Posts Tagged ‘trap

09
Jan
20

Decision due on General Licence restriction for Leadhills Estate

On 26 November 2019 Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire, after receiving what it described as “clear evidence” of wildlife crimes from Police Scotland (see herehere and here).

Those alleged offences included the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was given the power to impose a General Licence restriction on estates or individuals in Scotland). SNH also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests had also been disturbed’, although no further detail was provided. The estate has consistently denied responsibility and implied it was the work of ‘bird of prey activists‘.

[This adult male hen harrier was found with his leg clamped in an illegally-set spring trap next to a nest on Leadhills Estate in May 2019. His leg was almost severed and despite the valiant efforts of a world-class wildlife vet, he had to be euthanised]

The General Licence restriction was supposed to be in place for three years but it lasted only 14 days. On 10th December 2019 SNH lifted the restriction because Leadhills Estate had chosen to appeal the decision to restrict.

According to SNH policy, an appeal has the immediate effect of suspending the General Licence restriction from the date SNH receives the appeal letter. SNH then has to consider the appeal and must notify the estate of the appeal outcome in writing, setting out the reasons behind the decision. SNH policy guidelines state it will seek do this within four weeks of receiving the appeal letter.

Those four weeks are now up (Tues 7th Jan was the four week marker) although there was the Xmas break to consider so perhaps it’ll take a bit longer. Although to be frank it shouldn’t take any time at all to reach a decision. SNH has already been through an appeals procedure with the estate – as per SNH policy – when SNH first notified Leadhills that a General Licence restriction was being considered. Leadhills Estate then had an opportunity to state its case and explain why a restriction shouldn’t be made. In this case, SNH chose to crack on and imposed the restriction based on the ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime provided to SNH by Police Scotland. Why there now has to be a second appeal process is anyone’s guess.

Maybe it’ll catch on. Maybe suspects at a police station, having had an opportunity to defend themselves before a charge is laid, will then be given a further 14 days after the charge has been laid to appeal the charging decision all over again and by doing so can have the original charge lifted for at least four weeks while the police/CPS consider the second appeal. It’s genius.

It’s quite likely that a lot of people will be paying close attention to SNH’s decision on whether or not to reinstate the General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate, not least grouse moor owners’ lobby group Scottish Land and Estates (SLE). Leadhills Estate is a member of SLE and Lord Hopetoun of Leadhills Estate is Chair of SLE’s Moorland Group. So far, SLE has not commented publicly on this fascinating relationship.

31
Dec
19

Top ten most read RPUK blogs in 2019

Thanks for all your continued interest and support in 2019….it’s been another very busy year.

Here are the top ten most read RPUK blogs over the last 12 months:

  1. Young golden eagle flying around Cairngorms National Park with an illegal trap clamped to its leg (here)
  2. Two more golden eagles go ‘missing’, on the same morning, on the same Scottish grouse moor (here)
  3. Chris Packham targeted (here)
  4. Hen harrier suffers savage brutality of an illegally-set trap on a Scottish grouse moor (here)
  5. Convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson and his litany of wildlife crimes (here)
  6. More detail emerges about SSPCA/Police Scotland raid at Millden Estate (here)
  7. Disgusting display of savagery on Yorkshire grouse moor (here)
  8. Monumentally inadequate sentence for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson (here)
  9. Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England suggests persecution not an issue (here)
  10. At least 72% satellite tagged hen harriers presumed illegally killed on grouse moors (here)

The blog will reach its ten year milestone in March 2020.

Happy New Year!

19
Dec
19

Werritty Review: response from RSPB Scotland

Press release from RSPB Scotland (19 December 2019) in response to today’s publication of the Werritty Review on grouse moor management in Scotland.

Independent grouse moor review does not go far or fast enough to tackle raptor crimes

We support the recommendations relating to regulation of muirburn and better safeguards for mountain hare populations, however regret that panel behind the report has not been bold enough to recommend the immediate licensing of driven grouse moors.

Previously Scottish Government Ministers have publicly stated that driven grouse moor owners are ‘in the last chance saloon’, and we now expect these commitments to be honoured.

