Leadhills Estate loses appeal against General Licence restriction

Well this is very welcome news.

The Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire has lost its appeal to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) against a General Licence restriction which had been imposed on the estate after ‘clear evidence of wildlife crime’ was found on the grouse moor.

A quick re-cap:

In late November 2019 Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire, after receiving what it described as “clear evidence” of wildlife crimes from Police Scotland (see herehere and here).

Those alleged offences included the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was first given powers to impose a General Licence restriction). SNH had also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests had also been disturbed’, although there was no further detail on this. The estate has consistently denied responsibility.

[This male hen harrier was found with its leg almost severed, caught in an illegally-set trap next to its nest on Leadhills Estate in 2019. Despite valiant efforts by a top wildlife surgeon, the bird didn’t survive. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

On 10 December 2019 SNH lifted the General Licence restriction due to an on-going appeal by Leadhills Estate against the decision (see here), which meant the estate’s gamekeepers could go back to killing as many so-called ‘pest’ bird species as they liked, under General Licences 1,2 & 3, without any monitoring or reporting requirements whatsoever.

Today, SNH has completed the appeals process and has upheld its original decision to impose the General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. SNH issued the following statement:

This General Licence restriction will now remain in place on Leadhills Estate until 26 November 2022, unless the estate tries to challenge SNH’s process via Judicial Review. It means that the estate can continue to kill so-called pest species but it can only do so if SNH grants individual licences to the gamekeepers which will prescribe terms and conditions of use and include a requirement to report on the number and species killed. The estate will also be subject to unnanounced visits by SNH staff to check compliance.

This is a feeble sanction for ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime. Although from our point of view it is better than nothing as we can now access any individual licences and the subsequent returns via FoI and gain a better insight in to the extent of [lawful] wildlife killing on this estate.

Of course, had an estate licensing scheme been in place, as recommended by the Werritty Review, Leadhills Estate may well now have been facing a period where it was not permitted to shoot red grouse for a number of years.

Also of great interest to us, now that Leadhills Estate has lost its appeal, is the ongoing relationship between Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate and Scottish Land & Estates, the moorland owners lobby group in Scotland. We’ve discussed this before (here) – Leadhills is a member of SLE and Lord Hopetoun is Chair of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group, which is involved in the Gift of Grouse propaganda campaign etc.

We’d like to hear from SLE about whether Leadhills Estate will now be ejected as a member and if not, why not? We’d also like to hear whether Lord Hopetoun will continue as Chair of the Scottish Moorland Group.

Watch this space.

Satellite-tagged hen harrier found poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland

A young hen harrier named Mary that hatched on the Isle of Man in 2019 and had been satellite-tagged by the RSPB’s LIFE Project was found poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Co Meath in Ireland in November 2019. Tests revealed she had consumed the banned poison Carbofuran which was found on a pigeon bait and on other meat baits next to her corpse.

[Hen harrier Mary found dead on a pheasant shoot. Photo by BirdWatch Ireland]

There are a few press releases doing the rounds about this latest killing, one from BirdWatch Ireland (here) and one from the RSPB (here).

There’s also a video documenting the discovery of Mary’s corpse:

Reading between the lines of both media releases there appears to be concern that the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Gardai (Irish Police) could be doing more in terms of investigation, enforcement and liaison. Without knowing the details of this case it’s difficult to comment further but the pointed commentary in both press releases seems quite deliberate.

In recent years the NPWS has instigated a new monitoring and recording scheme for raptor persecution in Ireland, to which BirdWatch Ireland’s John Lusby alludes in his press quote. It’s worth having a look at the most recent monitoring report (2018) and particularly the long table in Appendix 1 (pages 21-28) documenting the number of recorded persecution incidents between 2007 – 2018; there is clearly a massive persecution issue in the Irish Republic.

Raptor Persecution Ireland 2018 report

This ongoing and relentless persecution affects not only local and regional raptors but, as we have seen with hen harrier Mary, raptors from across our isles that travel without political boundaries. Likewise, a white-tailed eagle from Ireland has recently spent several months in temporary residence in Scotland, the north of England and the Isle of Man, as revealed by his satellite tag data. Amazingly he survived but he could so easily have been unlawfully killed over this side of the water given the extent of the persecution here.

