Significant haul of poisoned baits found on Leadhills Estate

leadhills estateA significant haul of pre-prepared poisoned meat baits has been found on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire. And when we say significant, that’s what we mean. We’re not talking about one or two baits here; we’re talking a considerable number that, if used, would have been part of a comprehensive poisoning campaign.

The poisoned baits were discovered on 8th March 2013. Yes, that’s right, over three months ago. We’ve waited patiently for Police Scotland or NWCU or PAW Scotland to issue a press release about this, but, true to form, they’ve remained silent. During this period they even launched the 2012 poisoning maps, making much of what they called a ‘sharp fall’ in the number of poisoning incidents, even though they were well aware of what had just been uncovered at Leadhills Estate.

Because this is an on-going police investigation there is only limited detail that we’re prepared to publish at this stage. However, in due course, the full story will emerge. It’s worth keeping an eye on a forthcoming website ( where photographs and film footage will probably appear.

This incident raises many of the usual concerns. Firstly, why has it been kept covered up? Why didn’t Police Scotland (“Keeping People Safe,” according to their website) issue a public safety warning about the discovery of these highly toxic poisoned meat baits that have the potential to kill anyone coming into contact with them? Many people, not just local residents but tourists too, visit the moors around Leadhills for recreational pursuits. Why were they not informed about the risks? That’s not ‘Keeping People Safe’ by any stretch of imagination.

Secondly, why are Police Scotland still making the same fundamental errors that they were making ten years ago in investigations of this type? They sent two marked police vehicles to collect the evidence – thus alerting the would-be poisoners that their stash had been discovered and allowing them an opportunity to hide any other incriminating evidence. This is basic stuff! Did they conduct a search of the surrounding moorland to see if any baits had already been placed? You probably can guess the answer to that.

Why didn’t they attend the scene covertly and install hidden cameras at the site where the poisoned baits were discovered? We all know that without evidence linking a specific person to the baits, a conviction would be virtually impossible to secure. So why not use cameras to film the person(s) coming to the poison storage site and either picking up the baits or replenishing the stash with new baits?

Nobody will be surprised to learn that Leadhills Estate is once again at the centre of another wildlife crime investigation; the latest in a long list dating back at least a decade. The following incidents are known, confirmed persecution incidents (data from RSPB Scotland & Scottish Government) from 2003-2011 (2012 & 2013 data not yet published). This list does not include ‘probable’ or ‘possible’ incidents such as the discovery of buried decomposing carcasses too decayed for analysis:

2003 April: hen harrier shot

2003 April: hen harrier eggs destroyed

2004 May: buzzard shot

2004 May: short-eared owl shot

2004 June: buzzard poisoned (Carbofuran)

2004 June: 4 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran)

2004 June: crow poisoned (Carbofuran)

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 February: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 April: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 February: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 March: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran)

2006 April: dead buzzard (persecution method unknown)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 May: poisoned egg baits (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2006 June: 6 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned egg bait (Carbofuran)

2006 September: 5 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran)

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2007 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2007 April: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran)

2007 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2008 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2008 October: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2008 November: 3 x poisoned ravens (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2009 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2009 March: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned magpie (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2010 October: short-eared owl shot

2011 March: illegally-set clam trap

2011 December: buzzard shot

2012 October: golden eagle shot (just over boundary with Buccleuch Estate)

The evidence is clear. Poisoning is taking place with virtually total impunity (some would say immunity) on this estate. As far as we can tell, there has only been one successful prosecution for poisoning – a gamekeeper convicted in 2010 for laying out a poisoned rabbit bait (see here).

So why is it that the poisoners, whoever they may be, can keep getting away with it?

Is Leadhills Estate (part of the Hopetoun Estates) a member of the landowners’ organisation, Scottish Land & Estates (SLE)? The Chairman of Hopetoun Estates, the Earl of Hopetoun, is a Director of SLE. If Leadhills Estate is a member, then all of SLE’s talk about condemning illegal raptor persecution and stamping it out is utter hypocrisy. The question of whether Leadhills Estate is an SLE member is one that needs to be raised by the members of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (Scotland). SLE plays a prominent role in PAW Scotland and earns considerable kudos for that role (kudos that the organisation is not afraid to use for PR purposes). It is now high time that SLE is asked to provide some transparency about its relationship with Leadhills Estate.

