Environment Minister accepts recommendations by wildlife crime penalties review group

Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group Report 2015 - CopySome good news for a change!

You may remember back in November 2015 the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group published its findings on how wildlife crime in Scotland is dealt with by the criminal justice system. The group concluded that the current system of wildife crime penalties in Scotland is wholly inadequate and the current penalties do not act as a deterrent to would-be offenders. The group produced ten short and medium term recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider, all of which we supported, including a call for increasing the maximum penalty from the current £5,000 to £40,000 (see here for our earlier blog on this).

This morning, Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod has responded to the report and has accepted the recommendations. She said:

Wildlife crime has no place in modern Scotland, this is why I have decided to increase the maximum available penalties to bring wildlife offences into line with other environmental crimes. It is important we have appropriate penalties that deter criminality but also reflect the impact these crimes can have on our environment and Scotland’s reputation as a wildlife tourism destination. Work will now begin on bringing together a list of relevant offences this change would apply to.

We already have the strongest wildlife legislation in the UK, in 2012 we implemented the vicarious liability provisions in relation to offences involving wild birds and we recently secured the second conviction under these provisions. We also funded the pesticide disposal scheme which removed over 700kg of illegally held poisons in Scotland. But I am determined to do even more to end these crimes that threaten the survival of some species and inflict cruelty on others.

I would also like to reiterate my thanks to the wildlife crime penalties review group and to Professor Poustie for their extensive work on this report.”


Further details of the recommendations, and the Scottish Government’s response to each one, can be found in this letter from the Environment Minister to Professor Poustie, the Chair of the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group: Scot Gov response Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Feb 2016

This is a good start. Of course, the devil will be in the detail as the Government considers how to incorporate the necessary legislative changes and also how much pressure it applies on Westminster to make changes for which it has jurisdiction, but at this stage we applaud the Minister’s intent and we’ll follow what we hope will be substantial progress as it’s made over the coming months/years.

But, as we said in November, the legislation alone is not enough. There’s no point having effective deterrent penalties if the enforcement isn’t there to get the wildlife criminals to court to face such penalties. This brings us neatly back to the SSPCA consultation – where are the increased investigatory powers for the SSPCA? When will the Environment Minister be making a decision on this? The consultation closed in September 2014. It’s been sitting on her desk for almost 18 months. The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee has pressed the Minister for an answer (here)…..we’re still waiting…..

UPDATE 17.30hrs:

RSPB Scotland’s response to the Minister’s announcement here

Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association response here (still pushing for licences to kill protected species, natch)

Scottish Land & Estates response here (still claiming wildlife crime ‘is in decline’, natch)

Ross-shire Massacre discussed at RACCE meeting

RK5Back to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment (RACCE) committee meeting in January….

The topic of the Ross-shire Massacre was raised again. For new readers, the Ross-shire Massacre refers to the discovery of 22 dead raptors in a small area of Conon Bridge in the Highlands in March 2014. Sixteen red kites and six buzzards were found dead: 12 red kites and 4 buzzards have since been confirmed to have been poisoned by a ‘banned substance’. There have been no arrests to date. Our last update was on the 18 month anniversary (here) and we’ll be writing more when the two-year anniversary rolls around in March.

In the meantime, here’s the discussion from the RACCE committee meeting in January. In a nutshell, 22 months on from one of the biggest mass raptor poisonings uncovered in Scotland, the police have no progress to report:

Dave Thompson MSP (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP): This concerns the cases involving raptors up in Ross-shire. I have a couple of letters from Police Scotland in that regard, and I want to tease out one or two little points. One of the letters refers to the “consequence of a … use of a banned substance” and to the belief “that the raptors may not have been the specific target”. The second letter makes it very clear regarding one case that “there are limited opportunities to progress unless someone comes forward with information.”

You are probably aware that I have asked for some kind of interim report into the initial handling of that case. I was told in that letter that “Police Scotland does not produce ‘interim reports’ during a live investigation”. Given that the case in question could be live for the next 20 years, we are never going to get an opportunity to consider how things were initially handled in relation to the matter. There are concerns in the community and elsewhere that there was perhaps some unnecessary delay and so on. Given that there will be “limited opportunities to progress unless someone comes forward” with evidence, have you carried out, or do you plan to carry out, any internal investigation as to how the investigation itself was initially carried out? If so, have you learned any lessons from that? Will you able to make any of that public at any point?

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: We had a fairly lengthy discussion last year about the current state of the case at that stage. Some similar points were raised about the handling of the matter in the media—that was about press statements, if I remember correctly. There was a desire to review our approach.

At the heart of the letter to which you have referred is the point that having the police produce a report is not necessarily the best way to address the issues. However, I would be very happy to be involved in something in future with a range of organisations and interested parties, including yourself, whereby we are able to sit down and gather what the concerns are. We are aware of most of them. We could work through how we could do things differently in future, and we could achieve that even within the scope of a live investigation, which would not require the police to produce a report as such. As I say, producing a report might not be the most effective approach.

As I reported last year, we have done a number of things internally to review the investigation at senior detective level, which is unprecedented in a wildlife crime investigation. We had what we call a major investigation advisory group meeting, with a process around that. That has been subject to both peer and senior officer review, assessment and support. Notwithstanding all that, we have not arrived at a position where we have been able to solve the crimes, as it were, although that is not to say that we will not in the future.

Therefore, I would still be cautious in ensuring that we do not do anything to prejudice any potential future cases. A lot of information is still being received about the case. Much of that is statements or reports along the lines of, “Everybody knows who’s done it”, “We all know what’s gone on”, or “Everybody knows where the police should be looking.” I can assure the committee that we have followed up every statement in which we can identify the individuals involved. That includes people coming to us or people whom we have been made aware of who have made such statements publicly or privately.

The committee might have had feedback indicating that people are surprised when we have taken a statement from them after quite some time has passed. Unfortunately, in every single case, the statement has turned out to be without substance. We have spoken to everybody we possibly could and, although there is a general perception that everybody knows who did it, no one has been able to give us their names. Given the huge effort that has gone into—and continues to go into—the inquiry, we should have a caveat here because of public concern about perceived police inaction. The case is still sitting with the detective superintendent in Inverness, who is the lead investigator. I have been assured by him, as recently as last week, that there is still an active review and engagement on any potential lines of inquiry that come to light.

A short documentary was recently aired on the internet that interviewed a number of people. We picked up a number of lines from that, which were similar to previous statements in which people asserted that everybody knew who had done it. However, no one in the documentary knew who had done it, because we have spoken to them all.

