Linklater: “I stand by everything I wrote”

A couple of weeks ago we blogged about an article penned by the well-known advocate of ‘raptor control’, Magnus Linklater (see here).

He’s back again, this time as a guest blogger on Mark Avery’s ‘Standing up for Nature’ blog (see here). For a masterclass in arrogance and ignorance, you’d struggle to find a better example than his latest offering. You might think that “one of the country’s most respected journalists” (according to his editor) would have gone away to consider the factual inaccuracies that were pointed out by many knowledgeable readers of his original article, and then come back to discuss each point in turn. He didn’t manage to do that. Instead, he dug in his heels and stated, “I stand by everything I wrote“.

As is becoming more and more obvious, Linklater’s views seem to be representative of the majority of those involved in grouse-shooting, especially landowners and gamekeepers, judging by current and previous comments made by these groups. It’s easy to try and deflect attention from the real issue (continuing illegal raptor persecution) by attacking the UK’s largest conservation charity (RSPB), who just happen to be involved in exposing these illegal practices. What isn’t as easy is to convince an increasingly well-informed public that [driven] grouse-shooting shouldn’t now be banned.

For our anagram-loving readers, here’s another one: Kill Tuns Manager

Langholm harrier chicks 2012: sat-tag maps online

Two chicks from this year’s hen harrier nest at the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project have been fitted with satellite tags so their dispersal movements can be monitored.

In previous years the project has failed to release most of these data to the public, even though as tax payers we’re all part-funding this project (see previous blogs here, here, here, here). We’ve all got our opinions about why we’ve been kept in the dark about these birds’ movements, especially those ones whose signals mysteriously stopped working when the birds were visiting certain grouse moors – although strangely we were allowed to view the movements of the harrier who travelled to Spain (‘McPedro’).

This year, maps showing the recent movements of the 2012 Langholm harriers have been posted on a public blog called ‘Making the Most of Moorlands’, which is written by the project officer at the Langholm Moorland Education Project (see here for maps).

It’s great to have an opportunity to follow these two young harriers. Let’s hope the maps are kept updated so we can all be kept informed.

Dead raptors found in suspicious circumstances in Devon

Here’s another example of fine, proactive wildlife policing from Devon WCO Josh Marshall.

On his personal blog, which he set up specifically to raise awareness about wildlife crime in his region, Josh is reporting the discovery of a dead peregrine and a dead sparrowhawk that were found in suspicious circumstances last week. The birds were x-rayed and they hadn’t been shot, but their bodies were too decomposed to allow for any toxicology analysis.

Even though the cause of death could not be established, Josh believes that persecution had taken place due to the position of the birds.

Rather than keeping quiet and forgetting about the incident, knowing that it was going to be virtually impossible to make any more progress with the investigation, Josh chose to publicise the incident and asked people to be extra-vigilant when out walking in the area. Once again, he’s showing how suspected wildlife crimes should be handled. Well done that man.

Story on Josh’s blog here

Environment Minister backs sea eagle reintroduction

Crikey, this is the third ‘good news’ eagle story this month!

The East Scotland Sea Eagle Reintroduction Project reaches a milestone today: the final birds are due to be released from a secret location in Fife, bringing the total number of eagles released over the last six years to 85.

The project has not been without its problems – some of the eagles have been illegally poisoned or shot, while others have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances. There have also been some outspoken critics of the project (notably some farmers and gamekeepers). However, for most people, the return of these birds after such a long absence has been a welcome sight.

Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson said: “The return of sea eagles to the skies of Scotland’s east coast marks an important step in ensuring we now have a viable population of these magnificent birds. As well as fulfilling a role in our ecosystems, the birds are an important feature for our growing nature-based tourism industry“.

Congratulations to all involved in the project, especially RSPB, SNH and Forestry Commission Scotland.

BBC news article here

Leadhills & Hopetoun: getting closer to the truth? Part 2

This post is a continuation from Leadhills & Hopetoun: getting closer to the truth? Part 1 (see here).

So, thanks to help from the ever-resourceful Andy Wightman (website here) and another contributor who wishes to remain anonymous, we’re now in a position to examine some of the statements made by the Earl of Hopetoun and his spokesman, about the relationship between Hopetoun Estate and Leadhills Estate.

Let’s start with a statement made by the Earl himself, in a letter he wrote to the Scotsman in March 2012 (see here). His letter was in response to an earlier Scotsman article about the Hopetoun / Leadhills relationship (see here).

