General licences suspended on four Scottish grouse moors in response to raptor persecution crimes

Yesterday, SNH published the following press release:

General licences restricted in wildlife crime hotspots

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has restricted the use of general licences on four properties in two wildlife crime hotspots – one in Stirlingshire and one in the Borders – this week. The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

Nick Halfhide, SNH Director of Operations, said:

“There is clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on these properties. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the general licences on these four properties for three years. They may though still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

“This measure should help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, albeit under tighter supervision. We consider that this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime.”

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, including controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

The new measure complements other recent actions to reduce wildlife crime, including vicarious liability for offences against wild birds, which was introduced in 2011.

Restrictions will prevent people from using the general licences on the land in question for three years. This period will increase if more evidence of offences comes to light.


As promised in earlier correspondence with SNH about potential General Licence restrictions (e.g. see here), SNH has published ‘details’ of the current restrictions on its website. Although when we say ‘details’ we use the term loosely. The names of the estates have not been published (but see below) and the specific reasons (crimes) that triggered the restriction orders are also absent.

Instead, SNH has published two maps showing the areas where the three-year restriction orders will be in place.

Restriction order #1 can be viewed here: GL restriction order 1_ Nov 2015-2018

The map denoting the area relating to Restriction order #1 is here:

Raeshaw Corshope GL restriction map 2015

Having consulted Andy Wightman’s brilliant website Who Owns Scotland to check estate boundaries, we now know that the delineated area shown in Restriction order #1 includes parts of Raeshaw Estate and the neighbouring Corsehope Estate.

This is fascinating. Raeshaw Estate is well known to us and continues to be of interest. It is a mixed upland estate combining driven grouse shooting as well as pheasant and partridge shooting. We have documentary evidence that Mark Osborne’s company is involved in the estate management (more on that in the near future). Raeshaw Estate has been raided by the police at least twice (2004 and 2009 – poisoned and shot raptors and poisoned baits – see here) although nobody has ever been prosecuted for these crimes. However, the General Licence Restriction can only be applied for crimes that have been uncovered since 1st January 2014; it cannot be applied retrospectively for offences that took place prior to 1st January 2014. This means that further raptor crimes have been uncovered here but there has not been any publicity about them. Why not? There was news of a shot buzzard found in the nearby area on 24th July 2015 (see here), but this bird was found AFTER SNH had notified the estate of the intention to restrict the General Licence (see here) so this incident cannot be the one that triggered the General Licence Restriction.

Corsehope Estate has not been on our radar, although we’re told by local sources that gamekeepers from Raeshaw Estate are involved with ‘vermin control’ here so now we’re very interested.

Restriction order #2 can be viewed here: GL retriction order 2_ Nov 2015-2018

The map denoting the area relating to Restriction order #2 is here:

Burnfoot Wester Cringate GL restriction map 2015

Again, consulting Andy Wightman’s excellent website Who Owns Scotland to check estate boundaries, we now know that the delineated area shown in Restriction order #2 includes parts of Burnfoot Estate and Wester Cringate Estate.

This is also interesting. We believe (although it must be stressed that this is educated speculation as SNH has not published the information) that this restriction order probably relates to a series of raptor persecution crimes including a poisoned red kite (July 2014), a poisoned peregrine (February 2015) and an illegally trapped red kite (May 2015) – see here.

So, what do these General Licence Restriction orders mean? Basically, it means that the following activities, usually permitted under General Licences 1, 2 and 3, are now not permitted in the areas shown on the two maps for three years, starting 13th November 2015 and ending 12th November 2018:

The killing or taking of the following species:

Great black-backed gull, carrion crow, hooded crow, jackdaw, jay, rook, ruddy duck, magpie, Canada goose, collared dove, feral pigeon, wood pigeon, lesser black-back gull, and herring gull.

The use of the following methods to kill/take these species are not permitted:

Pricking of eggs, oiling of eggs, destruction of eggs and nests, use of Larsen trap, use of Larsen Mate trap, use of Larsen Pod trap, use of multi-catch crow cage trap, shooting with any firearm, targeted falconry, and by hand.

