More on the General Licence restriction fiasco at Raeshaw Estate

Regular blog readers will know we’ve been writing about the General Licence (GL) restriction order placed on Raeshaw Estate (Scottish Borders) for some time (see here for a summary). The restriction order was implemented due to alleged raptor persecution incidents reportedly taking place on the Estate (according to evidence provided by Police Scotland), even though nobody has been charged with any criminal offence and the Estate has denied any responsibility.

This restriction order, placed by SNH in November 2015, has been on and off for months, temporarily suspended and then reinstated as Raeshaw Estate mounted various legal challenges over the following months.

Currently, the GL restriction order is back in place, although the courts have now authorised a Judicial Review of the process used by SNH to implement this restriction. We don’t know when that Judicial Review will take place.

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In the meantime, in June 2016 we learned (see here) that even though the GL restriction order was back in place, SNH had issued what it called an ‘individual licence’, permitting the Estate to carry out some activities (bird-killing) that the GL restriction was supposed to prevent! In our opinion, issuing an individual licence completely defeats the object of implementing a GL restriction order in the first place. But not according to SNH. They issued a statement and we were particularly interested in the following bit:

In response to an application from Raeshaw Farms Limited, we have granted them an individual licence to carry out some activities otherwise permitted under General Licence. This licence is subject to specific conditions and controls. This will allow the business to continue to operate but under tighter scrutiny rather than the relatively ‘light touch’ approach to Regulation that General Licences afford”.

We wanted to know more about this ‘individual licence’, e.g. its duration, what activities were permitted/not permitted, and particularly the details of the ‘specific conditions and controls’ of that licence. So we (and a couple of others, thank you) submitted some FoIs to SNH to try and find some answers.

What we’ve found is a woefully inadequate system that has not received the promised “tighter scrutiny” and is wide open to abuse.

Here is a copy of the ‘individual licence’: Raeshaw Individual Licence 1_June2016

As you’ll see, ‘individual licence’ is a bit of a misnomer as it names one licence holder but then a further five ‘agents’ who are permitted to use this ‘individual’ licence.

This licence is valid from 10 June 2016 to 31 December 2016. The specific conditions include set dates for when certain species can be killed and the area where this killing may take place. Of interest to us:

  1. Carrion crow, magpie and greater black-backed gull may only be taken or killed UNTIL 30 JUNE 2016.
  2. Rook, jackdaw and wood pigeon may only be taken or killed UNTIL 31 AUGUST 2016.

Why are these two conditions of interest to us? Well, because another condition of this licence (condition #5) is that ‘Prior to exercising this licence, SNH licensing must be provided with details of the number, type and locations of deployment (to 6-figure grid reference) of all traps proposed to be used under this licence‘.

We asked SNH how many traps the licence holder had proposed to use, and the date that SNH received this information.

SNH’s reply: ‘The licence holder informed us on 12 July that they intended to deploy 3 multi-catch traps (ladder traps) at specified locations from 15 July“.

So, the individual licence only permits the taking and killing of carrion crows until 30 June 2016, and yet the licence holder notified SNH in mid-July that three crow traps would be deployed from 15 July 2016. Eh? How will the licence holder prevent carrion crows from entering these, er, crow traps, and if the carrion crows do enter, how will SNH know whether those carrion crows have been released unharmed?

Ah, well that’ll be the “tighter scrutiny” employed by SNH, right? They’ll have been monitoring the use of these traps to check for compliance, right?

Well, not quite. We asked SNH how many visits SNH (or an agent thereof) had made to this Estate to check compliance with licence conditions, and the dates those visits took place.

SNH’s reply (on 11 August 2016): “We have not yet visited the estate. However, compliance checks are an important part of the licensing process and will be carried out“.

Yeah, right.

We’ve also discovered that SNH has issued a second ‘individual licence’ to Raeshaw Estate. This one can be downloaded here: Raeshaw Individual Licence 2_July2016

This second licence permits the licence holder (and three agents) to kill certain species on the neighbouring Corsehope Farm. The licence is valid from 1 July 2016 to 31 December 2016.

Under this licence, collared doves, feral pigeons, wood pigeons, jackdaws, magpies, rooks and carrion crows may be taken or killed on this land until 15 October 2016 ‘to prevent damage to crops’ (ahem).

Also under this licence, all the above species plus greater and lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls may be taken or killed on this land until 31 December 2016 ‘to prevent the spread of disease’ (ahem).

So, although the first licence (covering parts of Raeshaw Estate) only permitted the killing of certain species until 30 June 2016 and some other species until 31 August 2016, this second licence permits the unlimited killing of these same species on neighbouring land until 31 December 2016.