Given the overwhelming evidence of serious organised crimes perpetrated against our birds of prey, as well as the harm caused to upland habitats and species by grouse moor management practices, we will be asking the Cabinet Secretary to consider the ‘wider societal views’ mentioned by Professor Werritty and make the necessary ‘step change’ to grouse moor licensing, conditional on legal and sustainable practices, and to ensure that this is done as soon as possible. A licensing framework would in our view set a new direction for the legal and sustainable management for large areas of our upland landscapes, as well as providing a meaningful deterrent to wildlife crime.

[Photo: satellite-tagged hen harrier Rannoch was found on a Perthshire grouse moor earlier this year – her leg had been caught in an illegally-set spring trap so she’ll have suffered an horrendous death. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, said: “We commend Professor Werritty and his panel for pulling together such a significant volume of scientific evidence and stakeholder testimony which we will consider in detail. However, we are concerned that more urgency is now needed to address the criminality and poor land management practices on Scottish grouse moors that have been highlighted for decades.

It is very important to remember that the background to this review was the overwhelming evidence base of the link between serious organised wildlife crime and grouse moor management; the ever-intensifying management of this land to produce excessive grouse bags leading to the killing of protected wildlife; as well as public concerns about huge culls of mountain hares; and burning of heather on deep peatland soils. Addressing these issues is now even more essential to combat both the climate emergency and nature crisis, which were confirmed as priorities by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier this year.

Duncan added: “The illegal killing of Scotland’s birds of prey simply has to stop. Those perpetrating these criminal acts have shown no willingness over decades to change their criminal behaviours. Letting this issue languish for another half decade will not help, and we fully expect more prevarication. Even whilst this review has been underway serious and well-publicised wildlife crimes have continued unabated, and delay fails to acknowledge the most urgent circumstances which led to its commission. The Scottish public have had enough. It is now vital that the next steps by Scottish Government are sufficient to bring closure to these appalling incidents, which blight Scotland’s international reputation.”

ENDS

Notes:

  1. It is now 20 years since Scotland’s first First Minister, Donald Dewar, described raptor persecution as a “national disgrace”. Subsequently successive Environment Ministers have promised to take firm action if illegal behaviours on grouse moors are not stopped.
  2. The formation of the Werritty Grouse Moor Review Group was announced by the Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, in May 2017, following the publication of a Government-commissioned report examining the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles. This report showed that of 131 birds tracked between 2004-16, 41 disappeared in ‘suspicious circumstances’, primarily on land managed as driven grouse moors. This was the latest in a succession of scientific reports that have conclusively demonstrated the harm that grouse moor management is causing to various bird of prey species and to mountain hare populations. Scientific reports have also confirmed the damage caused by muirburn (burning of heather on open moor) to Scotland’s peat soils – which act as vital carbon stores and are critical to combating climate change.
  3. RSPB Scotland has made the case to the Review Group that grouse moors should be licensed with the sanction to remove licences to operate where raptor and other wildlife crime is occurring to the satisfaction of the public authorities. This action would act as a genuine deterrent to wildlife crime.
  4. RSPB Scotland has also called for the cessation of large-scale mountain hare culls and muirburn on peatland soils. RSPB Scotland believes that licensing of grouse moors should also put in place a framework involving all stakeholders to protect these important public interests in the way our upland landscapes are managed in the future.
12
Dec
19

SNH reinstates General Licence use on Leadhills Estate during appeal process

In late November 2019 Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire, after receiving what it described as “clear evidence” of wildlife crimes from Police Scotland (see here, here and here).

Those alleged offences included the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was given the power to impose a General Licence restriction on estates or individuals in Scotland). SNH has also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests have also been disturbed’, although there is no further detail on this. The estate has consistently denied responsibility.

[The body of a shot short-eared owl that was found shoved under some heather on Leadhills Estate in May 2017. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate on 26 November 2019.

It lasted for just 14 days.

On 10 December 2019, a notice appeared on SNH’s website announcing that the restriction had been lifted due to an on-going appeal:

This means that Leadhills Estate can, until further notice, go back to using General Licences 1, 2 & 3 to lawfully kill hundreds if not thousands of certain bird species (e.g. crows) on the estate without having to report its activities to anybody.

