Posts Tagged ‘Raeshaw Estate

26
May
17

More suspected wildlife crimes on Raeshaw Estate: SNH revokes individual licence

As many of you will know, Raeshaw Estate in the Scottish Borders was one of the first in Scotland to be subjected to a General Licence Restriction Order, issued in 2015, based on clear police evidence that wildlife crimes had been committed although there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual (see here). The estate contested the legality of SNH’s decision and this was seen as a test case, which went to Judicial Review in 2016. In March this year, the Court of Session upheld SNH’s decision and the General Licence Restriction Order was considered lawful (here).

Here is a map showing the location of Raeshaw Estate in south Scotland (estate boundary details sourced from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website).

In the meantime, SNH had granted an ‘individual licence’ to several gamekeepers at Raeshaw Estate, allowing them to continue to carry out various ‘management’ activities (killing corvids and other so-called ‘pest’ species) but under closer scrutiny than they would have been subjected to under the General Licence. We, and others, have been strongly critical of this (see here and here), and we were especially sceptical when we learned, via an FoI, that the extent of the ‘scrutiny’ had only extended to a single compliance check by SNH staff (see here). However, having read the full details of the Judicial Review, it became apparent to us that had an individual licence not been issued, the General Licence Restriction Order would probably have been judged to be unfair and SNH would have lost the case.

The first individual licence(s) issued to Raeshaw Estate staff expired on 31 December 2016. It is now apparent that the Estate has applied for a further individual licence earlier this year, which was granted. However, this morning, SNH has issued the following statement:

SNH REVOKES LICENCE ON RAESHAW ESTATE AFTER SUSPECTED WILDLIFE CRIME OFFENCES

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has revoked a licence to control wild birds at Raeshaw Estates as a result of on-going concerns about wildlife crime.

Police Scotland is now investigating the potential offences on the Scottish Borders estate.

SNH imposed a general licence restriction on Raeshaw Estates in 2015 on the basis of clear evidence provided by Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on the estate. The estate challenged the restriction through a judicial review, but the restriction was upheld in March this year.

During a compliance check this month, SNH staff found multiple instances of breaches of conditions of an individual licence that had been granted to cover essential management activities on the estate. These breaches may also constitute offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, so SNH has reported the details to Police Scotland.

General licences allow land owners or managers to carry out certain management actions with minimal bureaucracy, largely relying on trust that land managers will carry out activities legally. This includes controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock. However, those land managers in which SNH has lost confidence may have their General Licences removed, as was the case at Raeshaw. The estate is then allowed to apply for individual licences to control wild birds, which gives SNH more control and oversight of the activities being carried out.

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s Head of National Operations, said:

After discovering several failures to comply with the terms, we have no other option than to revoke the licence. In cases like this, we have to take breaches of licences very seriously and will work with Police Scotland as they investigate this case.

We hope this also spreads the message that we will take action to stop wildlife crime whenever possible. We’re committed to working strongly in partnership with Police Scotland, and other members of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAWS), to stamp out wildlife crime in Scotland.”

END

Photo of Raeshaw Estate (by RPUK)

Wow! First of all, credit where it’s due. SNH has surprised us, first by conducting another compliance check, secondly by responding very, very quickly to multiple breaches, and thirdly by making a public statement. That’s impressive – well done to SNH.

It’s hard to comprehend the level of stupidity of those working under an individual licence. If you know your working practices are already under the spotlight, why on earth would you then make multiple breaches of the conditions of that licence, some of which may also also constitute offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act? It almost beggars belief, although, given the long history of wildlife crime uncovered in this area (see here), for which nobody has ever been prosecuted, it is perhaps a clear indication of just how little deterrent the current legislation offers and re-emphasises the urgent need for a change of policy.

Even though SNH has now revoked the estate’s individual licence(s), meaning that ‘pest’ control is further restricted, the estate still has the right to shoot grouse, pheasant and partridge when the shooting season opens later in the year, so in effect there’s very little sanction here. That is not good enough. Had a licensing scheme been in place for gamebird shooting, presumably the estate’s licence would now be revoked.