That sounds great, doesn’t it? But it’s not quite as clear cut as that. As we’ve discussed before, and as is stated in the SNH press release at the top of this blog, although these activities can no longer be carried out in the two denoted areas under the cover of the three General Licences, individuals may still apply for an individual licence to permit these activities, although SNH claims that if granted, these will be “closely monitored”.

What does ‘closely monitored’ actually mean? Closely monitored by whom? Daily inspections by SNH? Police Scotland? That’s hardly going to happen, is it?

Let’s hope that members of the general public, exercising their right to visit these areas under open access legislation, pay close attention to what’s going on around them. If they see a Larsen trap in use, or a crow cage trap in use, or witness any of the above bird species being killed/taken by any of the methods mentioned above, they inform the Police straight away. Actually, let’s hope they forget the police and inform RSPB Scotland and/or the SSPCA instead – they’re more likely to get a quick response from them.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out. On the one hand, we welcome these Restriction orders and applaud the Scottish Government (especially former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse for initiating them), SNH and Police Scotland for pursuing what we hope will be the first of many such Restriction orders. But on the other hand, will these restrictions be anything more than a minor inconvenience to the estates involved because they can simply apply for individual licences to continue their game-shooting activities? We’ll have to wait and see.

RSPB Scotland’s response to the two General Licence Restriction orders here

As yet no response from Scottish Land & Estates or the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association but we’ll post them here if/when they comment.

UPDATE 11.50hrs: The SGA has issued the following statement on their website:

On November 4th 2015, SNH announced general licence restrictions to two areas encompassing four properties.
The SGA has issued the following statement in response to questions.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The SGA cannot condone wildlife crime and has a clear and consistent policy regarding this.
“As regards this case, it is our understanding that legal discussions are taking place regarding the areas affected and, therefore, it is not appropriate for us to comment further.”
UPDATE 13.20hrs: Statement from Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod:

“The announcement by SNH that the use of general licences has been restricted on specified areas of land in the Borders and in Stirlingshire is a result of work that the Scottish Government commissioned in July 2013 as part of a package of measures to combat wildlife crime.

We welcome the progress that has been made with this work. However we have not been involved in the decision-making and do not have any comment on the individual cases in question. The General Licence system is a light touch form of regulation. It is clearly sensible to apply closer scrutiny to areas where there is good evidence that wildlife crime has taken place, and we believe that this will prove a useful tool in the fight against bird of prey persecution.”

36 thoughts on “General licences suspended on four Scottish grouse moors in response to raptor persecution crimes”

  1. A start. Lets hope SNH extent these restrictions to the estates south of Inverness where raptor persecution is a gigantic problem, highlighted by the lack of dispersal and numbers of Red Kites.

    1. My sentiments exactly, let’s hope they do keep a close eye on what’s going on. How about a leaflet/email distributed to walking clubs to keep a look out? The more people that are aware the better.

  2. I suppose that one of the good things about this restriction, if it works, is that it can be used against an estate with hidden offshore owners (e.g. Kildrummy). If the government went further and an individual licence restriction was put in place it would surely put a stop to raptor persecution as moors would, in effect, be shut down, at least temporarily, as a ‘viable’ grouse moor.

  3. Excellent news at last, let’s hope there’s now a growing general awareness of the scale of raptor persecution on the shooting estates and the urgent need to do something serious to put a stop to it. What we really want now is real concerted action from our laid back police force and our one sided (biased) justice system to apprehend and convict these wildlife persecuting criminals.

  4. Time will tell, but unfortunately I can’t share the optimism being expressed by most comments so far. The statement from SGA implies that a legal challenge may be being prepared, and I can’t help but feel that should they employ a smart enough legal team, the outcome will be a big disappointment for those of us fighting raptor persecution. We all know how easy it appears to be to get around a “light touch” form of regulation, to quote our esteemed Environment Minister. Some lawyers make fortunes doing just that. I won’t discuss potential legal weaknesses of this specific case here, mainly because I’m not a lawyer, but I’m sure the SGA legal people will be onto them already (as will most readers of this blog).

