Posts Tagged ‘scottish gamekeepers association

16
Jun
20

Scottish gamekeepers desperate to keep slaughtering mountain hares on grouse moors

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has come out all guns blazing to try and prevent the Scottish Parliament from voting to protect the mountain hare in tomorrow’s debate on Stage 3 of the Animals and Wildlife Bill.

Scottish gamekeepers are terrified that they’ll no longer be able to enjoy what everyone else sees as a grotesque bloodbath.

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg has penned a typically deluded letter to MSPs in which he claims to be ‘a representative of the people of all of Scotland‘ (eh?) and how stopping the mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors ‘will affect human beings’ lives’ (er…) and ‘worsen the conservation status of the mountain hare‘. Really?

Oh, and further justification for the slaughter is the protection of walkers, ramblers and mountain bikers from the perils of Lyme disease:

Of course, it’s not the first time the SGA has been accused of making ‘misleading’ and ‘greatly exaggerated’ claims’ about mountain hares (see here and here).

Meanwhile back on planet humanity, support is growing for MSP Alison Johnstone’s amendment to increase protection for the mountain hare that would effectively end the mass killing on grouse moors (see here and here).

The RSPB has published a good blog in support (here), as has animal welfare charity OneKind (here), and the signatures on the Scottish Green’s petition calling for support has now passed 12,000 in just a few days. If you’d like to sign it, please visit HERE.

Please keep writing to your MSPs – we know that mail bags have been inundated on this topic and it’ll be of great interest to see who votes in support of this amendment in tomorrow’s debate.

 

16
Jun
20

Parliamentary questions on lead ammunition & medicated grit on grouse moors

The Scottish Greens just keep piling on the pressure.

Some interesting Parliamentary questions from Mark Ruskell MSP on the toxic hazard of lead ammunition and the use of medicated grit on grouse moors:

Question S5W-29820, Date Lodged: 09/06/2020

To ask the Scottish Government what proportion of the active ingredient in the medicated grit that is used on managed grouse moors is excreted by the birds. [Expected answer date 24/6/2020]

Question S5W-29821, Date Lodged: 09/06/2020
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment SEPA has made regarding the wider environmental impacts of the medicated grit that is used on grouse moors. [Expected answer date 24/6/2020]
Question S5W-29822, Date Lodged: 09/06/2020
To ask the Scottish Government what testing is carried out on the levels in the human food chain of the active ingredient in the medicated grit that is used on grouse moors. [Expected answer date 24/6/2020]
Question S5W-29823, Date Lodged: 09/06/2020
To ask the Scottish Government when it expects the use of lead ammunition to be entirely phased out on (a) public and (b) private land. [Expected answer date 24/6/2020]
Question S5W-29824, Date Lodged: 09/06/2020
To ask the Scottish Government what level of lead from shot gameboards [sic] is present in the human food chain, and what regular analysis it carries out of this. [Expected answer date 24/6/2020]
The Scottish Government is going to struggle not to look completely incompetent and/or wholly unconcerned about the unregulated toxic hazards that feature on driven grouse moors. This can be stated with confidence because the answers to Mark’s questions are already known.
The active ingredient in medicated grit is Flubendazole, a drug that has been identified as ‘an emerging environmental contaminant of acute and chronic toxicity’ and has been shown to be particularly toxic to aquatic organisms. Previous Freedom of Information requests submitted by this blog have revealed that the Scottish Government is not monitoring the impact of medicated grit, even though it’s known that some in the industry are using a super-strength dose up to twenty times the original dose! Surveillance undertaken by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), responsible for the national (UK) monitoring of veterinary drugs in food products, has been woefully inadequate, and that’s being kind. In a country that shoots an estimated three quarters of a million red grouse each year, the VMD proposed to test just ten birds in 2018 (see here).
The use of lead ammunition to shoot gamebirds in the UK is unregulated, despite the well-documented high toxicity of this metal and the consequential health implications of consuming it. With most of the previously significant sources of lead in the environment now having been eliminated decades ago (e.g. lead-based paints and leaded petrol), lead-based ammunition is the most significant unregulated source of lead deliberately emitted in to the environment. It’s a poison, it’s as simple as that.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the most jaw-dropping revelation is that all gamebirds (including red grouse) appear to be exempt from statutory testing for lead shot, in sharp contrast to other meat types destined for human consumption. Research (here) has shown that shot red grouse destined for the food chain may contain excessive amounts of toxic poisonous lead (over 100 times the lead levels that would be legal for other meat)!
Talk about vested interests! The law makers of the day clearly put their own pleasure and convenience above the health and welfare of the general public and the environment. It’s an absolute shocker that this continues.
The game shooting industry knows that time is up on this issue and earlier this year we saw a high profile media campaign suggesting that the industry supported a ‘voluntary ban’ on the use of lead ammunition (yeah, because this industry’s adherence to voluntary restraint is legendary, right?) and wanted to see it phased out within five years. Unfortunately, not everybody in the industry was singing from the same hymn sheet and it turned in to a bit of a car crash when the Scottish Gamekeepers Association refused to sign up (see here).
It’ll be interesting to see how the Scottish Government responds to Mark’s questions.
For those who want to find out more about the use of medicated grit and lead ammunition, download fully referenced summary report (here) from Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform.
UPDATE 13 July 2020: Disingenuous parliamentary answers from Scot Gov on toxic hazards of grouse moor management (here)
16
May
20