Dave Thompson: You suggested a meeting between a range of bodies and parties, perhaps including myself. It would have to be before 23 March, because I am not standing again, although I am sure that my successor—whoever that is— would be happy to take part. Such a meeting would reassure people. Although the public accept that the police continue to look into the case and that they would dearly like to get any evidence that would allow them to conclude it, there are questions about how the police went about things at the beginning. Such a meeting would be really useful because frank discussions could take place and the issue could be talked through, without you having to divulge things that might prejudice the case. I would welcome such a meeting, if you are offering one.

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: I am, and I offer to do it before 23 March.

More mountain hares slaughtered in the Angus Glens

The following photographs are from an article on the iShoot website, written by Peter Carr in April 2015 about a February trip he made to the Angus Glens to participate in a weekend of driven mountain hare shooting.

hares_AngusGlens_Feb2015_113 hares killed driven shooting



hares_AngusGlens_Feb2015_133 killed driven shoot

We’ve blogged a lot about the indiscriminate killing of mountain hares, particularly on grouse moors in the Lammermuirs (here), Deeside (here) and the Angus Glens (here) and many others have also been campaigning about this obscene bloodbath for a number of years.

SNH has a statutory duty to maintain a healthy population of mountain hares but conservationists have argued that the routine hare culls on grouse moors have led to a severe population decline in some areas.

In December 2014, SNH called for estates to practice ‘voluntary restraint’ on large sale culls – a move we considered to be pointless.

In April 2015, ten conservation organisations called on SNH to implement an immediate three-year ban on mountain hare culling (see here) until the impact of such widespread killing can be properly assessed. The grouse-shooting industry reacted strongly against this: the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association said it was “environmentally irresponsible” to call for a ban (eh??!) and Scottish Land & Estates said it was “ill-informed” and “heavy-handed”. You can see why SNH’s call for ‘voluntary restraint’ won’t work, can’t you!

We’re not sure if SNH has paid any attention to the ten conservation organisations calling for an immediate three-year ban. According to the SNH website, the plea for ‘voluntary restraint’ is still in place and new research is underway (due to complete in 2017) to assess the population status of the mountain hare.

Meanwhile, the slaughter continues….

Head gamekeeper Simon Lester resigns from Langholm Moor Demonstration Project

Langholm moorThere had been rumours for a few days and now it’s confirmed: Simon Lester, the head gamekeeper at the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project has resigned.

A statement has appeared on the Langholm Project website and is reproduced as follows:

Simon Lester, the LMDP’s headkeeper, has resigned from the project and will be leaving at the end of March 2016. Simon has provided tireless leadership to the five-man keepering team which has undertaken the key management actions for the project. These have resulted in significant improvement of the heather habitat, the effective use of fiversionary feeding of hen harriers each summer and the management of parasites and predators. These measures have increased the numbers of red and black grouse, and breeding raptors, notably hen harriers. This mixture of traditional and novel management has been successfully demonstrated to hundreds of project visitors by Simon in collaboration with the project’s science team.

Despite a larger grouse population than at the start, the project has not been able to produce a sustainably large, harvestable surplus of driven grouse to economically underpin the management. LMDP is now close to its formal end point and the board is reviewing what can and should be achieved in the remaining term of the project. The project board would like to thank Simon for his exceptional contribution.

It’s an interesting time for him to go, eight years in to a ten-year project. The official statement doesn’t explain his reasons, and nor should it as they’re personal, but it will inevitably lead to speculation.

Perhaps it’s because there (supposedly) hasn’t been an opportunity to begin driven grouse shooting on the moor, which is one of the fundamental aims of this project, although it has been argued that the decision not to shoot has been a political one. Grouse densities at Langholm in 2014 had recovered to the same densities that had allowed driven grouse shooting to take place there in the early 1990s, so why the decision not to shoot now? Many of us think it’s so the grouse-shooting industry can claim that the Langholm Project has ‘failed’, in order for them to persist with their argument that driven grouse shooting can’t function with all those pesky raptors around, even though years of research at Langholm have not produced a scrap of scientific evidence to show raptor predation has a large impact on the red grouse population. According to Langholm Project director Mark Oddy (of Buccleuch Estates), what is required now is lethal raptor control at Langholm (see here). Ah, there’s that ‘local knowledge is just as important as scientific evidence’ piece of guff theory.

Given Simon Lester’s view on raptor culling (he thinks it should happen – see here and here), we thought he might have stuck around at Langholm to see his dreams fulfilled. Although perhaps he realises that the chances of licences being issued to kill buzzards, based on no scientific justification whatsoever, are limited.

Scrolling down the Langholm Project website, it’s fascinating to see what else has been mentioned, or more interestingly, what hasn’t been mentioned.

There’s a bit about one of the guest blogs that appeared on Mark Avery’s website (here) that reported on a presentation given at a GWCT seminar about the Langholm Project, but strangely, there’s no mention of the second guest blog (here) where Mark Oddy (Buccleuch Estates) proclaimed lethal raptor control as the next step forward in the Langholm Project. How odd!

Scroll down a bit further on the Langholm Project website and you’ll find a statement about the illegal shooting of hen harrier ‘Annie’, one of the Langholm-hatched birds. Strangely, there’s no mention of where Annie’s corpse was discovered other than “an area over 40km to the north west of Langholm Moor”. The statement is strangely quiet about the fact that Annie’s corpse was found on a grouse moor on, er, Buccleuch Estates, part of the same estate where the Langholm Project is based. Why so coy? Just because her corpse was found there doesn’t mean that’s where she’d been shot, so why exclude this important detail?

All very odd.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next at Langholm. Will they employ a replacement head keeper and continue for the final two years, or will they decide to close the project early and declare it a failure?

Environment Minister urged to get off the fence re: SSPCA consultation

sspca logoBack to the cross-party Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment (RACCE) committee hearing in January….

One of the topics up for discussion between MSPs, Police Scotland and the Crown Office was the consultation on increasing the investigatory powers of the SSPCA to allow them to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes than they already do. As many of you will know, this issue has now dragged on for five years, ever since increased powers for the SSPCA was first suggested in February 2011 by former MSP Peter Peacock during the passage of the WANE bill through Parliament. For a potted history of this long drawn out fiasco, please see here.