There’s been increasing public pressure on the authorities here to crack down on the illegal killing; let’s hope the same pressure is being felt in Ireland and that the NPWS and Gardai conduct a thorough investigation in to the poisoning of this young hen harrier.

UPDATE 9 JUNE 2020: Poisoned hen harrier ‘Mary’ – open letter calls for action (here)

Shot buzzard found in Peak District National Park

A critically injured buzzard was found at Rushup Edge, near Mam Tor in the Peak District National Park on 13th January 2020.

A veterinary examination revealed shot in the body and a broken wing. Unfortunately due to the extent of its injuries the buzzard had to be euthanised.

Derbyshire Police’s Rural Crime Team issued this appeal for information on Facebook yesterday:

Without any further detail (like seeing an x-ray) it’s not possible to gauge the extent of the buzzard’s injuries and thus estimate how far it might have been able to fly before becoming grounded. However, with a broken wing it’s probably safe to assume that it didn’t fly very far from the area where it was found:

It should be shocking that a protected species has been found illegally shot inside a protected area (a National Park). However, this is the UK, where birds of prey are routinely targeted and killed inside National Parks, and especially inside this one – the Peak District National Park is a notorious hotspot for illegal raptor persecution.

On and on it goes.

With straight faces, shooting orgs profess ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution

Sixty six years after it became illegal to kill birds of prey in the UK, five pro-shooting organisations yesterday issued a statement professing ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution.

For those new to the subject of illegal raptor persecution in the UK this statement might look credible. For those of us who can spot sophistry at 200 yards it’s anything but credible.

You only need read as far as the second sentence of this joint statement to see straight through the greenwash:

“…….and while many reports of such persecution have proven to be false and confirmed cases are decreasing year on year……..” Really?

Actually, here’s an interesting graphic showing confirmed raptor persecution incidents in England & Wales over the five years 2014-2018 (2019 data not yet analysed), from the RSPB’s data hub and accepted by the National Wildlife Crime Unit:

In 2014 there were 58 confirmed incidents

In 2015 there were 58 confirmed incidents

In 2016 there were 69 confirmed incidents

In 2017 there were 62 confirmed incidents

In 2018 there were 72 confirmed incidents

And of course in Scotland we know from the Government’s most recent annual report (2018) that raptor persecution crimes more than doubled on the previous year.

The shooting organisations’ joint statement isn’t fooling anyone. And it’s not like the industry hasn’t claimed ‘zero tolerance’ before, e.g. see here, and yet what we see repeatedly are shooting organisation representatives sneering and ridiculing the RSPB when covert video evidence has been ruled inadmissible in prosecutions for alleged raptor crime (e.g. here), we see high-end barristers (often of QC status) brought in to defend the accused (who pays the legal fees, because they’ll be beyond the gamekeeper’s pocket?) (e.g. here), we get walls of silence from the shooting organisations when clear evidence of raptor crime has been uncovered (e.g. here) and instead of expulsions from shooting organisations following a successful conviction we see statements of support (e.g. here).

What’s probably the most amusing about this joint ploy is reading the ‘further information’ bit where we learn what measures the industry has planned to tackle illegal persecution:

Providing training opportunities for shoots to understand laws that protect raptors‘ – er, it’s pretty straight forward isn’t it? All raptors are protected, don’t kill them. How much more training is required?

Shoot owners, or their representatives, tenants and employees should attend a training course to familiarise themselves with laws that protect raptors‘ – you mean they’re not already familiar with the law that’s been enacted for 66 years?

Delivering a shooting sector awareness campaign on laws that protect raptors‘ – Yes, 66 years is nowhere near long enough for everyone to have got the message.

And perhaps best of all, this:

Continuing to support the collaborative efforts to resolve raptor persecution including as members of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime and the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group

Would that be the same Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) that these five organisations boycotted last year because they questioned Police Supt Nick Lyall’s integrity as RPPDG Chair and didn’t like the idea of conservation-oriented organisations being invited to join? Is that what they mean by ‘collaborative efforts’.

If you really want to understand just how ‘collaborative’ these organisations have been on the RPPDG then have a read of this damning letter written by Steve Downing, Chair of the Northern England Raptor Forum, written to Det Superintendent Lou Hubble of the National Wildlife Crime Unit who is facing investigation after the Countryside Alliance’s nasty, vindictive complaint about her integrity earlier this month (gosh, anyone seeing a pattern here?). Steve’s letter makes it quite clear why no progress has been made on tackling raptor persecution via the RPPDG.