Can somebody please remind us what was the purpose of issuing a General Licence restriction order in the first place? Wasn’t it supposed to be a sanction/punishment for reported raptor persecution incidents? What’s the point of having a licensing system and supposed sanctions, if those sanctions can be sidestepped by simply issuing another licence and then not bothering to monitor compliance with those licence conditions?

40 thoughts on “More on the General Licence restriction fiasco at Raeshaw Estate”

  1. I am a veterinarian with experience of livestock disease control and the protection of public health. I am certain that the killiing of gulls will make little or no contribution to the control of diseases of livestock. it’s baloney.

    1. As another veterinarian who works in wildlife health, I completely agree! …what a crock of …er ….nonsense!!

    2. The main reason I can think of for controlling gulls for public health/prevention of disease would be if they were roosting on a private water supply

      1. Not that old chestnut, back to the 1970s. Research has long since shown that gulls roosting on public water supplies do not present any significant danger to the public, and modern treatment works are more than capable of dealing with levels of bacteria which may be damaging to human health. While I agree that it is better to adopt the precautionary principle and deter gulls from roosting on public water supplies, the idea that culling would be appropriate is an excessive reaction, indicating a complete misunderstanding of the issue.

        1. If gulls are contaminating a water supply, presumably with Salmonella, there are two ways of dealing with it:

          1. Secure the private supply so that is doesn’t get contaminated with gull faeces. That is, put a lid on it.
          2. Ensure safe, hygienic disposal of sewage, farm waste and domestic refuse so that the gulls don’t get exposed to the Salmonella in the first place. But, of course, it is far too easy to look for a convenient scapegoat, ignore the lack of evidence and kill them.

          Much more likely to contaminate the water supply are sheep which are reservoirs of Cryptosporidium and Giardia infections which have been implicated in water supply contamination. Birds are not important in these infections. But, of course, sheep are not to blame for anything because they belong to farmers.

          1. It’s more usually Campylobacter that gulls transfer to reservoirs, and as you imply the levels are caused by the background levels in the human population, not vice versa. However as I said, modern water treatment can deal with that very effectively. Cryptosporidium from sheep can sometimes overwhelm the system given certain weather conditions.

            1. A PWS may not have as effective a treatment as a public supply (although it should have!). Note, I’m not saying I agree with the pont, just it’s the only reason I can think of for an excuse for culling gulls for ‘health’ reasosn on a Scottish estate

              1. So as usual, the routine, systematic killing of wildlife is simply part of the annual routine (or is a ritual?) on these lands. Stuff the evidence and ignore any views that the citizen might have. What a mess.

                1. Just out of curiosity, are you the same Alick Simmons I knew as a young birdwatcher long ago in Renfrewshire?

                  1. Probably. I went to school in Paisley and we Alicks aren’t thick on the ground. Are your initials IG?

                2. That’s the self proclaimed guardians of the countryside for you. So long as it’s their model of the countryside.

  2. “When I use a General Licence (GL) restriction order,’ Humpty ‘SNH’ Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether GL restriction orders mean anything at all.’

    ’The real question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘who is to be master — that’s all.”

    – after Lewis Carroll “Through the Looking Glass”

  3. This is a mess. I’ve previously indicated my lack of faith in the latest petition, to introduce licencing of game shooting rights, and to an extent the case described above vindicates my opinion. We should be focusing initially on banning driven grouse shooting, then take it from there as the best way forward, with the ultimate aim of driving a significant culture change in our society’s attitude towards wildlife in general. I do believe that a majority already feel sickened by all the recreational killing taking place, which if anything appears to be getting worse since the Countryside Alliance was established.

    It makes me increasingly angry that conservationists in general either ignore or don’t seem to understand the ecological role of Carrion Crows. Why is it so essential for the game industry to fight so determinedly for the legal right to kill this species? With my considerable experience of a lifetime taking a strong interest in crows, and observing their behaviour carefully, and critically examining the published scientific research, I long ago arrived at the conclusion that its reputation as a ruthless killer and an agricultural pest is completely unjustified. Most farmers and all gamekeepers persist in referring to it as “a menace.” This is absolute bullshit.

    We in the conservation movement like to claim that we rely on science, and proven facts, so why do we continue to accept the perverse preconceptions about Carrion Crows? It seems that some of us actually believe what the game and farming industries perpetuate as fact, that crows are a serious threat to their economic viability. Utter nonsense. Even more ridiculously, Rooks are included on the list of species they are licenced to kill. Anyone who has ever visited a grouse moor knows that they are unlikely to encounter this species, never mind witness it taking grouse eggs or chicks. Jackdaws and Magpies are also semi-rarities in this habitat. Great Black-backed Gulls are generally scarce inland, and my own observations indicate that they are mainly interested in spawning frogs, dead sheep and eggar moths! Yet the ‘keepers still regard them as “a menace.”