So, the discussion started like this:

Alex Fergusson MSP (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con): My question follows on quite well from the point about the steps that can be taken to further identify and prosecute wildlife crime. The issue goes back almost two years, to March 2014, when the Government produced a consultation document that looked at further powers for the SSPCA. As everyone will be well aware, various viewpoints were submitted. After its discussion of the 2013 report, the committee wrote to the Government to express sympathy with Police Scotland’s view that accountability issues could arise if the SSPCA were to be given greater powers. We concluded that letter by saying: “The Committee looks forward to the Scottish Government’s forthcoming decision”. We still look forward to that decision, because we have not had one yet. Are you aware of any further discussions that have taken place in the intervening time about the further involvement of the SSPCA? Are the discussions still live or has the proposal died in the water?

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: There have been on-going discussions, and I have spoken to the Government about the matter. We, too, still look forward to hearing about the decision. There is perhaps not a huge amount more substance to be added to the debate. I do not think that anything has changed in relation to our view or the context in which that view was placed when it was given.

Alex Fergusson: An interesting statistic in table 11 of the 2014 wildlife crime report is that the number of cases investigated solely by the SSPCA and reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has reduced year on year. In 2009-10 the figure was 36; in 2013-14, it had halved. Is there a rationale for that reduction?

Tom Dysart (Crown Office): Before Mr Graham comments, I should mention that I have reviewed the figure in that period against the number of cases that COPFS received. According to the reports that we received, the number of cases was 10.

Alex Fergusson: What period were those 10 cases received in?

Tom Dysart: In the period 2013-14.

Alex Fergusson: You received 10 rather than 18 cases.

Tom Dysart: Yes.

Alex Fergusson: So the reduction is even greater.

Tom Dysart: It is.

Alex Fergusson: What is the reason for the reduction?

Tom Dysart: I simply observe that we received 10 reports, not 18. I found that out when I tried to reconcile our figures against those in the report more generally.

Alex Fergusson: Can anyone else comment on that?

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: The figures come from the SSPCA via the Government report, so I cannot add value, I am afraid.

Alex Fergusson: Has that difference, if you like, been made up for in other ways? In other words, does it leave a black hole in wildlife crime reporting or is the differential being taken up by people such as the police?

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: I suppose that the number is very small when we look at the difference, even if it is the difference between 18 and 10, across a year.

Alex Fergusson: It is between 36 and 10 cases over a five-year period.

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: Yes, but in relation to the cases that Police Scotland deals with, 26 cases will not put a significant resource burden on our approach, even in the context of 255 or 300 reports, as those are spread over a large number of officers. I am not aware that there has been any perception of an impact, or any reporting of one.

Alex Fergusson: To be fair, the question is probably more for the SSPCA than for you. It may have been a little unfair to have put that to you. The committee might want to follow up the issue in writing.


This sounds to us like a subtle but concerted effort to diminish the perceived extent of the SSPCA’s role in relation to wildlife crime investigations. We may be wrong, but that’s the impression we got, especially when you consider the above discussion in context with Police Scotland’s claim that they are pretty much on top of investigating raptor persecution crimes (see here) and thus implying that there’s no need for the SSPCA to get any increased powers.

Anyway, after the above discussion the RACCE committee did indeed write to the SSPCA to ask about the confusion over their submitted figures – here is the committee’s letter.

The SSPCA responded quickly with its own letter (here), which explains the confusion – the SSPCA figures were based on a calendar year whereas the figures to which Dysart was referring were based on a financial year. Simple.

The SSPCA’s letter also went on to explain that although the figures it submitted to the Crown Office were relatively low, they don’t reflect the full extent of the SSPCA’s wildlife crime caseload. Only a small percentage of the crimes investigated by the SSPCA (as with wildlife crimes investigated by the police) will actually reach the stage of being submitted to the Crown Office simply due to the well-known difficulties of finding sufficient evidence to be able to report a named individual for that crime. In other words, the extent of the SSPCA’s involvement cannot be judged just on the number of cases that are reported to the Crown Office – let’s hope the RACCE committee was not misled by this.

Malcolm Graham 2The RACCE committee’s discussion about the SSPCA continued as follows:

Claudia Beamish MSP (South Scotland) (Lab): I appreciate that the Scottish Government has not announced its response to the consultation, but can any of you comment on the possibility of further powers? I am a deputy convener of the cross-party group on animal welfare. We have had discussions, and I am aware that it has been highlighted that there could be a conflict of interests in relation to the SSPCA. So many challenges in relation to detection and prosecutions have been highlighted today, in your report last year—I was on the committee then— and over the years that I would have thought that an organisation as experienced as the SSPCA would be a valid partner to work with you on the issues. Do you have any comments on that?

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: To be clear, we are absolutely not saying that it is not a valid partner.

Claudia Beamish: I am not implying that in any way.

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: We are saying that it is a valid partner, and we work with it every day. We have an extremely good relationship with it, and I would not wish it to be characterised that our view on the additional powers suggested otherwise.

Claudia Beamish: I am certainly not implying that in any way.

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: If there is any room for an additional contribution to the combined effort to increase the detection of wildlife crime, we would do everything that we could to support that. However, that does not mean that that end will always justify the means of achieving it. I went into that in some depth last year and in our written responses to the SSPCA. We have to be very careful that, in going down that route, we do not undermine the validity, ethics and credibility of the end results because of the foundation on which they are based. Those are essentially the concerns that we have raised about the additional powers. We work with the SSPCA in lots of ways, and we would be very happy to look at other ways in which we could work with it. We have a good relationship with it, but that does not necessarily extend to our supporting the full extension to the powers that it sought, as members are aware.

Claudia Beamish: For the record, can you clarify for us what the concerns are about the possible additional powers?

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: Our open response to the consultation is already on the record.

Claudia Beamish: Can you clarify your concerns for the committee?

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: We felt that the checks and balances in governance were potentially not in place for an organisation such as the SSPCA, and that its role and purpose did not necessarily lend to its being given the powers that would allow it to progress investigations in the way that it sought without some additional governance being in place in the same way that it would be in place over everything that the police would do. We had concerns that there could be conflicts of interest. That is not to say that the SSPCA is not a really important part of what we do collectively. However, the effort and potential increased capacity that it could add to dealing with wildlife crime were overstated in its original submission, so the benefit certainly did not outweigh our concerns.

Claudia Beamish: Thank you. Could the governance issue be resolved if it were looked at? You are talking about a different level of governance for the consideration of additional powers to be possible.

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: We did not look into that in any great depth, but a superficial assessment is, I think, that it would be very challenging for a body that is constituted as a charity, in the way that the SSPCA is.


