In February this year the Scottish Government launched the latest ‘pesticide disposal scheme’ – a free service allowing those who are still in possession of certain banned poisons an opportunity to get rid of them without fear of consequence.
We had mixed feelings about this scheme (see here), not least a sense of frustration that ten years after many of these poisons were banned, the criminals still in possession would have yet another opportunity to escape justice. However, this feeling was outweighed by the importance of removing these substances so they could no longer be (illegally) held / used.
Two and a half months in to the scheme, the Scottish Government has today announced that the scheme will end on 29th May 2015 – press release here.
According to this press release, so far the scheme has received requests for 99 poisons to be collected. These are as follows:
Sodium Cyanide (44)
Aluminium Phosphide (8)
We were particularly interested in the amount of Carbofuran that had been handed in – apparently more than 80kg from just five sites.
80kg of the gamekeepers’ ‘poison of choice’! That’s an incredibly large stash. To put it in context, the largest stash found to date was 10.5kg – recovered during a raid on Skibo Estate in 2010 after the discovery of three poisoned golden eagles. The RSPB calculated that that was enough to kill every single raptor in Scotland six times over (see here). Bear in mind that Carbofuran is so highly toxic that it only takes a couple of grains to kill; imagine how much damage 80kg of the stuff could do – imagine the equivalent of 80 bags of 1kg sugar and the hundreds of thousands of granules inside each of those bags!
It’s frightening to think how much more Carbofuran has been stockpiled on estates and farms across Scotland. If 80kg has been recovered from land users who have no intention of using it, imagine how much is being kept hidden by those who have no intention of handing it in but every intention of continuing to use it.
It’ll be interesting to see just how much more is handed in before the end of the disposal scheme, and even more interesting to see what sort of sentence the next inevitable poisoning case will bring.
The release of today’s information is interesting to us for another reason, too. On 27th March, one of our blog readers submitted an FoI to the Scottish Government to ask for the following information relating to the pesticide disposal scheme:
1. The type and number of poisons handed in since the scheme began on 23 February 2015 to date.
2. The cost of the scheme to date.
3. The first three letters of postcodes from where the poisons had been collected.
Our blog reader knew that all this information was being collated by the Scottish Government and he also knew that the scheme was on-going, so he qualified his questions by adding ‘to date’ at the end.
Here’s the reply he received last week:
REQUEST UNDER THE ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION (SCOTLAND) REGULATIONS 2004 (EIRs)
Thank you for your request dated 27 March 2015 under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs).
You asked to be provided with the following information:
- The type and number of poisons handed in since the scheme began on 23 Feb 2015 to date.
- The cost of the scheme to date.
- The first three letters of postcodes from where the poisons have been collected.
As the information you have requested is ‘environmental information’ for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs), we are required to deal with your request under those Regulations. We are applying the exemption at section 39(2) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), so that we do not also have to deal with your request under FOISA.
This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption, because there is no public interest in dealing with the same request under two different regimes. This is essentially a technical point and has no material effect on the outcome of your request.
Response to your request
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance an exception under regulation 10(4)(d) (unfinished or incomplete information) of the EIRs applies to all of the information you have requested. This exemption applies because that information is still in the course of completion. We are unable to provide the information you have requested because the scheme has not been concluded. As the scheme has not yet closed the data you have requested is still being collated, some of this work is being undertaken by an external administrator. We intend to publish some details in respect of your points 1 and 3 in a press release ahead of the closure of the scheme; this is likely to be issued before the end of May 2015. When the scheme is formally closed and a final report is given to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, further information, including costs related to the scheme will be published.
This exception is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exception. We recognise that there is some public interest in release as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and this will be met by our planned publication. However, this is outweighed by the public interest in ensuring that unfinished or incomplete information which is still in being worked on is not disclosed when it might misinform the public.
That’s a fascinating response. They refused to release ‘unfinished or incomplete information’ to an individual member of the public, and yet a week later they publish, er, ‘unfinished or incomplete information’ in an official government press release!
It’s also interesting to note that Scottish Land & Estates published a news article on their website, dated 9th April 2015, stating that more than 80 calls had been taken by the scheme (see here). The question is, how did SLE get that privileged information and did they get it from the Scottish Government?
One rule for one and one rule for another? Surely not.