We’d also like to ask Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse what action he intends to take in light of the latest discovery of poisoned baits at Leadhills Estate? He may well try and dodge the question by saying ‘It’s an on-going police investigation so I can’t comment’. But we’re not asking him to comment on the actual investigation – what we’re asking is whether he’ll keep his earlier promises about introducing new measures to combat raptor persecution if evidence comes to light to demonstrate it is still a problem. Well Paul, here’s your filthy evidence. Now what are you going to do about it? Emails to:

UPDATE 18.45hrs: BBC journalist David Miller has just posted an article on this incident on the BBC News website (great to see another high profile journalist willing to discuss illegal raptor persecution). You can read his article here.

The article contains the following hilarious quotes:

From Police Scotland: “Police officers, including a wildlife crime liaison officer, were dispatched to the area the same day and following an extensive search, items were found and seized. A number of people were detained by police in connection with this inquiry, which is currently ongoing“.

Hmm, an ‘extensive search’, eh? That’s not what we’d heard!

From Scottish Land and Estates: “It would be inappropriate to comment while the facts of the matter have still to be established. As an organisation, we are actively involved in the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime and our membership undertakes an enormous amount of positive work in this area“.

Er, the facts of the matter have been established. A significant haul of pre-prepared meat baits were found stashed on this estate and government scientists have confirmed the presence of Carbofuran.

Wouldn’t it be ‘inappropriate’ for SLE to remain in the government-led PAW Scotland group, and in the government-led Scottish Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, if it was found that Leadhills Estate was a member of their organisation? Come on PAW Scotland members and SRPPDG members, ask them the bloody question!

From Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association: “Because this appears to be subject of a live investigation, it would not be appropriate to comment other than to reiterate that the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association does not condone illegal poisoning“.

Perhaps they’ll consider conducting their own investigation again, just as they did with the Deeside eagle case, and let us know what really happened….my money’s on the real culprits being either badgers, buzzards, sparrowhawks, pine martens or goshawks.


23 thoughts on “Significant haul of poisoned baits found on Leadhills Estate”

  1. Dear God…how stupid are these people!!? they not realise this must be the most intensively scrutinised shooting estate in the country?.

    I know that the blogmeister will be well aware of this but its worth telling readers that this estate had a record of persecution incidents, reported to police and other authorities far, far further back than 2003 and involving more than one shooting tenant or regime of gamekeepers. The recent list is utterly appalling, with any other “industry” this place would have been closed down long ago and those responsible [including of course, right up the chain of command – whatever happened to the “cause and permit” law?] prosecuted.

    I can tell you why there has been so little done in recent times though – everyone is terrified of the defence lawyers involved – what a wonderful justice system we have in Scotland..the envy of the civilised world?

  2. How can we ever win the ‘War’? The odds are certainly stacked against us. But hold on. Wildlife tourism is worth more than shooting in Scotland. And it is money it always comes down to. May be we don’t need to worry after all. Those in power have to listen. And we are now paying for these moors through farming subsidy. Non of the estates pay tax so they are not really putting any thing back directly into the kitty. Read George Monbiot’s ‘Feral’. Some great points in there. All we need is the public to know about these scans these people are pulling.

  3. There can only be 2 reasons why the police would arrive in fully marked up police vehicles to collect the evidence of blatant wildlife poisoning criminality, one is absolutely crass stupidity, the other I’ll leave to the imagination that even a child could work out. Needless to say, this sort of thing happens on such a regular basis throughout Scotland and England, let alone the Leadhills estate that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s by design rather than ignorance. It’s about time that these crimes were made full public knowledge and flashed all over the TV and the press for ordinary people to see and read about just what our so-called peers and gentlemen get up to on their privileged shooting estates, many of which enjoy public funding. If these blatantly regular illegal occurrences were publicised more often then maybe our illustrious police force and justice system would have to do something meaningful to put a stop to it.

    1. Trouble is that is that it would appear that the “powers at be” in this country are part of the problem.

      Having just read Project Raptor’s post and on the assumption that it materially factual, I am almost, but not quite, left speechless. The police action brings to mind an often used phrase nowadays – NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE.

