More suspected wildlife crimes on Raeshaw Estate: SNH revokes individual licence

As many of you will know, Raeshaw Estate in the Scottish Borders was one of the first in Scotland to be subjected to a General Licence Restriction Order, issued in 2015, based on clear police evidence that wildlife crimes had been committed although there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual (see here). The estate contested the legality of SNH’s decision and this was seen as a test case, which went to Judicial Review in 2016. In March this year, the Court of Session upheld SNH’s decision and the General Licence Restriction Order was considered lawful (here).

Here is a map showing the location of Raeshaw Estate in south Scotland (estate boundary details sourced from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website).

In the meantime, SNH had granted an ‘individual licence’ to several gamekeepers at Raeshaw Estate, allowing them to continue to carry out various ‘management’ activities (killing corvids and other so-called ‘pest’ species) but under closer scrutiny than they would have been subjected to under the General Licence. We, and others, have been strongly critical of this (see here and here), and we were especially sceptical when we learned, via an FoI, that the extent of the ‘scrutiny’ had only extended to a single compliance check by SNH staff (see here). However, having read the full details of the Judicial Review, it became apparent to us that had an individual licence not been issued, the General Licence Restriction Order would probably have been judged to be unfair and SNH would have lost the case.

The first individual licence(s) issued to Raeshaw Estate staff expired on 31 December 2016. It is now apparent that the Estate has applied for a further individual licence earlier this year, which was granted. However, this morning, SNH has issued the following statement:


Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has revoked a licence to control wild birds at Raeshaw Estates as a result of on-going concerns about wildlife crime.

Police Scotland is now investigating the potential offences on the Scottish Borders estate.

SNH imposed a general licence restriction on Raeshaw Estates in 2015 on the basis of clear evidence provided by Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on the estate. The estate challenged the restriction through a judicial review, but the restriction was upheld in March this year.

During a compliance check this month, SNH staff found multiple instances of breaches of conditions of an individual licence that had been granted to cover essential management activities on the estate. These breaches may also constitute offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, so SNH has reported the details to Police Scotland.

General licences allow land owners or managers to carry out certain management actions with minimal bureaucracy, largely relying on trust that land managers will carry out activities legally. This includes controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock. However, those land managers in which SNH has lost confidence may have their General Licences removed, as was the case at Raeshaw. The estate is then allowed to apply for individual licences to control wild birds, which gives SNH more control and oversight of the activities being carried out.

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s Head of National Operations, said:

After discovering several failures to comply with the terms, we have no other option than to revoke the licence. In cases like this, we have to take breaches of licences very seriously and will work with Police Scotland as they investigate this case.

We hope this also spreads the message that we will take action to stop wildlife crime whenever possible. We’re committed to working strongly in partnership with Police Scotland, and other members of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAWS), to stamp out wildlife crime in Scotland.”


Photo of Raeshaw Estate (by RPUK)

Wow! First of all, credit where it’s due. SNH has surprised us, first by conducting another compliance check, secondly by responding very, very quickly to multiple breaches, and thirdly by making a public statement. That’s impressive – well done to SNH.

It’s hard to comprehend the level of stupidity of those working under an individual licence. If you know your working practices are already under the spotlight, why on earth would you then make multiple breaches of the conditions of that licence, some of which may also also constitute offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act? It almost beggars belief, although, given the long history of wildlife crime uncovered in this area (see here), for which nobody has ever been prosecuted, it is perhaps a clear indication of just how little deterrent the current legislation offers and re-emphasises the urgent need for a change of policy.

Even though SNH has now revoked the estate’s individual licence(s), meaning that ‘pest’ control is further restricted, the estate still has the right to shoot grouse, pheasant and partridge when the shooting season opens later in the year, so in effect there’s very little sanction here. That is not good enough. Had a licensing scheme been in place for gamebird shooting, presumably the estate’s licence would now be revoked.

There’s a strong response to today’s news from RSPB Scotland:

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has today announced that it has revoked a licence to control wild birds at Raeshaw Estate as a result of on-going concerns about wildlife crime. In response, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson, said: “Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise at all in relation to this particular estate. These latest multiple breaches found by SNH on the Raeshaw Estate can be added to a long list of confirmed poisoning, shooting and illegal trapping cases in this area dating back over more than a decade.