And hang on a minute – the National Gamekeepers Organisation is a signatory to this joint letter claiming to support the RPPDG but didn’t they actually resign from the RPPDG after the ‘collaborative’ boycott? Ah yes, so they did.

Sorry, BASC, Countryside Alliance, Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation and Country Land & Business Association – but you’re going to have to do better than this to convince anyone that you’re serious about eradicating illegal raptor persecution. It all just smacks of desperation to avoid incoming regulation – a bit like we saw in Scotland in 2010 when over 200 estate owners wrote to the then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham claiming to condemn raptor poisoning at a time when estate licensing was being discussed. Ten years on and Scotland is on the verge of enforced regulation because persecution has continued relentlessly….

UPDATE 12th March 2021: ‘Zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution? They’re fooling no-one (here)

Job vacancy: RSPB Assistant Investigations Officer, Wales

A rare opportunity to join the dynamic RSPB’s Investigations team on the front line, tackling illegal raptor persecution and other crimes against birds in Wales.

[Photo: an illegally killed sparrowhawk being retrieved by an RSPB Investigations Officer. Image by Guy Shorrock]

Here’s the job spec from the RSPB:

Assistant Investigations Officer

Location: Bangor, Wales

The illegal killing of the birds of prey is a stain on the UK’s reputation. It affects almost all of our raptor species, and particularly impacts those of high conservation concern such as the hen harrier and peregrine.

This role is working within a dedicated and unique team combating this issue alongside partners including the Police and statutory agencies.

You will be on the front line, following up reports of dead birds, monitoring the nests of some of our rarest breeding species or carrying out targeted fieldwork in areas with a history of criminal activity.

You will develop relationships with volunteer raptor fieldworkers to monitor the nests and roosts of priority raptors in target areas of known persecution (including poisoning of other species). You will also organise monitoring of hen harrier nests to identify suitable candidate broods for satellite-tagging, which will be undertaken under licence by a qualified ringer.

You will liaise with Natural Resources Wales area teams to ensure that measures are taken to protect rare breeding raptors, particularly on designated sites

You will raise the profile of priority raptors in Wales, through local community talks and media, so being able to communicate in Welsh will be an advantage.

You need to be robust, persistent, focussed, able to work in pressured situations and have excellent bird identification skills.

You will frequently be required to work unsociable hours, in remote upland environments where excellent navigation skills, an awareness of lone working procedures and health & safety are essential.

Experience of upland conservation issues, raptor monitoring projects, including using satellite transmitters, and intelligence handling would be beneficial.

This is a rewarding job, in a small team that makes a big difference.

The successful applicant will need to be based in Wales and prepared to travel throughout the country and occasionally farther afield.

Salary starting at £19,602 to £21,236 per annum

Hours: Full time
Contract: 12 months

Application closing date: 14 February 2020
Interview date: 27 February 2020

For further details and the application forms please click here

Yet more dead pheasants dumped in North and West Yorkshire

Quelle surprise! It’s another year and another opportunity for a load of dead pheasants to be dumped.

Here are two more cases reported on social media in recent days, one load dumped in North Yorkshire and another in West Yorkshire, to add to previous reports of shot dumped birds in Cheshire, Scottish borders (here), Norfolk (here), Perthshire (here), Berkshire (here), North York Moors National Park (here) and some more in North Yorkshire (here), Co. Derry (here), West Yorkshire (here), N Wales (here), mid-Wales (here), Leicestershire (here) and Lincolnshire (here).

The latest gruesome discovery in North Yorkshire included a potato sack full of dead pheasants dumped by the side of the road in York:

The pheasant dumping incident in West Yorkshire was reported on twitter by West Yorkshire Police but no photos available:

Gamebird dumping continues to be a widespread problem. That’s hardly a surprise when the game shooting industry is permitted to release as many non-native pheasants and red-legged partidge as it likes (conservatively estimated to be almost 60 million EVERY YEAR), with minimal regulation, and no requirement to report on what happens to those birds once they’ve been shot for a bit of a laugh.

