No prosecution for poisoned baits found on Leadhills Estate?

leadhills estateEight months ago (March), a significant haul of pre-prepared poisoned baits was discovered on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire. The baits comprised chopped up pieces of rabbit, liberally sprinkled with the banned poison Carbofuran, that had been placed inside two gamebags that had been hidden inside a wood next to a grouse moor.

The discovery was made by fieldworkers from Project Raptor and they duly reported their finding to the police. We waited for a press release and an appeal for information from the police but nothing came, so three months later (June) we blogged about it (here) because, unlike the police, we considered it a newsworthy item in the public interest, as apparently did BBC Scotland (here).

Recently, an update on the police investigation appeared on Project Raptor’s website:

24th October 2013. Project Raptor have contacted South Lanarkshire police and they have now informed us that evidence gathered from the two game bags has come back negative. This means that unless further evidence comes their way then this case is just another in a long line of wildlife crimes that have taken place within the Leadhills area over the years that will never be solved”.  See here for full update.

When Project Raptor says that ‘evidence gathered from the two gamebags has come back negative‘ they do not mean that the analysis of the poison came back negative – SASA has already confirmed the poison found on those baits was Carbofuran and they included the incident in their quarterly report on poisoning incidents. Rather, what we think Project Raptor is referring to is that any fingerprint or DNA testing that might have been done on the two gamebags has come back negative.

This means that there is no evidential link between the two gamebags and any individual person and therefore it is not possible to charge anyone for committing an offence in relation to these items.

This case is an excellent example of just how difficult it is to bring illegal poisoners to justice. It’s not the fault of the police that there isn’t enough evidence, although to be frank they are not blameless in this particular situation – had they had the foresight and interest to install a covert camera overlooking the site where the poisoned baits had been found they may well have caught the criminal(s) in the act of retrieving the bait or even adding more bait to the secret stash. They could (should) also have conducted a thorough search of the surrounding area, particularly the adjacent grouse moor, to see whether any of the baits had already been placed out on the hill. Given that one of the bags was full (of bait) and the other bag was only half-full, this would have been a reasonable assumption, especially given the reported history of poisoned baits being found on this estate (see here). Instead, the police decided to arrive on site in two marked police vehicles (thus alerting everybody to their presence and allowing any nearby criminal to hide any other incriminating evidence) and they quickly removed the gamebags and left the site without conducting a wider search. On top of all that, they still have not issued a press release about this case, giving us the impression that they’re just not all that bothered. At the very least they should be alerting the general public to the potential threat of people and their pets stumbling across what is a fatally toxic poison in a publicly-accessible area.

So is that it, then? Will the discovery of these baits (which we believe to be the biggest stash of pre-pared baits found since 32 poisoned baits were found on Glenogil Estate in 2008) just be conveniently ignored and everyone carries on as usual? For certain, these baits will not feature in any ‘official’ raptor persecution statistics because, as we were recently told by the Environment Minister’s office, where poisoned baits have been discovered but ‘no raptors were involved’ they cannot be listed as a raptor persecution incident. We don’t actually know whether ‘no raptors were involved’ at Leadhills because the police didn’t conduct a search to look for poisoned carcasses!

It looks certain that no action will be / can be brought in the criminal courts. But what about other types of action?

There’s the possibility of civil action – we will wait to see whether any single farm payments are withdrawn from Leadhills Estate by the Scottish Executive (as they were from Glenogil Estate in 2008 – see here) although we suspect any such action would be strongly challenged by the estate precisely because there is no evidential link between the baits and any employee of Leadhills Estate.

Great, isn’t it?

Is there any other type of action? Well, yes, there is. What we would really like to see is action taken by Scottish Land and Estates, the representative body of Scottish landowners. The only response we saw from SLE about the discovery of the poisoned baits on Leadhills Estate was a false accusation levelled at this blog for reporting the incident! (see here).

Doug_McAdam from Moorland ForumInterestingly, in a comment made on Mark Avery’s blog today, SLE Chief Executive Doug McAdam claims, “…..a range of partners, Scottish Land and Estates included, invest a significant amount of time and resource into working with and through PAW Scotland to help achieve this [eradication of golden eagle persecution], not just for golden eagles though, but all wildlife crime” (see here for his full comment).