The fact that there is an ongoing criminal investigation here, despite the sanctions previously imposed by SNH, echoes a pattern of repeat offending that occurs in a significant number of areas of Scotland where intensive grouse moor management is the main land use.

While we welcome SNH’s revocation of the individual licenses issued to this estate’s employees, it is clear that current legislation and the available penalties are no deterrent to the continued criminal targeting of protected wildlife. The time has come for a robust regulatory regime, including the licensing of gamebird shoots, where wildlife crimes with a proven link to estate management could lead to a loss of shooting rights.”


Today’s news comes at a critical time. We know that an announcement on how the Scottish Government intends to tackle the ongoing crisis of illegal raptor persecution is imminent. This latest example of how ineffective the current system is, in addition to all the other evidence of criminal activity that has been reported in recent months, and in addition to the series of prosecutions abandoned by the Crown Office, and in addition to the findings of the forthcoming raptor satellite tag data review, will surely tip the balance and result in tough measures being introduced. God help the Government if it doesn’t.

20 thoughts on “More suspected wildlife crimes on Raeshaw Estate: SNH revokes individual licence”

  1. Well done SNH,this sends out a real message to those unscrupulous Estates that believe they are above the Law,it makes you wonder what breaches were made by raeshaw estate !! P’s a very long long way to go,but this tide is beginning to turn,keep the Pressure on and thanks RPUK.

  2. Well done SNH for your pro-active stance in dealing with this estate.

    Just think on what we could achieve if we had a squad of SSPCA officers out there monitoring our ‘guardians of the countryside’

    I believe there is now plenty of available space in some of Her Majesties custodial suites.

  3. Has the recent progress on licensing given SNH a bit of backbone? Has a political tipping point now been reached? There could be much, much more of the same if so. The photo of the estate just underlines that bad though raptor persecution is it’s just one facet of the horrendous ecological devastation accompanying grouse shooting, one hell of a lot of wildlife is suffering. Well done SNH.

  4. Thanks to this website and others, together with the RSPB investigations team, more and more people know what is going on on our grouse moors and they do not like it.

    Put simply – the industry is out of control. Recent events show this is clearly and demonstrably the case.

    The Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Gamekeepers Association, The Scottish Association for Country Sports, The Countryside Alliance, BASC, and the Moorland Assoc know it, we know it, and Governments north and south of the border both know it. Will the SNP shortly lead the way?

    “Has a political tipping point now been reached?” I think it hasl.

  5. So… it seems that SNH’s optimistic belief that they can trust wildlife managers to stay within the rules has been found to be misplaced…. Dramatically! Raeshaw has been under the most intensive scrutiny that SNH has ever undertaken. If there was one place in Scotland where you would think that they would be on their best behaviour it would be Raeshaw.

    The general licence depends on trust, all licences depend on trust…and SNH trusts that all who use a licence complies with the conditions. They even increased the level of trust with this year’s version of the general licence.

    In spite all of our grateful praise today, SNH, must be deeply embarrassed that their misplaced trust has been so obviously exposed. If the “wildlife managers” are laughing in their face where special measures are in place, think what they are up to away from the spot light?

  6. We down here in England are fairly jealous of these provisions that SNH are using and would love them down here. However it might be that the higher echelons of NE would need to grow spines independent of DEFRA were it ever to be meaningful. However well done SNH!
    Are these shooting estates so arrogant that they have been foolish enough not to comply with their individual licence, it would seem so. So despite their upper crust arrogance based on their belief in untouchabliity it seems that the stupidity gene has led them into folly. What follies are other estates routinely up to away from the increased scrutiny of the authorities? We of course know but perhaps this is the beginning of a series of wake up calls for government that are finally tipping the balance. I will not be cheering quite yet but I must say it does feel good! Oh that we had such good news in England!

    1. In the “Conservation of Nature in England and Wales, Report of The Wildlife Conservation Special Committee”, Cmd. 7122, July 1947, Professor Aldous Huxley gave stark warning concerning the future management of the Biological Service, as it was then known; later the Nature Conservancy Council (then a national UK Agency). He maintained that at all costs the NCC should be free of what was then MAFF, the Ministry of Agriculture, Farming and Fisheries, least it be swallowed-up and forgotten. Therefore, the operation of the new agency was attached to the office of the privy council (office of the Prime Minister). Subsequently, by various Acts of Parliament, the Conservation agency/ies have lost their independence and their collective voices to arrive at the current situation where, for example, Natural England are forbidden from making statements on the environment without prior consent from Defra. Over the intervening years, and the political predisposition of various UK governments, the Conservative Party, who were always opposed to the establishment of state agencies, the Conservancy/s, in effect, died a death of a thousand cuts.

