We’ve been watching with interest how the game-shooting industry has reacted to the news that Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson has pleaded guilty to nine wildlife crimes on the Longformacus Estate in south Scotland.
We are especially interested to find out whether (a) Wilson is/was a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association when he committed his crimes against protected wildlife and if so, whether he’s been booted out, and (b) whether the Longformacus Estate is/was a member of Scottish Land & Estates when these wildlife crimes took place, and if so, whether the estate has since been booted out.
It turns out that both the SGA and SLE are being a bit coy about this information.
First up, here’s the full statement from the SGA in response to Wilson’s guilty plea for multiple criminal offences:
It’s not very impressive, even though it took the SGA 24 hours to come up with it!
No mention, then, of the exceptionally high number of wildlife crimes.
No mention, then, of the number of protected species that had been shot illegally, including birds of prey, badgers and an otter.
No mention, then, of the 23 illegally set snares.
No mention, then, of the two containers of a highly toxic and banned poison (Carbofuan) that had been found.
And no mention, then, that it was a Scottish gamekeeper who was responsible for this disgraceful litany of wildlife crimes.
Moving on, here’s what Scottish Land & Estates posted:
It’s a bit of an odd choice of photograph to illustrate the piece – that’s Lord David Johnstone, Chairman of SLE; it’s not criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson. You might have thought SLE would choose an image of one of the protected species that had been illegally shot, or a poison skull & crossbones, or perhaps even an image of the location, a bit like this one:
[Photo by Richard Webb]
Ah, but hang on a minute, using a photo like this one to illustrate SLE’s statement wouldn’t have worked because look, what’s that behind the wood? Is it the tell-tale strip muirburn indicative of a grouse moor?
Ah, that’s a bit awkward seeing as SLE’s statement doesn’t mention grouse moor management, only low ground pheasant shooting – perhaps a deliberate omission? Surely not.
To be fair, the hill in the background is part of a neighbouring estate (Kettleshiel Farm), although if you look at a satellite image of the area it’s pretty clear that there’s also strip muirburn on Longformacus Estate, right up to the edge of Henlaw Wood where all those shot protected species were uncovered: [UPDATE 9pm: According to a comment from Professor Ian Poxton, all the land shown in the above and below photos, including the grouse moor hill, belonged to Longformacus Estate at least up to a couple of years ago – see comments section for more details]:
So it looks very much like there is a combination of both low ground pheasant shooting and grouse moor management on Longformacus Estate – how odd that SLE would appear to want to only mention the pheasant shooting and not the grouse moor management.
Actually, it’s not odd at all – they tried the same trick when golden eagle Fred ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances next to a grouse moor in the Pentland Hills just outside Edinburgh, playing down the prevalence of grouse moor management in the area.
Hmm, can’t begin to imagine why SLE might want grouse moor management out of the spotlight.
Anyway, back to SLE’s statement – at least it includes the fact that a gamekeeper has been convicted of wildlife crime – that’s a definite improvement on the SGA’s pathetic statement, but rather tellingly, SLE’s statement doesn’t mention whether Longformacus Estate is a member of SLE but does seem to want to demonstrate support for the estate. How interesting.
As we’ve said previously, as we understand it there is an ongoing police investigation in to whether gamekeeper Alan Wilson’s employer may face a potential charge of alleged vicarious liability, but we don’t know any more detail. We don’t even know if that would be the landowner or whether there’s a ‘middle-man’ involved such as a sporting agent.
We’ll have to wait and see, although it’s interesting to note that back in August 2018, Police Scotland issued a statement that said two men had been charged in relation to this case (see here).
17 thoughts on “How has the game-shooting industry reacted to conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson?”
Alan Stewart has blogged on his Wildlifedetective site about his case. He has also drawn attention to a new (19th July) consultation by the Scottish Government about increasing the penalty for such crimes to a maximum of 5 years. This implies that the vicarious liability penalty for such crimes is alas 5 years if I understand the legislation correctly. This would allow the police to make more detailed searches and investigate this as a serious crime, devoting serious investigation methods and time. The consultation is on the download link on this page: https://www.gov.scot/publications/wildlife-crime-penalties-consultation/
It seems that the Scottish Government is taking this seriously as this will be enacted in parliament this year. SGA and SLE will be devoting serious time to defeat this possible new government policy. I hope the government goes through with this.
Perhaps SGA are waiting until after sentencing so that they can applaud a harsh sentence or join us in criticizing an lenient one? Then again perhaps not and its their usual prevarication before denial. As to SLE I think you’ve said it all really.
The reply by the SLE is crafted in a way that seeks to avoid new laws like licensing being introduced. It appears they want no more measures than the ones already in place, only more men to enforce them … as they, as well as myself, know fine well how hegemonic power works in these areas. “New sanctions being made to deter wildlife crime” sounds to me like stricter penalties and little else. Now if they were to campaign for photographic evidence taken without the express permission of the landowner to be allowed as evidence in a court of law THAT would be a significant change … but I won’t hold my breath waiting for it to happen.