So not much new there really. Police Scotland continues to assert that there are issues of ‘accountability’ that should, in its opinion, preclude the SSPCA receiving greater investigatory powers. It’s a strange view, and one which we’ve explored before (see here). Why is it that the SSPCA can investigate a whole range of crimes, including some wildlife crimes, and report those cases to the Crown Office for the Crown to consider the evidence and proceed with a prosecution (or not), and those cases are not challenged on the grounds of a ‘lack of accountability’, and yet any suggestion that the SSPCA might be allowed to investigate wildlife crimes associated with the game-shooting industry and all of a sudden they have ‘accountability’ issues?

After this hearing, in early February the RACCE committee wrote to Environment Minister Aileen McLeod with their thoughts on what they had heard during the meeting. Their letter can be read here. In it, the committee writes the following about the SSPCA consultation:

In your response to the Committee’s letter on the Annual Report 2013, you indicated you would keep the Committee updated on developments with regard to a response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the extension of powers in wildlife crime investigation to the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA). To date, the Committee has not received an update and the Scottish Government has not published its conclusions resulting from the consultation. The Committee requests details of when your analysis and conclusions from the consultation will be published, and expects this to be in good time for the Committee to include this in its legacy report to its successor committee(s)“.

That’s a pretty clear message to the Minister. Get off the fence and make a decision, preferably before 23 March when Parliament is dissolved. The consultation closed in September 2014, it’s now February 2016. How much thinking time does she need?

The RACCE committee’s letter also asks the Minister about her decision on the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review report. It says:

Upon publication of the report of the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group, you wrote to the Committee indicating you would be considering the recommendations in detail. The Committee requests an indication of when your response to the report will be published and whether you are in a position to provide a view on the issue of penalties at this stage. This information will inform the Committee’s legacy report to its successor committee(s)“.

Again, another clear message to the Minister to get off the fence and make a decision.

The RACCE committee members are not the only ones asking the Minister to get on with making long overdue decisions. It recently emerged in a BBC article, ‘Pregnant beavers shot by landowners in Tayside‘ that the Minister has yet to make a decision on whether beavers should receive legal protection. The decision is now four years overdue and if the current Environment Minister continues to prevaricate, this year’s breeding season will result in more pregnant beavers being shot. Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone has called for Ministers to get off the fence.

Come on, Aileen, get a grip and do your job and earn that £86K salary!

(Mis)understanding predation 2

golden eagle carrying off girlOn Monday, a new report was launched by the Scottish Environment Minister called ‘Understanding Predation’. Available for download here: Moorland Forum Understanding Predation report

This study aimed to combine scientific, peer-reviewed evidence with anecdotal fairy tales about plagues of raptors, to inform ‘debate’ about the supposed impact of predators on their prey.

We’ve written about this ‘study’ previously (see here) and we’d recommend you have a read of our earlier comments as our view hasn’t changed.

The resulting report is massive (382 pages). We haven’t read it all. We made a start by looking at the section on hen harriers but couldn’t find one of the references it cites (Wilson et al 2015) and several other statements were referenced with this: “Error! Reference source not found”. This is hugely frustrating. The report authors have obviously used automated citation software but somebody hasn’t done a very good job of proof reading.

The associated press release talks a lot about ‘collaboration’ and about how this is a ‘ground-breaking’ project that should be seen as the way ahead for addressing conflict, but actually, there’s very little evidence of collaboration. The anti-raptor groups participated because it was a way of getting their prejudiced, unscientific views heard; the pro-raptor groups participated because they wanted to ensure the importance of scientific evidence for policy decisions was recognised. They all agreed on the need for action to protect declining wader populations but they fundamentally disagreed on the approach needed. The anti-raptor crowd want raptor culling, the pro-raptor crowd want a focus on habitat management. So really the situation is no further advanced than it was before this project started. A complete waste of time and money then.

If policy decisions about raptor ‘management’ were based on the premise of ‘local knowledge’ (i.e. made-up stories passed down through generations of gamekeepers) rather than scientific evidence, then we’d be culling sea eagles because they’re a threat to babies and small children, we’d be culling goshawks because they’re ‘non-native’, and we’d be culling red kites because they’re annihilating sand martins.

The next step in this project is apparently to decide a direction of research. The SGA has apparently suggested a pilot study to ‘save curlews’ based on the removal of buzzards, ravens and badgers. It’s hard to see this proposal getting wide (any?) public support – if it went ahead it’d probably result in mass demonstrations outside Holyrood at the very least.

Mark Avery has written about his take on the Understanding Predation report here. It’s very funny.

Chief wildlife crime cop uses guesswork to assess extent of raptor persecution

Malcolm Graham 2More from the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment (RACCE) committee hearing last month, when a question about the extent of raptor persecution crimes in Scotland was posed to Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham of Police Scotland.

Here’s the transcript:

Graeme Dey MSP (Angus South) (SNP): I want to get a feel for where we are at with raptor persecution. There is a view in some quarters that the extent of raptor persecution is way beyond that which is suggested by the recorded figures. Given their experience in this area, I would like to hear from ACC Graham and DCS Scott whether that is a fair view. What is your feeling about the issue in a general sense and not just in relation to the recorded figures? Is raptor persecution increasing or decreasing?

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: Again, we touched on this last year. The scientific or expert evidence about the absence of certain species appears to be mixed. I am not an expert in that and I am happy to listen to experts when they offer a view. If the absence of a species that we would expect to see in a certain area strongly indicates that a crime is happening, I am very interested to look at that. We have been doing that in those areas and through the raptor group. It may well be that there is more work to be done in that respect.

Set against that is the relatively low level of reporting, in the context of all crime. I do not wish to dismiss the importance of every crime that is identified or every dead bird that is found but, given the level of focus, which includes the dedicated focus of interested groups with a specific role in bird conservation or preservation or specific raptor groups, the low level of information that comes to us as intelligence or reports only leaves me thinking that, with all that effort, we are not missing the vast majority of what is going on here.

At a previous meeting, we had a discussion about the perception that reporting levels were the tip of the iceberg. My view on that has not changed. More work needs to be done and there is, undoubtedly, a level of underreporting and therefore underrecording, but we are catching a significant amount of it. We are doing everything that we can to increase public awareness and to work with those who potentially would have a motivation to commit such crimes to dissuade them from doing so and to make it an unattractive option for them. It is increasingly likely that, if raptor crime is going on, we will hear about it. That leads me to think, in relation to your final point, that the problem is not increasing; rather, it is more likely to be the case that we are hearing about a greater proportion of cases and probably less crime is happening.

Graeme Dey MSP: It was useful to get that on the record. Thank you.


Can you believe that? We can, because he said something very similar when asked about the extent of raptor persecution back in 2014 (see here). At that time his opinion was based on a ‘feeling’. This time we’re not sure what it’s based on – maybe the content of a Xmas cracker?

