Posts Tagged ‘short-eared owl

06
Jan
22

Leadhills Estate wants to keep details of its General Licence restriction appeal a secret

As many blog readers will know, the notorious Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s, is currently serving two General Licence restrictions imposed by NatureScot after ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime was provided to the statutory regulator by Police Scotland (see here and here).

For new blog readers, a General Licence restriction is a light-touch sanction for estates in Scotland where there is sufficient evidence of wildlife crime taking place but insufficient evidence to prosecute a specific individual. It’s not really a sanction at all though, because an estate can simply apply to NatureScot for ‘individual’ licences instead of a General Licence which allows them to continue the activities they were supposedly restricted from doing, just with a tiny bit of scrutiny attached (e.g. 1,000 birds were legally killed on a shooting estate despite being under a General Licence restriction, see here).

Nevertheless, a General Licence restriction is useful for campaigners for highlighting to the law makers that wildlife crime persists and further regulation/enforcement is therefore required.

So, back to Leadhills Estate. The reason why this grouse moor estate is currently serving an unprecedented double General Licence restriction is because of police reports relating to the illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate in the last few years (see here), the discovery of banned poisons on the estate in May 2019 (see here), 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 in July 2020 (see here) and the discovery of yet another batch of banned poisons, also in July 2020 (here). A satellite-tagged hen harrier (Silver) also vanished in suspicious circumstances on the estate in May 2020 (here), and although NatureScot don’t consider missing satellite-tagged raptors as sufficient evidence for a General Licence restriction, the disappearance can be used as supportive evidence if further alleged offences are also being considered.

Incredibly, Leadhills Estate with its double General Licence restriction is STILL a member of the lobby group Scottish Land & Estates, which claims to have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution. Hmm.

[Grouse moor on the Leadhills Estate. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

As you may recall, Leadhills Estate’s second General Licence restriction was announced by NatureScot in late September 2021 (here) and the estate was reported to be considering an appeal (here).

Having seen the estate’s previous (failed) appeal against its first General Licence restriction in 2019 (here), I was keen to see the arguments it would make for an appeal against a second restriction.

On 30th September 2021 I submitted an FoI to NatureScot to request copies of Leadhills Estate’s appeal.

On 3 November 2021 NatureScot responded as follows:

We have withheld a letter from an agent acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, pending an appeal against NatureScot’s decision to restrict General Licence. This information is of a sensitive nature and disclosure into the public domain could prejudice the applicant’s right to a fair hearing’.

I didn’t see how public disclosure could possibly prejudice a hearing given that it’s all done in-house at NatureScot but fine, I could wait.

In December 2021 it was announced that Leadhills Estate had lost its appeal against the second General Licence restriction (here) so I wrote back to NatureScot on 3rd December as follows:

You told me in the letter dated 3 November 2021 that you were withholding a letter from an agent who was acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, and the reason you gave for withholding it was that releasing it may prejudice the applicant’s right to a fair appeal. As the appeal process has now concluded and therefore the applicant’s right to a fair hearing cannot be affected, please can you send me the agent’s letter that was previously withheld‘.

Yesterday (5th January 2022) NatureScot responded to my latest FoI request, as follows:

We have completed our information searches, and we have identified eight documents comprising 126 pages relevant to your request. We shared a redacted version of these documents with the solicitors acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, who have provided additional legal arguments as to why certain information should be withheld. We will need additional time to assess these arguments and, potentially, take further legal advice.

Regulation 7 of the EIRs allows public authorities to extend the time for compliance with requests for up to an additional 20 working days. This means we must respond to your information request by 3 February 2022 at the latest‘.

That’s interesting. Why might Leadhills Estate not want the details of its appeal to be made public? And what legal arguments might it use to block the transparency of the decision-making process of a statutory agency?

I guess we’ll find out on 3rd February.

15
Dec
21

Leadhills Estate loses appeal over extension to General Licence restriction

Regular blog readers will be well aware that the notorious Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s, is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction based on what NatureScot described as ‘clear evidence’ of raptor persecution offences, including 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 (see here) and the discovery of banned poisons on the estate in May 2019 (see here).