There’s a strong response to today’s news from RSPB Scotland:

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has today announced that it has revoked a licence to control wild birds at Raeshaw Estate as a result of on-going concerns about wildlife crime. In response, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson, said: “Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise at all in relation to this particular estate. These latest multiple breaches found by SNH on the Raeshaw Estate can be added to a long list of confirmed poisoning, shooting and illegal trapping cases in this area dating back over more than a decade.

The fact that there is an ongoing criminal investigation here, despite the sanctions previously imposed by SNH, echoes a pattern of repeat offending that occurs in a significant number of areas of Scotland where intensive grouse moor management is the main land use.

While we welcome SNH’s revocation of the individual licenses issued to this estate’s employees, it is clear that current legislation and the available penalties are no deterrent to the continued criminal targeting of protected wildlife. The time has come for a robust regulatory regime, including the licensing of gamebird shoots, where wildlife crimes with a proven link to estate management could lead to a loss of shooting rights.”

END

Today’s news comes at a critical time. We know that an announcement on how the Scottish Government intends to tackle the ongoing crisis of illegal raptor persecution is imminent. This latest example of how ineffective the current system is, in addition to all the other evidence of criminal activity that has been reported in recent months, and in addition to the series of prosecutions abandoned by the Crown Office, and in addition to the findings of the forthcoming raptor satellite tag data review, will surely tip the balance and result in tough measures being introduced. God help the Government if it doesn’t.

29
Mar
17

Raeshaw Estate loses judicial review on General Licence restriction

In November 2015, the Scottish Government’s statutory conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, imposed a General Licence restriction order on a number of estates where it was believed raptor persecution had taken place but there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual (see here).

These restrictions were the first to be imposed since this new enforcement measure became available on 1 January 2014.

Two of the four estates were in Stirlingshire (the grouse shooting Burnfoot Estate and neighbouring Wester Cringate Estate, where several poisoned raptors and an illegally-set trap had been found) and two were in the Scottish Borders (the grouse shooting Raeshaw Estate and neighbouring Corsehope Farm, where illegally-set traps had been placed).

The General Licence restriction on all four estates was to run from 13 November 2015 to 12 November 2018, which meant that certain types of ‘pest’ control were prohibited unless the Estates applied for a specific individual licence that would be subject to tighter controls.

Raeshaw Estate (and neighbouring Corsehope Farm, where ‘pest’ control is undertaken by Raeshaw gamekeepers) made a legal challenge against SNH’s decision and in February 2016 they petitioned for a judicial review.

A judicial review challenges a decision made by a public body (in this case SNH) and examines whether the right procedures have been followed (i.e. with procedural fairness, within the legal powers of the public body, and with rationality).

The judicial review was heard in January 2017 and we have been awaiting the court’s judgement. It was published yesterday and can be read here: Raeshaw judicial review decision

We don’t intend to discuss the details of the court’s judgement – you can read those for yourselves (but do pay attention to the bit about the homemade trap, identical to the illegally-set homemade trap placed out on the hill, found in the possession of one of the gamekeepers – it’s quite interesting), but in summary, the court decided that SNH had acted fairly and with due regard to the stated rationale for imposing a General Licence restriction as laid out in SNH’s framework for implementing restrictions. As we understand it, there is a right to appeal to a higher court so we’ll have to wait and see whether Raeshaw Estate decides to take this option.

For now, this judgement is very, very good news. We, and others, have been highly critical of SNH’s handling of the General Licence restrictions, particularly when they subsequently issued individual licences to Raeshaw and Corsehope which effectively circumvented the supposed sanction of the General Licence restriction (see here, herehere, here). Yesterday’s court judgement does not alter our view on that and we will continue to challenge SNH about the so-called ‘tighter controls’ on these individual licences.

