More on the shot hen harrier near Leadhills

RSPB Scotland has issued a press statement following this morning’s news that a hen harrier was shot near Leadhills on 4 May 2017:

Following the issuing of a press statement by Police Scotland, RSPB Scotland has today added its voice to the appeal for information following the shooting of a protected hen harrier on a grouse moor near the village of Leadhills in South Lanarkshire. The incident happened at 5.15pm on 4th May, when the female bird was killed. An individual, armed with a shotgun and with his face covered, was observed at the scene, but left hurriedly, on a quad bike before the police were able to attend.

RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson said: “This latest incident shows very clearly how protected birds of prey continue to be treated in some areas of our uplands, particularly where there is intensive grouse moor management. The hen harrier is an increasingly rare bird in southern and eastern Scotland, with illegal killing the main driver of this long term decline. This incident occurred only a few miles from where a satellite-tagged harrier, known as “Annie”, was found shot a couple of years ago, and is close to where another tagged bird, “Chance” disappeared mysteriously last spring. We ask that, if anyone has information about this latest incident at Leadhills, they contact Police Scotland on 101.”

Ian Thomson continued “The recent decision by the Crown Office to discontinue a court case where there was clear video evidence of the alleged shooting of another hen harrier, has clearly sent out a message to those that wish to kill our protected birds of prey, that they can continue to do so with impunity, knowing that even if their alleged crimes are caught on film, they are unlikely to be called to account. We need this last matter to be addressed by the public authorities as a matter of urgency. ”


So, it has now been confirmed that the hen harrier was shot ‘on a grouse moor near the village of Leadhills’ by an armed, masked man who escaped on a quad bike. According to Police Scotland, the shooting took place ‘near to the B7040 Elvanfoot to Leadhills road’. We thought we’d take a closer look:

According to information from Andy Wightman’s brilliant Who Owns Scotland website, the B7040 runs from Elvanfoot right across the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate (estate shown in block red):

Was this hen harrier shot on the Leadhills Estate?

Regular blog readers will be very familiar with the Leadhills Estate and neighbouring Buccleuch Estate (Leadhills Estate gamekeepers have previously undertaken ‘pest’ control on parts of Buccleuch Estate) in south Scotland. For new readers, here’s a map showing the location (Leadhills Estate in block red, dotted line denotes Buccleuch Estate boundary, info from Who Owns Scotland). Look how close this is to the Moffat hills, where the Scottish Government plans to translocate golden eagles next year.

Here’s a list of 48 reported raptor persecution crimes from this area over the last 14 years. Only two resulted in successful convictions (2004 – Leadhills Estate gamekeeper convicted of shooting a short-eared owl; 2009 – Leadhills Estate gamekeeper convicted of placing out a poisoned rabbit bait).

Here’s the list, all from Leadhills unless otherwise stated:

2003 April: hen harrier shot [prosecution failed – inadmissible evidence]

2003 April: hen harrier eggs destroyed [prosecution failed – inadmissible evidence]

2004 May: buzzard shot [no prosecution]

2004 May: short-eared owl shot [gamekeeper convicted]

2004 June: buzzard poisoned (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 June: 4 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 June: crow poisoned (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 February: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 April: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 February: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 March: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 April: dead buzzard (persecution method unknown) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned egg baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: 6 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned egg bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: 5 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 April: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2008 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2008 October: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2008 November: 3 x poisoned ravens (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2009 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 March: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 April: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [gamekeeper convicted]

2009 April: poisoned magpie (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 April: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2010 October: short-eared owl shot [no prosecution]

2011 March: illegally-set clam trap [no prosecution]

2011 December: buzzard shot [no prosecution]

2012 October: golden eagle shot (just over boundary with Buccleuch Estate) [no prosecution]

2013 May: shot otter found on estate [no prosecution]

2013 June: significant cache of pre-prepared poisoned baits found on estate [no prosecution]

2013 August: red kite found shot and critically-injured in Leadhills village [no prosecution]

2014 February: poisoned peregrine (Carbofuran) [‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2015 April: hen harrier ‘Annie’ found shot [Leadhills/Buccluech] [no prosecution]

2016 May: hen harrier ‘Chance’ ‘disappeared’ [Leadhills/Buccleuch] [no prosecution]

Here’s a photo of one of the many intensively-managed driven grouse moors on Leadhills Estate (photo by RPUK)

We’ve previously blogged about the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate at length and in detail. We know it is a member of landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates (at least it was in 2015, see here) and Earl Hopetoun is still currently listed as the Chair of Scottish Land & Estate’s Moorland Group.