ACC Graham recognises that under-reporting, and thus under-recording, takes place, so how can he possibly know that “we are catching a significant amount” of the crimes that take place? Sorry, but that’s just fabricated nonsense! Read any academic paper on problems with assessing the extent of wildlife crimes and they all say that under-reporting and under-recording is a significant barrier to tackling wildlife crime. What makes raptor persecution crimes in Scotland so different? Does ACC Graham have some sort of magical power that allows him to see every inch of every driven grouse moor at every minute of every day and every night throughout the year?

He says “the scientific or expert evidence about the absence of certain species appears to be mixed”. Mixed? Really? Which papers has he been reading? Clearly not the ever-growing pile of scientific papers that all point to criminal raptor persecution on driven grouse moors as the cause of widespread population decline for golden eagles, hen harriers, peregrines and red kites. What on earth is he talking about?

Scottish Environment LINK was just as gobsmacked as us at this piece of ACC Graham’s evidence to the RACCE committee. They address the issue in a letter they wrote to the committee shortly after the hearing:

“…..Firstly, we are concerned with ACC Graham’s response to a question asked by Graham Dey MSP about levels of raptor persecution. ACC Graham commented that “this isn’t an increasing problem, in fact it’s more likely to be the case that we’re hearing about a greater proportion and there’s probably less happening.” We consider this assertion to be anecdotal at best. We feel that it is important that the RACCE committee gets a wider picture of wildlife crime.

The Scottish Government has not yet published statistics for wildlife crimes occurring since 1st April 2014; indeed government reports only cover the period 1st January 2012 to 31st March 2014. We suggest that with only just over two years of data published by government, an unknown and varying percentage of incidents actually discovered from one year to the next, and a completely ad hoc search effort made by very few suitably trained individuals over a tiny proportion of Scotland’s countryside, such a statement by ACC Graham is, in our opinion, purely speculative. Raptor persecution is a crime that invariably occurs without witnesses, where offences occur in the remotest parts of our country, and where victims are found largely by luck. It is impossible to say what the number of actual incidents is, or what proportion of these were found and documented.

There is, however, a considerable weight of peer-reviewed scientific evidence, including research commissioned by SNH, coupled with population surveys, that clearly shows that raptor persecution continues to have a marked impact on peregrine, hen harrier, red kite and golden eagle populations in Scotland……..” Eddie Palmer, Scottish Environment LINK.

The full letter can be downloaded from the Scottish Parliament website here

Let’s hope that the next RACCE committee, which will be formed after the election in May, will invite LINK and some of its members along to a future hearing to provide a more accurate picture of the extent of wildlife crime in Scotland instead of having to rely upon this unsubstantiated tosh from a police force desperately trying to appear to be on top of things.

NGO wildlife crime taskforce expresses ‘disquiet’ about Police Scotland evidence

Natural Injustice 1 Feb 2015 cover - CopyLast month the cross-party Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee (RACCE) took evidence about the Scottish Government’s 2014 Annual Wildlife Crime Report. Three guests from Police Scotland and the Crown Office were invited to the panel to answer the committee’s questions. These were Tom Dysart (Crown Office) and Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham and Detective Chief Superintendent Sean Scott from Police Scotland.

The committee meeting went on for about two hours and covered a range of topics of interest to us, including vicarious liability, the Ross-shire Massacre, the SSPCA consultation, the enforcement of General Licence restriction orders and the Government’s annual wildlife crime report. Rather than write one massively long blog about all of these discussions, we thought we’d do smaller, bite-size blogs on each topic.

This blog is about the committee’s discussions on the LINK Natural Injustice reports, and in particular, on the evidence provided to the committee by Police Scotland about these reports. You might remember, these two reports were published a year ago in February 2015 by Scottish Environment LINK, a consortium of wildlife NGOs who were concerned that recommendations made by the Government’s Natural Justice report, published in 2008, had yet to be fully implemented.

LINK’s first report, Natural Injustice Paper 1 was commissioned with the purpose of providing decision- makers with a succinct overview of the current wildlife crime enforcement picture. The second report, Natural Injustice Paper 2 gave 20 recommendations for improving wildlife crime enforcement measures.

The LINK reports welcomed various improvements taken by government to further strengthen Scotland’s wildlife protection legislation, the establishment of the Crown Office Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit, and acknowledged recent announcements made by the Minister for the Environment and Climate Change to provide further methods of bearing down on wildlife criminals.

However, despite a seemingly positive background, and while recognising the difficulties in investigating offences that are seldom witnessed and occur in remote areas, the reports presented a picture showing that enforcement measures remain inconsistent and, in many cases, are weak and ineffective. They also highlighted obstructions facing investigations through a lack of resources and obstacles created by a “wall of silence” that greets the police in investigating some crimes.

So, here’s the transcript of the discussions on this topic held during the RACCE committee hearing in January:

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP): The panel will be aware of Scottish Environment LINK’s report “Natural Injustice”, which was a review of the way in which four types of wildlife crime—the persecution of badgers, bats, freshwater pearl mussels and raptors—were being investigated. The report noted that, of the 148 confirmed wildlife crimes that were reported to the police between 2008 and 2013, 98, or 66.2 per cent, were known to have resulted in a follow-up investigation but only 20, or 13.5 per cent, resulted in a prosecution. In addition, a minimum of at least 111 crimes, or 75 per cent, failed to result in a prosecution. The report went on to make 20 recommendations, some of which were specifically addressed to Police Scotland and to the COPFS. Given those figures, what is your response to the report’s finding that there was an overwhelming lack of confidence among LINK members in the ability of the statutory agencies to adequately investigate wildlife crime and in the willingness of the judiciary to impose meaningful sentences that would act as a deterrent?

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: I am happy to try to cover some of the issues with LINK’s report first. It came out in February last year, almost a year ago. I can remember the day it came out because I did not know that it was coming out before it arrived. I read about it on the news and I thought, “That’s interesting; here’s a whole lot of information about wildlife crime that doesn’t seem to bear any resemblance to my understanding of what’s going on in Scotland. I’m going to have to read this report closely.”

I read both volumes of the report and was horrified when I read what was in there—not because it was an accurate representation of what was happening but because it was so inaccurate. We are here today speaking about the annual wildlife crime report that the Scottish Government is required to produce. We have spoken extensively over the years about the amount of effort that has gone into ensuring the credibility, validity and quality of the data in the annual reports and how we are seeking to improve that, working collectively. A range of organisations contribute to the reports, with a governance structure, and then there is parliamentary scrutiny. None of that applies to the Scottish Environment LINK report, which was done in isolation by the organisations that are part of LINK. I do not subscribe to the accuracy of either the data in the report or the assertions that are made based on the data.