Leadhills Estate is perfectly entitled to appeal SNH’s decision to impose the General Licence restriction. SNH has a clearly-explained policy on its appeals procedure, which states an appeal must be made within 14 days of SNH’s decision to impose the restriction and that appeal must be in writing. From the information available in the public domain it looks like Leadhills Estate has met this deadline.

An appeal has the immediate effect of suspending the General Licence restriction from the date SNH receives the appeal letter. SNH now has to consider the appeal and must notify the estate of the appeal outcome in writing, setting out the reasons behind the decision. SNH says it will seek do this within four weeks of receiving the appeal letter.

We’ll be monitoring this case very carefully.

There’s quite a lot of deja vu going on here. You might remember that Raeshaw Estate (Scottish Borders) was one of the first to be slapped with a General Licence restriction back in November 2015 (see here). That restriction only lasted for six days before the estate appealed (see here). The appeal failed and two and half months later the General Licence restriction was re-imposed on the estate (see here).

However, a couple of months later the General Licence restriction was suspended again when Raeshaw Estate took SNH to judicial review (see here). Raeshaw lost the judicial review when the court decided SNH had acted fairly so the General Licence restriction was re-instated on the estate, again, approximately one year later (see here). Interestingly, SNH did not backdate the restriction order so effectively Raeshaw Estate didn’t serve a full three-year restriction at all, thanks to all the legal disruption.

During this time Raeshaw employees also applied for individual licences to permit the continued killing of birds on the estate (e.g. 1,000 birds reported killed under one of these licences, see here), but then even the individual licence was revoked after SNH found ‘multiple instances of breaches of conditions of an individual licence that had been granted to cover essential management activities‘ (see here). SNH also said ‘These breaches may also constitute offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, so SNH has reported the details to Police Scotland‘. We’re not aware of any pending prosecution in relation to these alleged offences. And SNH chose not to extend the General Licence restriction further, in light of these breaches, even though it had the powers to do so (see here).

The link between Raeshaw Estate and Leadhills Estate, apart from them both being grouse shooting estates and the subject of a General Licence restriction for ‘clear evidence of wildlife crime’? Leading sporting agent and grouse moor ‘guru’ Mark Osborne, whose company J M Osborne & Co is believed to be involved at both estates (involved as in ‘present’, not involved as in ‘guilty of wildlife crime’ – SNH has made clear that a General Licence restriction does not infer responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals).

Also of interest, to us at least, is the ownership of Leadhills Estate, which has belonged to the same family (the Hopetouns) for more than 300 years, according to the estate’s website:

It’s also of great interest that not only is Leadhills Estate a member of Scottish Land & Estates (who, incidentally, have said absolutely nothing about this General Licence restriction so far), but that Lord Hopetoun is chair of Scottish Land & Estate’s Scottish Moorland Group:

If Leadhills Estate’s appeal fails and SNH re-instates the General Licence restriction, we’ll be expecting a full response from both Scottish Land & Estates and the Scottish Moorland Group.

UPDATE 9 January 2020: Decision due on General Licence restriction for Leadhills Estate (here)

07
Dec
19

Special Constables pilot scheme in Cairngorms National Park a waste of time & money

Two and a half years ago, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a pilot scheme whereby Police Special Constables would be deployed in the Cairngorms National Park to tackle wildlife crime.

This initiative was one of a number of measures announced in May 2017 in response to the findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review which showed clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution, particularly on some driven grouse moors in and around the Cairngorms National Park (CNP).

This RPUK map shows the last known location of satellite-tagged golden eagles that were either found illegally killed or had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in and around the CNP (data from the golden eagle satellite tag review):

Golden eagles are not the only victims of wildlife crime in and around the CNP. This RPUK map below, based mostly on RSPB data, shows raptor persecution incidents between 2005-2016. Only one of these (just outside the CNP boundary on Kildrummy Estate) has resulted in a successful prosecution. With such clear evidence of wildlife crime it’s easy to see why the CNP was chosen as the first location for this pilot scheme.

This pilot scheme was the Government’s alternative to extending the powers of the SSPCA to allow it to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crime (including raptor persecution) – a decision made after six years of Governmental deliberation under five different Environment Ministers.