Earl Hopetoun has previously denied that Hopetoun Estate has any involvement with grouse moor management at the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate. In 2012 his spokesperson was quoted:

The Earl of Hopetoun’s position on wildlife crime is unequivocal. He has constantly condemned any such activity. More importantly, Hopetoun Estate has no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills Estate. Leadhills Estate is run on a sporting lease completely separately and there is no connection between Hopetoun Estate and the sporting management of Leadhills”. 

We disputed this claim about Hopetoun Estates having ‘no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills Estate’  – see here, here and especially here.

However, at this stage, we’ve gone past the arguments of who owns it, or who owns the sporting lease, or who is responsible for the day-to-day management. Despite Earl Hopetoun’s clear condemnation of raptor persecution, and despite the sporting lease stating clearly that wildlife protection legislation must be adhered to, raptor persecution has been persistent in this area, over a long period of years, and almost all of it has gone unpunished. It is clearly beyond the control of those responsible for managing this land which leaves no other option but for state-regulated control. It’s gone too far. It’s time for the Scottish Government to implement the action that has been promised for years.

Later today we’ll be publishing an open letter on this subject to Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

UPDATE 6PM: Open letter to the Cabinet Secretary here

UPDATE: Statement from Leadhills Estate (via Media House PR) here

25 thoughts on “More on the shot hen harrier near Leadhills”

  1. The Scottish Government has been playing a double game between the shooting estates and those seeking to protect British/Scottish Birds of Prey, to the consternation of the informed and humane part of the public, who see it as an embarrassment and disgrace, that such a bipolar situation exists in what is being touted as a modern thinking and acting state. The situation in Scotland is far from being a model of law and order. That part of criminal activity that falls under wildlife crime, is allegedly being committed by the agents of shooting estates, who are guaranteed to have an easy time, if caught in the act and arraigned, when up would pop the very best defence to ensure a case dismissal, or a fine that will be paid by one of those practising game bird shooting. The Leadhills has become almost like a place where a horror movie would be made, with regard to what wildlife experiences, when any animal or bird tries to settle on it. Any politician or member of the legal system, who genuinely loves Scotland’s wildlife and open spaces, and who does not empathise with the commentators on RPS, is a hypocrite with his or her head in the sand. Somehow and at sometime a solution has to be found to correct this travesty of justice for our Birds of Prey, and to be successful, we have to gather a force so strong, that it will overwhelm the subjugation of our countryside and its wildlife by a wilful and cruel hegemony that finds pleasure in the mass killing of game birds, and suppresses any other form of life that may affect their prey.

  2. Are shotgun licenses really issued (and re-issued) to people who use them with their face covered? Reason enough for the police to follow this up, let alone the obvious wildlife crime.

    1. In the 1970s people wearing balaclavas used to get the guns they used to rob post offices and payroll vans simply by giving the local plod a quick bung. Or even just an open tab at a few select pubs. Not that I’m saying Police Scotland is as corrupt as the Met in the 1970s, just that wrong doers in this field seem to operate with as much defacto immunity from the cops and prosecutors as the vice merchants and armed blaggers in London did from the Met. It is probably just an unfortunate coincidence, I’m quite sure.

  3. Tie that open letter to a brick and “publish” it xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx, it is the only way she’ll take notice. Okay, nobody do that. It is illegal and wrong. However please understand it is the level of frustration felt, it feels like that is what it would take to get them to take notice and actually act, at times. Why, again, did it take the cops so long to ask for info? The 4th, and today is the 16th. Okay it is quicker than a year or three, as is normal, but I guarantee that if someone did a number on a cop car while it was parked up outside the burger bar then it would be in the news that very day.

    Also there will probably be some shot buzzards turning up across the rest of the South West as it has been rainy and blustery across Galloway and Dumfriesshire last day or so. Perfect bird murdering weather for the keepers and farmers.

  4. Not too long ago in a huge publicity fanfare SNP MSP Mairi Evans, was appointed as the Champion Hen Harriers. I wrote to her about the case at Cabrach Estate and all I have received is an email from one of her staff that she “was aware of the situation.” Aye, well so am I aware about it, but, unlike her, I am in no position to actually do anything about it. Did she simply want the publicity to kick start her political career locally were grouse shooting is a prominent industry, if industry it can be called, or will she, in light of this present crime against hen harriers, come out and let us know exactly WHAT she proposes as a response?

  5. I’m unclear if the masked man picked up the dead bird or has it become evidence. If so what forensics can be got from it- like type of cartridge/shot? Have I been watching too much CSI??