That original General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate by NatureScot in November 2019 and is valid until November 2022.

A General Licence restriction can be imposed by NatureScot when there is sufficient evidence of wildlife crime on an estate but insufficient evidence for the police to charge a named individual. Leadhills Estate has denied all knowledge of any wildlife crime on its land.

[Chris Packham holds a dead hen harrier. This bird was caught by the leg in an illegally-set trap on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor in May 2019. The trap had been set next to the harrier’s nest and was hidden by moss. The harrier’s leg was almost severed. Unfortunately, extensive surgery could not save this bird. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Since that original General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in November 2019, further alleged offences have been reported 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 in July 2020 (see here) and the discovery of yet another batch of banned poisons, also in July 2020 (here). A satellite-tagged hen harrier (Silver) also vanished in suspicious circumstances on the estate in May 2020 (here), and although NatureScot don’t consider missing satellite-tagged raptors as sufficient evidence for a General Licence restriction, the disappearance can be used as supportive evidence if further alleged offences are also being considered.

In light of these latest allegations, in late September 2021 NatureScot announced that a further three-year General Licence restriction (an extension to the first one) was being imposed on Leadhills Estate (here), although it turned out that it wasn’t a three-year extension, as NatureScot had claimed, but was rather an eight-month extension because this latest restriction was running concurrently with the first restriction (see here).

In early October 2021 Leadhills Estate was reported to be considering appealing against the extended restriction (here) and shortly afterwards NatureScot removed the official notification of the extension from its website, a sure sign that an appeal was underway.

Roll on two months and the official notification has been re-posted on NatureScot’s website (here), which I take to mean that Leadhills Estate has lost its appeal and the General Licence restriction has been re-instated until it expires on 8th July 2023. This means that the estate cannot undertake certain activities (e.g. the operation of crow cage traps to kill hundreds of corvids) unless estate gamekeepers apply to NatureScot for an individual licence and NatureScot approves the application(s).

I’ll be monitoring this and will be keen to see whether individual licences are granted to gamekeepers on an estate that has had, in effect, a double General Licence restriction imposed after evidence of multiple wildlife crimes has been provided to NatureScot by Police Scotland.

Earlier this autumn I submitted an FoI to NatureScot to find out on what basis Leadhills Estate was appealing the General Licence restriction. The last time the estate appealed (against the original General Licence restriction), the grounds for appeal were laughable (see here) and were not accepted by NatureScot.

This time, NatureScot refused to release the details of the estate’s appeal because at the time the appeal was considered to be ‘live’ and it was thought that publication might affect the estate’s right to a fair hearing. I don’t know how it would have affected the estate’s appeal, given the appeal is heard in-house at NatureScot and cannot be influenced by outside commentary, but that was NatureScot’s decision.

That’s fine. Now the appeal has been dismissed and the restriction is in place, I have submitted another FoI to NatureScot and I expect the estate’s grounds for appeal to be released in to the public domain.

A response is due from NatureScot by the end of this month. I’ll keep you posted.

23
Oct
21

Game-shooting industry silent about short-eared owl found shot on North Pennines grouse moor

Earlier this week I blogged about the discovery of a short-eared owl that had been found shot on a grouse moor on the Wemmergill Estate in the North Pennines AONB (see here).

This is the same estate where two short-eared owls were found shot and stuffed into a hole in 2015 (here) and where a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Marc had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2018 (here).

[Short-eared owl. Photographer unknown]

Those of us interested in stamping out illegal raptor persecution have made sure that Durham Constabulary’s appeal for information about this latest victim has been distributed far and wide (e.g. see blog here by Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB partnership, and blog here by the Northern England Raptor Forum).

Unfortunately, the leading game-shooting organisations, some of whose members have been and/or are currently under investigation for various raptor persecution crimes, have once again failed to publicise or condemn this crime. I’ve just looked at the websites of the National Gamekeepers Organisation, BASC, Countryside Alliance and the Moorland Association and not one of them has published the police appeal or issued their own appeal.

It’s worth remembering that these organisations also serve on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), along with Government officials, police and NGOs. One of the roles of the RPPDG is apparently to raise awareness of ongoing raptor persecution crimes.

