Illegally-set traps on Invercauld Estate: not another cover up?

Cairngorms Invercauld - CopyIn July we blogged about the discovery in June of a critically-injured Common gull that had been found caught in two illegally-set spring traps on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park (see here).

We also blogged about a bizarre press statement from Invercauld Estate (issued via the GWCT’s twitter feed) in which they denied any illegal activity had taken place or if it had, it was perhaps a set-up ‘intended to discredit the grouse industry‘ (see here).

We also blogged about the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association’s response, which was an announcement that they would conduct their own enquiry before commenting further (see here).

We also blogged about Police Scotland’s view that a Common gull had been found caught in an illegally-set trap but ‘despite a thorough investigation‘, Police enquiries had failed to find further evidence to proceed with a potential prosecution and ‘there are at present no further investigative opportunities available‘ (see here).

In September, through a series of FoIs, we uncovered a very interesting letter, dated 27 July 2016 and written by Angus McNicol, who identified himself as the Estate Manager for Invercauld Estate. The letter was addressed to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham. A copy of the letter was also sent to the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA). It was written, in our view, to reassure the Cabinet Secretary and the CNPA that Invercauld Estate takes wildlife crime very seriously and that they’d ‘taken action’ in this case. The specific action taken was unknown (to us) because that part of the letter had been redacted. We’ll come back to this.

Since then, it all went quiet, apart from a persistent rumour (we’ve been told this by five separate, well-informed sources) that a gamekeeper had been sacked as a result of this incident. This claim has also been made on the ParksWatchScotland blog (here), which says: ‘Unusually, the gamekeeper in this case has been dismissed, although he apparently has not been charged‘.

Hmm. Naturally, we wanted to find out if this rumour had any basis.

We knew that Grant Moir (CNPA Chief Executive) had asked for a meeting with Invercauld Estate and the sporting partner ‘to discuss the issue’ of the illegally-set traps – he had said so in a press statement in July (here). Perhaps the minutes from that meeting would reveal whether a gamekeeper had been sacked, so we asked, via FoI, for a copy of those minutes.

We received a response from the CNPA in mid-November which confirmed that two meetings had indeed taken place:

Meeting 1 (22 August 2016) with the following people present: Peter Argyle (CNPA Convener), Grant Moir (CNPA Chief Executive), Hamish Trench (CNPA Director of Conservation & Visitor Experience) and Invercauld Estate’s sporting partner from the Micras beat (his name was not given).

Meeting 2 (25 August 2016) with the following people present: Peter Argyle (CNPA Convener), Grant Moir (CNPA Chief Executive), Hamish Trench (CNPA Director of Conservation & Visitor Experience), the Chair of Trustees for Invercauld Estate (name not given) and the Manager for Invercauld Estate (name not given but presumably this was Angus McNicol, the author of the letter from Invercauld Estate to the Environment Cabinet Secretary).

According to the CNPA’s response to our FoI, ‘The purpose of both meetings was to discuss the recent incident and understand the actions taken by the estate and sporting partner. As a result of the meetings we will now be meeting with the other sporting partners on Invercauld Estate‘.

Interestingly, according to the CNPA, there isn’t a record of the minutes from either of these meetings.

So, we’re still none the wiser about whether a gamekeeper was sacked by Invercauld Estate, which brings us back to that redacted letter from Invercauld Estate to the Cabinet Secretary. Was the readacted part of that letter a statement from Invercauld Estate, saying that they’d sacked a gamekeeper as a result of this incident?

If so, that’s incredible. A wildlife crime took place on Invercauld Estate in June 2016 (that’s undeniable). Has Invercauld Estate identified a suspect and sacked him/her? And if so, does the Scottish Government know about it, does the Cairngorms National Park Authority know about it, and does the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association know about it (given they were conducting their ‘own enquiry’ in to this incident back in July)?

The question then becomes, does Police Scotland know about it, and if so, will they be prosecuting? If not, why not?

Some transparency about this case wouldn’t go amiss.

27 thoughts on “Illegally-set traps on Invercauld Estate: not another cover up?”

  1. Another stich up perhaps xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx aka Andrea Leason could throw some light on the matter.

    [Ed: comment slightly edited – personal abuse won’t be tolerated. FYI – Andrea Leason [sic] doesn’t have jurisdiction in this area]

  2. No wonder birds of prey are now a very rare sight in the CNP, when you consider that 40% (I believe) is taken up with killing ( sporting) estates.