So what, exactly, has SLE done about the continuing issue of alleged and confirmed illegal raptor persecution on Leadhills Estate? We’ve asked this time and time again but the question is just met with silence every time.

We’re not sure that Leadhills Estate is a member of SLE, although given that the owner of Leadhills Estate (Lord Hopetoun) also just happens to be a Board member of SLE, it would be quite strange if Leadhills Estate wasn’t an SLE member. Why doesn’t SLE publicly condemn the crimes that are alleged and confirmed at Leadhills Estate? If Leadhills Estate is an SLE member, why hasn’t SLE kicked them out, just as they did with Glasserton Estate earlier this year following the conviction of their gamekeeper (see here). McAdam may argue that nothing has been proven at Leadhills in relation to the latest discovery (in terms of a legal evidential link) and that would be accurate, but there is a long, long, long, long list of alleged and confirmed incidents from this estate, dating back decades (see here), several of which have resulted in criminal convictions.

It seems to us that SLE is repeatedly turning a blind eye to reported activities on this estate that the rest of us can see very clearly. Why would they do that if they’re so keen to eradicate raptor persecution?

19 thoughts on “No prosecution for poisoned baits found on Leadhills Estate?”

  1. Yes, sorry, to clarify, what came back negative were the DNA and fingerprint results from the two game bags, according to the police. Project Raptor will be taking action on this outcome in the near future as part of its community awareness initiative.

  2. The comparison with Glasserton is key here…could it be that Leadhills have more influence with the scottish establishment and a far scarier legal defence team?..Surely not. I wonder what the people of Leadhills village and surroundings think of all this – damaging to their tourism, damaging to the reputation of the whole area as a clean environment..and finally potentially extremely damaging to any person, child, working dog or pet who might have come across the poison stash. Carbofuran is a deadly poison. This isnt just some obscure environmental issue – its about public safety.
    Has anyone approached the local MP/MSPs, Community Council etc about this?

    1. No. Nobody dares to speak up. It’s not going to change anything. The landowner is untouchable. Nobody in this Estate wants to be blacklisted.

  3. So, as long as you have some friends in the legal trade, it’s ok to leave deadly poison strewn around the countryside. Watch your dogs, and kids !

  4. sooner or later there is going to be an accidental Human fatality by using these poisons. the most likely victim with respect will be a gamekeeper, can those who disregard the current situation stand up and face the family of whoever falls victim to this ridiculous missuse of poison and honestly say they did everything in their power to stop it. do the SGA honestly believe a landowner will stand up and say he authorised the use of it. will the health and safety exec say they had warned estates against using these poisons. will the police and government departments stand by idly twiddling their thumbs hoping it will all blow over. didnt expect anything to come of this so it came as no surprise

  5. I was notified of this through Twitter and as a resident of nearly seven years, I have some observations.

    When I arrived, birdsong in Leadhills was sparse; matters improved slightly over the following few years, but its only in the last three years that big change has occurred; since the removal of the old head keeper and some others, in the wake of a persecution incident.

    The new head keeper – along with a new estate manager took over. Since then, we have witnessed a transformation that has brought raptors ever closer two our community. Most recently, about the time that project raptor put out their community warning, red kites have been seen circling over our church and I drove past no less than eight (8) buzzards, between the kennels and our village, barely a mile.

    This begs the question, what on earth is going on? Raptors on the increase, something welcomed by most of us, yet a significant carbofuran find, but a few months ago. Until the new head keeper took over, there was a lot of uneasiness here; but as the raptor population has expanded and over the past year, we have witnessed their approach to our village, our relations with the keepers are much improved. And then this find.

    It is my understanding that the keepers have cooperating fully with the police investigation, voluntarily providing finger prints and DNA samples, yet the investigation has failed to connect any of them to this crime. Might it actually be the case that they are not responsible for this, that it was the action of some other individual(s)? Having personally spoken to the head keeper and the estate manager, having witnessed the upset caused to them by the issue of a community warning that at best implies they “got away with it”, I am inclined to believe them, as are many other villagers.

