Armed criminals running amok in the Pentland Hills nr Edinburgh

The northern edge of the Pentland Hills is a familiar sight to residents of Edinburgh and can be seen from the Scottish Parliament building.

[View of the Pentlands from Edinburgh, photo by Ruth Tingay]

Designated as “a place for the peaceful enjoyment of the countryside“, the Pentland Hills Regional Park hosts over 600,000 visitors per year.

We suspect many of those visitors looking for a bit of ‘peaceful enjoyment’ would be outraged to discover that this area is actually a wildlife crime hotspot and the armed criminals involved are running amok without being brought to justice.

In the last two years, a raven was found shot dead on its nest, a merlin’s nest was shot out, a golden eagle ‘disappeared‘ in highly suspicious circumstances and a peregrine has been poisoned with a deadly toxin so powerful that it could kill a human.

These are blatant wildlife crimes and nobody has been charged, let alone prosecuted or convicted. That’s not a criticism of the police – collecting sufficient evidence to charge an individual is almost impossible without the help of witnesses and/or camera footage – but it is a criticism of the Scottish Government’s continuing failure to deal with this issue.

It’s interesting to note that the majority of these crimes occured very close to land managed for driven grouse shooting. The tell-tale rectangular strips of burned heather on this map are quite striking:

Large areas of the Pentland Hills Regional Park are privately owned estates and are managed for grouse shooting and farming. The wildlife crimes have been committed across several estate boundaries and we understand that at least until recently, some estates ‘shared’ gamekeepers.

It is not unusual for the police to be unable to identify the individual(s) committing crimes on driven grouse moors – and again, that’s not a criticism of the police, although withholding information from the public for months on end, especially when there is a risk to public safety, certainly doesn’t help. In fact escaping prosecution was such a common problem that in 2013 the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP introduced another sanction – he instructed Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to withdraw the use of the General Licence on shooting estates where there was sufficient evidence to indicate a raptor persecution crime but insufficient evidence to identify the individual culprit(s).

This power has been available to SNH since 1 January 2014 but so far only four restrictions have been imposed: one on Raeshaw Estate/Corsehope Estate in the Scottish Borders; one on Burnfoot Estate/Wester Cringate Estate in Stirlingshire; one on Edradynate Estate in Perthshire; and one on an unnamed individual who had worked on the Tillypronie Estate in Aberdeenshire. We’ve blogged a lot about this sanction and particularly SNH’s failure to impose General Licence restrictions in at least nine other cases where raptor persecution has been detected. When asked about these failures, SNH responded that it “wasn’t in the public interest” to explain (see here).

We’d like to know whether SNH is considering withdrawing the use of the General Licence on any of the shooting/farming estates in the Pentland Hills where raptor persecution crimes have been confirmed. And if not, why not?

Without sanctions being imposed, and importantly, being seen to be imposed, the armed criminals, whoever they may be, running around the Pentland Hills laying poisoned baits and shooting out nests and killing protected birds are going to think they’re untouchable and the wildlife-loving general public is going to know that the Scottish Government has lost all control over this disgraceful issue, happening right on its doorstep.

Ps. Great to see the BBC News website is running with the peregrine poisoning news today (see here).

UPDATE 11 Oct 2018: Merlin nest shot out in the Pentland Hills (here)

27 thoughts on “Armed criminals running amok in the Pentland Hills nr Edinburgh”

  1. Come on SNH. Get your act together. If the police cannot prosecute, becuase there is insufficient evidence, withdawing the general licence is the only sanction available and must be used. Remember, there are around 50,000 people who enjoy driven bird shooting each year. There are 4 million members of the National Trust and more than 1 million members of the RSPB. They deserve to be able to walk the hills without the threat of stink pits or coming across criminals shooting protected birds.

    1. SNH need to have sufficient evidence to tie it to an area of land, a land owner or person as well though. And it needs to hold water in court should it be challenged. It is not a light switch they can just turn on and have chosen not to do so.

      There is no point spending tax payers money on defending a case where the legal advice is that it’ll fail in court as then they are caught with a legal bill for both sides.