    Something rather fundamental, which I feel I’ve spent most of my life banging my head against a brick wall about, would suggest that the effect of the three-year suspension of the general licence is of an even lighter touch than either side appears to realise. Take a look at the list of species which the licence covers. The grouse moors are hardly likely to become over-run with marauding Jays, Collared Doves or Feral Pigeons. In fact the only species which might concern grouse moor managers are Great Black-backed Gull, Carrion Crow, Hooded Crow, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gull.

    For many decades I have argued strongly that crows are nowhere near as “harmful” as the folklore would have us believe. Scientific research (e.g. carried out Prof David Houston of the University of Glasgow) has proved me right in the case of their impact on hill sheep farming. Yet in my frustrating experience most farmers are not interested in scientific results which contradict beliefs that have been passed down to them by earlier generations. Similarly with foxes; I have spoken to many farmers on this topic over the years and they firmly believe that every hill fox frequently kills recently born lambs. Most “evidence” is hearsay, and I’ve noticed a distinct tendency for it to be “a neighbour” who has reported a recent problem. I would conclude that most of these problems are imaginary, and even among scientists it’s possible to construct a problem if we simply go looking for one.

    My point about the ineffectiveness of suspending the general licence is that the difference made to grouse productivity by Carrion (and Hooded) Crow predation is marginal. Ecologically it is not even significant (in the philosophical, not necessarily mathematical, sense). Fundamental habitat management is the only real form of management which makes the vital difference. Most readers of this blog will know, without me going into any further detail, that even the sort of habitat management practiced on grouse moors is damaging and unsustainable. In the early days, particularly during the Victorian era, the removal of predators and the burning of heather produced a bountiful supply of Red Grouse for the aristocracy to use as moving target practice. However through time this assault on biodiversity and peatbog structure resulted in degeneration, and the grouse shooting interests seem intent on pursuing these damaging practices until they bleed the moors dry. In many cases they have already achieved that, including significant depletion of Red Grouse populations (why so little concern about that, even by conservationists?).

    As for the gulls on the general licence list, gamekeepers and other countryside folklorists would have us believe they are “a menace” (how often do we hear them using that word?), but in reality they are no threat to grouse stocks except perhaps in a very isolated number of unusual situations (which under the legislation should be demonstrated by the licence applicant). It’s time some proper research was carried out to test the allegations that crows, gulls and other determined “vermin” species deserve the application of that particular anachronism. As a dedicated harrier worker, I was appalled to hear one of the worst cases of prejudice against crows when attending a lecture where the speaker (from the Langholm project) stated categorically that “Carrion Crows are horrendous predators of harrier chicks”! I have never witnessed nor seen any evidence of that.

    I would contend that a three-year moratorium on crow control (again, there are some very simple ways around that which I won’t detail) will make absolutely no difference to the viability of grouse shooting on the moors concerned. More importantly, I believe it will make very little if any difference to raptor persecution. Keepers will still be active, out on the moors carrying shotguns for killing foxes and other so-called vermin, and the only difference made by the “light touch” regulations will probably be to make them carry out their illegal acts with greater discretion. There are other more cynical ploys they could adopt (as some already do), but again I’m not going to give out any ideas. However, we shouldn’t presume all gamekeepers are entirely stupid. Truly rigorous independent monitoring could be part of the solution, but will that happen?