    Many of us, including me, are not supporters of hunting or shooting, but as long as that’s part of village life, we’ll accept it – I like many others chose to come here, and I’m not about to tell the real locals that they should abandon their tradition – except that of raptor persecution. And to the credit of the current game keeping team, current evidence, with the sole exception of this hideous find, suggests that they are not persecuting anything.

    Someone planted that bait and we want to know who as much as anyone else. We are getting along with our new keepers, we have children and pets to worry about, so idiots planting poison bait will get very short shrift, should they find themselves caught red-handed by some of the more volatile members of our community. We don’t like our kids and pets threatened and we don’t like seeds of suspicion and bitterness sown in our community.

    So please have a care. The Leadhills shoot (deservedly) has a terrible reputation that for decades has divided this community. The current keeper team have done a great deal to heal this rift, as has the influx of new people committed to protecting raptors, as evidenced by the ongoing recovery of our raptor population, only to have it practically undone overnight though a spiteful leaflet. We believe that until there is tangible evidence linking the keepers to this or any other new wildlife crime, we are happy to give the keeper team the benefit of the doubt – they darn well deserve it. We believe that the bait was planted either by a rogue individual with a hatred of raptors or by some other individual for purposes unknown; though we can certainly speculate.

    We are aware and we are watching.

    1. “And to the credit of the current game keeping team, current evidence, with the sole exception of this hideous find, suggests that they are not persecuting anything.”

      I take it you did know that a Red Kite was found shot at Leadhills in early August, and had to be euthanised because of its injuries? So, it would appear that someone at Leadhills still has a dislike for raptors.

      As for the poster, I think the game management team (and yourself) have misinterpreted its message. The notice served as a warning to the public about the dangers of contact with a potentially deadly substance, and offered advice if dead birds or suspected poisons were found. As far as I can see, it did not suggest that anyone had “got away with it” and I don’t believe it was spiteful in any way. However, I would be very grateful if you could direct me to any segment of the poster that you deem to be spiteful, and any part in which it suggests that someone “got away with it”. If you would be so kind as to follow up on this offer, I would be more than happy to re-read the poster in case I’ve misread anything.

      1. Thanks Marco.

        I was not aware of a red kite death on the estate, it was my understanding that it was actually within the village itself. On which matter, I am interested to know what kind of firearm was used – there are a number of air weapons about the village and possibly some rifles, which raises the real possibility that this incident is in no way “Estate” related – it might have been an ignorant teen with an air weapon.

        I concede partially, your point regarding the poster. I have re-read it and find my own perception skewed in a manner I intended to avoid and wished others to avoid; put simply I had failed to read it thoroughly, allowing local perceptions, context, to colour my assessment; of the following paragraph, in particular:

        “In an area where there is persistent evidence of wildlife crime occurring, such as the unlawful targeting and killing of birds of prey, then this may have a significant and damaging impact on tourism and therefore the local economy. The reputation of a community can also be harmed by the actions of a criminal minority operating in your area.”

        I, like many other villagers, took this to be a veiled reference to Leadhills Estate and to its game keepers, and also a sleight against the village itself – we are well aware of the Estate’s reputation and we have no desire to be tarred with the same brush. I’m sure you can appreciate how easily this can happen, given the context of the leaflet’s appearance.

        This is in itself an issue, in that many local people, with no alignment to the shootin’ fraternity, are alarmed by what they see as the tarnishing of the current keeper team. Word of the poison bait incident spread quickly here. Whilst detail was unclear until the incident was made public in June, it was evident that a major event had occurred. When the event was made public, many assumed a keeper was behind it, given past history; but many also wondered at the circumstances, as I later discovered.

        Taking both these issues together, raises more shadows. We don’t know what type of firearm killed the red kite, nor where exactly, it was found; we don’t know precisely where the bait was found – other than it was apparently in plain sight. These are salient details which we are in need of knowing and understanding, because of the shadows they raise. No one denies that there is raptor persecution going on here (though apparently, not a “successful” as previously), and the vast majority of us would dearly like to know who precisely, is behind it and would also like to see them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law (along with a few other more colourful suggestions).