I’m not sure how staying silent meets this objective.

On the subject of the RPPDG, I’ve written to the Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and asked whether the Countryside Alliance representative, former Police Inspector Phil Davies, will be removed from the RPPDG following his participation in a webinar where criminal information was disseminated about persecuting wildlife and avoiding prosecution (see here). I await a response with interest.

UPDATE 25th October 2021: Police boot off Countryside Alliance rep from all wildlife crime priority delivery groups after hunting webinar trial (here)

20
Oct
21

Short-eared owl confirmed shot in Teesdale grouse moor area where two short-eared owls previously found shot

Article published in the Northern Echo yesterday:

Short-eared owl shot and killed in Teesdale

POLICE are appealing for information after a short-eared owl was shot down in Teesdale earlier this year.

A post-mortem on the bird has confirmed the likely cause of its death was being shot with a shot gun.

The owl was found by the side of the road in May.

[Short-eared owl. Photographer unknown]

PC Lorraine Nelson said: “Persecuting birds of prey is never acceptable and we will always do everything we can to work with partners to act on information received about alleged criminal activity.

We would encourage anyone with information on this incident to get in touch.”

Jack Ashton-Booth, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “Short-eared owls are declining nationally as a species.

Yet they are still widely targeted in our UK uplands: this is the third shot short-eared owl we are aware of in this area in the last six years.

In 2015 two dead short-eared owls, both of which had been shot, were found in a hole on moorland just over 1km away.

Each of those birds could have gone on to have three, four or five chicks, had they been allowed to live.

When I think of the scale of even just one area of moorland, and its array of nooks and crannies… how many more of these stunning birds could have been shot and concealed down holes or buried under peat?

It’s impossible to know.

This illegal killing must stop.

I urge any of you who may have information regarding individuals targeting these birds to come forward and call them out.”

If you have any information, call 101 and ask to speak to PC Nelson.

Alternatively, call the RSPB confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

This short-eared owl was found shot in May close to the Selset Reservoir in Teesdale, which is an area dominated by land managed for driven grouse shooting, as you can see from this Google map showing the tell-tale rectangular strips of burned heather:

According to RSPB Investigations Officer Jack Ashton-Booth, the latest victim was discovered just over 1km from where two short-eared owls had been found shot and buried in potholes on the Wemmergill Estate in 2015 (see here). Nobody was prosecuted for those two offences, just as nobody will be prosecuted for this latest wildlife crime.

Wemmergill Estate is also the last known location of satellite-tagged hen harrier Marc, who vanished in suspicious circumstances on this grouse moor in 2018 (see here).

The article published yesterday in the Northern Echo was presumably based on information from Durham Constabulary, and claims that the police are appealing for information. I can’t find anything about the crime, investigation or subsequent appeal on the Durham Constabulary website or the police’s Facebook page. If it is there, it’s well hidden.

And once again, it has taken five months for this ‘appeal’ to emerge. I suppose that’s an improvement on the seven months it took Durham Constabulary to appeal for information after the discovery of the two shot owls found in 2015.

Yesterday’s article in the Northern Echo states that:

A post-mortem on the bird has confirmed the likely cause of its death was being shot with a shot gun‘.

My understanding is that the post-mortem report confirmed the owl had been shot and that was the cause of its death shortly afterwards.

There may be more news to come about this latest crime. I will update the blog if/when I receive further information.

UPDATE 18.00hrs:

The RSPB investigations team has confirmed on Twitter that this latest shot short-eared owl was found dead on a grouse moor (estate unnamed but believed to be the same estate (Wemmergill) where two short-eared owls were found shot and shoved down a pothole in 2015.

Also, Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership has written a blog on the AONB website to draw attention to this latest crime (see here). Well done, Chris.

30
Sep
21

Extension of General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate confirmed as pitiful 8 months

Yesterday I blogged (here) about the extended General Licence restriction that has been imposed on Leadhills Estate after further evidence of wildlife crime had come to light since an original three-year restriction was imposed (to run 26 Nov 2019 – 26 Nov 2022).