    Sadly a professional communicator employed by the Langholm Project a few years ago was doing a tour of SOC and other natural history clubs, and during her talk she claimed that Carrion Crows were “a menace” (yawn!), and “ruthless predators of harrier nests.” According to her, they have to be controlled. Now, I’ve been studying harriers for nearly twenty years, have monitored well over one hundred individual nests, yet have never observed any negative impact by Carrion Crows. I’ve seem a few tussles between the species, but the harriers always dominated. Following the lecture, I asked around other harrier workers, and none had observed any significant impact by crows, neither Carrion Crows nor Ravens, and certainly not Magpies or Jackdaws. A literature search could find no evidence of them harming harriers. So I would firmly conclude that the reputation of Carrion Crows as pests and “a menace” is wholly undeserved, and would appeal for naturalists and conservationists to stop regarding them as second class citizens of the bird world. They are foragers, scavengers and predators in that order, but a natural part of the ecosystem just like any other native species. They are known to be one of the more intelligent of birds, and I also happen to like them, as many of my fellow birdwatchers do! My close observations of the local population indicate that serious persecution has increased greatly during the past twenty years, and they are now considerably scarcer as a species. One might regard their status as threatened.

    1. Hi, Carrion crows are a problem in my view to ground nesting waders ; the problem is particularly to the end of the breeding season when you see massive corvid flocks by late June early July across entire hillsides and numbering 500=1000 birds predominately crow; I am sure that any waders tring to fledge at this point are vulnerable; nos are distorted by sheep/carrion regime; a problem also at egg stage re predation on improved pastures.
      Can not for the life of me see why jacks and rooks and doves are controlled.

      1. The key word there is “problem,” which is often applied to behaviour that is perfectly natural. I cannot deny that Carrion Crows do predate wader eggs and chicks, but generally this is just one factor in determining quantitative breeding success, not a “problem.” The main species impacted is Lapwing, but their real problem relates to their inability to achieve a sustainable population due primarily to changes in agricultural practice, and is quite complicated. Rather than tinker with the Lapwing’s “problem” with crow predation, unfortunately even the RSPB killing them in certain circumstances, we should be working on fundamental methods of improving brood productivity. This appears to be happening at some reserves where predator-proof fencing has been installed to prevent foxes predating chicks, which encourages Lapwings to occupy the sites at higher densities and be more effective at driving off crows. To my mind this is a more sensible, humane and sustainable approach to Lapwing conservation.

        In any cases, the large flocks of crows which ascend onto the uplands in late summer are Rooks, particularly during fine summers when lowland soils are dried up and more difficult for them to forage for invertebrates. This ‘invasion’ usually occurs later than the vulnerable stage for wader chicks. Very few waders breed on improved pastures, so I can’t see why you perceive that as “a problem.” Sparrowhawks and Kestrels also prey upon wader chicks – are they a problem too?

  4. I will never understand why or indeed how any human can knowingly kill any living creature and seeing the list of these wonderful birds that these people can slaughter is utterly devastating to me. Jackdaws and Magpies are such clever birds, so wonderful to see and hear…..Generally speaking I despise humanity and intend to go off and have a good cry. !

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Roberta Mouse! This is a ridiculous situation. All those lovely wood pigeons and collared doves.. wicked.

    1. Regarding Great Black-backed Gulls, I should have mentioned that in my experience few farmers or even gamekeepers know the difference between them and Lesser Black-backed Gulls! If any gull comes within range, they shoot first and attempt to identify later.

  5. This has to be the sick joke of the year by SNH and a remarkable example of sleight of hand. Take away with one hand and give with the other, Dynamo and other magicians take note, you have competition.

  6. A good case study to offer to the debate scheduled at the Birdfair (Rutland Water) on Friday? There might be a number of candidates to ask about this one, Lester and also RSPB perhaps?

  7. [Ed: first part of this comment deleted as potentially defamatory]

    Where is the vicarious liability silver bullet here?

    This location is in prime position for eagles dispersing to from north to southern Scotland. Need I say more.

    At present this recent fiasco appears to be a lost opportunity by SNH to modify the estates behaviour.

    SNH…………….has little credibly and public confidence.

