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:
SNH REVOKES LICENCE ON RAESHAW ESTATE AFTER SUSPECTED WILDLIFE CRIME OFFENCES
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.