[The grouse moors of Leadhills Estate. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

However, there was some confusion from the licencing agency, NatureScot, as to just how long this extension was applicable.

Robbie Kernahan, NatureScot’s s Director of Sustainable Growth was quoted in a NatureScot announcement saying ‘…there is enough evidence to suspend the general licences on this property for a further three years‘, which should have taken the restriction to November 2025 but when I looked at the actual detail of the extension on another part of the NatureScot website, the expiry date of the extension was given as 8th July 2023.

I contacted NatureScot’s licensing team this morning and asked them to clarify the apparent discrepancy. I am grateful to Licensing Manager Liz McLachlan for a prompt and clear explanation, as follows:

We have amended the statement on our web-pages as we accept there was some ambiguity in the original wording which you have picked up on. To clarify, the 3 year extension to the restriction is from the date of the most recent (additional) offence, as recorded by Police Scotland, which takes the restriction to July 2023.

For completeness the restriction is from 8 July 2020 to 8 July 2023‘.

I have looked at the amended statement from Robbie Kernahan which now reads:

In this case we have concluded that there is enough evidence to suspend the general licences on this property until 2023‘.

So effectively, this ‘three year extension’ isn’t actually a three-year extension at all. Technically it might be, but in effect it’s actually only an eight month extension because the estate is already serving the original General Licence restriction up until 26 November 2022, so imposing another restriction for the period 8 July 2020 to 26 November 2022, on top of the one already being served, is utterly pointless.

The 8-month extension from 27 November 2022 to 8 July 2023 is the only part of this ‘extended’ restriction that will have any real effect.

And apparently the estate has already served 14 months of the extension, given that it began in July 2020! Why has it taken 14 months for NatureScot to publicise this extended restriction? When was the estate notified of this further restriction? And has it made any difference whatsoever to the estate’s activities, given that the original restriction was already underway (since November 2019)?

And if this extension was in place since July 2020, then why the hell did NatureScot give Leadhills Estate special privileges last year when it granted an out-of-season muirburn licence in September 2020??

What sort of idiotic ‘sanction’ is this? An eight month General Licence restriction for the shooting of a short-eared owl, which is the alleged offence that this extension is based upon. Well that’s really going to put the fear of God up other would-be raptor killers, isn’t it?

It’s a pitiful response.

I don’t know if it’s a result of legal limitations (e.g. can this legal sanction be lawfully applied several years after the original offence?) or if it’s a result of professional incompetence by NatureScot.

I have submitted an FoI to NatureScot to ask for details of the decision-making process in this case and will blog when I receive a response.

[Short-eared owl by Amy Lewis]

29
Sep
21

Leadhills Estate – General Licence restriction extended after police report more evidence of wildlife crime

Regular blog readers will be well aware that the notorious Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s, is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction based on ‘clear evidence’ of raptor persecution offences, including 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 (see here) and the discovery of banned poisons on the estate in May 2019 (see here).

That original General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate by NatureScot in November 2019 and is valid until November 2022.

[Chris Packham holds a dead hen harrier. This bird was caught by the leg in an illegally-set trap on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor in May 2019. The trap had been set next to the harrier’s nest and was hidden by moss. The harrier’s leg was almost severed. Unfortunately, extensive surgery could not save this bird. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

However, since that original restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in November 2019, further alleged offences have been reported 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 in July 2020 (see here) and the discovery of yet another batch of banned poisons, also in July 2020 (here). A satellite-tagged hen harrier (Silver) also vanished in suspicious circumstances on the estate in May 2020 (here), and although NatureScot don’t count missing satellite-tagged raptors as sufficient evidence for a General Licence restriction, the disappearance can be used as supportive evidence if further alleged offences are also being considered.

It’s been over a year since those further alleged offences were reported and we’ve all been waiting to see whether NatureScot would impose a further General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. Instead, the licensing team appears to have been focusing on helping out the estate by issuing it with an out-of-season muirburn licence last year (see here) and considering another application from the estate this year (see here). It really beggars belief.