  8. The whole sorry scenario is just a complete whitewash, the shooting estates are having a laugh, they know the General Licence restriction order is not worth the paper it’s written on, it’s virtually unenforceable as it stands and does absolutely nothing to stop blatant wildlife persecution. SNH know this is only paying lip service to the whole wildlife persecution problem throughout Scotland, but prefer to nibble at the edges just to look as though they are doing something.

  9. Excellent piece of investigating. It makes a mockery of the license system. For me the key question is “who manages these applications at SNH and what if any competence do they have. I cant see why the estate needs these licenses. I disagree with Jack snipe re the carrion crows, though I can see his point. Why is there no challenge on the silly gulls spreading disease claim?

  10. So, regarding to the first individual licence mentioned in the blog, I would be inclined to ask SNH what the threat to the conservation of wild birds is (WCA s.16(1)(c)) that the licence seeks to mitigate; answered individually in respect of (1) magpies, (2) carrion crows and (3) greater black-backed gulls. OK, they would, I think, manage to cite some scientific basis for (2) – albeit the licensee’s actual concern for wild birds may might just be, er, shall we say, disingenuous – but for (1) & (3)? What steps have SNH taken to ensure that this licence is not in fact sought simply and solely to facilitate the production of surplus quarry for shooting (NOT a purpose allowed by the WCA or the Birds Directive)? It’s just that it is broadly understood that increasing the shootable surplus is what a gamies’ basic job is; but not widely known that the legal basis for doing this (when done by killing other wild birds) is, to put it mildly, a bit thin.

    1. I challenge anyone to come up with any scientific justification for killing Carrion Crows. The law as it stands is based purely on spurious anecdotal evidence promulgated and grossly exaggerated by gamekeepers and farmers alike. Yet another countryman’s myth. The more that we accept the designation of Carrion Crow as a “pest” species, the more this myth is perpetuated. I would regard it as an unnecessary distraction from the real issues.

    2. ‘Red grouse are game birds, supported in some parts by intensive management, sometimes involving capture and handling; they are not livestock. For the purpose of licensing, they are wild birds. (…)

      Red grouse on the hill.

      A licence could be sought to kill a wild bird (such as a raven), otherwise prohibited, on the basis of “conserving wild birds” (under Section 16(1)(c) of the Act), in this case the red grouse. For licensing purposes the red grouse is considered to be a wild bird. Such a licence from SNH, would allow the control of the raven in the interests of protecting the red grouse that enjoys protection as a wild bird. In this case, the protection afforded would be for the wild bird’s conservation, and not for the maintenance of a shootable surplus of red grouse.’
      – SNH, ‘Guidance for applicants – on licence applications for the control of predatory birds to conserve wild birds’, 17.

      Click to access B1101424.pdf

      1. It’s SNH that needs controlling. Time and again I’ve come up against incredibly poor advice being provided, which has obviously been put together by incompetent staff, possibly inexperienced individuals who have been ‘promoted upstairs’, as they say. Certainly they seem to be seriously short of expert ornithological advisers. In this case the example of the Raven is utterly ridiculous, and is uncritically adopting the lies promoted by gamekeepers and their ilk to justify their existence. Even more so than Carrion Crows, there is simply no scientific evidence that Ravens have any significant impact on grouse productivity, other than statements made based almost entirely on what the ‘researchers’ have been told by gamekeepers. In other words, anecdotal evidence only. SNH seem to fall for it hook, line and sinker. It reminds me of the substandard research they supported regarding Goosanders’ alleged ability to “saw” through fish cage netting in Loch Awe, when the reality turned out to be that anglers were cutting the netting in the hours of darkness. The ‘evidence’ accepted by SNH was merely circumstantial, based on Goosanders being seen in the vicinity of the cages before and after the cutting took place. As a result of that, literally hundreds of Goosanders have been shot under licence. Someone in SNH seems to have a thing about Ravens, as shown by the notorious advice note which states that Ravens commonly kill lambs. Again, this is based entirely on gossip, tall tales and misinterpretation of very flimsy evidence.

        1. I’m not qualified to comment on whether the example in the attachment is ridiculous, but I find it interesting that section 27 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 defines “wild bird” as ‘any bird of a species which is ordinarily resident in or is a visitor to the European territory of any member State in a wild state but does not include poultry or, except in sections 5 and 16, any game bird’.

          Section is ‘Prohibition of certain methods of killing or taking wild birds’ and section 16 is ‘Power to grant licences’.

  11. I really wonder why ‘someone’ gave us the Latin name Homo Sapiens Sapiens ( to distinguish us from another branch).
    Sapiens means ‘Wise’.
    Perhaps by adding ‘Sapiens’ twice, they hoped it would rub off on us!

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