from local residents across the uplands who are finding their voices and speaking out against the damage this industry brings to their door. First we heard from local communities in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here and here), then from a community in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (see here), and then from a local community in the North York Moors National Park (here).

And then there are those local communities who want to buy the moors and transform and restore them in to something for the whole community, not just for those who come to kill birds for a bit of a laugh.

The Langholm community is currently attempting to buy part of Langholm Moor in Dumfries & Galloway from the Duke of Buccleuch (e.g. see here) and now the Wanlockhead Community Trust has voted (see here) to buy another part of Buccleuch’s moorland at Wanlockhead, the neighbouring village to Leadhills.

If you read the Wanlockhead Community Trust feasibility study you’ll see there’s not much interest in maintaining the moors for grouse shooting.

Download the report here: Wanlockhead Community Trust Buyout Feasibility Study April 2020

TAKE ACTION

If you’re sick to the back teeth of illegal raptor persecution on driven grouse moors, please consider participating in this quick and easy e-action to send a letter to your local Parliamentary representative (MSP/MP/MS) urging action. Launched just a week ago by Wild Justice, RSPB and Hen Harrier Action, over 43,000 people have signed up so far.

This means that over 43,000 pre-written letters complaining about illegal raptor persecution and the environmental damage caused by intensive grouse moor management, are winging their way to politicians of all parties across the UK. If you want your local politician to receive one, Please join in HERE

Thank you

 

10
Aug
20

Police investigate more wildlife crime allegations on Leadhills grouse moor

Last Friday investigative journalist Rob Edwards published an article in The Ferret on two new police investigations into alleged raptor persecution on the Leadhills Estate, an infamous grouse moor in South Lanarkshire.

The first investigation centres on the suspicious disappearance of yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier, this one named ‘Silver’, who was nesting on Leadhills Estate but whose tag suddenly stopped transmitting and she vanished without trace on 27th May 2020.

[Hen harrier ‘Silver’ was satellite tagged as a young bird and like so many others, has now vanished in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor. Photo by RSPB]

The second incident being investigated is the alleged shooting of a short-eared owl, witnessed by a local man and his eight-year-old son on the evening of 2nd July 2020.

They watched a man dressed in camouflage shoot the owl and collect the body before he drove off across the moorland on a quad bike. A blurry photo was taken and the police were called.

[Unidentified man on a quad bike driving off across the Leadhills Estate grouse moor. Photo by Anjo Abelaira]

Rob’s article in The Ferret has more details about both investigations and a response from the estate – read here.

Regular blog readers will be familiar with the name Leadhills Estate (also previously known as the Hopetoun Estate) as it’s been mentioned here many, many times before.

Here’s a video we made with Chris Packham just last year following the savage brutality inflicted on a hen harrier nesting in this area. Nobody was prosecuted for that barbaric crime:

Regular blog readers will also know that in November 2019, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire following ‘clear evidence from Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on this estate’ (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 first given powers to impose a General Licence restriction). SNH had also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests had also been disturbed’, although there was no further detail on this. The estate consistently denied responsibility.

You might also remember the fascinating correspondence between the Leadhills Estate’s lawyer and SNH when the estate unsuccessfully appealed against the General Licence restriction (see here).

There’s a lot more that can be said about the current investigations at Leadhills Estate but time is short right now – it’s a subject that we’ll try to re-visit in the not-too-distant future.

TAKE ACTION

If you’re sick to the back teeth of illegal raptor persecution on grouse moors, please consider participating in this quick and easy e-action to send a letter to your local Parliamentary representative (MSP/MP/MS) urging action. Launched on Saturday by Wild Justice, RSPB and Hen Harrier Action, approx 19,000 people have signed up so far. Please join in HERE

Thank you

06
Jul
20

Leadhills Estate granted ‘individual licence’ to shoot crows

As many will recall, in November 2019 SNH imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire following ‘clear evidence from Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on this estate’ (see herehere, 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 first given powers to impose a General Licence restriction). SNH had also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests had also been disturbed’, although there was no further detail on this. The estate has consistently denied responsibility, obviously.

[This male hen harrier was found with its leg almost severed, caught in an illegally-set trap next to its nest on Leadhills Estate in 2019. Despite valiant efforts by a top wildlife surgeon, the bird didn’t survive. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

As many of you will also know, a General Licence restriction is supposed to prevent an estate from killing so-called ‘pest’ species (e.g. crows) that would otherwise be permissible under the General Licences but that estates can still apply to SNH for an ‘individual licence’ to circumvent the General Licence restriction and continue killing birds, albeit with a bit more paperwork to complete.

This ridiculous situation is a legal quirk, outlined in a Judicial Review, and isn’t SNH’s fault (although SNH could be doing a lot more to point out the system failings to the Scottish Government). Basically if a penalised estate isn’t provided with an opportunity to apply for an individual licence the estate could argue the system was unfair and the legality of the General Licence restriction probably wouldn’t stand. If further wildlife crimes are discovered on the estate when an individual licence is in place, SNH can revoke the individual licence but the estate can simply reapply for another one. We’ve discussed how the General Licence restriction is a wholly ineffective deterrent plenty of times in the past, (e.g. see here, here, here, here) and last year we even gave evidence to this effect alongside RSPB Scotland and others to a Scottish parliamentary committee (here).

Since the General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in Nov 2019 we’ve been interested to find out whether the estate has applied for, and been granted, an individual licence.

An FoI request has revealed that yes, SNH issued an individual licence that was valid between 27 April – 1 June 2020 but this was far more restrictive than the individual licences (e.g. see licence details here) that were issued to Raeshaw Estate when a GL restriction was imposed on that estate in 2015.

The individual licence at Leadhills Estate only permits the shooting of two species – hooded crow and carrion crow, in a limited part of the estate and apparently to protect lambs.

According to condition #8 of this licence, the licensee has to submit a written report to SNH within one month of the licence expiring (so by 1 July 2020) detailing the scaring methods deployed and the number of birds shot. We have submitted an FoI request for this information.

We’ve also asked SNH for details of the compliance checks made for the duration of this licence. SNH has said in the past that compliance checks would form part of the ‘tighter scrutiny’ involved with an individual licence. Let’s see. Presumably this type of environmental monitoring/legal compliance check would have been one of the Government-sanctioned jobs during lockdown.




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