SNH refuses to disclose details of individual General Licence restriction

In September 2017 we learned that SNH had imposed a General Licence restriction on an individual for alleged criminal activity in relation to raptor persecution (see here).

This was a highly unusual restriction because it applied to an individual rather than to an estate.

At the time the restriction was announced, SNH provided virtually no information other than to say a General Licence restriction had been imposed and that it would apply for three years.

However, RSPB Scotland released a press statement in relation to this restriction order which included the following quote from RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson:

The restriction was imposed after RSPB investigations staff passed video footage to police of a gamekeeper allegedly setting illegal traps, baited with a dead woodpigeon, very close to a goshawk nest in NE Scotland”.

Here’s a clip from that video evidence:

From this, we were able to deduce that this alleged wildlife crime took place in March 2014 ‘nr Tarland, Aberdeenshire’, although the specific location was not given.

This alleged offence was reported by Police Scotland to the Crown Office in April 2014 (see here). It is clear, now, that the Crown Office did not prosecute the gamekeeper, probably on the grounds that the video evidence was deemed ‘inadmissible’. That’s the sixth alleged wildlife crime case, that we know about, that the Crown Office has dropped in recent months.

So at this stage we know that an alleged wildlife crime had taken place, we know that a criminal prosecution is not going to happen (because the case is now time-barred), and we know that SNH has imposed an individual General Licence restriction on a gamekeeper as a supposed sanction. The identity of the alleged offender remains a secret, as does the name of the estate where the alleged offence was committed. This lack of transparency is, frankly, appalling, especially when former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse had stated when he first introduced General Licence restrictions in 2014 that he expected them to function as “a reputational driver”. Not much chance of that happening when the details of a case are kept secret.

In early October 2017 we submitted an FoI to SNH to try and find out more details about this case. We asked for:

  1. The name of the person who had been given a General Licence restriction (we didn’t expect to be told but thought we’d ask anyway – you never know)
  2. The occupation of that person (we already knew from the RSPB press statement that he was a gamekeeper but we wanted SNH to confirm this)
  3. The name of the county in which this individual resides (we already knew from the RSPB press statement that the alleged offence had taken place in Aberdeenshire but we wanted SNH to confirm this)
  4. The name of the estate from where the Police evidence of alleged raptor persecution had been collected
  5. An explanation about why an individual and not an estate was the recipient of the General Licence restriction
  6. An explanation about how SNH intends to monitor the activities of the individual for potential breaches of his General Licence restriction.

SNH has now responded and it’s astonishing:

It looks like SNH has been taking lessons from Natural England in the withholding of information that should be in the public domain. It’s understandable that SNH can’t disclose the alleged offender’s identity, but withholding details of his occupation and the county in which he resides because “this would allow them to be identified” is obviously nonsense, and we already know this information from the RSPB press release!

We would argue that it is in the public interest to know the name of the estate on which this alleged offence took place (and we do know from various local sources it was on a game-shooting estate and that this gamekeeper was employed by that estate). Why should that information be kept secret? Who is SNH shielding, and why?

And does anyone actually believe that Police Scotland, no matter how well-intentioned, has the resources to track this gamekeeper’s activities for the next three years to ensure he’s not breaching the terms of his General Licence restriction?!

Whilst this response doesn’t get us any further forward in knowing the specifics of this case, what it does demonstrate, quite clearly, is that the General Licence restriction, introduced as a way of publicly embarassing estates where there is evidence of wildlife crime but, due to perceieved evidential difficulties, the cases don’t ever reach the courts, is simply not working.

Tomorrow’s blog, on another General Licence restriction case, will emphasise this point again but on a whole bigger scale.

25 thoughts on “SNH refuses to disclose details of individual General Licence restriction”

  1. So, if the gamekeeper decided to look for work else in this field during the forthcoming restricted period, an employer would have no way of knowing his criminal history?

  2. Is RPUK goin to ask for an Internal Review or is it a case of leaving it as is, to demonstrate how absolutely useless this General Licence Restriction is (especially as it is now currently being implemented).

    1. We’ll be asking for an internal review of some aspects. We’re not especially interested in the identity of the gamekeeper, but we’re VERY interested in the name of the estate and the identity of this gamekeeper’s employer at the time of the alleged offence.

  3. Ridiculous stating that if he breaches the restriction he is committing an offence. He committed an offence in the first place but nothing was done. How can anyone report for breach of the restriction if nobody knows who he is. Always thought scotland were a bit ahead of England re wildlife crime but theyre starting to make NE look good. This inability to use video as evidence is just plain bollocks. How many other crimes are detected and enforced using video footage?

  4. There’s a terrible stink of dead rat! God forbid that Natural England and SNH ever interbreed! I would hazard a guess that the name of the Estate owner starts with either ‘Sir’, ‘Lord’ or ‘Duke of”.

  5. Sickening response from SNH. The very body charged with protecting the natural world and this is what we get?!? I’m surprised we have any raptors left at all.
    There’s a depressing picture building up – the Crown office rejecting evidence, Ms Cunningham’s dithering with the review, SNH’s wall of silence..etc etc
    How many legal eagles in the Crown office have shooting interests? Can we submit an FoI?