However, what yesterday’s court judgement does (or should) do, is open the floodgates for further General Licence restrictions to be imposed on other estates where there is evidence of raptor persecution. We know that SNH has a backlog of cases, dating back to 2014, and they’ve been sitting on those, justifiably, while the judicial review process has been underway. Now that the Court of Session has validated SNH’s procedures for imposing General Licence restrictions, we hope they will get on with handing out some more.

UPDATE 11.30am: SNH press statement here

UPDATE 30 March 2017: Judgement on Corsehope Farm: Corsehope judicial review decision

09
Mar
17

1,000 birds killed despite General Licence Restriction at Raeshaw Estate / Corsehope Farm

Regular blog readers will know that in November 2015, SNH issued two General Licence restriction orders on the Raeshaw Estate and neighbouring Corsehope Farm in the Scottish Borders (see here). This was in response to alleged raptor persecution crimes (see here), although there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution and the estates have denied any responsibility.

The General Licence restriction orders were supposed to last for three years, starting 13 November 2015 and ending 12 November 2018. However, since being implemented, these restriction orders have been on and off as Raeshaw Estate mounted a legal challenge against their use. This legal challenge resulted in a judicial review, which was heard in January 2017, and we await the court’s findings.

Meanwhile, unbelievably, SNH issued two so-called ‘individual licences’ (see here) – one to Raeshaw Estate and one to Corsehope Farm, allowing the gamekeepers to continue the activities they would have undertaken had the General Licence restriction orders not been imposed (i.e. killing so-called ‘pest’ bird species). In our view (here) this was a ludicrous move because it totally undermined the supposed ‘sanction’ of the General Licence restriction. RSPB Scotland shared our view (see here).

SNH responded by saying the individual licences represented “robust regulation” (see here) and argued that the use of the individual licences would be “closely monitored” and that the gamekeepers would be “under tighter supervision” than they would have been if using a General Licence (see here).

As a reminder, here are copies of the two individual licences:

Raeshaw Estate individual licence here (valid 10 June 2016 – 31 December 2016)

Corsehope Farm individual licence here (valid 1 July 2016 – 31 December 2016)

As a condition of each individual licence, the estates had to submit to SNH, within one month of the licence expiry date, a log of all activities undertaken under each licence.

Last month we submitted an FoI to SNH asking for copies of these logs, as well as asking for details of the number of visits SNH staff  had made to the two estates to check for licence compliance (you know, that ‘close monitoring’ and ‘tight supervision’ SNH had been promising). What we discovered validates all our earlier concerns about this so-called ‘sanction’.

Here are the two logs submitted to SNH by the gamekeepers, detailing what species they’d killed, where, and when. The first log is for three crow cage traps placed on Raeshaw Estate and the second log relates to a single crow cage trap situated on Corsehope Farm (believed to be operated by Raeshaw Estate gamekeepers):

In total 294 rooks and 706 jackdaws were killed between 19 July and 25 August 2016. This amounts to 1,000 birds.

SNH staff undertook one compliance check visit for each estate. Both visits took place on 25 August 2016. The visit to Raeshaw Estate took 2.5 hours and the visit to Corsehope Farm lasted for one hour.

We’ve mapped the position of the four crow cage traps (note that the grouse moor at Raeshaw Estate lies directly to the west of these traps (the dark brown area).

These findings raise a number of questions and further concerns:

  1. The licence returns only refer to two species of birds that were caught and killed using four crow cage traps. Are we to believe that no other form of avian ‘pest control’ took place on either land holding between 10 June and 31 December 2016 (the duration of the individual licences)?
  2. For what ‘purpose’ were 294 rooks and 706 jackdaws killed? According to the individual licences (see above), the purpose was to “Prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuff for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland water” and in the case of the Corsehope Farm individual licence, also to “prevent the spread of disease“. Can SNH explain the specific purpose of allowing these birds to be lawfully killed (i.e. if it was to protect livestock, what was the livestock and what threats do rooks and jackdaws pose? If it was to protect crops, what sort of crop and what threats do rooks and jackdaws pose? etc etc).
  3. What steps did SNH take to ensure that these 1,000 birds were not killed in order for the estates to produce artificially high densities of gamebirds for shooting? (This would be illegal).
  4. Why were 294 rooks allowed to be killed when this species has suffered a 37% decline in Scotland between 1995-2014, which would trigger a formal Amber listing if the listing criteria were applied at a Scottish level instead of a UK level (as pointed out to SNH by RSPB Scotland here)?
  5. Does SNH believe that one visit (per estate) for the duration of these six-month long individual licences equates to “close monitoring“, “tighter supervision” and “robust regulation“. If so, how?
  6. What did SNH staff do on their 2.5 hour visit to Raeshaw Estate? Did they just visit the three known crow cage traps or did they search the rest of this 9,000 acre estate to search for unlicensed (and thus illegal) traps?
  7. What did SNH staff do on their one hour visit to Corsehope Farm? Did they just visit the one known crow cage trap or did they search the rest of this farm for unlicensed (and thus illegal) traps?
  8. Are we still expected to believe that a General Licence restriction order is an effective sanction for alleged raptor persecution crimes, and if so, how?

We’ll be asking these questions to the SNH licensing team. If you want to join in, here’s their email address: licensing@snh.gov.uk

11
Jan
17

General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate: judicial review this week

The long-awaited judicial review of SNH’s decision to impose a General Licence restriction order on Raeshaw Estate finally gets properly underway this week.

SNH imposed the General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate (a grouse moor estate near Heriot in the Scottish Borders) in November 2015. The restriction was implemented due to alleged raptor persecution incidents reportedly taking place on the estate (according to evidence provided by Police Scotland), even though nobody has been charged with any criminal offence and the estate has denied any responsibility.

In April 2016 Raeshaw Estate petitioned for a judicial review of SNH’s action. Since then there have been a number of preliminary hearings but now the case has reached the final stage – a two day substantive hearing will take place tomorrow and Friday (Thurs 12 & Fri 13 Jan 2017) at the Court of Session.

We have no idea when the legal ruling will be made public; it could be a matter of days or it could be months.

This judicial review is an important test case with potentially far-reaching consequences. If the court decides that SNH acted fairly, then presumably SNH will get on with issuing other General Licence restrictions to other estates where Police Scotland has evidence of raptor persecution incidents having taken place since 1 January 2014. There are several of which we’re aware. Although it could be argued that if SNH continues to subsequently issue ‘individual’ licences to those penalised estates, the purpose and effectiveness of the original General Licence restriction order is lost (e.g. see here, here).

If the court decides that SNH acted unfairly in imposing a General Licence restriction, then either the process for implementing a General Licence restriction will have to be revised or the scheme scrapped altogether. If it’s scrapped, that’ll leave the Scottish Government in an interesting position. The Government often points to the use of General Licence restrictions as an indication of its commitment to addressing raptor persecution. If the ability to impose a General Licence restriction is removed by the outcome of the judicial review, what other sanction could the Government introduce? Shoot licencing is looming large on the horizon….

23
Oct
16

SNH’s General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate is “farcical”, says RSPB

It’s good to see environmental journalist Rob Edwards following up on SNH’s pointless General Licence restriction imposed on a grouse moor estate in the Scottish Borders for alleged raptor persecution crimes.

Read his article in today’s Sunday Herald here

img_6873-copy

We’ve blogged extensively (see here) about the General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate, near Heriot, which is currently subject to a judicial review (see here). We’ve argued that SNH’s subsequent issue of ‘individual’ licences, which permit the estate to continue the activities supposedly blocked by the General Licence restriction, is utterly ridiculous (see here). In Rob’s article, RSPB Scotland agrees with our view and calls the whole affair “farcical”.

SNH has responded by claiming this is “robust regulation”. Mark Avery has an amusing interpretation of ‘robust’ on his blog this morning (see here).