  5. I criticised Paul Wheelhouse when he was Environment Secretary that he was a typical politician, all noise and no action. at least he fronted up and attempted to make changes, this legislation was brought in on his watch. We know the withdrawal of general licenses can be easily circumnavigated so it is with interest to see that certain groups, current members of PAWS (partners for action against wildlife crime) are already preparing legal challenges against the withdrawal of general licenses.
    Whilst I might have criticised Paul Wheelhouse you did hear from him on a regular basis, how long has Dr Aileen McLeod been in this position now! Wheelhouse built momentum, he had his party behind and they were all in favour of sorting the problems of wildlife crime once and for all, while I find its nice to hear something at last from the invisible woman, (you can only hide beneath the parapet for so long) I cant help think she sounds to be apologising and distancing herself from SNH in her update, to me it comes across as she didn’t have a clue SNH were going to do this!
    “However we have not been involved in the decision-making and do not have any comment on the individual cases in question. The General Licence system is a light touch form of regulation”.

    Good post from Jack Snipe, totally agree, this legislation is a waste of time, it will take another 4 years at least to evaluate it is useless by which time there will be a new environment secretary in place who will dodge and hide from the same questions being asked again.
    Off topic, It was nice to read the Audobon article. At least the Americans who spend a vast fortune visiting Scotland annually now know the other untold storey, they can now compare Grouse Moors with Trophy Hunting, Trophy Hunting has one unfortunate victim, look at the last blog on here at the unfortunate Badger, Grouse shooting has many unfortunate victims, it was started by the Victorians and is now pursued by people who dress up as Victorians to participate

    1. Yes, as already explained in the RPS lead article, and I’m sure they’ll get whatever they ask for, backed up by their usual pack of lies.

    2. thats my interpretation of it Circusmaxim, more Paperwork! from what I can gather most estates employ or use to employ freelance experts to make sure they get all the grants and subsidies due to them, they’ll more than likely have someone to pass this paperwork on to and to sort it out for them. this is not even the naughty step!

  6. I’m sure I mentioned at the time, but just in case I didn’t, I will mention it now. Any restrictions on the use of General Licences is a total waste of time, and it is just another feeble attempt by the Scottish Government to “show” that they are doing something to tackle raptor persecution.

    The landowners and gamekeepers from the shooting estates are perfectly happy to target protected species at all times of the year, even when such criminal action has the potential to lead to jail terms, so does anyone honestly expect these people to change when the punishment is a mere restriction on the usage of these licences? Even without resorting to the appeals procedures, or seeking loopholes, does anyone honestly expect that these people will not resume their killing sprees on corvids anyway?

    And let’s face it, the police can’t be bothered to carry out proper investigations when protected wildlife are being illegally killed, so I can’t see them rushing out if a member of the public reports the deaths of some corvids. In all probability, such a report wouldn’t even be passed on from the call handler to an investigating officer.

    As has been mentioned elsewhere, the issue of the scale of predation by corvids has been greatly exaggerated by those lying, deceitful “guardians of the countryside” in the shooting and farming communities. No-one denies that corvids predate other creatures, it’s been happening for millennia, but if the “guardians” were to be believed, we should have seen many, many extinctions in recent centuries as a result of corvid predation, but we haven’t.

    Furthermore, and it is worth repeating, technology nowadays will see the majority of people in possession of a camera of some sorts, and these cameras will most probably be in people’s pockets, yet it is very difficult to find filmed evidence of corvids killing lambs, or of the widespread carnage that these birds supposedly cause.

  7. A point of clarification from my previous comments – when I ended by saying “Truly rigorous independent monitoring could be part of the solution, but will that happen?”, I meant rigorous independent monitoring of Hen Harriers and other protected species breeding success on the estate, not just breaches of the general licence suspension.

  8. I welcome this, not for whether this restriction makes a huge difference or not as per previous comments, but for the fact that its shining a light on these 4 estates in that they have been singled out for special public condemnation and treatment by SNH, as well as exposing the issue to people who may never have encountered this before.

    Even if one of their customers hear about this – corporate customers especially as they are big on social responsibility – and question why they are doing this at all, move their business to another estate or just cancel this type of activity would be a good thing.

    Any publicity is good publicity.