In his letter, the Earl writes: “Leadhills Estate is not “also known as the Hopetoun Estate” – Hopetoun Estate is the land owned by the family near Hopetoun House”.

Now take a look at the photograph accompanying this post. This was sent in by a Leadhills village resident, who says it’s one of two signs in the village. The contributor wrote this: “I can assure that nobody in Leadhills (I live in Leadhills) refers to the estate as “the Leadhills Estate”. Locals have always known it as “the Hopetoun Estate”.

Hmm. Perhaps the apparent inaccuracy of the Earl’s statement is just a result of an absent landlord not really in tune with local views, as opposed to an attempt to distance Hopetoun Estate from Leadhills Estate? You can draw your own conclusions.

Let’s now take a look at the detail of the shooting lease between Hopetoun and Leadhills Sporting Ltd that covers the management of the Leadhills Estate grouse moor. Please bear in mind what we said in Part 1: the lease we are examining was acquired from the Land Register in September 2008, two months after the change of Directors at Leadhills Sporting Ltd. This lease may not be the lease in current use. (Incidentally, a contributor is sending us a copy of the lease he acquired in 2011 so when we receive that we can compare and contrast the content of both copies to see what, if anything, has changed).

Before we start, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the statement published on the Deadline News website (here) attributed to the Earl of Hopetoun’s spokesman:

More importantly, Hopetoun Estate has no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills Estate. Leadhills Estate is run on a sporting lease completely separately and there is no connection between Hopetoun Estate and the sporting management of Leadhills Estate”.

It’s similar to a statement the Earl made in his letter to the Scotsman:

I must underline the view of the RSPB spokesman in stating that there is a long-term sporting lease in place at Leadhills and that Hopetoun does not have any responsibility for the shooting there”.

The lease makes for a fascinating read, once you get to grips with the obligatory long-winded legal jargon and the cramped-up presentation of the clauses. It tells us, amongst other things, how much rent the Tenant (Leadhills Sporting Ltd) has to pay to the Landlord (Hopetoun), and how much additional rent must be paid if the three year rolling average of grouse shot in each season exceeds 1,750 brace (3,500 birds). It tells us how many days of walked-up and driven grouse shooting the Landlord is entitled to, as well as how many walked-up rabbit shooting days and how many guests he is permitted for each day. It tells us that the Tenant must comply with the provisions of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and all other statutory provisions affecting the preservation of wildlife. It tells us that the Tenant shall permit a minimum of three and a maximum of four of the gamekeepers employed by the Tenant to assist the Landlord with the Landlord’s pheasant shoot in West Lothian for a maximum of five days in each pheasant shooting season. It even tells us how many coats of paint, and the type of paint, the Tenant must use periodically to maintain the interior and exterior of buildings.

So, it’s quite a detailed lease but its thoroughness is probably no different to thousands of other leases whereby a Landlord wants to ensure his Tenant keeps his property in good order. The bit about permitting 3-4 of the Tenant’s gamekeepers to assist on the Landlord’s pheasant shoot in West Lothian is perhaps a bit unusual but none of the above clauses give us any reason to doubt that Hopetoun “has no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills Estate”. And indeed, the Earl’s stated condemnation of wildlife crime is supported by the inclusion of the clause about compliance with the relevant legislation.

All good then?  Well, almost. There are several clauses that deserve closer attention:

Clause 5.6.

Prior to the fifteenth anniversary of the Date of Entry the Tenant shall furnish the Landlord with the Curriculum Vitae of and all references pertaining to any proposed new Head Keeper and obtain the approval of the Landlord before employing a new Head Keeper which approval shall not be unreasonably withheld or a decision thereon unreasonably delayed. Following the fifteenth anniversary of the Date of Entry the Tenant shall keep the Landlord fully informed and shall jointly undertake the whole selection process for the employment of a new Head Keeper. This shall be in addition to obtaining the approval of the Landlord as aforesaid which approval shall again not be unreasonably withheld or a decision thereon unreasonably delayed.

Clause 5.8.

The Tenant shall produce a management regime and programme of improvements in respect of the Grouse Moor to be specified in a draft management plan within six months of the Date of Entry. The said draft management plan shall take account of the presumptions in the foregoing Clause 5.7 [these relate to “effective” vermin control, a “proper” heather-burning regime, road, lunch hut & butt maintenance, habitat management, heather improvement policies, provision of equipment for gamekeepers, H&S policy and an “appropriate” shooting policy] and shall thereafter be adjusted and agreed between the parties. The agreed management plan (“The Management Plan”) shall be revised and updated at the fifth anniversary of the Date of Entry and every five years thereafter such revisals to be adjusted and agreed between the parties.