    1. I have seen Golden Eagle and Sea Eagle in my last couple of trips to the Cairngorms, the birds are around but not in the number they should be. Certainly have not seen any Hen Harriers in the park though!

  3. It is definitely a cover up, but whether it is covering up a cock up or criminal activity or just a panic about cover ups in general is unknown. The worst thing is, as anyone in PR knows and tries in vain to hammer into the heads of their clients, that cover ups always invariably look more damaging than whatever it is they are trying to cover up in the first place. Are they stupid, incompetent, criminal, mixture of all three? It’d be easy for a decent PR person to smooth over any of them if they admitted it, but with a cover up then they are running damage control on something they cannot even define for the public in the first place. Idiots, all of them.

    1. I believe that is a very fair assessment of the situation Cryptic, the truth will always out, and thereby defines their level of incompetence! Yes idiot.

  4. Clearly a cover up is the most appropriate description. If the CPNA was not intent on covering up for the estate, it would have taken minutes but fear of an FoI strikes me as the most appropriate reason. The CPNA really needs to make it’s mind up. Are they going to continually cover up for the estates or are they really intent on stopping the persecution. The former is how it is at present. This is continuing the sad tale of the failure of National Parks.
    As for the police…. Sorry, words fail me.

  5. This certainly smells as foul as a Stink Pit, why Police Scotland are not taking further action escapes me, however, the fact that the estate appears to have sacked a keeper and felt the need (or guilt) to have to write to the Cabinet Secretary and CNPA to outline the action (?) they have taken shows just how much affect public pressure, blogs like this one and poor PR is having. Estates are maybe now realising that if they do not keep their house in order then the consequences may be regulation/a ban which they will not want! Lets keep up the pressure for change!

  6. Every post leads to one conclusion: there is immense corruption, from top to bottom, in the entire politico-legal-judicial system when it comes to the illegal killing of birds of prey. It also shows that the SNP are every bit as bad as the Tories when it comes to protecting our wildlife.

    1. I’d dispute the last bit. The SNP could do a lot better than they currently are, but they are light years ahead of the Tories on animal rights. Left to the Tories we wouldn’t even have right to roam, never mind anything else. The Tories certainly would not even have trialed beaver reintroduction, much less designated it a native animal. Vic-Li, not a chance with the Conservative party there either. The SNP is a 5/10 on Wildlife Protection (with a “see me after class” in red for further guidance), the Tories get a mark of DNS (Did Not Show).

  7. As for Police Scotland getting involved – you could wait a long time for a pro-active response, perhaps someone should report all the above to them officially. However, its the Crown Office via local Procurator Fiscals who actually prosecute in Scotland, not the police – they can direct the police to investigate. Reporting to them..[do we still have specialist wildlife PFs?] might be more useful.

    1. We need a separate law enforcement agency whose only remit is rural wildlife crime. Nothing else but rural wildlife crime so that, even with the inevitable result that most prosecutions being for lamping and salmon poaching, there is no excuse for raptor crimes going unpunished for lack of investigators and resources. No distractions, no having raptor crime fall down the priority list as it does right now; can’t blame cops for being late on the scene of a dead bird when they are having to firefight the constant tide of public order and bodily harm offences in towns at the same time. A dedicated agency.

  8. If they have indeed sacked a keeper in relation to this offence it also raises a question or two about Invercauld estate’s original press release. The remark ‘intended to discredit the grouse industry‘ clearly implies this was a set up perpetrated by their opponents rather than by one or more of them, doubly disgusting. If as it appears a member of their staff was actually responsible will they make a public apology (unlikely given the whole issue seems to have been swept under the carpet, but it adds insult to injury), and did they know/suspect who was really responsible before making that nauseating remark? The veneer of ‘class’ and respectability these estates have is incredibly thin.

    1. I think we can take it that the estate is worried about the perception of this incident, it shows they are on the back foot and perhaps, only perhaps they may learn a valuable lesson from it. The bad publicity is hampering the cause of the countryside and I think they realise that the writing could soon be on the wall!

  9. Sspca recovered bird and seized the evidence…….wonder if Police Scotland teamed up with Sspca . Suspect they didn’t.

    Same issues over and over again.

