The ability for SNH to impose a General Licence restriction order on land where there is evidence of raptor persecution taking place came in to force on 1 January 2014. This measure, based on a civil burden of proof, was introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to the continuing difficulties of meeting a criminal burden of proof to facilitate a criminal prosecution.
Whilst these GL restrictions are not without their limitations (because estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead – see here, but also see here where SNH recently revoked an individual licence for alleged non compliance), Wheelhouse argued that as the restriction notices will be made public, they should act as a ‘reputational driver‘ and to us, that’s still where their value lies.
Since 1 January 2014, SNH has imposed two GL restrictions: one for Raeshaw & Corsehope Estates, and one for Burnfoot & Wester Cringate estates in Stirlingshire. These restrictions began in November 2015 but as regular blog readers will know, Raeshaw & Corsehope made a legal challenge which ended up with a judicial review in January 2017. The court’s decision was announced in March 2017 and SNH was found to have acted properly and lawfully.
Since the findings of the judicial review were made public in March 2017, we’ve been waiting to see whether SNH would notify any further estates of an intention to restrict the use of the General Licence. We’re aware of many raptor persecution incidents that have been recorded since January 2014 that potentially would meet the criteria required for a restriction order.
Recently we submitted an FoI to SNH to ask about progress. Here is the response:
As we don’t yet know which estates have been notified, we’ll reserve comment until the final notification decisions have been made, but let’s just say we’re particularly interested in the Aberdeenshire case.
As per the SNH guidelines on restrictions (here), estates have 14 days in which to respond to a notice of intent from SNH. An estate has the right to challenge the decision, which then goes back to SNH for further consideration. If SNH decides to continue with the restriction order, the estate then has another opportunity to appeal, which will be considered by a more senior SNH staff member. The final decision on the appeal should be made within a four week period of SNH receiving notice of an estate’s appeal.
So it’s quite a convoluted process, and we don’t know when, exactly, SNH first notified the two estates of the intention to restrict the General Licence, so we don’t know how far along proceedings have moved. Hopefully we won’t have too long to wait and, as before, if the restriction notices are upheld, we expect SNH will publish the decisions on the SNH website.