Clause 5.12.

The Tenant shall meet with the Landlord/Landlord’s agent (unless otherwise agreed) twice yearly in January and July when the parties will review the Management Plan, the current and proposed works pertaining to the Let Subjects and the Grouse Moor and all matters pertinent to the management of a top class driven grouse moor.

Clause 8.1.

The Landlord shall be entitled to resume the Shooting Right for any purpose from any part of the Grouse Moor subject to a limit of 100 acres in total for the duration of this lease.

So, for clarity:

1) This lease shows that the Landlord (Hopetoun) has to approve the hiring of any new Head Keeper at Leadhills Estate for the first 15 years of the lease. Wouldn’t that count as being involved in the sporting management of Leadhills Estate?

2) This lease shows that after the 15th year, the Landlord (Hopetoun) will jointly undertake (with Leadhills Sporting Ltd) the whole selection process for the employment of a new Head Keeper. Wouldn’t that count as being involved in the sporting management of Leadhills Estate?

3) This lease shows that the Landlord (Hopetoun) will jointly discuss the draft management plan with the Tenant and will adjust and agree its content. Wouldn’t that count as being involved in the sporting management of Leadhills Estate?

4) This lease shows that the Landlord (Hopetoun) will jointly revise and update “The Management Plan” at the 5th anniversary and every five years afterwards. Wouldn’t that count as being involved in the sporting management of Leadhills Estate?

5) This lease shows that the Landlord (Hopetoun) or his agent will meet twice yearly with the Tenant to review “The Management Plan” and “all matters pertinent to the management of a top class driven grouse moor”. Wouldn’t that count as being involved in the sporting management of Leadhills Estate?

6) This lease shows that the Landlord (Hopetoun) can have shooting rights of up to 100 acres of any part of the moor for the duration of this lease. If this entitlement is used, wouldn’t that count as being involved in the sporting management of Leadhills Estate?

So, who still thinks “Hopetoun Estate has no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills Estate”? Or that “Leadhills Estate is run on a sporting lease completely separately and there is no connection between Hopetoun Estate and the sporting management of Leadhills Estate“?

Here’s a copy of the lease so you can read it and draw your own conclusions: LAN171259[1] Read from page 9 onwards.

We’ll re-visit this issue once we’ve received the lease dated 2011.

Lochindorb hare snare trial to continue in October

The long-running Lochindorb Estate hare-snaring trial is set to drag on until October (see here, here and here for background to this case).

An important point of law was established during deliberations at Inverness Sheriff Court yesterday – whether a snare could be considered to be a trap. Although this question might sound ridiculous to us (of course a snare is a type of trap – they’re used for the sole purpose of trapping animals, aren’t they?), it was important to establish the legal definition of a snare in this particular case because if a snare wasn’t considered to be a trap, then there would be no case for gamekeeper David Taylor to answer. Anyway, the Sheriff apparently decided that a snare is a trap, and that there was sufficient evidence for the case to be continued in October (the defence had argued that there was insufficient evidence against Taylor).

Northern Times article reporting on yesterday’s court hearing here

Leadhills & Hopetoun: getting closer to the truth? Part 1

You may recall back in March we blogged about the RSPB’s baffling decision to hold their inaugral Scottish Birdfair at Hopetoun House. This decision raised eyebrows (see here and here) due to the alleged connection between Hopetoun Estate and the ‘notorious’ Leadhills Estate.

At the time, the RSPB defended their choice of venue by saying:

We understand that there is a clear separation between land managed in hand by Hopetoun Estate in West Lothian, and the Leadhills Estate, which is let on a long lease to American tenants. It is the American sporting tenants on Leadhills Estate, through a UK sporting agent, who employ and manage the land and the employees at this site, and who are therefore ultimately responsible with ensuring that birds of prey are protected on this land. We accept that Hopetoun Estate do not condone any illegal practices on their land.”

A spokesperson for the Earl of Hopetoun is reported to have said this:

The Earl of Hopetoun’s position on wildlife crime is unequivocal. He has constantly condemned any such activity. More importantly, Hopetoun Estate has no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills Estate. Leadhills Estate is run on a sporting lease completely separately and there is no connection between Hopetoun Estate and the sporting management of Leadhills“.

Those last two sentences were designed to leave us in no doubt. We were barking up the wrong tree. Or were we?