Scottish Government denies ‘negotiating’ with gamekeepers on new offences for trap damage

In early May we blogged about a claim made by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) that it was ‘negotiating with Government for a new offence to be created for damage to legal predator control tools‘, i.e. traps and snares (see here).

[A spring (Fenn) trap set on a log, designed to catch and kill any animal that stands on the trigger plate. Gamekeepers argue that traps like these, and others, are routinely damaged by members of the public. Photo from the Untold Suffering report published by the Revive Coalition last year. NB: It is no longer legal to use Fenn traps for killing stoats in the UK as they have been ruled inhumane – new trap designs have recently been approved (see here)]

This claim led to Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell posing two Parliamentary questions earlier this week, asking the Government for details of these alleged ‘negotiations’ (see here).

Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has now responded and her answers are hilarious:

Mark Ruskell MSPTo ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association regarding creating offences and sanctions in relation to animal trap damage, broken down by (a) date and (b) location of discussion. (S5W-28828).

Roseanna CunninghamThe Scottish Government has not had any recent discussions with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association about creating offences and sanctions in relation to animal trap damage.

Mark Ruskell MSPTo ask the Scottish Government how it plans to change the law in relation to the wilful damage of animal traps. (S5W-28829).

Roseanna CunninghamUnder existing legislation and common law a person interfering with a legally set snare or trap may be committing one of a number of possible offences.

The Independent Review of Grouse Moor Management report which was published in December recommended changes to legislation on the use of animal traps. The Scottish Government is currently considering all of the recommendations in the report and will publish a response in due course.

So, in essence then, no, the Scottish Government is not involved in ‘negotiations’ with the SGA as the SGA has claimed, and no, the Scottish Government does not appear to be considering new legislation for the provision of a new offence for alleged trap damage.

Roseanna Cunningham mentions the Government’s ongoing consideration of the recommendations made in the Werritty Review but that review did not include a recommendation for the provision of a new offence for alleged trap damage. What it did recommend, however, was new legislation for trap operators to have to undertake mandatory training before being allowed to set traps!

This begs the question then, why did the SGA claim to be ‘negotiating with Government’ when apparently it is doing no such thing?!

If the SGA could put aside its delusional posturing for a second it’d do well to be spending some time reminding its members of the current legislation on trap use. According to the RSPB this week, ‘the police are following up several raptor persecution cases and multiple reports of illegal trap use on grouse moors‘ (see here). Let’s hope that none of those traps alleged to be being used illegally, belong to an SGA member.

02
May
20

Scottish Gamekeepers Association ‘negotiating with Government’ for new offence of trap damage

News emerged this week, via the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s (SGA) e-newsletter for members that it is currently ‘negotiating with Government’ for the creation of a new offence relating to trap damage:

This is really quite interesting. The SGA, with others, has been arguing for several years that legally-set traps have been ‘tampered with’ or damaged by members of the public and these claims usually occur just after an illegally-set trap has been discovered and reported in the media. A recent example of this was the male hen harrier that was found in considerable distress with its leg almost severed in an illegally-set trap on Leadhills Estate (see here).

[Male hen harrier found with an almost severed leg, caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to its nest on Leadhills Estate (see here). Nobody has been prosecuted for this barbaric crime but the estate has had its use of the General Licence restricted by SNH as a direct result of this and other offences (see here)].

The implication of such claims has seemed clear – instead of accepting that some gamekeepers continue to break the law (e.g. by setting illegal traps), the shooting industry would rather deflect the blame on to so-called ‘animal rights extremists’ who are accused of ‘setting up estates’.