      You might not like it but SNH need to be confident any legal challenge to a restriction will fail in order to issue one or it’s a waste of time that waters down the chance of getting further restrictions.

      I very much doubt there is a conspiracy, more than likely they share your frustration.

    1. Very unlikely back handers being paid out, most likely police are so short staffed they have hardly time to keep up with all the other stuff to do, also trying to prove an offence like this or catch them at it is very very difficult.

      1. More likely that there is a relationship between senior officers and landowners. The Black Isle incident springs to mind.

  2. The SNH Framework for Implementing Restrictions says “Decisions to impose a restriction will only be based on evidence received from the Police of an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981”. It could be that the police have not reported further instances to SNH.
    For example, it is likely that the individual licence issued in 2017 was not issued until then because the offence in March 2014 was not reported until 2017, over 3 years after the event. SNH could not issue an area restriction probably because the estate had been sold in the intervening years which had elapsed. I’m hesitant to speculate why over three years elapsed, but I suggest people think about it.

  3. Alex Milne: then SNH need to change their framework for implementing restrictions so that it is less prescriptive and more useful. SNH, like Natural England, is a fatally corrupted organisation. Natural England was corrupted by the government of the day appointing Party donors to its two senior positions, ensuring science was subjugated to the whims of the Conservative Party, whose senior members and supporters are almost to an individual, in favour of the unfettered slaughter of our wildlife for any reason they care to choose. One wonders what / who in the Scottish government is encouraging the corruption of SNH.

    1. Simon, in wildlife crime cases, nothing is as you might expect. In England, the police have a memorandum of understanding with NE and others which says: ““Police forces will identify wildlife crimes when they are submitted to the CPS for decision and that all cases within the National Wildlife Crime Priorities (save for poaching which will be dealt with by local arrangement) should be referred to the CPS for a charging decision.” If the same applies in Scotland where the priorities are similar, it may be COPFS who decide whether to charge, and not the police. The sequence may be crime reported, police investigate, procurator decides not to charge, after over 3 years allows police to inform SNH. It could be that neither the police nor SNH hold up wildlife crime cases. All speculation, of course.
      It’s a state secret, and that’s not speculation.

      1. I disagree. The RSPB map shows clear evidence where the persecution is taking place and there is no need for the level of proof needed for a prosecution for them to withhold the general licence. Pandering to the rich and powerful does not cut it in my book.

  4. “It is not unusual for the police to be unable to identify the individual(s) committing crimes on driven grouse moors – and again, that’s not a criticism of the police”

    It ought to be, you ought to be making it one. Anyone with even a cursory experience of the police knows that if they want someone or something enough then they get it. You just have to make them want it enough. Now, how do people who are not in the top layer of society, the bits that float on the surface, get the cops to want something? Constant and unending criticism and ridicule so that the cops have no choice to but to do it or risk looking weak in the face of the public. Stop being so bloody polite and “fair” to them, because that is a 100% one way street, start putting the screws to them and holding them accountable for every sin until it is easier for them to do their job than keep on fending you off.

    1. The biggest problem is that the police (my knowledge is limited to Scotland but may apply in England) cannot use covert video surveillance to gather evidence for crimes against wildlife. Therefore the crime itself needs to be witnessed. Obviously this is incredibly difficult because of the remote nature of wildlife crime and the massive area in which it could happen. I don’t see how the police could justify the time/resources/man power to be able to witness the crimes as they happen. There needs to be legislative change to allow covert video surveillance of wildlife crime. I don’t think there is any workable alternative.

      1. My petition PE1705 lodged at the Scottish Parliament seeks to allow the police to employ covert cameras in wildlife crime cases if authorised as well as other legislation changes. The petition numbered below it has already been heard by the petitions committee. They may wish to seek the views of the committees to whom it may be forwarded (Justice and/or Environment ?) so it may not be heard at the next meeting. Ideally I’d like it heard and forwarded before the 2017 Wildlife Crime report is issued.

        1. Alex well done on getting your petition lodged, all the best with it. The wording you have suggested to amend the Wildlife Act won’t work but that doesn’t matter – it’s not necessary (or expected) for the petition to include this.

