180 schoolchildren put at risk on visit to Longformacus Estate

Criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson was recently convicted for crimes he committed on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders between March 2016 and June 2017. In amongst the long list of offences, Wilson pleaded guilty to the possession of banned poisons.

According to the Crown Office (here):

Officers also found a bottle of the banned pesticide Carbofuran and another bottle containing a mix of Carbofuran and Carbosulfan. Carbofuran is a highly toxic pesticide and a single grain the size of a poppy seed can kill a bird. A quarter of a teaspoonful can be fatal to humans‘.

We know from crime scene photographs that Wilson had one large bottle of poison in his workshop and a smaller bottle of poison that he carried inside a bum bag.

[The large bottle of banned poison found on the premises at Longformacus Estate. Note the protective clothing worn by the investigator. Photo by SSPCA]

[The smaller bottle of poison in the front pouch of Wilson’s bum bag. Photo by SSPCA]

It is reasonable to presume that Wilson dispensed the poison in to a smaller container for ease of distribution around the estate. Although he wasn’t charged with actually using the poison (just possession of it), it’s probably fair to say he probably wasn’t just taking the bottle of poison out for a walk every day.

It is with some shock then, that we’ve learned at least 180 schoolchildren were put at risk by being taken on an ‘educational’ visit to Longformacus Estate in June 2016, exactly the time when Wilson was busily committing his crimes on the estate.

Thanks to the blog reader who sent us the following report of the school visit, organised by landowner Mr Charles and the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET):

Good grief, this should be a massive wake-up call for all those teachers thinking of taking schoolchildren on educational visits to game-shooting estates.

Not that the teachers or RHET staff could have known what they were walking in to when they turned up at Longformacus Estate – all RHET field visits are ‘fully risk assessed‘ and they probably wouldn’t have dreamt that a fatally toxic poison was being carried in the gamekeeper’s bum bag. Most decent-thinking people assume that illegal practices like poisoning wildlife is a thing of the past, not part of 21st century estate management!

Incidentally, we’ve asked the Crown Office to confirm whether they anticipate a charge of alleged vicarious liability in relation to the landowner and/or sporting agent at Longformacus Estate. We’re hearing all sorts of rumours but it would be best to get an answer direct from COPFS. So far we’ve been told by the COPFS media team that they can only answer questions from journalists so our request has been sent to the general enquiries team.

We’ve also asked Scottish Land & Estates whether Longformacus Estate is/was a member and if it was, has the estate now been expelled following Wilson’s convictions for wildlife crime? So far we’ve been told that this question has been passed to the Senior Management Team and that they’ll respond in due course.

21 thoughts on “180 schoolchildren put at risk on visit to Longformacus Estate”

  1. I share the concern over the dangers of visiting driven grouse moors, especially with young children, I posted earlier that I would write to Police Scotland to find out if Mr Wilson’s firearms licence had been revoked. Amazingly they replied that they could not respond as the information was covered by Data Protection legislation. I responded that I was surprised that the fact that the offender was ordered to do unpaid work was in the public domain but the fact as to whether he holds a valid firearms licence was not, I am awaiting a reply. As a Duns resident who often visits the Longformacus area, this worries me. Paul Wheelhouse, the Member of the Scottish Parliament for our area, has been informed of my concerns. Ironically the North Yorkshire Police were happy to disclose that a firearms licence had been revoked in a similar case.

  2. Our schools should not be getting involved with agenda-led brain-washing children about “vermin”, they should be taught about the natural world in an appropriate manner, rather shocking to see this; by contrast my own two have had very appropriate activities here in East Lothian – a day spent on Rhododendron control in Binning Wood was both educational and of direct practical value – seems different council areas/schools may have different approaches…

    1. Yes. As a society we should be guiding boys of a certain age away from their attraction to killing and channelling that excitement into the study and appreciation of nature. They aren’t in my opinion that far apart. To take children into an environment which glorifies killing (even ignoring the hidden illegal killing) is just bloody backward. Like taking children to an arms factory or trying to recruit them in the armed forces. The cadets used to be that. Maybe it still happens, time change so slowly.
      [50 years ago we were told that Cadets was compulsoryat school. When some bright spark questioned that, we were then told that the only alternative was running around the rugby fields all afternoon. Most of us said, sod it we will do that then. It was a bluff, they couldn’t and i could paint for the whole afternoon. Bliss.]

