Illegal trap use on GWCT Vice Chair’s shooting estate

Well, well, well.

Last September we blogged about SNH imposing a three-year General Licence restriction on a ‘mystery’ Scottish gamekeeper in response to evidence provided by Police Scotland of alleged raptor persecution crimes. At the time, SNH gave very little information about this case (see here).

After a bit of digging, we worked out that this restriction related to an alleged crime that had happened near Tarland in Aberdeenshire in 2014 where the RSPB had filmed a gamekeeper allegedly baiting an illegal trap close to a goshawk nest:

However, we were unable to establish the name of the estate on which this alleged offence took place and the name of the individual caught on camera setting the trap, as SNH refused several FoI requests and insisted on withholding the information. The name of the individual was withheld under the Data Protection Act – that was fair enough. But we argued that the name of the estate should have been publicised – SNH disagreed.

An article by Severin Carrell in today’s Guardian has finally solved the mystery.

It turns out the individual filmed setting the alleged illegal trap was none other than the Head Gamekeeper of Tillypronie Estate, a grouse and pheasant-shooting estate which at the time was owned by Philip Astor, who was and still is, er, Vice Chair of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

[Estate boundary details from Andy Wightman’s brilliant Who Owns Scotland website]

Gosh, that’s all a bit embarrassing for the GWCT, isn’t it?

Is this why there wasn’t a prosecution and why great efforts were made to keep the details of this alleged crime hushed up?

We wonder if this relationship also had any bearing on SNH’s strange decision to impose a General Licence restriction on an individual, as opposed to the usual practice of imposing it on an estate? Astor sold the estate last year – here is the sales brochure: Tillypronie sales brochure Aug 2016 A three-year General Licence restriction hanging over the estate could have caused obvious difficulties for the sale.

Another unanswered question relates to the Head Gamekeeper’s employment status. The alleged crime took place in March 2014, but according to Sev Carrell’s article, the [unnamed] Head Gamekeeper was still employed at Tillypronie in 2016. That seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? Why would a law-abiding landowner continue to employ an individual who had been caught on camera setting an allegedly illegal trap close to a goshawk nest?

And what of Philip Astor’s position as Vice Chair at the GWCT? Business as usual, eh?

27 thoughts on “Illegal trap use on GWCT Vice Chair’s shooting estate”

  1. “Vicarious liability occurs where a person can be held liable for the actions of another person. Under the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 a landowner, shooting business or manager can be held criminally liable for the actions of their employees, contractors or agents.”
    Vicarious Liability – BASC › basc-scotland ›

    All it would take is a lengthy jail sentence for ONE landowner…. the rest would get the message.

      1. It all depends what form, demonstrating due diligence takes. In my opinion there should be a mountain of paperwork about the gamekeepers activities, which can be checked by audit, and at least a training record where it is spelled out explicitly and repeatedly, that the estate will dismiss anyone involved in wildlife crime, signed bits of paper where the employee shows they understand that wildlife crime will lead to immediate dismissal etc. Everyone else lives this way, needing to demonstrate compliance with various initiatives, why not shooting estates? Now I know this is paperwork and only has a bearing on reality to some extent, but look at health and safety in areas like construction. The improvements have been significant. I started work in construction in 1984 and no-one ever wore a hard hat. Nowadays they seem to be on top of this. I don’t know how much death rates in the construction industry have changed in the last 40 years, but most sites appear to be pretty strict nowadays. It’s culture change, it can happen.

      2. There are a number of areas where I think there has been significant culture change in the last 40 years or so. When I was growing up in rural Shropshire, drink driving was rampant. I think nowadays it is widely looked down upon and very few people will take to the wheel after drink. In building and construction in the early 1980’s no-one ever wore a hard hat. Now you would be hard pressed to find someone on a building site without one. Everyone has to demonstrate that they work in a safe manner nowadays.

        Demonstrating due diligence, should have an auditable paper trail, with at least a piece of paper signed by the employee saying that they understand that the consequence of wildlife crime is immediate dismissal. It should have checkable records of the daily activities of the employee, lists of all the materials kept on site, an inventory for ammunition and where each shot was fired; and a paid, independent compliance officer who essentially independently audits the activities of the shoot.

        Lip service is not enough and actually we have heard it all before. The culture changes mentioned didn’t happen by themselves. We are at, about the early stages of the anti drink driving campaign. These people are not capable of self regulation. They need the strictest conditions applying to them from elsewhere, as in health and safety legislation. They will eventually thank us for it.

        1. Creating a paper trail would be really easy if SNH have to pre-warn of a visit from them. For me the most significant aspect of this story is that the gamekeeper was allowed to carry on with his employment. That tells me more than any paper trail could ever tell.

          1. I am talking about making it so that gamekeepers don’t have time for raptor persecution. Independent auditers could turn up at any moment. Other industries have to work to high standards, why not shooting. I admit freely that dodgy stuff happens even when it is illegal for a compliance officer to report to someone involved in production, for example EU medicines legislation, but all this paperwork and clearly defined responsibility does drive up standards.