      2. So keep on hammering the cops about how useless and comical they are until the cops go and demand those legislative powers. Like I said, if the police want something enough then they get it. You just have to make them want it. Stop making those sort of excuses, it is self defeating, for them. The cops can plead unfairness enough by themselves, they don’t need help from us. It only benefits the police and their moneyed social masters to keep on excusing them.

  5. Grouse in most areas are definitely not wildlife ,they are raised as pets and released to allow grown adults to feel like hunters.
    Spent time in the north in September the birds had just been released and so tame anyone could catch them with a simple net. Food will I suppose be used to keep them in the area so farmed would be a better description.
    .Although I question can farmed animals be blown to bits by anyone with a shotgun.
    As for keepers taking all the blame for wildlife crime, when will there be a debate that acknowledges speeding cars kill a few, pesticides what experts promote as “better than” might make a long term difference, then the rubbish that we all leave for others could be detrimental to the wildlife we want to see.

    1. Hi Ian,

      Sounds like you’re confusing red grouse with pheasants/partridge.

      Red grouse aren’t reared and released like pheasant/partridge – they are ostensibly ‘wild’ birds, although they are medicated, their habitat modified and their predators killed, so the term ‘farming’ could still be applied.

      Keepers are not accused of “all the blame” for wildlife crime – but the statistics showing they are responsible for a large proportion of detected raptor persecution crimes on shooting estates are overwhelming.

      Yes, birds also fall victim to road traffic collisions, train collisions, wind farm collisions/displacement and 101 other ways to die but again, all the scientific evidence over the last 10, 20, 30 years demonstrates that it is illegal persecution affecting the distribution and abundance of several species, including golden eagles, peregrines, red kites, hen harriers.

  6. Maybe things are getting so bad Scot Gov. Will appoint Special Constables like they did in the Cairngorm National Park.

    Bring in the SSPCA…..

  7. Give the SSPCA more powers, create laws allowing the use of video evidence without landowners permission…and Ban Driven Grouse Shooting.

    1. Dave

      Couldn’t agree more ……Scot Gov have been given the offer of reducing wildlife crime by giving additional powers to sspca and they turned it down!!!! And it was at no cost to the tax payer.

      What have Scot Gov done as an alternative…..absolutely nothing and we are having to sit back and watch wildlife being killed all over Scotland.

      Driven grouse shooting is surely on the road to serious restrictions in the shape of licensing and eventually an all out ban.

      SNP have shown up until now that they its economy first at the expense of anything including wildlife and the environment.

      South Scotland eagle project looks like a very risky project.

  8. I think its time to consider a more radical response. This is a regional park so why not nationalise the land – that would clearly be in the public interest – stop managing it for grouse and convert the gamekeepers into countryside rangers with no access to guns, poisons or hunting dogs?

  9. The Bottom line is they dont care The SNH the Police and a lot of MSP’S would like us to go away, they just dont think it a serious crime.

  10. To mention, for now, just one aspect of police performance – DELAY IN REPORTING SUSPICIOUS DEATHS OF RAPTORS. This major shortcoming seems to be the norm for almost all incidents. The delay in seeking public help effectively scuttles the possibility of finding the criminals involved.
    Odd how the police never mention why it has taken them so long to “go to press”. It would seem reasonable to expect that a public appeal should be done first and yet it is done last (or perhaps second last – i.e. just prior to deciding nothing else can be done).

  11. This whole article and its comments have made me disgusted with the pretence the present Government of Scotland has put up. On writing to a politician on this subject, I have received the usual bland, soporific and cyclostyled reply. What they do not understand, is that there is a very large and very alert humane thinking and acting public out there, many of whom have lost confidence in ever living in a country that believes in the universal rule of law, and in which the most progressive humanitarian ideals are inculcated. What we do have in Scotland and the rest of the UK, is the continuation of the old landowning/top people elite, that for centuries held back democracy. It seems a dystopian world lies out there on our natural landscapes, where Time moves very slowly, and a permanent slaughter of wildlife exists without much opposition from law enforcement.