    1. Probably a bit too much CSI, yes. A rifle bullet can be linked to the rifle it was fired from by the unique pattern of grooves left on the bullet by the rifling in the gun barrel but I am pretty sure that there is no way to link shotgun pellets to the gun they were fired from. If the criminal left the empty cartridges at the seen then there could be fingerprint evidence but this seems extremely improbable.

  6. Don’t ever expect the fawning ‘do anything to gather a vote’ SNP government to do anything of any consequence to end the persecution of birds of prey. By sidelining the direct persecution issue, they avoid the backlash of powerful shooting bodies and estate owners who hold influencial positions AND in doing so, avoid answering difficult questions about how their wind energy policies make NO requirement to prevent, report, or answer for wind turbine bird strikes (unlike Europe and the USA where massive fines are paid for bird strikes) which are killing hundreds, if not thousands of birds, especially birds of prey, and are additionally causing crippling problems for falconry companies working in the countryside.

    1. Agreed , the SNP are a populist party they are petrified of making a decision in case they loose a vote , no doubt in reply to this they would site” vicarious liability, taking wildlife crime seriously” blah blah, I have heard this in reply to every letter I have written to them over the years, and there have been many . Only the nasty party would (possibly) be less supportive , certainly the Labour or Green party would would be much more pro active.

  7. So …..your ‘so called’ industry is under the spotlight following a string of daming headlines regarding the serial killing of birds of prey, the publication of a video showing a game keeper setting an illegal pole trap, a video of the shooting of a hen harrier by a game keeper, you are awaiting the outcome of a proposal to licence gamebird shooting, and the publication of a review of missing sat tagged raptor, the outcome of a proposal to involve the SSPCA in broadening it’s fight against wildlife crime, the controversial dropping of three bird crime court cases. So to reduce any further negative publicity what do you do, a), keep your head down b), do nothing, or c), look the other way? No what you do is to be seen shooting another hen harrier and have it witnessed. This is an ‘industry’ that is out of control and has effectively stuck up the proverbial two fingers to the Scottish Government saying ‘we are untouchable and we do not care’. This is an ‘industry’ sector completely out of control.

  8. The only way forward is to do what the Borders Forest Trust has done and buy land for reforesting etc. These grouse moor owners are a law unto themselves and with the kind of politicians we have no new draconian protection laws will be instigated.

    1. Yes – I would contribute. Crowd fund the purchase of upland to return to a more natural tapestry of vegetation. Perhaps help Border Forest Trust to buy more or Trees for Life or National Trust for Scotland, with the proviso no game shooting, so-called “vermin management” or other bloodsport allowed. Ownership of the land is the only guaranteed way forward if the authorities are corrupt or uncaring.

  9. Naive question perhaps and if so apologies.

    What public funding do these estates receive? If they do and the fact that they are virtually devoid of real wildlife interest, then what are they delivering for the public benefit? If the answer is negative then recover public funds or at least cancel future welfare payments to these lanowners?

    RPA are quick to claw money back in areas of England and from those delivering public benefit so criteria exists for recovery for failure to comply etc.

    1. I fear that with the SNPs reintroduction of shooting rates that budgets for game and moor management will become increasingly tighter thus encouraging more ‘corner cutting’.

  10. Given the likely outcome of the election [ the independence of Scotland or otherwise is an irrelevance given the total lack of political will to deal with raptor killing ] , don’t expect any change in the antics of the landowners & their slaves on the grouse moors.
    Prepare to dig in for a very long fight !

    Keep up the pressure !

  11. This killing must be interpreted to the wider public for what it is – a very rare instance of the crime actually being witnessed !
    As we know the killing of raptors is simply a daily management task for grouse moor keepers.
    The real death toll is astonishing.
    Even some of the few raptors that are tagged end up killed & the tiny statistical probability of that happening shows the real level of criminality.

    Keep up the pressure !

    1. Yes, I think you’re correct there – it’s probably routine (for some), as historically it always has been. The only rare thing about it is publicity of an individual crime. The perpetrators clearly are suspected but very seldom brought to book. As individuals, they already know the risk of being caught is slim, and are in a position to evaluate how their past deeds have affected the success or failure of the shoots. If for example an individual knows that “control” in past years have resulted in a barely successful shoot, it’s not difficult to understand the reluctance to voluntarily discontinue the practice. For that reason tougher measures, starting with licensing is essential.
      Unless, of course, someone could come up with research results for the same estate, in different years, to indicate that raptor control made little difference to the shoot. How much easier would it be though, if that could be substantiated. I suppose that’s very similar to the “when did you stop beating your wife” question, that no-one would be prepared to come clean on. The fact is though, if that information, “good or bad” was to become available, even through some form of amnesty, it would throw light any many unknowns, such as more accurate comparisons between natural deaths and controlled raptor deaths.

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