  9. Have to agree with Marco M. I’m afraid, and my initial cheer was soon muted when I read that the killers can still apply for individual licences. However, at least we have learned one thing – Aileen McLeod actually exists, even though she has distanced herself from the first real action taken for some length of time! What a surprise! But of course RPS are right – who is going to do the ‘close monitoring’, perhaps the police and SNH intend to use drones?!!! At least it’s a start I suppose, so let us wait to see what the SGA and their lawyers come up with. We won’t have long to wait I suspect.

    1. Earlier in Aileen McLeod’s term of office I attended an event where she made a presentation and I resisted the urge to buttonhole her or to heckle. Now I wouldn’t be able to hold back, and I’d probably have to take my place in a queue!

  10. Appears to be completely unworkable. It’s really an attempt bt the Scottish Government to be seen to be doing something. An inefective sham.

  11. I think it’s time we forgot all about the half hearted attempts at tightening the regulations to gently squeeze them into behaving themselves, it’s fairly obvious by now that they never will obey the wildlife laws regardless of how many rules, licences and regulations we have. Whatever we’ve tried, and we have tried, nothings worked so far, everybody knows they don’t give a damn about the law or licencing or anything else that interferes with their grouse shooting. It’s obvious they have the tame police and the courts on their side and the politicians will always favour them at every opportunity whether it’s right or wrong.

    SNH / NE are just puppets on a string and will do what they are told by their lords and masters on the shooting estates, these weightless licence restrictions will soon be overruled on appeal as has already been pointed out.

    There’s only one thing that will ever stop them persecuting protected raptors and other wildlife, we need to shout, push, advertise and blog at every opportunity the need for a total ban on driven grouse shooting, only the weight of public opinion and publicity about the illegal and squalid carryings on on the grouse shooting estates will stop it !!!

  12. Definitely a step in the right direction……………………………but who exactly is going to enforce this.

    Legislation is worthless if it not enforced. Another reason to give SSPCA increased powers

    1. Ben, have you not read through the previous comments? Enforce what? The so-called punishment is no more effective, literally, than a slap on the wrist. I’ve noticed on other sites that some commenters are under the impression that the offending estates have been banned from grouse shooting for three years. If only. Fortunately no-one has misunderstood to that extent (so far) on the RPS site.

      All that the suspension of the general licence means effectively to these estates is that they cannot cull gulls or crows, and this point is important… within their own boundaries. The keepers will be laughing up their sleeves! Neither gulls nor crows impact significantly on grouse populations anyway, no matter what popular countryman opinion might say to the contrary. That is a myth perpetuated by gamekeepers to support the justification of their employment and way of life. If they had been prevented from continuing to slaughter foxes, stoats and other predatory mammals, not to mention the innocent mountain hare, well that might have upset them a bit more. There is also an option open to the estates for exemptions to be agreed. What do you think is their chance of failing to obtain these?

      The only condition that might stand a chance of success would be a requirement for the shooting estates to fund full-time independent monitoring of raptor breeding performance and survival. I’ve calculated that this could be done for the cost of about twenty gun-days per season. Allegedly some of the more popular grouse moors can turn over 60 guns in a day! And that’s only one of their income streams. Note how they love to tell us how many millions they invest “in the local economy”, but keep quiet on their profits.

      1. Jack

        it is my understanding that all birds are protected within the UK The general license makes it legal to trap, or kill certain species of birds.

        Therefor to trap. injure or kill any bird not under the general license would be a straight forward offence;of take or kill a will bird under Sect 1 Wildlife and Countryside Act. 1981. And to do so after having had and individuals right to use the general license would surely be seen by the courts as an aggravating fact.

        Kill, injure or take a wild bird is in itself is punishable by 6 moths imprisonment and also opens the doors to potential vicarious liability and removal of single farm payment.

        Where all this falls down is someone has to investigate and enforce this legislation.

        Both these estates should not be using crow traps , or killing any species of wildbird, crow, magpies, wood pigeon etc (excluding red grouse unfortunately)

  13. Ben, can you quote any case where someone has been jailed for trapping, injuring or killing a bird in the UK? Yes, you are right – they COULD be jailed for 6 monhs, but ……… !

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