They know that more men and resources alone will not be enough to combat the slaughter of our birds of prey in these remote locations as all it takes to subvert that process are how the policies are implemented from the top .. as has been illustrated since 1954.
This shows to me that the Grouse and Game shooting industry are interested only in damage limitation and have no intention at all of introducing more measures and laws which would make escaping punishment for these crimes much harder to achieve.
I did a brief tour of the dark side social media yesterday and, I suppose in increasing desperation, there seems to be an idea around that he wasn’t an employee at all, not a gamekeeper even, possibly not even an earthling but some kind of maverick wildman who lived in Henlaw Wood and shot anything that entered. I exaggerate of course, but not much. If the next thing we hear from the SGA is that they can’t expel him because he was not a member we should smell a rat.
“…to ensure that its compliance procedures are as robust as possible”
Excuse me while I die laughing. Even if Wilson was acting entirely without the knowledge of his employers, this statement is ludicrously at odds with what happened – their compliance procedures were about as far as they conceivably could be from being as robust as possible! They certainly do need advice!!!
As someone who spent 30 or so years studying merlins in the Lammermuirs, I was interested to read that SLE claimed that the land around Henlaw Wood was used for low level pheasant shooting. Certainly when we were doing our merlin study, the hill in the photo behind the wood, Dirrington Great Law, belonged to the Longformacus Estate and not to Kettleshiel Farm as you state. The latter own the west side of the hill, and is out of sight in the photo. So without doubt Longformacus Estate was very much managed for driven grouse shooting. In the early years of our study the estate held up to three merlin territories, but in later years none.
Maybe land ownership has changed hands in the past few years, but I’m not aware that this has occurred. As far as I know just about everything in your photo is the Longformacus Estate. If SLE know differently I’d be keen to be corrected.
Thank you, Ian, for sharing your first-hand & long-term experience of this estate. This is really valuable and helps expose SLE’s sleight of hand even further. We’ll amend the blog text accordingly.
The question is not necessarily who owns the land, but rather, who has the shooting rights? It would be entirely possible for one body to own the land but to sell/rent the shooting to a neighbour, so that possibility should be considered.
Not that it makes much different as there is plenty of evidence that some pheasant shoots can be just as bad as some driven grouse shoots for ‘controlling’ protected species…
It does not surprise me that individuals and organisations who set up an activity with the purpose of killing for pleasure and involving ,without any doubt, cruelty to the target species and the destruction of native animals using cruel, abhorrent methods find difficulty in being honest.
Frequently (usually in connection with another wildlife crime incident) questions are asked as to whether the perpetrator is an SGA member. Such information is not often available. That is fundamentally wrong.
In order to maintain adequate standards a large number of occupations, trades and professions require the practitioner to be licenced (or licenced for part of the occupation, e.g. driving) and placed on an accessible register.
Since being a gamekeeper etc. is an occupation that requires the use of a firearm, for which a licence/certificate must be held, it would appear logical to require gamekeeping to require a mandatory licence to be held. Thereby any gamekeeper found to be in breach of licence conditions could be suspended/banned as the case may be.
Similarly, it should be an offence for any landowner/land manager to employ unlicenced gamekeepers etc.
The closest analogy is probably the private security industry. See here: https://www.sia.homeoffice.gov.uk/Pages/licensing-about.aspx I think primary legislation would probably be required for a similar scheme for gamekeepers, though a proper industry scheme could do part of the job. I fear we are not likely to see either any time soon.
“I fear we are not likely to see either any time soon.” ……… Yes, the powers that be and the b’s in power seem to have an aversion to tackling some crime.
And this. Professor Ian Poxton has commented on the blog, if you scroll down. He’s the merlin man I mentioned earlier.
Sent from my iPhone
I had to laugh when I read the SGA’s initial reply: “The SGA does not condone any form of wildlife crime…” That may be written as such in their constitution, but it does not reflect the philosophy or practices of xxxxxx [some] of their members. They may as well have declared that “the answer, my friend, is blowin’ In the wind.”
I’m probably not saying anything you don’t already know, but here’s a fairly ancient (2010) article about Longformacus’s promotion of driven grouse shooting, courtesy of its (at least then) owner Robbie Douglas-Miller:
I’m a bit bewildered by the total lack of mention of Wilson’s employer in apparently any of the current reports on his sentencing. They don’t even say who that employer is, which surely should be public knowledge even if there is another case in preparation.
I do realise that Douglas-Miller (if he’s the employer) is a local bigwig, but still, is his mere name sacrosanct?
It certainly was the Charles family, but seems impossible to confirm from google!!