SNH has also told Rob that its staff has so far carried out two unannounced visits to check that Raeshaw has not breached its specific individual licences. We’re very interested in this. When did those visits take place, how long was each visit, and what actually happened during the visits? Are we expected to believe that SNH staff searched the whole 9,000 acre estate (and the neighbouring Corsehope Farm), twice, to look for unlicensed traps? Or did they just call in for a quick coffee and a chat? We’ll be asking SNH about the ‘robustness’ of these checks.

Rob’s article includes a quote from Raeshaw Estate (owned by an offshore company registered in Jersey and managed under the direction of Mark Osborne) which includes the line:

“Responsible game management practices are at the heart of what Raeshaw and its staff do”.

Here’s a reminder of some of the raptor persecution crimes that been uncovered in this part of the Scottish Borders over the last 15 years, none of which have ever been attributed to anyone.

Photo of Raeshaw Estate (RPUK)

04
Sep
16

Another hearing set for Raeshaw Estate’s judicial review (General Licence restriction)

Regular blog readers will know we’ve been writing about the General Licence (GL) restriction order placed on Raeshaw Estate (a grouse moor estate near Heriot in the Scottish Borders) for some time (see here for a summary). The restriction order was implemented due to alleged raptor persecution incidents reportedly taking place on the Estate (according to evidence provided by Police Scotland), even though nobody has been charged with any criminal offence and the Estate has denied any responsibility.

This restriction order, placed by SNH in November 2015, has been on and off for months, temporarily suspended and then reinstated as Raeshaw Estate mounted various legal challenges over the following months.

Currently, the GL restriction order is back in place, although SNH has issued a number of ‘individual’ licences permitting the Estate to continue with many activities that are supposed to have been restricted (see here).

Raeshaw Estate has launched a judicial review of the process that SNH used to issue a General Licence restriction order. We’re not that clear about the judicial review process in Scotland but here’s what we’ve managed to work out so far:

In April 2016, Raeshaw Estate petitioned for a judicial review.

In May or June 2016, the Court of Session granted permission for the judicial review to go ahead.

Another court date has now been set for a ‘procedural hearing’ on 3rd November 2016:

RaeshawJR3Nov2016

Our limited understanding is that this ‘procedural’ hearing is when the scope and duration of any later ‘substantive’ hearing will be decided.

This judicial review is an important test case with potentially far-reaching consequences. If the court decides that SNH acted fairly, then presumably SNH will get on with issuing other General Licence restrictions to other estates where Police Scotland has evidence of raptor persecution incidents having taken place since 1 January 2014 (there must be quite a backlog by now). Although it could be argued that if SNH continues to then issue ‘individual’ licences to those penalised estates, the purpose and effectiveness of the original General Licence restriction order is lost.

If the court decides that SNH acted unfairly in imposing a General Licence restriction order, then either the process for implementing a GL restriction order will have to be revised or the scheme scrapped altogether. If it’s scrapped, that’ll leave the Scottish Government in an interesting position. What next for addressing the never-ending cycle of raptor persecution?

16
Aug
16

More on the General Licence restriction fiasco at Raeshaw Estate

Regular blog readers will know we’ve been writing about the General Licence (GL) restriction order placed on Raeshaw Estate (Scottish Borders) for some time (see here for a summary). The restriction order was implemented due to alleged raptor persecution incidents reportedly taking place on the Estate (according to evidence provided by Police Scotland), even though nobody has been charged with any criminal offence and the Estate has denied any responsibility.

This restriction order, placed by SNH in November 2015, has been on and off for months, temporarily suspended and then reinstated as Raeshaw Estate mounted various legal challenges over the following months.

Currently, the GL restriction order is back in place, although the courts have now authorised a Judicial Review of the process used by SNH to implement this restriction. We don’t know when that Judicial Review will take place.