    2. And the rhododendron that they were clearing has a high likelihood that it was originally planted out as pheasant cover! For a hundred plus years now the estates have been planting out a succession of non native invasive plants that rob our woods and hills of native biodiversity – rhoddie was probably the first then joined by salmonberry, snowberry, cotoneaster, Japanese rose and cherry laurel plus god knows what else. In spite of the fact thousands of volunteers go to lots of trouble to remove them and millions of pounds are spent trying to control invasive plants unbelievably they are still being planted out by the shooting community, a scandal that desperately needs exposure – https://www.ashridgetrees.co.uk/nature-mix I suspect this issue was not covered in the school trip to Longformacus.

      1. I would agree that it is a scandal that people should still be selling non native shrubs for the specific purpose of planting them out in the wider countryside.

        1. We all know that their conservation credentials are non existent – this issue would make that obvious to the general public too. I keep asking Songbird Survival what they plan to do about this, invasive plants seriously reduce the amount of invertebrates available for birds. Funnily enough they never reply.

  3. Believe it or not, on Monday in court, Wilson’s defense lawyer, in a shocking and disgraceful attempt of trying to prevent this keeper going to jail, desperately, to the judge, tried to show Wilson as generally a good character. One fact he used was that Wilson took School groups around the estate as part of some ‘educational’ trip, as if he was therefor a benefit to society rather than a danger to it. I believe it was more than one occasion he showed school kids the way of the countryside…..

    1. To be fair the defence lawyer was doing his job so I don’t think it is really disgraceful that he should present whatever arguments he could muster to reduce his client’s sentence. Of course the court can choose what weight it places on those arguments and whether or not it thinks that there is much benefit to the community from ‘educational’ visits to a place where crimes are being committed led by the person who is/was conducting those crimes.

  4. Would be interesting to discover what the school pupils thought of their educational trip and whether Bird of Prey persecution was discussed( or side stepped!) I am sure that many of the kids did not like the traps or other control methods, would be interesting if the pupils could respond to a general query put in the local press!! Asking for their impressions

    1. Yes, it would be good if someone could interview the older children, and their parents, to gain an impression of their views at the time, and now, in light of the prosecution result.

  5. [Ed: The first paragraph has been deleted as libellous]

    As for the firearms certificates aspects. Here we go again – Data Protection Act. As usual there is something for the police to hide behind to permit them to deny the public information. We are talking about a convicted criminal here and not some innocent person having their personal information exposed.
    What is Holyrood doing to correct this nonsense (apart from trying to protect their “pals”). The public need to know if a convicted criminal is allowed to have weapons.
    We can go online to find out if a car has an MOT (and it’s history), if it is insured and if it is taxed, but cannot check if someone has a right to have a firearm. What a ridiculous state of affairs.

    1. ‘fraid the comparison is not the same. Irrespective of whether I have a criminal conviction or not, you can’t find out if I have a drivers licence because that is personal data attached to an identified individual.

      I agree however that there needs to be something done about guns etc. Here’s my attempt at an analogy. An egg collector can have everything involved in the crime confiscated and often do; car, climbing equipment, ladders, cameras, egg cabinets and cases etc., etc. Whatever tools were used in the illegal killing should be confiscated and destroyed, in this case as the birds were shot this would include guns.

      How does that sound?

  6. It’s an absolute disgrace that native wildlife, which all form integral parts of our ecosystem, is being described as ‘vermin’ to children simply because they interfere with the economic interests of game estates. This type of anthropocentric nonsense is an anachronism. I wonder if they were shown stink pits, slaughtered mountain hares, shot raptors, and the various bycatch associated with cruel snares and fenn traps? Gamekeeping will be looked back on as the utterly needless, cruel ‘job’ that it is.

  7. Explaining one’s work to schoolchildren…how does it go again…?

    Foxes? I kills all the foxes.
    Stoats? I kills all the stoats.
    Weasels? I kills all the weasels.
    Hedgehogs? I kills all the hedgehogs.
    Hares? I kills all the hares.
    Rats? I kills all the rats.
    Cats? Mostly I kills the cats.
    Crows? I kills all the crows.
    Jays? I kills all the jays.
    Jackdaws? I kills all the jackdaws.
    Magpies? I kills all the magpies.

    Pheasants and partridges? My master and his friends kills all of those.

    1. Bimbling, you forgot the frogs! What about when the gamekeeper sets fire to the moor and kills all the amphibians and insects.
      That schoolchildren are being brainwashed in this way, with the blessing of their teachers and parents is unbelievable.

      1. Paul, you forgot the many thousands of reptiles, small mammals, and invertebrates that aren’t insects.

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