    Nothing’s changed………police have become part of the problem

  10. It is almost as if they had sacked someone and given them a very large sum of money, which they wanted to ensure no-one found out about: “ya’ve goat-eh go pal, we can’neh take the public’ty. Her’es a wee £fifty tha-sand bonus, cas we can’nah tek’a brown gled skimmin’ th-bog ither.”

  11. An exceptional piece of investigative reporting RPuk.

    If, as it appears, a keeper was sacked for criminally setting traps, then they should be charged – end of ! There may also be grounds for a vicarious liability charge ? There is still time, and this needs to be done, I don’t care who the estates ‘friends’ are.

    I think it needs to be brought into law, that the National park, MUST record all meetings. The excellent site Parks watch raised this issue recently,

    Having ‘secret’ meetings, with un-named people about possible criminal doings….. eh WHAT ?? If, the high heid yuns of the park were aware of a crime having been committed, are they themselves not committing a crime by failing to disclose it ? Just what the hell is going on ?

    I think it is past time that the overpaid national park executives are given their marching orders, they are not employed to be a PR machine, or an executive branch for shooting estates, or gamekeepers, they are supposed to be working for the Scottish people. They apparently have powers, lets employ someone who will use them, while we still have some remnants of wildlife left in the park, and a few hills not scared by unregulated tracks and fencing.

    Who actually oversees this farce ? who do they report to? do they take their caps off and shuffle their feet, when they meet the ‘landowners’ ?

    1. I think your fourth paragraph just about nails it AF! There can be little doubt that these ‘executives’ move in the same social circles as the estate owners and managers and, of course, the odd haunch of venison would not go amiss at Christmas, if offered.

  12. The national park is a mess, visually and morally. So given that this current assemblage of facts and rumours points to more than a stink coming from Invercauld…. have they had their membership of Wildlife Estates suspended? they don’t seem to have been working to the expected standards?

  13. The estate aren’t going to admit they sacked a keeper for setting traps as that renders them up for a vicarious liability charge. For the same reason any Police interview will just be ‘no comments’. That’s how difficult it is to prosecute these offences when you have no direct evidence as to who did it.

    1. Exactly, Secret Squirrel, which is why we’re interested in that redacted section of the letter. Invercauld alludes to having ‘taken action’ – so what was it, why was it taken, and what does the Scottish Government and CNPA know about it?

    2. And that is precisely why a proper investigation should have happened and this should have happened very soon after the traps were found. Houses and land searches involving police sspca and Rspb.

      Not so token gesture using the usual stick words extensive search, full investigation etc etc

      No one believes this rubbish anymore.

      Police have given up long ago……..

  14. As RPUK has previously pointed out, it is not unusual for the judicial system to work slowly, but surely this is normally for quite complicated cases?

    Another factor though that some of us seem reluctant to accept is that the sort of wildlife crime cases which provoke anger and revulsion, in our minds, are relatively unimportant to most of those involved professionally in crime detection and punishment. What is sometimes perceived as police corruption is more often a form of mental laziness and indifference. Some see us just as ‘birdspotters’, or ‘twitchers’, an idiosyncrasy to which they can’t really relate. Expert ornithologists and biological scientists are held in no more esteem than the gamekeeper down the pub, or the spaced-out of touch upper class gentleman who enjoys a jolly day out with dogs and gun on the moors.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it, we need to get our message across to a wider audience, and build a growing movement of decent people who become angry when they learn the truth about the behaviour of the shooting community, as well as the crime and environmental problems arising from grouse moor management. RPUK does a tremendous job of investigating and uncovering the criminality being imposed on raptors in particular, but as a relatively small group of dedicated individuals they simply don’t seem to have the resources to achieve wider publicity. Given the marketing skills of RSPB, we can only hope they will eventually come off the fence and do what I’m certain their members wish them to do, that is look after the interests of all wild birds, and adopt a medium term objective of dissuading people from killing birds purely for selfish and cruel recreational pleasure. By contrast most birdwatchers and hillwalkers know how to enjoy a day out on the moors with binoculars, not guns, without killing wildlife or disturbing the peace and tranquility. Our wildlife is precious and declining, and hunting is long past its expiry date.

    1. I have always thought that your average male copper has this “night in shining armour,” self image. A sort of hero who rushes to the rescue particularly of “damsels in distress.” So the ones that aren’t out and out crooks, live in a kind of bizarre fantasy world, which causes them only to see crime which reinforces their own self image. As a consequence they are totally blind to most crime.

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