Short-eared owl shot on Leadhills Estate – police appeal for info

Police Scotland are appealing for information after the shooting of a short-eared owl was witnessed on the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate, South Lanarkshire.

According to this article in the Carluke Gazette, the shooting was witnessed about 11.45am on 31 May 2017 (ironically, the day Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a package of new measures to clamp down on the illegal persecution of raptors on Scottish grouse moors).

Photo of a short-eared owl by Jamie MacArthur

The suspect/culprit is described by Police as “being small or medium build, driving a black 4×4 type vehicle with a dark canopy on it. The vehicle thereafter drove off to the B7040 Elvanfoot Road“.

Witnesses are sought, and those with information are urged to call Police Scotland 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Well done Police Scotland for getting this news out and not sitting on it for three years. More of this, please.

The location given is the same as described in an earlier Police appeal for information following the witnessed shooting of a hen harrier earlier in May 2017 (see earlier blogs here and here).

Here’s a map of the Leadhills Estate (Leadhills Estate in block red, dotted line denotes neighbouring Buccleuch Estate boundary, info from Who Owns Scotland).

And here is a map showing the B7040 Elvanfoot Road, which runs right across the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate:

We’ve blogged extensively about this estate (see here) and we’d particularly encourage new readers to have a look at the very long list of raptor persecution crimes recorded (49 incidents [now 50] recorded over the last 14 years see here). There have only ever been two convictions of estate gamekeepers.

We’ll be blogging more about this place shortly.

In the meantime, we need to see an immediate response from the Scottish Government. On 31 May 2017 the Cabinet Secretary told the world that the Government would “Immediately review all available legal measures which could be used to target geographical areas of concern“.

Has that been done? What are the legal measures available, and when will they be implemented?

27 thoughts on “Short-eared owl shot on Leadhills Estate – police appeal for info”

  1. That’s two recently witnessed shootings in that area. How many more have occurred which were not observed? Clearly these people believe that they are above the law of the land. One of these days the hole they are digging for themselves will become too deep for them to climb out of – a novel way of creating a stink-pit!

  2. Presumably there are ANPR & CCTV cameras in the general area so that a [ presumably ] local vehicle could be identified & investigations undertaken ?
    No doubt the perpetrator is actually well known in the area but the usual fear – induced wall of silence prevails.
    Seems like a good candidate estate for mass trespass activities around shoot days ?
    Local people would of course be unable to take part for obvious reasons.

    Keep up the pressure !

  3. Surely we crossed the Rubicon ages ago, with regard to a solution for the unrelenting pressure on our Birds of Prey. The recent Scottish Parliament decision to relax the law regarding tail-docking, for certain breeds of dogs likely to be used for “working” purposes, revealed that the SNP and the Conservatives came to vote together on this issue. Has the SNP got some special relationship with those who dominate a third of our natural landscape? However, we had a prior discussion about GAMEKEEPER STINK PITS, and the horrors they held, which was supported by the Scottish Labour Party and the SNP. Is this running with the Hare and coursing with the hounds? It is confusing as to whom we can have faith in, to assist in bringing justice to the tragedy of persecution of our Birds of Prey.

    To have individuals appear, at some spot noted for the presence of protected hawks, harriers, eagles and owls, and whip out a gun and shoot dead one of those species, is tantamount to having invincibility to prosecution for such a wildlife crime. That can only lead to the respective doors of the police, Crown Office and Prosecution Service and our judiciary, who will give almost safe haven for those felons with blood of a bird of prey on their hands. Generally, with regard to the other horrible crimes that beset our Scottish society, if a type of crime is on the increase and enough of us shout, greater attention will be shown by those authorities, leading to a more vigorous pursuit and heavier sentencing.

    With wildlife persecution world wide, for many reasons, Scotland has its role to play in giving a model of protection for its wildlife and plant life. This is not the case on the marine and terrestrial fronts, where constant and depleting harassment is being experienced. With domestic pets and farm animals, the SSPCA is experiencing an increasing work load, for which it may not have the resources to cover effectively. Are we going to continue moaning about the war of attrition between the shooting industry and the protectors of wildlife, or are we going to begin the long haul to create a sizeable force that will have a bigger political impact, than hitherto, to irrevocably make our countryside come alive once again, or not. Already, there is a massive consensus for our failing justice system, to be jockeyed up to dealing with wildlife crime with a better acceptance of evidence, and a real hammer blow of stiff sentencing. The cocky gunmen who can appear anywhere in a vehicle, and be off into the proverbial night, after shooting an harmless bird of prey, would disappear for a goodly time into one of our excellent prison hells, where they rightfully belong. Failing that, we should just give up and let the criminals wipe out the natural world, with their dodgy developments, blood sports, harmful farming practices, over-fishing and anything else that reduces biodiversity and compassion. It is time some of our politicians started thinking about such matters, and see how they have become dupes for the country “sports” brigade.

  4. It has still taken a month for this police appeal. In both the recent witnessed instances it would appear that the vehicles were driven on areas not publicly permissible. A check of estate vehicles (ie owned by the estate owners and all staff) would seem a rather obvious starting point …..

    1. To be fair, if there was a corpse the Police would have to wait for the results of an official post mortem, which can sometimes take time depending on how busy the lab is.

      The Police may also have already been to the estate to interview potential suspects and/or witnesses (if these included gamekeepers the standard response, as encouraged by SGA policy, is ‘no comment’).