        Our immediate problem is that a small minority of the members of our community are currently feeling besieged; between these incidents, police investigations and the appearance of the leaflet, in the wake of these incidents. For now, that minority – the keepers – have apparently been cleared of involvement in the bait incident, but it seems to them that there is a perception that they “did it” anyway. Rightly or wrongly, the leaflet has intensified that feeling. There will be similar perceptions regarding the death of the red kite. Very likely within this village, there is a still smaller group or an individual, with foul intent towards raptors.

        For us, these circumstances are at best uncomfortable; at worst, things could get ugly. As a community, we want to get along peacefully and in the friendly, open manner that had developed prior to these incidents. We also want to continue to enjoy the presence of raptors close to our village. To do that, we need and are willing, to give the keepers the benefit of the doubt, until and if ever, we have good reason not to. We also need to be watchful and alert – which would be easier and more productive if we were privy to exactly what we need to be looking out for. Are we looking for someone with an air weapon, a rifle or a shotgun? Which part of the grouse moor is the locale favoured by the poison baiter? We need facts: dates, times and locations, and anything else in the way of salient information. We are on the front line, but we don’t where to shoot or who to shoot at (pardon the analogy).

        It is evident for events recent and historical, that how such events are portrayed, what detail is included or omitted, that the conveyance of messages is a subtle science. We are all capable of reading between the lines to some degree and we all make assumptions – that can often be anticipated and/or exploited. We are in the realms of the politics of raptor persecution and this is of benefit to no one. I would hope that we can progress with some sensitivity and diplomacy, such that the community of Leadhills can be wholly united in the fight against raptor persecution. The fact is that the vast majority want to protect our raptors, but right now, there is much hideous in-fighting over supposed blame and sweeping assumptions, that we are simply not pulling together. If someone at project raptor had consulted with a small cross-section of the villagers, prior to distribution of the leaflet, they might well have been advised to at least, tone it down or even to leave well alone. The fact is that that leaflet, however well intentioned and carefully worded, has stirred up a hornet’s nest – because people make assumptions and read between the lines.

        Marco, If you are able to flesh out any of the specifics of these incidents, I would be grateful. I am publishing what I can to my own website – for the Leadhills community, some of which I will amend, in the light of your input – for which I am also grateful.

        1. Hi Mike,

          Thanks for your comments. We would suggest you contact the local police wildlife crime officer for further details of the crimes you mentioned (the location of the poisoned baits, the details of the shot red kite) and you might also like to ask him about the details of a shot otter found at Leadhills in June this year – still waiting for the Police to publicise that incident. You could also ask him how the investigation is going into the shot golden eagle that was found critically injured last year on Buccleuch Estate, just over the boundary from Leadhills Estate.

          PC Dave Wood is your local police willdife crime officer (Police Scotland Q Division, Lanarkshire). Here is his email address:

          1. Thanks for that and will do.

            I was just speaking with a friend from Wanlockhead, about the Golden Eagle – needless to say, there is a lot of anger here over that and other incidents. I am hoping that it may be possible to develop some kind of coordination here. If the keepers are as they say, keeping within the law, we could frankly, use their help in getting to the bottom of what’s going on. At the moment there is little incentive for them to come forward with any knowledge and /or advice they might be able to offer. I hope that we can establish some common ground that can become a foundation for a real and effective effort towards stamping this persecution out.

            1. Mike, you have immediately jumped to the defensive again. You do realise that I didn’t mention that the Red Kite was shot on the estate? But anyway, as RPS has already suggested, contact with the local WCO would be advisable in relation to this and other recent incidents. If you and the villagers have concerns about the illegal activities in your area, perhaps you could ask him why the police are so lax when it comes to investigating such issues, and demand stronger action when the next issue arises?

              To be honest, I am confused by your stance. You’re convinced that someone else planted the bait and killed the Red Kite (which incidentally is a similar behaviour to which you falsely accused Project Raptor of), and this may well be the case, however you must realise that any illegal activity will be held back from the general public. If someone is illegally killing wildlife, it’s unlikely that they’re going to admit it to you, the postal worker, the village shop owner or the local bobby. Most criminals involved in serious crime will claim innocence.