  6. This leads me to wonder who SNH are trying to protect, I don’t believe it’s the gamekeeper as they have had no issues naming other estates where the licence has been restricted. Perhaps we should look into who is involved in the three estates that appear to be implicated by the RSPB Scotland’s 2014 persecution report i.e Nr Tarland?
    The MacRobert Trust Estate, the Tillypronie, Deskrie and Towie Estate, and the Dinnet Estate. Could we challenge these estates and see if they respond?
    Do RPUK or Andy Wightman have any details of who is involved in any of the estates so that we might ask questions of them?

    1. You are forgetting to include Auchnerran Farm owned by the GWCT in the list of local landowners & potential employers (not that I am implying on the basis of the evidence available so far that they have involvement or connection).

      I Doubt that SNH are trying to protect anyone, more likely they are trying to avoid legal challenge, still utilise the powers they have been mandated with, and potentially prevent the licensing restriction system collapsing under the challenge.

      All the listed parties probably have the capacity to field heavy weight lawyers and fund indefinitely. Whom would have the motivation if thier employee was caught on someone else’s land, or someone else’s employee caught on thier land to try and keep it out of the public eye……….obviously reputational and/or political. I can see why RPUK are digging as if it were to involve one landowning party in particular, in either scenario, it would be particularly political; in a raptor persecution context. However that doesn’t mean it’s a given that particular landowner/employer is involved, it could easily just be circumstance.

      On another level it’s interesting that this potential employer and possibly others, would have difficulty being to able to recruit, sub-contract or otherwise engage locally without taking a reputational risk if they are not privy to knowing who it was. Which would unfairly penalise professional law-abiding keepers on the adjacent estates, from the opportunity should it arise, and also potentially more widely with other positions.

  7. I know this is off-topic but I looked back at the George Mutch case and saw that Sheriff Cowan recused herself as she had a RSPB membership. Are there raptor persecution cases where Sheriffs have recused themselves because of shooting interests?


  9. I wonder if Police Scotland are actually aware that SNH is shoving these ‘responsibilities’ on to their shoulders? I cannot recall ever having seen an on-duty Police officer having a stroll about a moor or wood – they wouldn’t have the time anyway. Pass the buck SNH – anything rather than sort the problems you bunch of spineless shites.

  10. I have already expressed the opinion several times that a restriction of the general licence is in no way a punishment or even a meaningful deterrent to a gamekeeper. This is especially so if SNH refuses to name and shame the individual. For example, the density of the crow population within the estate can be severely reduced, possibly even eliminated, by intensive trapping and shooting around the periphery of the restricted area. Also, the main target predatory species for most keepers, the Red Fox, is not covered by the General Licence anyway. If the restriction also applied to carrying a shotgun on site (during the close season), that might make the order more effective. At present they can just claim it’s for controlling foxes. Anyone who cares to study crows knows that their impact on grouse productivity, even where there is no persecution, amounts to negligible. In my long term experience, too many conservationists take for granted the unjustified vilification of crow species. This even goes as far as ignoring scientific evidence to the contrary, and sometimes arguing for culling on the basis of the additional pressure placed upon breeding wader populations (rather than addressing the fundamental problems created by man).

    So while I am all in favour of pursuing cases like the one above, and highlighting the apparent legal and bureaucratic inconsistencies, we should not forget that applying the general licence restriction is like using a feather to crack a nut. It’s a gesture, little else.

    1. Not only crows that are unjustifiably vilified but the poor old fox as well , whilst it would stupid to argue that they have no effect on ground nesting birds there impact is grossly exaggerated .I also find it worrying that there is very little understanding of basic fox ecology not only from gamekeepers (what else would you expect from these thick bastards) but also from many Raptor workers and conservationists.

  11. Have just checked my road atlas. Balmoral is just 16 miles from Tarland, with uplands between them! Just a thought.

    [Ed: for the avoidance of doubt, Balmoral employees are NOT suspected to be involved in this case]

  12. what a complete waste of time !!! a sanction in which th name of the gamekeeper,the estate and the emploer can’t be given basically means he has gotten away with it as there is no way any future employer, would know of the samnction,so what exactly WAS the point imposing it ?? and you can probably place bets that the current employer,most likely of some sort of “aristocracy” wont bother enforcing the sanction either as it’s all so damned “undercover” that not enough people know exactly who the perpetrator is, where he works or who in fact is his employer,a whole load of drivel !! not worth the paper it’s written on !! come on SNH do the right bloody thing, name and shame and make sure this so called gamekeeper can’t commit the same offence within the time of his pointless sanction !!!!

  13. Point taken RPUK. I was just wondering who the immediate neighbours are, and whether any invitations are sent out by them to their nearby ‘friends’ to come and enjoy the fresh air and ‘fun’ on their moors!