Notwithstanding that, we work closely with the organisations that are part of LINK so, although I was grossly disappointed about the nature of LINK’s approach and made that clear publicly at the time—as did a number of organisations, including SNH, which issued a strong public statement rebuking the way in which that report had been produced and indeed the quality of the data and the recommendations in it—I met the key members of LINK a short time afterwards. During that meeting, they acknowledged that how they had gone about producing the report and attempting to launch it publicly was not helpful to our collective partnership approach to tackling wildlife crime. Although we were happy to address some of the issues that they had raised through on-going work, which we continue to do, I did not feel that it was helpful to put inaccurate data into the public domain and then expect to hold organisations to account through media reporting; indeed, that has not happened.

Tom Dysart: At the time, the Lord Advocate issued a robust—and, I think, unprecedented— rejection of the report’s findings and commented that it was ill informed and based on flawed methodology. I think that that is as much as I can say.

Angus MacDonald: Ill-informed or not, the report came up with 20 recommendations. Sean Scott has already touched on the one on probationer training, which is now being given, although that could well have happened anyway— it probably did. Are there any other recommendations in the report that have been taken on board?

Detective Chief Superintendent Scott: To build on what Mr Graham and Tom Dysart have said, one of the recommendations was for poaching offences to be removed from the wildlife crime category, which was criticised by the nongovernmental organisations and other partners in PAWC. On the subject of the recommendations, which obviously predate when I assumed this particular role, all the work that we currently do with our partners against wildlife crime, including all the work that we do on prevention and investigation, is as robust and as co-ordinated as it can be. We will take criticism where it is due and try to improve at every turn, but I have nothing to say on that report other than what I have just said and what Mr Graham and Tom Dysart have mentioned.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab): Following the report, did you discuss all the points of criticism that had been made by LINK? The kind of suggestions in the report that we have in front of us were about delays in addressing initial incident reports, the disappearance of evidence, the failure to conduct covert searches, and the premature disposal of evidence prior to toxicology examinations. Those are just a few examples. Did you work through all those different criticisms and identify the extent to which people had valid concerns, and whether approaches had been taken towards future consultation and liaison?

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: Yes. To repeat myself, those were the assertions in the report and, to echo DCS Scott’s point, as the national police service, we are open to and accustomed to receiving constructive criticism, as you are aware. We have grown towards responding in an appropriate, open, transparent and engaging way because that is how we build a better service. It is not that we are saying, “Wait a minute. People are saying that the police haven’t done a good job and we don’t want to hear that.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

I met Eddie Palmer from Scottish Badgers and Ian Thomson from RSPB investigations, who were at the heart of producing that report. They were somewhat less critical at that meeting than they were in the report. They were full of praise for the changes that have been brought about during the Police Scotland era. They acknowledged that the quality of evidence in the report was, at best, ad hoc and anecdotal, and they were not able to bring forward any instances that the recommendations were based on that I could pursue to establish whether changes needed to be made. We worked through all the recommendations and, at the end of the meeting, I was satisfied that they were reassured that we were happy to work with them and listen to their complaints, that they understood that producing an ill-informed report was not the most effective way of doing things, and that we would not expect to see another report like that produced in the future because we will be working together to make sure that, if any one-off issues arise from time to time, they have a link to us and can pick up the phone and speak to us and we will get it sorted.


In response to the evidence given by Police Scotland, Scottish Environment LINK has written to the RACCE committee, basically refuting most of Police Scotland’s evidence. Here is an excerpt from their letter, dated 26 January 2016:

“I write to you as Chair of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, on behalf of the Scottish Environment LINK Wildlife Crime Task Force.

We wish to convey our surprise at some of the evidence given to the RACCE Committee at its hearing last week to consider the Scottish Government’s Wildlife Crime Report for 2014. Appearing in front of the Committee were Police Scotland ACC Malcolm Graham & Ch. Supt. Sean Scott, and Tom Dysart from COPFS.

………….Secondly, later in the hearing, Angus MacDonald MSP and Sarah Boyack MSP asked a series of questions about the Natural Injustice reports into wildlife crime investigation and prosecution published by LINK in early 2015. We listened to the comments made by ACC Graham with some disquiet. While we acknowledge the ACC’s disappointment that the LINK reports were not shared with Police Scotland prior to publication, we wholeheartedly dispute his assertion that the findings of the reports were inaccurate. It is important to state that these reports were based on the experiences of those partner agencies involved as part of the investigations process. As such we defend the statistics in the reports unreservedly.

As ACC Graham mentioned I, along with the Wildlife Crime Task Force Vice convenor, Ian Thomson, attended a meeting with Police Scotland, following publication of the reports, to discuss our concerns. In our opinion, this was a very helpful and constructive meeting, and few of the reports’ findings were challenged – in fact, there was clear recognition and acknowledgement of many of the issues they raised.

While LINK members have acknowledged that there have been a number of improvements to wildlife crime policing and investigation following the formation of Police Scotland, there are still a number of significant issues such as resourcing & deployment of wildlife crime officers and rapidity of response to reported incidents that require addressing. LINK members’ interests extend across all protected species.

At the hearing, Tom Dysart simply restated the Lord Advocate’s position relating to the LINK reports. We remain disappointed that the Crown Office has refused to meet with Task Force members or to engage in any discussion relating to the findings of the reports. Similarly, none of the issues raised in LINK’s reports with regard to the Crown Office were explored by the Committee.

We feel that the LINK reports have been publicly criticised, with no right of reply given to LINK or its members. We are also extremely frustrated that no-one from the Scottish Government has sought to engage with LINK over the very significant concerns identified by LINK members, many of which were also raised by RACCE Committee members at a similar hearing in late 2014.  Having identified the Committee as an important conduit last autumn, we would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss these ongoing concerns with you and/or your fellow committee members at your earliest convenience. We also feel it would be of benefit to RACCE Committee members if more of the partner agencies involved in assisting in wildlife crime investigations and/or recording offences were engaged in reviews of future Scottish Government wildlife crime reports. It is important that the RACCE committee gets a wider picture of wildlife crime, in terms of the full evidence base, rather than simply what is recorded by the police.