During a cross-party RACCE committee hearing in 2013, then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said there was no evidence to support claims of widespread trap tampering/damage by ‘activists’ (see here) although it emerged that BASC was undertaking a survey to assess the extent of this alleged problem.

A couple of years later in 2015 that BASC survey revealed that trap tampering/damage did take place but according to industry evidence, it couldn’t be described as being a ‘widespread’ issue (see here).

In 2017 the SGA again complained of a so-called ‘escalation’ in trap damage and again attributed this to ‘activists’ but as we reported at the time (see here), yet again the evidence was lacking.

Let’s be clear here though. It is quite evident, just looking through social media, that some members of the public are indeed deliberately damaging traps to render them unusable, either because they have an ethical objection to the killing of native wildlife to increase gamebird stocks, or because they’ve become so frustrated with what they perceive to be a lack of enforcement action against the criminal gamekeepers, or because they believe the trap to be illegal. The legislation on trap use is complicated and many members of the public are simply unaware of what is legal and what is illegal. (For a basic introduction have a look at this from OneKind and this from Revive).

To be honest, we’d welcome some clarity on what constitutes ‘tampering’ or ‘damage’. At the moment it is not at all clear and trap tampering may not always constitute a criminal offence. For example, the SGA’s lawyer, David McKie, wrote in a 2013 edition of the SGA’s members’ rag:

As a matter of law, there is a significant difference between interference and vandalism.

Vandalism would involve the breaking of a crow cage trap by someone punching or kicking a hole in it, for example, or the deliberate smashing up of a Fenn trap. It would also include the cutting of snares.

Interference does not necessarily involve a criminal offence….That can involve the removal of traps from their set location, the release of decoy birds or the pulling of snares.

The police can probably not charge the individual with interference’.

In some cases there may be a legitimate defence to causing trap damage – e.g. if a trapped animal is seen to be injured inside a padlocked crow cage trap and needs urgent veterinary attention, but the location is remote and there’s no phone signal to call for help, it might be considered reasonable to cut the trap wire to extricate the wounded animal. Much will depend on the individual circumstances of each incident.

Another example might be the discovery of what is obviously an illegally-set trap. Is it an offence to disable it if there is absolutely no question that it’s been set unlawfully? As an example, here’s a pole trap that was photographed on an estate in the Angus Glens. It’s been an offence to set pole traps for over 100 years!

[An illegal pole trap, photograph by RSPB]

It’d be kind of ironic if a member of the public was prosecuted for disabling such a pole trap, when the person who allegedly set it (a gamekeeper was filmed by the RSPB attending the trap) had the prosecution against him dropped by the Crown Office because the video evidence was deemed inadmissible!

So, yes, regardless of the extent of trap tampering / damage, greater clarity is certainly required on what constitutes an offence. However, given how long we’ve been waiting for the Scottish Government to bring in new legislation to tackle the persistent illegal persecution of birds of prey on sporting estates, that’s happening at such a scale it’s known to be affecting entire populations of some of these species, the trap tampering offence that the SGA claims to be ‘negotiating’ should be way down the list of Government priorities.

UPDATE 12 May 2020: Parliamentary questions on proposed new offences for trap damage (here)

UPDATE 16 May 2020: Scottish Government denies ‘negotiating’ with gamekeepers on new offences for trap damage (here)

31
Mar
20

More evidence of grouse moor burning in defiance of national emergency

Which part of ‘please stop burning the grouse moors to ease pressure on the emergency services while they try and cope with a national respiratory virus pandemic’ do they not understand?

Here is further evidence that some moorland managers in Scotland are ignoring the plea for voluntary restraint that was issued six days ago by Scottish Land & Estates.

Why is this still continuing? Because presumably some people think that maximising the number of red grouse available for shooting parties in the autumn is ‘essential’ and because it is still legal to light these fires up until 15 April (and astonishingly, in some cases up to 30 April with landowner’s permission, despite the presence of breeding birds) and because a request for voluntary restraint can easily be ignored.

It could be argued, and indeed it already has been, that these are not deliberately-set fires but are the work of (a) arsonists, (b) out of control BBQs by members of the public ignoring the lockdown and enjoying March picnics in the snow, (c) anti-grouse shooting activists wanting to set up shooting estates, (d) spontaneously combusting heather during this winter heatwave, (e) spontaneously combusting imaginary wind turbines, (f) in fact anything other than the bleedin’ obvious.