It also emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it has now reneged (see here).

The idea was that the police special constable scheme could be rolled out across Scotland “if judged to be successful” in the CNP, but we weren’t told the criteria that would be used to judge this ‘success’.

The scheme was formally launched in March 2018 (see here) and nothing more was heard of it.

Just over a year later in April 2019 we asked the Cairngorms National Park Authority the following questions about the scheme:

Here’s the response:

So basically after a year of operation, one of the main project partners couldn’t tell us anything about the scheme.

Fast forward six months to November 2019 and Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell thought it was time more questions were asked. Here are his two Parliamentary questions and Roseanna Cunningham’s answers:

S5W-26349 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government how much funding (a) it and (b) the Cairngorms National Park Authority allocated each year to the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

Roseanna Cunningham: The Scottish Government agreed to contribute £18,000 and the Cairngorms National Park Authority agreed to provide £10,000 for the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

S5W-26346 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government what the outcome was of the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project; how many constables participated each month in this, and how many suspected crimes they reported, also broken down by how many led to subsequent (a) arrests, (b) charges, (c) prosecutions and (d) convictions.

Roseanna Cunningham: a)The Scottish Government is currently undertaking an evaluation of the Special Constable Pilot Project in conjunction with Police Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. We will announce a decision on the future direction of the project in due course.

b) There were five special constables in the project, employed on a part-time basis.

c) and d) From the information gathered in the review conducted by Police Scotland, there were no recorded crimes reported by the Special Constables during their patrols in the 12 month trial period. However, Special Constables were involved in meeting stakeholders and partners operating within the Cairngorms National Park to build relationships and understand the needs and demands of National Park users which will aid future intelligence gathering.

Gosh, it’s easy to see why the Scottish Government’s evaluation of the pilot scheme is taking so long, what with having to count ZERO reported wildlife crimes.

Meanwhile satellite tagged raptors continue to disappear in suspicious circumstances in the Cairngorms National Park (white-tailed eagle here; hen harrier here; hen harrier here and hen harrier here); birds are still being illegally poisoned in the Cairngorms National Park (here) and birds of prey are still being caught by illegally-set traps in the Cairngorms National Park (golden eagle here).

But it’s ok, nothing to worry about because £28K has just been spent on ‘building relationships and understanding the needs and demands of National Park users’.

FFS.

02
Dec
19

SNH explains decision to impose General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate

Further to last week’s news that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has finally imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire (see here and here), there is now an explanation, of sorts, from SNH on the decision to issue the restriction notice.

It wasn’t just one alleged incident of illegal raptor persecution that triggered this sanction, but a series of them.

Well done to journalist Charlie Parker at The Times (Scotland) for getting the information.

According to Charlie’s article, SNH’s decision was based on “clear evidence” of the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was given the power to impose a General Licence restriction on estates or individuals in Scotland). SNH has also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests have also been disturbed’, although there is no further detail on this.

An unnamed SNH spokesperson is quoted in the article as follows:

The police have investigated each of these cases and while it is very clear that offences have been committed, as is often the case with these types of crime it hasn’t been possible to gather the evidence to identify the person responsible.

There is also similar historic evidence of incidents on this property pre-dating the incidents, although SNH’s decision is based on incidents which occurred since January 1, 2014“.

Most of the incidents listed by SNH have been well publicised –

However, the alleged incident relating to a third hen harrier is less clear. SNH may be referring to the discovery in 2015 of a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Annie who had been shot, although her corpse was found on a neighbouring estate, not on Leadhills Estate. Or, perhaps there is another alleged incident relating to the shooting or trapping of a hen harrier on Leadhills Estate that has yet to be publicised? Time will tell.

There are two more quotes in The Times article that are worth a mention. First, one from Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland) who said Leadhills Estate had a “long and appalling history” of confirmed raptor persecution incidents and,

While this sanction is positive news, it is becoming increasingly clear that the threat of such a penalty is no deterrent to those whose sole motivation is the maximising of grouse numbers. Until sporting estates face the potential removal of the right to shoot, we do not believe there is a sufficient deterrent to those who continue to slaughter our birds of prey.