              You have also mentioned that you are a relative newcomer to the village, and the current gamekeepers and estate team are more recent arrivals, suggesting that they are not locals themselves. You also stated that “I’m not about to tell the real locals that they should abandon their tradition”, which leads me to ask how many real locals are still involved in the area’s shooting?

              But finally, and more importantly, I strongly disagree with the sentiment that there is little incentive for the management team to come forward with any knowledge or information they might have (or get). If they are a law-abiding team and are wanting to be seen as such, then there is every incentive for them.

              Time will tell.

              [Ed: Thanks Marco. Some edits have been made, as you’ll understand]

              1. Thanks, Marco.

                I have written to Dave Wood, awaiting a reply.

                I have spoken to a variety of locals, who for a variety of reasons, choose to remain unnamed in a public forum. Their accounts, assertions and beliefs regarding recent incidents alone, vary widely – I am convinced only that events untoward are occurring. As an informant has conveyed to me, proving anything is insanely difficult.

                Some locals either believe or suspect that recent incidents are plants, intended to incriminate another party, a small minority have expressed the suspicion that project raptor is behind it, which in a veiled manner, I have conveyed – I am not one of them (I see no evidence), I do however, feel that the issue of the community notice was clumsily handled, in its structure and perhaps its timing.

                My stance is that of a global thinker (I choose that term as that is how I have been described). That is, I take nothing at face value, I require proof or (as a poor second best) consensus, I perceive events in a global context, I see probability as a means of assessment, but never a definitive tool of judgement – the balance of probability can and does throw up unexpected outcomes. For me, “belief” is transient and flexible, I am committed to open ended thinking, thus the path I am attempting to follow is decidedly foggy and is likely to be long. There is no preconceived outcome, only the objective – which I may not live long enough to reach, I am getting old and tired.

                I note, not for the first time, that crystallised belief is attributed to me when it is not present; words can be so treacherous. Not entirely surprising in a culture where faith and belief are at times taken to be synonymous. You may have guessed by now, that this culture is not of my choosing and I continue to struggle with its lack of cohesion and purpose – but that’s another story.

                For now, I am seeking out and evaluating information; where it is wanting, I will seek to fill in gaps. What I cannot entertain is any preconceived notion of what the outcome may be, for in all such things, what is possible carries far greater weight than what is probable – as Holmes would say, “Whatever remains, however improbable, is the truth.”

                1. OK, Mike. I hope you have some success with the WCO, and they will offer a more pro-active approach in future investigations and determine who is committing wildlife crimes in your area.

                  You mention that some locals believe that recent incidents are plants. Can you clarify if this means they believe that Project Raptor is also responsible for the shooting of the Red Kite, the Golden Eagle and the Otter, or if this belief is restricted to the poison baits find?

                  1. Hi Marco.

                    No one I have spoken to has explicitly implicated Project Raptor, but I am afraid that I cannot say with absolute confidence that no one here believes that. Some comments have indicated a suspicion that this might be the action of extremists, along with the view that such might be rogue individuals, rather than an organised group; the inference here being that extremists may be responsible for any or all of these incidents.

                    The feeling expressed predominantly, by those leaning towards the “plant” scenario, is along the lines that the game keepers have a great deal to loose from such blatant abuses; ergo, it’s someone else (whom ever that someone else may be). Needless to say, the counter that this could be “double bluff”, can also be argued. Then again, if one is to be thorough, might we not be witnessing the settling of “old scores”, raptor persecutor to law abiding keeper?

                    If there are people here who hold Project Raptor to be responsible, I would think (and hope) them to be very much a minority.

                    I remain mindful that extremists of any ilk, may be and often are, present in plain sight. It is so muddy here, but I will continue in my efforts to learn to see.

                    I can also tell you that Andy has posted to my site, some information relating to the successful nurturing of hen harriers alongside grouse, at Buccleuch – the Langholme Project. This is much appreciated as it gives our community some insight into what our moors should be hosting, and therefore what is being stolen from us.

                    All the best, MikeF

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