This photograph was taken yesterday afternoon and shows a fire on Garrows Estate in Strathbraan, Perthshire (photo by Keith Brockie and yes, he did have a legitimate reason to be driving through this area):

This photograph was taken today. It is the same location as the fire we blogged about yesterday (here) on a grouse moor in Stirlingshire:

Here are some more fires from across Scotland, all recorded since the call for voluntary restraint was made on 25th March:

It’s interesting to note that the Scottish Gamekeepers Association hasn’t made any public statement about asking its members to stop burning. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as any surprise given this organisation’s reaction (here) to the shooting industry’s recent u-turn calling for an end to the use of toxic lead ammunition.

The SGA seems to have other things on its mind just now, moaning about what it sees as ‘unfair criticism, particularly over climate issues’ (yes, really!), and the Scottish Government’s decision to exclude some fieldsports businesses from claiming a Covid 19 support grant. This SGA video is quite something:

 

08
Jan
20

Scottish Gamekeepers Association silent as Government report confirms increase in raptor crime

Yesterday we blogged about how the Scottish Government’s latest annual wildlife crime report (2018) had shown that raptor persecution crimes have more than doubled since the previous year’s report (see here).

And despite the Government’s decision to publish this report when everyone had already packed up and gone home for Xmas, it still drew a headline in The Scotsman on Xmas Eve:

This reported increase in raptor persecution offences won’t have come as a surprise to blog readers – the relentless crime wave had already been reported by the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime report, back in August – see here.

The media coverage of the Birdcrime report was good, both in England and Scotland, and, unsurprisingly given the occupation of the majority of convicted offenders, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) was asked by the Independent to provide a quote about the crime increase. It included this little gem:

So, the SGA refused to comment on the increase in raptor crime because the RSPB’s figures were somehow ‘unofficial’ – despite the RSPB being the only organisation in the country to compile these figures and rigorously categorise them using a three-tier classification system which is scientifically legitimate and provides a clear indication of interpretation limitations.

Not that the SGA would be concerned about scientific legitimacy – remember this is the organisation that lobbied the Government about the so-called threat posed by sea eagles to babies and small toddlers. No, the SGA just didn’t want to acknowledge that raptor crime had doubled in the last year and if there was an opportunity to have an unveiled dig at the RSPB at the same time then all the better.

So here we are, several months later and the Scottish Government’s own report – the ‘official’ statistics – show that reported raptor persecution crimes did indeed more than double in a year.

And the SGA’s response to this news?

Silence.

Just what you’d expect from an organisation purported to be a fully signed up member of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime, eh?

16
Dec
19

Scottish Parliament evidence session on proposed wildlife crime penalties increase

Raptor Persecution UK was one of a number of organisations giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee last week on the proposed increase in penalties for wildlife crime.

The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham on 30th September 2019 (see here for associated docs) and will, amongst other things, increase the maximum available penalties for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife offences.

See here for an earlier blog on this subject.

The Bill is currently at Stage 1 and the ECCLR Committee has been taking evidence from a wide range of authorities and organisations. Last Tuesday saw representatives from the grouse shooting industry, conservation organisations, Police Scotland, SNH and the Crown Office sharing their opinions in an informal round-table discussion:

The transcript can be read here: ECCLR report_10Dec2019

The archived video can be watched here

We’ll come back to some of the detail of this discussion in further blogs, particularly about some of the claims made by BASC in relation to the supposed effectiveness of general licence restrictions, where the evidence simply doesn’t support some of the assertions made.

We’ll also be considering the claim from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association that “A five-year jail term will mean that more people will go to jail than has been previously the case“. Really? Why’s that, then? Are more gamekeepers at it than are currently being caught? Surely not. And how will an increased penalty mean more offenders are jailed? You’ve got to catch them first and then have sufficient evidence to get them in to court.

This Bill is very welcome as it stands, but perhaps more importantly it also has the potential to include some pretty useful amendments as it progresses through Parliament. Of particular interest to us is that increased powers for the SSPCA is back on the table. Given the complete failure of the Scottish Government’s alternative course of action (Police Special Constables in the Cairngorms National Park – a scheme that failed to report a single wildlife crime), it seems the timing is just right.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon will be giving evidence to the ECCLR Committee tomorrow and will no doubt face questions about some of the proposals already heard.

07
Dec
19

Tabloid hysteria over ‘giant psycho eagle’

We’re often asked by colleagues overseas why attitudes in the UK towards birds of prey are so ignorant and outdated.