Meanwhile, an unnamed spokesperson for Leadhills Estate is quoted as follows:

The decision to restrict the general licence does make clear it is not inferring any criminal activity on the part of the estate. The estate condemns all forms of wildlife crime and all employees and agents of the estate are in no doubt as to their responsibilities“.

It’s our understanding that the General Licence restriction ‘does not infer any responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals‘ This is the exact wording from SNH’s restriction notice (see here). This statement is not the same as the one being claimed by Leadhills Estate, which argues that the restriction ‘is not inferring any criminal activity on the part of the estate’.

This sounds like real twilight zone material. SNH is holding the estate to account by imposing a sanction for alleged wildlife crimes because there is insufficient evidence to attribute the activity to an individual estate employee and the estate is saying that SNH’s decision to impose the sanction doesn’t infer any responsibility on the estate. Er….

All clear?

More to come on the Leadhills Estate case soon…

 

29
Nov
19

General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate: welcome to the Twilight Zone

Earlier this week it was announced that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) had finally imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire ‘on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds’ (see here).

Before we proceed any further you should be aware that you are now entering the twilight zone, suspended somewhere between reality and fantasy.

[Leadhills Estate, photo by Ruth Tingay]

We’re in that bonkers scenario where despite Police Scotland providing “clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on this property” (according to Nick Halfhide of SNH), the imposition of the General Licence restriction “does not infer responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals“. This leaves us on wafer-thin legal ice, not able to state what to us is the bleedin’ obvious for fear of a defamation claim, even though the original intention of Scottish Ministers was to use a General Licence restriction as a “reputational driver“.

General Licence restrictions have been available to SNH (although rarely used) since 1 January 2014, introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to continuing difficulties securing criminal prosecutions for those people still killing birds of prey. Paul instructed SNH to withdraw the use of General Licences (available for legal predator control) on land where crimes against raptors are believed to have taken place but where there was insufficient evidence to instigate criminal proceedings. The decision to withdraw the licence is based on a civil standard of proof which relates to the balance of probability as opposed to the higher standard of proof required for a criminal conviction.

A General Licence restriction is not without its limitations, and has even been described as farcical, particularly as estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead which allows them to continue predator control activities but under slightly closer scrutiny.

The Leadhills Estate and the surrounding area has been at the centre of wildlife crime investigations for decades. According to RSPB Scotland there have been over 60 confirmed raptor persecution incidents uncovered here, but only two successful prosecutions: a gamekeeper convicted for shooting a short-eared owl in 2004 and a gamekeeper convicted for laying poisoned baits out on the moor in 2009.

There have been a number of reported wildlife crimes here in recent years but because SNH isn’t keen on transparency, we don’t know which ones triggered the decision to impose the General Licence restriction. Was it the alleged witnessed shooting of a hen harrier in May 2017; the alleged 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; the filmed buzzard that according to the RSPB was likely killed in a crow trap in January 2019, or was it the discovery of a male hen harrier in May 2019 whose leg was almost severed by an illegally-set trap next to its nest?

We do know, from SNH’s press statement, that SNH believes “there is clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on this property……” which sounds like multiple incidents have informed SNH’s decision to impose the restriction:

And because this is the twilight zone we also need to draw to your attention the Estate’s outright denials of any involvement in any of these alleged crimes – we particularly liked this one, in response to the illegally-trapped hen harrier earlier this year. Bless those little gamekeepers, finding it “very difficult” to cope with repeated crimes carried out by ‘unknown third parties’.

It’s probably just kids in stolen vehicles, right? Riding around the estate in 4 x 4s or on quad bikes, firing shotguns at protected wildlife. Let’s face it, who else would have vehicular access, firearms and a motive for wanting to kill birds of prey? Nope, nobody that we can think of.

Here is a copy of SNH’s restriction notice for Leadhills Estate, for the record:

We’ve got a lot more to say about this particular General Licence restriction but we’ll have to come back to it, hopefully within a few days. There are all sorts of interesting aspects to explore……

UPDATE 2 December 2019: SNH explains decision to impose General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate (here)




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