IMG_6934 - Copy

In the meantime, in June 2016 we learned (see here) that even though the GL restriction order was back in place, SNH had issued what it called an ‘individual licence’, permitting the Estate to carry out some activities (bird-killing) that the GL restriction was supposed to prevent! In our opinion, issuing an individual licence completely defeats the object of implementing a GL restriction order in the first place. But not according to SNH. They issued a statement and we were particularly interested in the following bit:

In response to an application from Raeshaw Farms Limited, we have granted them an individual licence to carry out some activities otherwise permitted under General Licence. This licence is subject to specific conditions and controls. This will allow the business to continue to operate but under tighter scrutiny rather than the relatively ‘light touch’ approach to Regulation that General Licences afford”.

We wanted to know more about this ‘individual licence’, e.g. its duration, what activities were permitted/not permitted, and particularly the details of the ‘specific conditions and controls’ of that licence. So we (and a couple of others, thank you) submitted some FoIs to SNH to try and find some answers.

What we’ve found is a woefully inadequate system that has not received the promised “tighter scrutiny” and is wide open to abuse.

Here is a copy of the ‘individual licence’: Raeshaw Individual Licence 1_June2016

As you’ll see, ‘individual licence’ is a bit of a misnomer as it names one licence holder but then a further five ‘agents’ who are permitted to use this ‘individual’ licence.

This licence is valid from 10 June 2016 to 31 December 2016. The specific conditions include set dates for when certain species can be killed and the area where this killing may take place. Of interest to us:

  1. Carrion crow, magpie and greater black-backed gull may only be taken or killed UNTIL 30 JUNE 2016.
  2. Rook, jackdaw and wood pigeon may only be taken or killed UNTIL 31 AUGUST 2016.

Why are these two conditions of interest to us? Well, because another condition of this licence (condition #5) is that ‘Prior to exercising this licence, SNH licensing must be provided with details of the number, type and locations of deployment (to 6-figure grid reference) of all traps proposed to be used under this licence‘.

We asked SNH how many traps the licence holder had proposed to use, and the date that SNH received this information.

SNH’s reply: ‘The licence holder informed us on 12 July that they intended to deploy 3 multi-catch traps (ladder traps) at specified locations from 15 July“.

So, the individual licence only permits the taking and killing of carrion crows until 30 June 2016, and yet the licence holder notified SNH in mid-July that three crow traps would be deployed from 15 July 2016. Eh? How will the licence holder prevent carrion crows from entering these, er, crow traps, and if the carrion crows do enter, how will SNH know whether those carrion crows have been released unharmed?

Ah, well that’ll be the “tighter scrutiny” employed by SNH, right? They’ll have been monitoring the use of these traps to check for compliance, right?

Well, not quite. We asked SNH how many visits SNH (or an agent thereof) had made to this Estate to check compliance with licence conditions, and the dates those visits took place.

SNH’s reply (on 11 August 2016): “We have not yet visited the estate. However, compliance checks are an important part of the licensing process and will be carried out“.

Yeah, right.

We’ve also discovered that SNH has issued a second ‘individual licence’ to Raeshaw Estate. This one can be downloaded here: Raeshaw Individual Licence 2_July2016

This second licence permits the licence holder (and three agents) to kill certain species on the neighbouring Corsehope Farm. The licence is valid from 1 July 2016 to 31 December 2016.

Under this licence, collared doves, feral pigeons, wood pigeons, jackdaws, magpies, rooks and carrion crows may be taken or killed on this land until 15 October 2016 ‘to prevent damage to crops’ (ahem).

Also under this licence, all the above species plus greater and lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls may be taken or killed on this land until 31 December 2016 ‘to prevent the spread of disease’ (ahem).

So, although the first licence (covering parts of Raeshaw Estate) only permitted the killing of certain species until 30 June 2016 and some other species until 31 August 2016, this second licence permits the unlimited killing of these same species on neighbouring land until 31 December 2016.

Can somebody please remind us what was the purpose of issuing a General Licence restriction order in the first place? Wasn’t it supposed to be a sanction/punishment for reported raptor persecution incidents? What’s the point of having a licensing system and supposed sanctions, if those sanctions can be sidestepped by simply issuing another licence and then not bothering to monitor compliance with those licence conditions?




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