We would be grateful if you could take these comments into account when formulating your response to the Scottish Government”. Eddie Palmer, Scottish Environment Link

The full letter from LINK can be downloaded from the Scottish Parliament website here

The current cross-party RACCE committee (and indeed, previous committees) have shown themselves to be a pretty well-informed bunch and not much gets past them. It’ll be interesting to see whether the committee invites LINK or some of its members to present evidence on wildlife crime at future committee hearings, to provide a more balanced view than just that of Police Scotland and the Crown Office. Unfortunately the current session of Parliament will end at midnight on 23rd March so if it is going to happen, an evidence session from LINK and its members will be somewhat delayed.

Scottish Moorland Group still in denial about hen harrier persecution on grouse moors

dunceThe Scottish Moorland Group (SMG) has today issued a press statement which refutes the findings of the latest scientific study that has shown hen harriers are being wiped out on Scottish grouse moors in North-east Scotland.

This is no surprise, of course. What is surprising is the ‘evidence’ (ahem) put forward by the SMG to dismiss the findings of the study. Here is their press statement:

Moorland group denounces ‘deeply flawed’ hen harrier report

The Scottish Moorland Group today denounced a report by a raptor study group claiming that sporting estates had virtually exterminated hen harriers in the North-East of Scotland.
The report, which was published using data from Aberdeenshire and Moray, is deeply flawed and shows a lamentable lack of evidence.

Tim Baynes of the Scottish Moorland Group said: “There are serious problems with this report, most notably that there has been very little Harrier surveying conducted recently in the area, with only 4% of harrier breeding areas covered in 2014. The authors identify 118 harrier breeding areas which they have traditionally surveyed but by 2012 only 38% of these were being covered, in 2013 it had decreased to 10% and by 2014 the number covered had halved again.

“We work with Scottish Natural Heritage and others in the Heads Up for Harriers Partnership and in 2015, five grouse moor estates were asked by the project to host nest cameras to determine the causes of Harrier nest failure, some of which were in the north east of Scotland.  In all cases nest failures were shown on camera to be due to weather or fox predation – nothing to do with human disturbance.

“Sadly, this seems to be another instance where raptor study groups have made little or no attempt to engage with land managers who could have helped their research. Even once data is produced, it often incomplete or only selectively shared in an attempt to besmirch grouse moor management. Looking backwards in this way is really unhelpful when collaborative initiatives are being developed by other organisations to ensure a more positive future.”


So, let’s start with Tim (Kim) Baynes’ assertion that “there has been very little Harrier surveying conducted recently in the area, with only 4% of harrier breeding areas covered in 2014. The authors identify 118 harrier breeding areas which they have traditionally surveyed but by 2012 only 38% of these were being covered, in 2013 it had decreased to 10% and by 2014 the number covered had halved again“.

It seems that Tim (Kim) is unable to read and/or comprehend scientific papers. Had he read the actual paper, he would have seen the following statement:

There was thorough coverage of all suitable Hen Harrier breeding habitat during 1980-2014” (with the exception of one area where coverage was incomplete between 1980-1987).

He would also have read the following statement:

Annual coverage was thorough and the vast majority of Hen Harrier breeding attempts were believed to have been recorded“.

So why would Tim (Kim) say that survey coverage of hen harrier breeding areas in 2012, 2013 and 2014 was only 38%, 10% and 5% respectively? Well, it appears that Tim (Kim) has chosen to ignore the methods section of the paper (there is a reason the methods section is there, Tim, it tells you how the data were collected!) and instead looked elsewhere to find some data that, on the face of it, support his claim of incomplete survey coverage. His data sources are the annual reports of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, which do indicate that the number of checked hen harrier home ranges during this period is lower than the claims made in the paper. You can imagine Timbo, or one of his idiot subordinates, finding these data and thinking, ‘Yeah! We’ve got them now! Let’s write a press statement!”.

What thicko Tim (Kim) has failed to comprehend is (a) the data provided in the SRMS annual reports are grossly under-recorded (because not all raptor workers submit their data to the SRMS because they don’t trust SNH to use the data wisely – see earlier post on SNH’s failure to designate the Ladder Hills as a Special Protection Area for hen harriers!) and (b) the primary survey data used in the hen harrier scientific paper were collected by the papers’ authors. They did not rely on the SRMS data for their calculations. If they had done so, they would have mentioned this in the methods section of the paper. They didn’t mention it, because, they didn’t use SRMS data – they used their own! Is that simple enough for you to understand, Tim? By the way, what are your scientific credentials? Are you suitably qualified to assess the scientific rigour of this, or any other scientific, peer-reviewed publication? No, thought not.

Let’s now turn to another statement in Tim’s press release:

We work with Scottish Natural Heritage and others in the Heads Up for Harriers Partnership and in 2015, five grouse moor estates were asked by the project to host nest cameras to determine the causes of Harrier nest failure, some of which were in the north east of Scotland.  In all cases nest failures were shown on camera to be due to weather or fox predation – nothing to do with human disturbance“.

Again, at face value, this appears to support the grouse-shooting industry’s claims that illegal persecution isn’t an issue for hen harriers on grouse moors. But Tim’s statement doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t tell you that those five grouse moors were in fact, not driven grouse moors. i.e. they were not intensively managed for grouse-shooting and neither were they on the radar as raptor persecution hotspots. So actually, the results from these nest cameras don’t tell us anything about the impact of persecution on hen harrier breeding success on estates where we know hen harrier persecution is endemic. What we’d like to see, as the Heads up for Hen Harriers project goes forward, is nest cameras being placed on driven grouse moors in areas where persecution is known to happen. It is pointless, propaganda-fuelling bollocks to place cameras on nest sites in areas where persecution isn’t an issue (walked-up grouse moors) and then use those results to claim that persecution isn’t an issue on driven grouse moors.

Gift of GrouseTalking of propaganda-fuelling bollocks, has anyone read this piece on the Gift of Grouse website? [UPDATE 8th Feb – the linked article is no longer available as its author has asked the Gift of Grouse website to remove it]. It’s a personal account of a young lad’s first ever experience on a driven grouse moor – Invermark Estate – last summer. James Common was there for three months as part of a team of ecologists (headed up by a gamekeeper’s daughter) employed to document biodiversity on the estate. We’ve already blogged about the (lack of) credibility of that team’s report (see here) but this latest article is more of a personal perspective of his time there.

Isn’t it interesting that Tim (Kim), who directs the Gift of Grouse project, would seek to discredit a scientific, peer-reviewed paper authored by acknowledged, experienced experts, but doesn’t question the ramblings of a young, inexperienced ecologist straight out of college?