            1. What you describe would be great if put into practice, please don’t think I’m arguing with you. I just don’t think it will happen. I understand the benefits of legislation as I’m up to my neck in it most days and I have to say that the company I work for and its employees benefit from what some people class as red tape. People come to work and go home in one piece and the company directors can sleep at night knowing they’re not killing people, or at least doing everything reasonably practicable to avoid it as the law requires.

      3. Yes, on the assumption that having shown due diligence would always be mutually understood to be the fall back position for the landowner / manager, and that no-one should lose their employment and have top level legal support.

        1. I would have independent auditors check due diligence as a condition of licencing and the regime must be strict, as EU medicines law.

          1. Totally agreed, but you would have to expect all out resistance to that – I was outlining the situation that appears to play out regularly.

            1. Yeah sure, they will hate it. They may even begin to bitterly resent the fools that brought this regime down upon them. But then once professionalism bites, there will be no going back and everyone will be happier.

  2. The whole thing just stinks eh? xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx – the raptor persecution is bad enough and all this sustains it.

  3. Thanks for writing this, and I’ll just say I agree with all the questions you ask. Something stinks here and it’s not at all clear as to why an incident like this didn’t progress as you would expect it to, why SNH was so coy about the details, and why if the estate owner properly disapproved of what happened – they’d continue employing this person.

    At the very least there’s a completely unaccountable blind eye being turned, and we need answers as to why.

  4. Was Tillypronie not the Estate that David Cameron was supposed to be interested in? Who are the current owners?

    Surely GWCT’s involvement in PAWs or the Hen Harrier plan is now at an end? Has the Hawk and Owl Trust been sitting at the same table as the GWCT vice chair?

    1. Peter Turner. Isle of Man hedge fund millionaire ( and his son). Keen gun. TP lodge being renovated into a shooting lodge for guests. A lot of tree planting planned

  5. Power, privilege and patronage alive and well, SNH complicate and corrupt (allegedly.) Interesting that it took an establishment figure with “contacts” to eventually break the story , wonder how that came about?
    I’ve said it before we are up against some dark and powerful forces. “Some explaining to do ” I don’t think so, they are untouchable.

  6. I can guess if the gamekeeper was sacked, he may have had a pretty good case for unfair dismissal as he could argue he [allegedly] did this under instruction from the estate, and that killing raptors is ‘business as usual’ – GWCT wouldn’t want to go through all of that for one of their own.

    Hopefully some more FOI requests going to SNH to ask for correspondence relating to this, as well as internal correspondence relating to the refusal of the previous FOIs. They can continued to redact the name of the estate and the gamekeeper, but the rest should be up for grabs Possibly also discussed at CNP meetings with ‘stakeholders’ as the estate is within its boundaries.

    PAW Scotland is an interesting one as GWCT is part of that partnership. Will they have told their partners? Should PAW be asking them questions? Should they be thrown out or membership suspended until all facts are known?

    It looks as if a pretty organised attempt has been made to cover this up. I can’t imagine SNH making this decision on their own.

  7. The big story here is that they were selling the estate, so no licence restriction on it. SNH favouring the seller and not hitting them where it hurts, in the pocket.

  8. I’m struggling to see a legitimate reason why the estate wasn’t sanctioned here. If, as always claimed, such estates have a robust set of rules against such behaviour then why wasn’t the individual promptly sacked rather than, according to the report, continuing to work for the estate for some time (unless some sort of internal disciplinary procedure dragged on). This to me suggest tacit approval or at least a Nelsonian blind eye was turned towards his activities and thus worthy of official sanction. I’m sure, though, that after all their rhetoric on the matter, he’s been promptly booted out of the SGA ……..

  9. Simply left speechless! A xxxxxxxxxx caught in the act on video but gets away without penalty.

    This smells, no reeks of corruption in high places. You scratch my back I scratch yours.

    How much money or favours was involved?


    [Ed: Hi Doug, please be careful how you describe the individual captured on video. He wasn’t tried in a court of law (rightly or wrongly, but that’s a whole other debate!).

    Also, he didn’t “get away without penalty” – he was given a three-year General Licence restriction. Again, whether this was an appropriate punishment is another debate altogether but it’s inaccurate to say he wasn’t penalised. Thanks]

  10. Why does SNH protect the identities of those who are destroying your National Heritage, 2 years ago I holidayed in Braemar for a week with the hope of seeing Raptors, I saw more Raptors in the few hours I travelled through Lancashire and Cumbria than I did in the whole of Scotland that week, I wont be returning any time soon, I did the same trip in the seventies when Scotland was a mecca for Raptor enthusiasts, you had Raptors in the seventies as well as Grouse shooting, SNH is in the pockets of the Gouse shooting lobby and is no longer fit for purpose, it is failing in its objectives miserably

  11. This is getting very embarrassing for Scottish Government. How many of these incidents can they ignore before they actually grasp the nettle and do something.
    Goshawks are being systematically and ruthlessly targeted. Satellite tags will prove this.

    99% of gamekeepers give the rest a bad name!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s