    To have such contempt for the wildlife protection laws being flaunted, right up the arse of the Scottish Parliament, and nothing likely to be done about it, but more dawdle. Just how interested are our politicians in reversing who decides what lives and dies in our countryside? We do have some politicians among our MSPs and MPs, who have showed concern on this issue, but just what experience/knowledge or ethical concern do the remainder have? Looking at the list of interests of politicians, one finds the charities for assisting human causes dominate, but very few on animal welfare and conservation. That is not a criticism of genuine concern for those who suffer dreadful pain, and would expect all politicians to have that concern, however, what would it cost them to give some time and effort to rid Scotland/UK of a glaring and cruel anachronistic anomaly, namely, blood sports that are allowed to exist like a medieval open sewer. All animal cruelty has to be addressed, as it demeans a society that it allows such a horror story to exist. If “rational hunting” is possible, then let those who agree with it being given a chance to speak out, and join with those whom want an end to the nightmare for wildlife that has a clear right to exist. What we do not want, is the recognition of trophy shooting being justified as beneficial for biodiversity, as one large conservation group has endorsed for years. With Brexit bringing in contentious plans for the farming industry, there is an opportunity for the ethical majority to insist that the countryside should no longer be regarded as the blood sports playground it has been. Also, now/today is the time for making changes take place faster than hitherto, as such laggardly conduct has only benefited the criminal and elites. Also, the time to root out the loopholes inserted in legislation which castrates those laws, fought hard for, to protect wildlife and animals in general. Having stated my case on this subject, let me make it clear, that like many of my ilk, I am suffering pain from a severe illness; have known poverty coming from a working class mining and shipbuilding background; been abroad and witnessed dire human situations, and am a donor to the various charities that seek funding to ameliorate human suffering. However, if I can come with that experience, it does not shut me out from showing compassion for animals. So, our politicians should understand that when they receive mail from the public on such issues, a good part of it comes from people such as I. They should not use the hoary old excuse that “people come before animals”, and give lacklustre support for some animal welfare appeal, or none at all, as they have more important things to attend to. They should stop obeying their respective party “bullies” who act for vested interests, and stand up and fight for what is glaringly ethical. Cruelty to children, old people, mentally ill, any vulnerable part of humanity, AND animals, has to be rooted out and ended, from every nook and cranny of our society, and permanently so.

  12. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to be able to work out who the prime suspects are in cases like this. Just how much longer do we have to put up with this insulting to our intelligence charade that there is some sort of mystery about who is behind this? If the police can’t narrow the suspects down to a few individuals, then they’re incapable of doing their job.

    In an other area of crime, if crimes were being perpetrated, and it was pretty certain who was behind it, the police would just put the suspects under surveillance, to the next time they committed these crimes there would be witnesses, and evidence and they’d be prosecuted. However, we all know why the last thing the authorities want, is for the perpetrators to be caught in the act, because it would prove seriously embarrassing for their employers. There’s no great mystery here. Well there’s one, not so great mystery, and that’s why the authorities persistently turn a very deliberate blind eye to wildlife crime in the UK.

  13. From what I can gather, gamekeepers legally drive around their beat carrying a loaded weapon(shotgun?) at any time. As there are plenty of other means that they legally ‘deal’ with predators, do they need to carry a weapon at all times? (Bear with me!) If so, then they should complete a detailed log of where and when they carry that weapon. With the ease of hand-held devices/tablets these days, they can enter the time/date etc before they set out from home/office, then complete the use made of gun etc and finish time at end of ‘work’. Police can stop the person at any time to check the records. If not showing the start time/date on that day, action taken against them and estate. Something like 2 faults and you’re out’. Would ‘something’ along these lines work at all?

  14. “These are blatant wildlife crimes and nobody has been charged, let alone prosecuted or convicted. That’s not a criticism of the police – COLLECTING SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO CHARGE AN INDIVIDUAL IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT THE HELP OF WITNESSES and/or camera footage”

    The police do not exactly help themselves by letting several months pass before asking the public if they noticed anything. Seems to me like they ask for help when they know there is next to no chance of there being any !

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