  7. Estates, SLE,SGA, CA,BASC et al plain dumb or arrogant, they simply couldn’t have orchestrated a better display of the reality of their crime, deceit and denial over recent events, weeks, months, indeed years. They truly are a laughing stock. It remains to be seen whether the Scottish Government joins them or achieves some degree of credibility in the near future.

    1. Hopefully their time has come.

      The point I was trying to make was that even if the above organisations, who say they represent this god forsaken industry, tried to reign in their memberships they would clearly fail. They do not and cannot exert control over such a disparate and desperate bunch of individuals. Banning what they do or licencing the Estates to prevent people with guns breaking our laws is going to happen. The question is when.

  8. With respect I think the RSPB are being naive here. It will be extremely hard to prove links between “rogue” or “overzealous” gamekeepers and estate managements. What is needed is a regime under which licence to shoot game birds can be revoked if there is any evidence that wildlife crime has taken place on an estate, whether or not it can linked to any specific individuals.

  9. Begs the question whether, had RPUK not initially drawn attention to the shortcomings of the SNH compliance checks, the further checks which resulted in this latest action would have been undertaken. Notwithstanding the arrogance of the higher echelons of the shooting fraternity, they must be spitting blood as a result of the sheer stupidity of their employees in continually bringing their ‘sport’ into disrepute – or, at least, for being found out!

  10. The issue of being able to legally control some birds just adds confusion and illogicality to the whole picture. One of my main concerns about a few fellow raptor enthusiasts is an apparent inability to perceive that there is absolutely no need to control crows, including Ravens. Either that or they are just burying their heads in the sand. The only scientific research that “justifies” persecution of crows is that produced by scientists employed by the game shooting organisations, just like scientists employed by tobacco companies. There appears to be a clause in their contract to stipulate they arrive at the conclusion that all problems in nature conservation are the fault of predators. That is just silly, as any enlightened ecologist knows. However so long as the shooting estates can set traps for crows, there will be the inevitable by-catch of raptors which I’m sure in most cases are not released unharmed. Why doesn’t the RSPB catch up with the times (in terms of scientific knowledge), and campaign for ALL wild birds to be protected by law?

    On that subject, I was dismayed to see Ravens getting it in the neck on BBC Landward again last night. Does the Producer have a hidden agenda? Yet again we had a farmer telling us that Ravens kill lambs, and this time not even just newborn lambs. We were shown a film of a Raven strolling casually past a ewe with two lambs, and told that this was a case of the Raven “attempting to separate the lambs from their mother,” with a view to killing them. The presenter described this as “shocking” behaviour. Pure imagination on the farmer’s part, and as usual no actual filmed evidence of the deadly deed. Do farmers not even understand the behaviour of their own sheep, never mind the behaviour of Ravens? One aspect of the report that I did find utterly shocking was that SNH had granted a licence to a group of farms in Caithness permitting the killing of fifty Ravens. This is absolutely disgraceful, coming from the Government’s own nature conservation advisory body, whose policies are supposed to be based upon scientific evidence. And this is only one of a number of recent examples of professional ineptitude. Don’t they employ an ornithological adviser?

    1. I would suggest that these farmers, and the BBC producers of Landward, might like to read the late professor Derek Ratcliffe’s book ‘The Raven’, in which he estimates that the entire countries (excluding Ireland) population of Ravens is no more than 3,300 pairs. “Sheep, it is true, form a main source of the Raven’s subsistence; but for all that, in no proper sense is the Raven a detrimental, since he is not a raptor, but purely a scavenger”.

  11. Let’s not forget that illegal raptor traps and a pile of dead raptors were found on this estate alongside other other evidence identifying the persons allegedly responsible and police scotland failed to even submit a report to the procurator fiscal.

    Finally after decades of illegal killing sanctions have been put in place.

    Lets see how long it takes for the estate to ignore this and what action results.

    SNH finally forced to become involved in the vulgar world of enforcement.

    Much more positive action required.

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