And let’s not forget this is the same game shooting industry that is responsible for the vast majority of illegal raptor persecution, done, it says, to protect gamebirds. That’ll be the gamebirds that are shot and then dumped, with no respect for the quarry and no respect for the local residents who’ll have to foot the bill to have the carcasses removed.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph in November 2005 headed ‘Game birds for eating not dumping’, Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance said this:

Every bird shot in Britain goes into the food chain, whether into participants’ freezers, or through game dealers into an increasing number of supermarkets, butchers, pubs and restaurants“.

That statement wasn’t true in 2005 and nor is it true 15 years later in 2020, despite the game shooting industry’s extensive (but flawed, e.g. see here) PR efforts to persuade the public that everything that’s killed is done ethically and sustainably.

Last year DEFRA admitted, after a legal challenge by Wild Justice, that gamebird releases need to be assessed properly for their potential ecological damage to protected nature conservation sites. As the clock counts down to more gamebird releases this year and with no indication that DEFRA will sort itself out in time, Wild Justice is preparing to re-visit the legal challenge.

JOB VACANCY: Sea Eagle Project Officer, Scotland

A rare and exciting opportunity to work with white-tailed eagles in Scotland on a six month full time contract as the RSPB’s Sea Eagle Project Officer in East Scotland.

[Photo by SakerTours]

The salary’s rubbish but nobody works in conservation to make a mint: £19,602-£21,236 pro rata.

Closing date for applications: 16 February 2020

Interview date: 27 February 2020

Job runs April – September 2020

For more details and application forms please click here


Buzzard found shot in Northumberland

An injured buzzard was found by a member of the public near Acklington, Northumberland on 4 January 2020. It was grounded by the entrance to the Rigg & Furrow Brewery at Acklington Park Farm.

It was transferred to Blyth Wildlife Rescue where x-rays revealed shotgun pellets in both wings. The location of the shooting is unknown.

[Photos via Jane Hardy]

The buzzard is still undergoing treatment and assessment at the rescue centre.


Kestrel found shot in Nidderdale AONB, North Yorkshire

Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in North Yorkshire is one of the most notorious raptor persecution blackspots in the UK.

Here it is in the news again, following the discovery of a critically injured kestrel suffering shotgun injuries. This is the THIRD shot kestrel we’ve reported on this blog in the last week (for the other two see here and here).


Appeal for information after kestrel found shot near Harrogate.

North Yorkshire Police is appealing for information after a kestrel was found severely injured in Birstwith.

A member of the public found the kestrel grounded and suffering injuries in Birstwith near Harrogate on 30 December 2019. The kestrel was quickly taken to a specialist vet for treatment, where x-rays found the body contained two shotgun pellets.

One pellet was near the right stifle and the other in the shoulder region which it is likely had caused a debilitating fracture. The injuries were deemed to be very recent and would have rendered the bird unable to fly so it is unlikely to have travelled far from where it had been shot. The kestrel was also in good bodily condition so the injuries are believed to have been sustained fairly recently before it was found.

Given the location of the fracture and the kestrel’s need for very fine control of flight in order to hover, the decision was sadly taken to humanely euthanase the bird.

North Yorkshire Police is appealing for anyone with information about this incident or who may have seen anything in the area shortly before the bird was found to please call 101 quoting reference number: 12190238326

If you wish to remain anonymous, you can pass information to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.



Kestrel shot in Gloucestershire

Just three days ago we blogged about a kestrel that had been found shot in Huddersfield (see here), one of several shot kestrels in the UK in recent years (e.g. see herehereherehere and here).

Here’s another one.

This time the kestrel has had to be euthanised in Gloucestershire after suffering devastating injuries.

He was seen falling to the ground by two members of the public immediately after they heard the shot. The kestrel was taken to Vale Wildlife Hospital but his injuries were catastrophic.

[Photos from Vale Wildlife Hospital]

This incident happened at around 4pm on January 12 on Strawberry Hill on Tewkesbury Hill and Ford House Lane just outside Newent in the Forest of Dean.

Rural and Wildlife Crime Officer PC Cath McDay said: “Someone has broken the law in shooting this protected bird of prey, which sadly could not be saved. This is unacceptable behaviour and I’m asking for anyone with information to contact police.”

Contact the police on tel 101 and quote reference #196 (13 Jan) or contact the RSPB on 01767 680551 or fill in their  crime form anonymously.