Anyway, NatureScot has finally got its act together and has indeed imposed a further General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. Here is the statement on the NatureScot website:

29 September 2021

NatureScot has extended the restriction of the use of general licences on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire until 2023. The decision was made on the basis of additional evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, including controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

A restriction of the use of general licences was implemented on Leadhills estate in November 2019, in response to police evidence of crimes against wild birds occurring on the land. This decision extends the period of the existing restriction.

Robbie Kernahan, NatureScot’s s Director of Sustainable Growth, said: “It is hugely disappointing to have to be considering further issues of wildlife crime against wild birds and we are committed to using the tools we have available to us in tackling this. In this case we have concluded that there is enough evidence to suspend the general licences on this property for a further three years. They may still apply for individual licences, but -if granted – these will be closely monitored.

We work closely with Police Scotland and will continue to consider information they provide us on cases which may warrant restriction of general licences. The detection of wildlife crime can be difficult but new and emerging technologies along with a commitment from a range of partners to take a collective approach to these issues will help us stop this from occurring in the future.”

ENDS

NatureScot’s Robbie Kernahan is quoted here as saying the General Licence restriction will apply “for a further three years“, which should take the restriction up to November 2025.

However, when you look at the actual restriction notice on NatureScot’s website, it says the restriction will extend to July 2023.

Eh? That’s not a three-year extension. That’s only an eight-month extension. I sincerely hope this is just a typo and the date should read November 2025.

It’s good to see NatureScot finally get on with this but I have to say that given there’s a need for an extension of the original General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, due to further evidence from Police Scotland about ongoing alleged wildlife crime there, doesn’t that demonstrate just how ineffective the General Licence restriction is as a tool for tackling wildlife crime??

I’ve written many times about the futility of this scheme, and have even presented evidence about it to a Parliamentary committee, not least because even when a General Licence restriction has been imposed, estate employees can simply apply to NatureScot for an individual licence to continue doing exactly what they were doing under the (now restricted) General Licence (e.g. see here)!

And although former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, who was responsible for first introducing General Licence restrictions in 2014, considered that it would work as a ‘reputational driver’ (here), I’ve previously shown with several examples how this is simply not the case (e.g. see here) and that a General Licence restriction remains an ineffective sanction.

Nevertheless, it’s all we’ve got available at the moment and on that basis I would like to see NatureScot now get on with making decisions about restrictions on a number of other estates, such as Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park where a poisoned golden eagle was found dead next to a poisoned bait earlier this year (here).

And Invercauld isn’t the only estate that should be sanctioned, is it, NatureScot?

UPDATE 30th September 2021: Extension of General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate confirmed as pitiful 8 months (here).

UPDATE 6th October 2021: Leadhills Estate’s reaction to extended General Licence restriction (here).

18
Feb
21

Police confirm banned poison Carbofuran found on Leadhills Estate, again

Police Scotland have confirmed the discovery of the banned poison Carbofuran on Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s.

The highly dangerous poison, which even in tiny amounts can kill humans and animals, was discovered in July 2020. Police Scotland have told the Daily Record:

We are aware of this incident and did investigate.

Forensics identified the substance as carbofuran, an illegal pesticide the use of which has been banned since 1991.

It is extremely concerning that this substance was found in a location which is accessible to the public. Anyone with further information about this incident should contact Police Scotland on 101.”

According to the Daily Record, ‘further enquiries were stopped after officers found no evidence to link the poison to any person or persons’.

There isn’t any explanation provided for why the public weren’t alerted to this discovery sooner.

As regular blog readers will know, Leadhills Estate is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction, imposed in November 2019 following ‘clear evidence from Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on this estate’ (see herehere, and here). We know via FoI that one of the contributing factors to the decision to pull the GL was the discovery of the banned pesticide Carbosulfan in May 2019 (see here).

[Chris Packham holds a dead hen harrier whose leg was caught in an illegally-set trap on Leadhills Estate in May 2019. 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 now the discovery of another batch of banned poison.

According to NatureScot’s Framework for GL Restrictions, ‘Individual restrictions will apply for a period of 3 years, but may be extended if evidence of further offences is obtained during this period’.

Let’s see whether NatureScot sees fit to extend the General Licence restriction at 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.

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

 




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