  14. This whole pathetic situation – by which I mean the general licence situation and the twisting of our legal system to prevent video evidence obtained in order to identify and therefore prevent crime being used in court – is just further proof of our authorities [SNH, Police, wider justice system] continuing to treat conservationists as one side of a battle over raptors. On paper, that battle was lost in 1954 when the first UK wide Protection of Birds Act came in. What it is now of course, is the law abiding on one side against criminals on the other. Until there is a level playing field on wildlife crime, as there should be over any type of crime , we will continue to be fed this kind of nonsense.

    1. Indeed Dave, I have thought for a long time that it favours the “dark side” to accept that there is such a thing as the “raptor debate” upon which all hinges, there is not. Yes there are different attitudes to raptors but when it comes to this sort of activity it is not part of any ” raptor debate.” Lets call it what it is CRIME and it is the duty of the police forces and the various branches of the judiciary, even the press, in the UK to treat it as such. It is about crime and SNH in this case and many others are allowing the criminals to walk away anonymously and put two fingers up to the law. It is nothing short of disgraceful. This man, the estate he works for and its owner should have been named and shamed that is the purpose of the restrictions, otherwise what the hell is the point!
      I am quite happy to discuss with folk the whys and wherefores about raptor persecution and ecology ( I’m not going to change my mind about any of it) but it is not part of any raptor debate about crime. Society deems this quite rightly crime and criminals need to be made to pay in one form or another!

      1. How ridiculous would it be if we were having a “bank robbing debate” or a “murder debate”? No more or less ridiculous than having a “raptor debate”!

  15. This sort of nonsense and malarkey makes my blood boil, and I see I am in good company. Any person with a sound ethical character, whether interested in what goes on on our grouse shooting landscape or not, would be suffer revulsion over the sheer blatancy of studied incompetence by a body set up specifically to protect Scottish wildlife (SNH), and another organisation, whose remit is to decide on matters of prosecution, namely, the Crown Office. If one scours the press as I do, for information incriminating those who deal with law enforcement, I sometimes find judgements that leave me astounded, for example, a man searched by the police was found to have two knives and a brick, just out of custody for similar offences, was admonished by a sheriff. How can we have faith in those on the bench, if they can wheedle their way out of handling a prosecution by having a membership of some organisation related to what can come before them? I refer to the lady sheriff who recused due to her being a member of the RSPB. Such despairing shilly-shallaying is not confined to the protection of our precious wildlife; it is seen in the incompetence, at times, in protecting young children, old people in care, women and with the mentally ill. The parts of the system that exist to supposedly protect wildlife and the environment, have become rank and gross in nature, in their allowing fingers-to-the-nose defiance of the laws that protect Birds of Prey and other wildlife. We have some gamekeepers acting as assassins and even although video evidence is available, it is not being allowed to get a conviction. The regime of certain shooting estates, has tied the hands of those trying hard to ensure law enforcement takes place, but instead a huge mire exists.

    I am surprised that our “modern” thinking Government in Scotland has allowed this surrealistic situation to exist, whereby a plethora of shooting estates exist, where just about anything can be practised that is harmful to wildlife, with the whimsy of the owner being the rule. It is what is behind that land ownership, is the concern of those who see land reform as one of the building bricks for making Scotland an outstanding example of how a country rid itself of anachronistic controls and influence. A new Economics of how to make a more ethical and better use of such a large part of our landscape, has to be developed, that will give total say on how that landscape is managed. What has to be dinned into the heads of politicians, is that that whole world is under severe threat from climate change, a sixth great extinction of plant and animal life, rising human population, dangerous political unrest and many other unsettling factors. Scotland has to act quickly to establish a completely acceptable way of becoming a sustainable nation, free of those institutions, politicians, civil servants, negative developers and other inimical and reactionary forces, that have long held the common folk from getting a chance to assert itself. This is not revolutionary anarchist talk, it is what any ordinary and informed, decent person believes is needed for a just and humane country requires to experience real freedom. Saving our Birds of Prey and Mountain Hares is symbolic of our getting rid of the gun toting lobby, and all its morbid obsessing with killing.

    1. Greer, one of the basic problems is that the Nature Conservancy (Council), not SNH, that was originally established to protect Scottish wildlife, but they were later merged with the Countryside Commission for Scotland and subsequently part of the Forestry Commission (Scotland) to form Scottish Natural Heritage. As combined budgets have been slashed and the overall remit widened considerably, their mission has become somewhat confused, to the extent that there is internal conflict regarding issues like the damage to raptors and other biodiversity features related to grouse shooting. Nature conservation is compromised due to issues associated with the so-called contribution made to the Scottish economy by hunting and shooting wildlife. So effectively they have become a Jack of all trades. The inclusion of FCS has led to SNH Officers going around the country promoting the culling of Roe Deer to Local Authorities, as in the case of Aberdeen, where the City’s entire herd was ruthlessly wiped out to save the cost of erecting deer fencing or tree protectors in a new “community woodland.” Simultaneously Glasgow City Council managed to plant half a million trees in new native woodlands, which are thriving and rich in biodiversity without a single roe deer being culled.

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