As you’d expect, James’ account is very positive about management for driven grouse shooting (if it wasn’t positive there’s no way the Gift of Grouse project would be promoting it!) but it reveals an incredible level of naivety. For example:

Hen harriers also performed admirably – shimmering males and roving ringtails were found with relative ease. Indeed, if these popular moorland denizens had not been present, I may have worried, but they were and so I stand fully content“.

Jesus. If this is the level of ecological curiosity displayed by a young graduate in the conservation sector then there’s no hope. Did he not think to question why, if the hen harriers were so prevalent, they haven’t bred successfully in the Angus Glens since 2006? Apparently not.

Now, Invermark Estate is certainly not the worst estate in the Angus Glens, although it’s had its moments (see here). It is one of the less intensively-managed estates in the region and as such, the level of biodiversity should be relatively good, in comparison to some of its neighbours at least (although where are its breeding hen harriers??). However, James thinks that it’s ‘a tad unfair’ that this ‘good’ estate is unfairly ‘tarred and feathered’ alongside other grouse moor estates where raptor persecution is frequently uncovered. That’s a fair enough comment, although he doesn’t mention that this estate has aligned itself with other, less impressive estates, under the banner of the Angus Glens Moorland Group. If Invermark Estate has chosen to closely associate itself with other estates where raptor persecution crimes keep cropping up, then why the hell should we make any distinction between them?

At least James has the sense to recognise that illegal raptor persecution does happen on some driven grouse moors. That’s more than can be said for Tim (Kim) and his cronies at the Scottish Moorland Group. Does he not realise that by continuing to deny the 30+ years of scientific evidence, his group just looks complicit with it all?

Addendum 7th February 2016 11pm:

For the amusement of those of you not on Twitter, the following is an exchange from earlier this evening featuring Scottish Land & Estate’s CEO, Doug McAdam, who seems to think that data published in a scientific, peer-reviewed paper don’t qualify as ‘verified’, whatever that means. He aborts the discussion when it gets a bit tricky….

Rob Edwards @robedwards53: Hen harriers virtually exterminated on sporting estates in northeast Scotland, says experts. [Links to his article in the Sunday Herald].

Doug McAdam @DougMcAdam: Well “the experts” study seems to be based on very limited data. Comment from Scottish Moorland Group here [Links to SMG press statement].

Simon Brooke @simon_brooke: Hold the front page, wrongdoers say their accusers are biased.

Doug McAdam: Have you even read/looked into the study? Other who have comment here [Links to Gift of Grouse blog].

Simon Brooke: They would say that, wouldn’t they? Do not look to partisan blogs for informed opinion.

Doug McAdam: So you haven’t read/researched it. Thought not.

Simon Brooke: No, I haven’t. Fortunately others have [Links to RPS blog]. Read it and weep. For shame.

Doug McAdam: I rarely put any store in blogs or accusations from anonymous sites. That site is no exception!

Simon Brooke: So we are to trust a pro grouse-shooting blog, but not an anti-crime blog? I wonder why.

Doug McAdam: I’m not telling you to do anything. Anonymous blogs lack credibility and are treated as such.

Simon Brooke: Given that all the assertions in the blog I indicated are easily verifiable….

Doug McAdam: I guess that’s where we differ on this. It hasn’t been verified at all. Accusations without evidence worthless.

Simon Brooke: Have you read the paper? The methodology section either does say what the blog claims it says, or it doesn’t.

Doug McAdam: Read blog you quote, your answer is there. Data not reported to SNH, kept secret etc. Just bizzare. Over and out.

Simon Brooke: It’s hardly ‘kept secret’ if its published in an academic journal.

Doug McAdam: I’m talking about the actual survey data. It’s not officially reported or recorded. Offline now. G’nite.

Raeshaw & Burnfoot Estates taking SNH to court over General Licence restriction orders

scales-of-justiceEarlier this week we blogged about how Scottish Natural Heritage had finally issued General Licence restriction orders on two sporting estates in response to raptor persecution crimes that had reportedly occurred on those properties. The two estates are Raeshaw (a grouse moor near Heriot in the Scottish Borders) and Burnfoot (a grouse moor in Stirlingshire) – see here for our earlier blog on this and for an explanation about how these restriction orders work.

This was an important decision by SNH as it was the first time they had imposed the sanction since it became available for use on 1st January 2014. As such, this is a bit of a test case.

We had speculated about whether the estates would try for a Judicial Review, on the grounds that SNH had acted unfairly in applying these sanctions. Today, an article by Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald confirms that they are indeed going to try for a Judicial Review (see here).

A Judicial Review is not about whether the principle of applying a General Licence restriction order is fair or unfair per se, but is more about the process underlying SNH’s decision. Did SNH act lawfully and follow the right procedures when it made the decision to apply GL restriction orders to these two estates? That’s what the court will have to decide, assuming that the estates’ case gets past the preliminary stage of Judicial Review which involves seeking permission from a Court of Session judge to proceed to a full review.

Assuming it does reach full Judicial Review, the court’s decision will be an important one that will affect whether SNH may apply the same administrative procedure (see here) when considering applying GL restriction orders on other estates where raptor persecution crimes have been uncovered. We wonder whether SNH will delay implementing any more GL restriction orders on other estates while this Judicial Review process is underway? We’ll have to wait and see.

Many commentators on our earlier blog (here) suggested that the GL restriction order wasn’t worth the paper it was written on in terms of the (in)effect it would have on the management practices of these two estates. So it’s interesting to us that the Raeshaw and Burnfoot Estates have decided to go ahead and apply for a Judicial Review, because this type of court action is not a cheap option. To us, this indicates that the GL restriction order is seen as a significant blow by these estates, otherwise why would they bother going to the expense of taking court action?

Also of note in Rob’s article is confirmation of the evidence SNH used in its decision to apply the GL restrictions. At Burnfoot Estate ‘there had been a poisoned red kite, a poisoned peregrine, and a red kite found injured in an illegal trap; the kite had to be subsequently euthanised’. We’ve blogged about these offences here.

At Raeshaw Estate ‘illegal traps had been set’. We’ve previously speculated about whether the illegal traps reported here were found on the Raeshaw and Corsehope Estates. This has not been confirmed.

Both estates have denied any wrongdoing. According to David McKie, the defence agent acting for both estates, “Responsible game management practices are at the heart of what Raeshaw and its employees do” and “Burnfoot consider the decision of SNH to be unjustified and unfair“.

SNH said the police evidence was “strong” and “While it is very clear that offences have been committed, as is often the case with these types of crime, it hasn’t been possible to gather the evidence to identify the person responsible“.

We’ll be following this case with interest.