We’ve since received a copy of a lease agreement made between the Leadhills Estate landlords (Andrew Victor Arthur Charles Hope, Earl of Hopetoun and his father Adrian John Charles Hope, Marquess of Linlithgow) and the sporting tenants (via the agency Leadhills Sporting Limited). The information provided in this lease suggests that the management of the Leadhills Estate grouse moor is perhaps not quite as straightforward as some have claimed.

Before we discuss the lease content, readers should be made aware that this particular lease may not accurately reflect the content of the current lease. The lease we’re about to discuss relates to a 20-year agreement (between Hopetoun & Leadhills Sporting Ltd) running from 2003 to 2023. However, five years into the lease in 2008, it was reported that the sporting rights at Leadhills were being sold on (see here). We understand that the current lease is for 16-years duration and is still held by Leadhills Sporting Ltd, albeit with a personnel change at Leadhills Sporting Ltd – Edward Dashwood & Mark Osborne, along with several others, had all resigned from the company by July 2008, and at least two new Directors were appointed in the same month. The big question is, was the content of the lease that we’re about to discuss carried over to the new tenants, or was the content considerably changed for the new tenants? This is important, because if the content wasn’t changed and is still current, then it looks like somebody might have been telling porky pies about the role of Hopetoun in the sporting management of Leadhills grouse moor. And we’re not talking those mini pork pies that you get in packs of six in the posh supermarkets. We’re talking big fat pork pies you get in your local butchers shop.

For Part 2, click here

Red kites accused of ‘annihilating’ other birds

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association is calling for a government probe to investigate the impact of reintroduced red kites in Galloway, following claims that the kites are ‘annihilating’ other birds, including lapwings, oystercatchers and sand martins.

Unsurprisingly, the claims have been made by a farmer, a pigeon racer and a gamekeeper.

Alex Hogg said: “I think everyone would agree that protection of one species, when it is to the detriment of others, is a flawed way to achieve ecological balance“. Er, what, like the protection of 40 million exotic pheasants and unnaturally-high populations of red grouse to the detriment of buzzards, kites, harriers, sparrowhawks, goshawks, eagles, peregrines, owls, corvids, foxes, stoats, weasels? How about a government probe into that?

Hopefully the SGA’s request will be met with the same contempt the Scottish Government gave to their earlier request to evaluate the risk to small children posed by reintroduced sea eagles.

SGA’s article on the red kite ‘problem’ here.

Your chance to comment on proposed wildlife law changes

The Law Commission has opened a public consultation to assess ways of modernising wildlife legislation. Here are the Law Commission’s explanatory notes:

“The current law regulating wildlife is spread over a collection of Acts dating back to 1831. The original purpose of much of the law was to govern activities such as hunting and fishing, including poaching. Over the years it has expanded to conserve certain species, ensure the welfare of wildlife and protect local biodiversity from invasive species.

The result is a legal landscape that is out of date, confused and often contradictory. For example, the hunting, management and welfare of pheasants is governed by four separate statutes. Much of the older legislation is out of step with modern requirements, and the principal modern Act – the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 – has been amended to such a degree that it is difficult for any non-specialists to use.

The proposals we are putting forward in this consultation aim to simplify the existing complex framework, placing wildlife law into a single statute. The new regime would reduce the current dependency on criminal law, by allowing an appropriate mix of regulatory measures such as guidance, advice and a varied and flexible system of civil sanctions – such as fines and bans”.

The consultation period opened on 14 August 2012 and will close on 30 November 2012. The Law Commission’s recommendations are not expected to be published until mid-2014.

Although the consulation paper may look complex and daunting, it actually isn’t when you look at it section-by-section. The paper poses specific questions e.g. Do consultees think that the current sanctions for wildlife crime are sufficient? as well as more general questions, e.g. Do consultees think that there should be a wildlife offence extending liability to a principal….? (in other words, they’re asking for your view on vicarious liability).

The consultation only covers a review of wildlife legislation in England and Wales – not Scotland. However, this limited scope does not exclude any Scottish participants, so if you’ve got views on wildlife laws, this is the time to be heard. Already, the huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ brigade are mobilising their troops to encourage a mass response. You can imagine what their responses to most of the questions will be. It’s essential that the conservationists are heard with equal force. Don’t just leave it to the big groups (e.g. RSPB) to speak out – have your own say and let’s make sure the Law Commission reviewers understand our collective strength of feeling.

The Law Commission’s wildlife law consultation paper here