  4. Have E-mailed the Minister and set out in no uncertain terms my view on the lack of commitment both his Department and the Police are repeatedly showing with regard to this problem. Promises are not converting into action and supportive statements are simply empty rhetoric with no real intention for change being fought for. We all know securing change wouldn’t be easy, and anyone who tried and failed would be applauded for effort, but all recent statements etc are little short of posturing in my view.

    Whilst it would only (initially) refer to England and Wales the intention behind the E-petition I’ve registered is that , through a licencing system, estates with a proven record or an arising prosecution would not be allowed to operate for a determined period. One imagines that would have happened to Leadhills long ago if we’d had such enshrined within Scottish law!!!! Take a look at or at some of the background entries on my Blog

    I’ll send on any reply to the Blogmeister ( I quite like that Dave D.) and will probably put an entry on my own Blog too. It seems to be an utter priority that we learn the relationship between SLE/ Hopetown/ Leadhills at which point I suspect various fans will come to a stop!!

  5. Project Raptor would just like to clarify one or two points regarding the police statement on this matter. According to the BBC, Police Scotland has made a statement saying that “following an extensive search, items were found and seized”. If I were to have read this and had not been present at the scene on the day I would have imagined that an extensive search of the area at Leadhills Estate had taken place. However, what did actually happen on the day was that Project Raptor, after discovering a large quantity of poison bait, first contacted the RSPB to report the incident. From previous experiences related to incidents in remote areas of the countryside I have found that the police, including wildlife crime officers, do not have access to a GPS device and so in the past they have found it extremely difficult to attend an area swiftly. Therefore, as assistance was urgently required on this occasion, it was more sensible to contact somebody who I knew would be far more familiar with finding remote locations and who could possibly assist the police. This is exactly what happened. The RSPB immediately contacted the police after taking my GPS co-ordinates. After several hours the police arrived at the scene in two marked police vehicles, which was observed from a local resident walking on a nearby hillside. The police then proceeded on foot whilst the directions to the poison baits were being given out to them over the phone by a member of the RSPB. Once the huge quantity of poisoned bait was located the police retrieved them and then made their way back to their vehicles and left the area. I wish I could say that an extensive search did take place, which may have found more poison baits or even dead raptors, but on this day this did not happen. I am not aware that any extensive searches have been made on this estate since the incident on the 8th March.


  6. This incident and the police response(or lack of!!) needs to be highlighted and brought to the attention of as many people as possible via all forms of media and concerned individuals/orgs.

  7. Can I ask how Project Raptor found the cache of poisoned baits in the first place, where were they, etc?

    [Ed: Hi Dave, we won’t be publishing specific location/position details on this blog for the time being].

  8. This is the E-mail I have sent to Minister Wheelhouse, the reply against which ( I’m presuming I’ll get one! ) I’ll ensure is sent on to RPS. It may serve to provide a couple of “pointers ” other people might pick up on and use within their own communications. The more the merrier!!

    Dear Minister Wheelhouse, may I register my utter dismay and disgust at what comes over as a system of incompetence as far as the Police are concerned, the utter disregard on repeated occasions by the Leadhills Estate of the requirements of wildlife law, use of poisons in the countryside etc and the increasing inaction or complacency being exhibited by your Department. You will no doubt be aware of the details I refer to via the entry on the Raptor Persecution Scotland website.

    These incidents are the very knub upon which focus should be directed, not attention diverted to wasteful “Citizen Science involvements” associated with the reporting of Hen Harriers when full results relating to the status of such are available either through the 2010 UK wide survey or the BTO Atlas results.

    Despite promises to the contrary from your Department, evidence suggesting any meaningful initiatives aimed at change, as far as raptor persecution is concerned, are simply not forthcoming and render previous commitments and statements either empty rhetoric or hypocrisy at best. I am neither impressed nor feel the Government is in command of the situation. From the public viewpoint the only conclusion one can reach is that the estate owners are ignoring any necessary restrictions, the Government is powerless to influence such “independence” and the level of commitment and expertise exhibited by the Police is questionable. Isn’t it about time some firm action was taken, not promised, and the very heritage that Scotland is proud of and tourists pay money to enjoy is given some measure of protection by your government?