Here’s one explanation – sensationalist nonsense being published in the media. We’ve seen this many times before, including here and here when the Scottish Gamekeepers Association were writing to the Scottish Government fearing that white-tailed eagles might eat children.

Here’s another classic example of unfounded hysteria from the last few days. This is an unsubstantiated story about an alleged eagle attack on a dog in Essex and unbelievably it made front page news! (Thanks to the blog reader who sent this photo).

At least three other tabloids also covered it:

Note the telling hallmarks of a tabloid story – the woman was pregnant, the alleged incident happened near a primary school, there was blood, the eagle was ‘giant’, it ‘almost blinded’ the dog and it was a ‘savage attack’.

The fact that there was no photographic evidence nor credible ID of the bird matters not, apparently. Some of the tabloids have illustrated the news article with a stock photo of a white-tailed eagle and others have mentioned golden eagles.

Meanwhile, the Irish Farmers Journal ran with an article recently, claiming that white-tailed eagles had been killing sheep:

In an unusual but welcome u-turn, the paper then ran with this follow-up article a couple of days ago after being contacted by Dr Allan Mee who has led the white-tailed eagle reintroduction project in Ireland since 2007. Well done, journalist Amy Forde and the editor of the Irish Farmers Journal for more measured, responsible reporting.

20
Nov
19

Satellite tagging golden eagles in Scotland: fact vs fiction

In September 2019 the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) lodged a petition at the Scottish Parliament calling for the ‘independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors’.

You can read the petition here: SGA petition PE01750 Independent monitoring raptor satellite tags

It’s the latest in a long line of efforts to undermine and discredit the use of satellite tags, simply because the unintended consequences of tagging raptors like golden eagles, hen harriers, white-tailed eagles and red kites has exposed the previously hidden extent of illegal raptor persecution on many grouse moors and has led the Scottish Government to scrutinise grouse moor management practices by commissioning a review.

[The satellite tag fitted to this golden eagle led researchers to a grouse moor in the Angus Glens where the bird was found to have been illegally poisoned. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Raptor persecution crimes attract huge media attention because it’s hard to believe that people are still poisoning golden eagles in Scotland in the 21st century. As a result of this ongoing publicity, the game-shooting industry has spent considerable time and effort trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks targeted against named individuals involved in the projects, or by blaming disappearances on imaginary windfarms, faulty sat tags fitted to turtles in India & ‘bird activists‘ trying to smear gamekeepers, or by claiming that those involved have perverted the course of justice by fabricating evidence, or by claiming that raptor satellite-tagging should be banned because it’s ‘cruel’ and the tag data serve no purpose other than to try and entrap gamekeepers. There have also been two laughable attempts to discredit the authoritative golden eagle satellite tag review (here and here), thankfully dismissed by the Scottish Government. The industry knows how incriminating these sat tag data are and so is trying to do everything in its power to corrode public and political confidence in (a) the tag data and (b) the justification for fitting sat tags to raptors, hence this latest petition from the SGA.

[Young satellite-tagged golden eagles on a nest ledge in Scotland. Photo by Dan Kitwood]

The SGA’s petition is badly written, incoherent and completely misinformed. We actually dealt with a lot of the issues it raises in previous blogs (here, here and here) but as the SGA has chosen to ignore the evidence we welcome the opportunity to present the facts to the Scottish Parliament, should they decide to examine the petition further.

The petition was heard by the Petitions Committee on 10th October and it was agreed to pass it on to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee for consideration. You can read the transcript of the Petitions Committee’s deliberations here: Petitions_committee_10_Oct_SGA_sat_tags

If the ECCLR Committee does decide to progress the petition, we look forward to providing the evidence that dismantles the SGA’s fictional claims. As a bare minimum, evidence will be provided on the following:

Golden eagles in Scotland have been satellite-tagged as part of a long-term collaborative research effort involving multiple organisations (at least seven) who share data to further conservation aims. Some of this research has already been published, some is currently under-going peer-review and some of it is on-going. We’ve blogged about this research before (see here) and we’ll be blogging further about some of the specific projects in the near future. If you want to get an insight in to the science behind the golden eagle satellite tag review, this slide show by the report’s authors is well worth a look.

The scientists have created a formal research group (Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group, GESTG) as a forum for data exchange, tagging coordination and general cooperation. The GESTG has agreed a central nexus on tag data coordination (there are now, literally, millions of tag records and it’s important they are held centrally to facilitate their use in future analyses).