      The Police may also have taken statements from the witness(es) to the shooting, which also takes time.

      We’re not defending an almost 4 week delay before the Police appeal for info, but it’s a lot better than the three year silence that happens in a lot of other cases like this one.

  5. “being small or medium build, driving a black 4×4 type vehicle MMmmmm wonder who that could be………….

  6. “Police appealing for information”. The should search the estate for the vehicle and if they retrieved the bullet from the owl , check the guns licensed on the estate. They should be far more pro active. If a person had been shot they would be all over the estate like a rash, and rightly so, but our wildlife also needs justice

    1. It seems that man still thinks he is superior to his brother in the natural world, as for wild life murder, it happens because they regard them as inferior, and as my postie says 90% of the public are thick as bricks, and could not think for themselves , they have to be led, like sheep, poor domesticated beings.

      1. Phyllis. That’s an absolute gem from your postie, who’ll no doubt be well placed to make such an assessment! You raise a very interesting point. I’d like to see these persecutors left out – preferably starkers – in the adverse conditions which our wildlife has to face in order to survive. This would show them which is the superior being.

    2. Pat, the owl will have been almost certainly shot with a shotgun and so would not be traceable as a bullet would.

  7. Given that what keepers call “Bog Owls” have gone from being a common bird on the grouse moors round here ( Nidderdale AONB) to a relative rarity in the last 30 years with little or no habitat change I suspect that they are probably regularly targeted when they appear. I can remember a conversation long ago with a keeper who told me in vole poor years they take “lots of” grouse chicks, he seemed uninterested in or unable to grasp their protected status. I have often wondered given that SEO is certainly a scarcer breeder than Barn Owl why it isn’t similarly a Schedule One bird.

    1. There is no evidence that Short-eared Owls take “lots” of grouse chicks in poor vole years. The species is highly nomadic and in a poor vole year in one area will simply move to another area where voles are plentiful. They will move considerable distances, not just locally. This is yet another tiresome example of gamekeepers making up reasons to justify their existence to their employers. It’s a weird cultural phenomenon. The entire basis for controlling predators is based on mindless lies and constructed hypotheses, and the sooner society understands this the better.

      1. I didn’t say I agreed with him Iain although it is not entirely true that all SEO are nomadic. Even in some poor vole years some ” traditional” territories are occupied and yes I have found grouse chicks, meadow pipits as well as small mammals at such nests, indeed one pellet I collected had a bat skull in it, all very interesting. I imagine that a keeper finding such a nest will result in all shorties being condemned as grouse chick killers forever. However diet matters not in the sense that the bird is protected under the law period.

        1. Hi Paul, sorry if you got the impression I was in any way criticising your comment – I was trying to supplement it! I too have quite a lot of experience of Short-eared Owls, and would contend that most if not all are potentially nomadic. I also survey Field Vole densities. The territories which remain occupied in poor vole years tend to be the ones retaining pockets of voles, and normally in my experience they hold non-breeding owls (usually single birds). I couldn’t deny they take some grouse chicks, although have no evidence either way, but I would think it unlikely they take “lots.” Interestingly my studies over twenty years suggest that grouse productivity might be correlated with vole populations, in that grouse numbers increase when vole numbers increase, and decline in parallel. I haven’t done the stats, but suspect it might be related to foxes concentrating on voles as prey. Pipits also seem to be more productive during high vole populations.

          1. Thank you Iain for sharing your vast knowledge.

            The skills of so many people this site are absolutely inspiring. Thank you RPS for the tremendous research you do and for providing an opportunity for all these amazing people to come together to share their experiences and views on this important issue. You do an outstanding job.

          2. Agreed Iain, lots is unlikely the only thing that takes lots of grouse chicks is bad weather!

          3. Interesting.
            Anecdotal only but that fits my observations where i live.
            There are one or two pair just a short walk from our house which seem to at least attempt to breed most years but when the voles were peaking i once estimated 10 pairs visible from the same site!
            This is a non-persecution area, i should add.

  8. Many thanks Iain for once again bringing your ornithological knowledge into the public domain. All you say is correct and based on many years of studying our bird populations.

  9. Sounds like an ideal opportunity to let Vicarious Liability out the bag…………..hope the previous incidents have been brought to the attention of the land owner….

  10. Going off on a tangent. My parents had a house and eventually retired there and all our free time was spent there. My cousin and I along with our friends found an injured young rabbit and took it to the gamekeeper to see if he could help it. His reply was “yes” and he took its back legs and swung it against the wall and killed it. He threw the corpse at our feet and closed the door. I was 4 years old and I hammered on the door but was told to go. I am not surprised at reading any posts regarding the estate.


  11. By coincidence when driving on very outskirts SW Edinburgh today attention was drawn to a dirty lightweight black 4×4 army jeep type of vehicle with soft top roof driving towards me with no registration plate at all at the front. Looking in mirror when it passed I saw it had a yellow reg plate on its back, but stuck at extreme side.

    Just an observation
    So sad about Leadhills-the skies there when I’ve been reminded me of skies over Langholm Moor and its environs -hardly any birdlife to see

    1. Odd that.

      I’ve seen quite a few Land Rovers up in the Northumberland hills with very muddy (i.e. unreadable) reg plates, even when we haven’t had any rain for some time…Always somewhere near shooting lands…

      Just a coincidence, because I’m certain it’s illegal to have illegible reg plates.

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