    John S. Armitage

    John S. Armitage
    Isle of Islay,
    PA47 7SZ

  9. And mine…

    Dear Minister
    The recent finding of yet more poisoned baits at Leadhills Estate indicates there are some who have no intention of giving up their quest to kill Scotland’s birds of prey.
    See below the recorded incidents of illegal persecution at this location.
    And the irony that in 2013 SNH are encouraging us to look out for Scotland’s iconic wildlife, the ‘big 5’, one of which is golden eagle.
    In most years there are no breeding eagles in Southern Scotland because they are either shot or poisoned on grouse moors. At least 15 territories available in Scottish Borders alone, yet no breeding eagles. A bit difficult for the folk of Southern Scotland to be enthused about this bird when they’re just about all gone, don’t you agree?

    Yet again, I ask:
    Is it not time for stronger action to deter the raptor killers?
    You have spoken in the past of introducing stronger measures.
    What level of persecution do you need to see before introducing these measures?

  10. ” Year of Natural Scotland ” what a joke, these people are parasites, they take tax payers money, they take the good name of ordinary shooting folk, they take our wildlife. Where are the shooting organisations yet again, blackball this estate, Barr anyone from your societies and organisations from shooting on it, take the lead for once. Make it hard for them to get supplies instead of turning a blind eye and criticising anyone who dares to speak up against them. Shun them they are not country gentlemen or sportsmen, they are parasites.

  11. This is of course Leadhills Estate also known as Hopetoun Estate owned by Andrew Hopetoun of Hopetoun House, South Queensferry, Edinburgh.
    Ironically Hopetoun House is where RSPB decided to ignore the protests of their own members and hold their Scottish Birdfair 2012 and 2013.
    I find it quite disgusting that RSPB were touting buy one get one free tickets to this event while knowing full well that this stash of poison had been found on land under the same ownership as their Birdfair venue.

    1. You’re right of course, but the association has not gone unnoticed! However, complete silence from the RSPB once again, what does it take to make the management of this public funded “BIRD PROTECTION SOCIETY” sit up and say wait a minute, this is something we shouldn’t be associated with, let’s get out of here and do something about it.

  12. Just another point, aren,t health and safety duty bound to investigate these incidents to, I mean how many other businesses are allowed to store banned poisons in a field on a dead animal!

    1. That could be an interesting angle – COSHH regulations (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) are enshrined within Health & Safety at Work legislation. I don’t know whether prohibited substances fall within that since they should not be in anyone’s possession in the first place and therefore, in theory, there would be no need to have a stated safe procedure for storing or using them.
      However, there could be other aspects that may fall foul of HSW law. It is not just employers who have duties of care, but employees are bound in law to look after their own safety too so should not be handling illegal poisons. Furthermore, placing poison in places where the public have a right to be (most land in Scotland) has to have some legal implications.

      As far as I know the police do not investigate H&SW law violations (poss. do to some extent if other criminality is involved). The Health & Safety Executive has it’s own Inspectors (with extensive powers) who can prosecute, but their first approach is usually along the lines of getting people to comply with the law.
      The Agricultural Division of the HSE should the people to ask about this.

      1. Employers and employees also have a duty of care to the public. So as Scotland now has the right to roam act, then there would a case to answer, for putting the public at risk. I think HSE would and should be interested in the placing of poison where the public can get access to it.

        1. Stewart I am sure that the Land Reform legislation specifically states that it could not be used to increase landowner liability towards the public in respect of H&S. However there was already a measure of responsibility in that respect because no one can go puting poison down without taking account of who may come in contact with it.

          1. I agree Dougie but this estate does not seem to care about the public. They seem to live in a world where the law of the land does not matter, is it going to take somebody to die through this behavior or worse a child to die, maybe a child of there own, before the law acts as it should. The Police seem to be frightened or have been warned of by powers above them to not act against this estate. The law should be equal for everybody, not one interpretation for estates and landowners and another interpretation for “Joe” public. The owners of this estate should have been dealt with by the law years ago. I wish I could be proven wrong but this is the way it looks to me and I believe a lot of the public will agree with me.

  13. Health and safety should be all over these estates, makes you wonder why they aren’t. Also proves some land owners aren’t too worried about vicarious liability, another two fingers to our legal system from the untouchables

  14. I looked for this post after reading the rspb raptor persecution report for 2011. Couldn’t believe the number of incidents solely from 1 area.!! Absolutely shocking! Are the powers that be blind or are we all insignificant fleas in their ointment!!
    Big brother is ruling the roost!

    My x

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