Members of the GESTG have developed strong, positive relationships with many landowners who are working cooperatively on the ground to facilitate tagging efforts and protection of golden eagles.

Members of the GESTG have participated in the training of police officers across the UK to help them understand and interpret satellite tag data (e.g. this workshop organised by SNH and the National Wildlife Crime Unit was particularly beneficial to both the researchers and the police. A similar workshop was also run in England and again included input from the GESTG).

Members of the GESTG have developed an excellent relationship with the police National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) leading to the routine sharing of satellite tag data and regular detailed discussions on interpretation. This has led to a much-improved understanding for both parties and has helped build trust and confidence in what we consider to be a genuine partnership. In addition, NWCU staff have been provided with daily access to the data from several tagged golden eagles to help them learn about golden eagle ecology and behaviour, both of which are important facets of interpreting eagle tag data.

Oh, and as for those claims that satellite tag data have been withheld from the police (why would anyone want to do that?!), here’s a clear statement in response from Police Supt Nick Lyall (Head of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group):

We’re not the only ones to consider the SGA’s petition wholly inaccurate and misinformed. Last month Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland) wrote a damning blog to challenge some of the SGA’s myths (see here).

The bottom line is, contrary to the SGA’s lies, there is already plenty of cooperative partnership working between eagle satellite taggers and landowners and the police. We collaborate and share our data in order to improve conservation benefits for this iconic species across Scotland. What we don’t do is share data with those who would use the information to disturb and/or kill eagles.

We expect to be blogging further on this subject as the petition reaches the ECCLR Committee.

22
Oct
19

Is SNH about to impose a General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate?

Last week RSPB Scotland published a blog called ‘Why vicarious liability is failing to have an impact in Scotland‘.

Written by Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species & Land Management, it’s the latest in a series, following on from the excellent blog challenging the Scottish Gamekeepers’ ignorance on satellite tags, written by Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland.

Duncan’s blog is well worth a read. It questions the Crown Office’s recent decision not to prosecute anyone for alleged vicarious liability following the conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson for a series of barbaric wildlife crimes on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders.

It also considers the potential benefits of having the threat of a vicarious liability prosecution, and how this may have driven down the use of illegal poisons as a method of killing raptors, but been replaced by shooting and trapping methods which are much harder to detect.

The really interesting part of the blog, as far as we’re concerned, is the section on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire. Blog readers will recall this is where a male hen harrier was found with an almost severed leg caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to his nest earlier this summer. Despite the heroic efforts of a number of experts, he didn’t survive. The estate denied all knowledge and responsibility and nobody has been charged.

[The trapped hen harrier found on Leadhills Estate. Photo by Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Regular blog readers will know this poor hen harrier is not the only victim reported from the Leadhills Estate. The list is long and goes back more than a decade (e.g. scroll down this page). Duncan’s blog discusses some of the most recent incidents including the witnessed shooting of a hen harrier in May 2017; the witnessed shooting of a short-eared owl just a few weeks later and whose body was recovered; the discovery of a buzzard in 2018 that was found to have been shot twice; and the filmed buzzard that according to the RSPB was likely killed in a crow trap in January 2019.

Nobody has been charged for any of the above, but significantly, Duncan’s blog says this:

“We are advised that only now is an Open General Licence restriction, another sanction in the public authority wildlife crime “toolbox”, to be imposed here”.

SNH has had the power to impose General Licence restrictions since 1 January 2014. This was instigated by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to continuing difficulties of securing criminal prosecutions and was an instruction to SNH to withdraw the use of the General Licence (available for legal predator control) on land where crimes against raptors are believed to have taken place but where there is insufficient evidence to instigate criminal proceedings. The decision to withdraw the licence is based on the civil standard of proof which relates to the balance of probability as opposed to the higher standard of proof required for a criminal conviction.

This measure is not without its limitations, particularly as estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead which allows them to continue predator control activities but under slightly closer scrutiny.

SNH has only imposed four such restrictions since 2014 – a pathetically small figure when we are aware of at least a dozen other cases where a restriction should have been applied. SNH has claimed it is ‘not in the public interest‘ to explain those failures.

We’ve looked on the SNH website to see whether Leadhills Estate has been listed as having a General Licence restriction imposed (SNH does publicise the details when it imposes the restriction) but so far Leadhills Estate is not named. Potentially the estate has been notified and is currently in the period where it may challenge SNH’s decision, as per the framework for a General Licence restriction.

Watch this space.

UPDATE 26 November 2019: SNH imposes General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate (here)




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