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.

29 thoughts on “Leadhills Estate loses appeal against General Licence restriction”

  1. Well done to the SSPCA for responding so quickly and recovering the hen harrier, traps and eggs. Also for funding the specialist veterinary treatment of the injured harrier.

    And assisting in the land searches of the estate.

    All of the above would have provided valuable evidence that would have helped in the decision to remove the general licence.

    Also well done to the raptor study group memebers who have time and time again uncovered organised criminality including the trapped harrier.

  2. Great news!
    I hope the estate now experiences a large increase in recreational walkers with their camera’s at hand who will keep a close eye on the various traps etc,.
    It’s not a huge leap towards the eradication of wildlife crime in general but, inch by inch, the goal will be reached.

  3. You only have to read the presumptions inherent in a General Licence to realise that there is never any justification for any ever being issued.

  4. It is good to see SNH defending the law.

    [Ed: Rest of this comment deleted as off topic and potentially confusing]

  5. Given the recent statement by a number of shooting organisations about their apparent zero tolerance of raptor persecution one assumes that the number of shooting folk booking days to shoot on this or any associated shoot will rapidly fall to zero for next season. Anything else of course will demonstrate the total hypocrisy in that statement.
    One also hopes that SNH will be much less than willing to grant any employees on this estate an individual general licence.

    1. Hi Paul,

      SNH will HAVE to issue Individual Licences if Leadhills applies (as long as the justification for lethal control is provided) otherwise the General Licence Restriction would be unlawful. This was all discussed when Raeshaw Estate lost its judicial review a few years ago:


      It’s also clear that even though SNH can also revoke an individual licence if there is evidence of breaching those licence conditions, the estate can still apply for further individual licences (and the application may be successful). Yes, it’s ludicrous but that’s the state of play at the moment.

      1. Ludicrous indeed, as one must assume that given the restriction SNH are happy that xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

        What is clear is that the law governing this needs amendment such that any employees at the time of any alleged offences that result in a licence restriction cannot be granted individual licences during the restriction period.
        Thanks for the clarification.

  6. Apparently, according to the Ed, reference to the situation regarding Natural England’s General License is “off topic and potentially confusing”. How is that?

  7. The whole general licence idea is completely useless. I’ve no doubt a judicial review will be scheduled – with a result which is fairly predictable – as was the outcome of the Werrity report thingy.
    So there will be individual licences issued where the “gamekeeper” will have to report on thr number and species killed – well, good iuck with that then. Unannounced visits by SNH staff – unless they’re parachuting in it won’t be unannounced and you can figure out your own reasons for that. I keep reading that this or that would be “illegal” as if people give a tinker’s cuss about the law and it seems it’s minions – they are actually outlaws.
    Hope the powers that be have invested in some pretty serious night vision gear, the outlaws have and it makes night shooting so much easier (and more private).

    1. I find that photo profoundly depressing…by this time clever politicians such as Swinney should know to distance themselves from the thoroughly discredited scottish shooting community…

      1. Have to agree with Dick that pic is a tough one to take if he is for shooting. I don’t get it the snp fight for no torys in Scotland and then this you could not have made this up.,…….

        1. Ok it is off topic but the SNP are a one trick pony, with independence, i.e. divisive rhetoric. when in reality we as a country and a continent need to find ways to unite us, not to continually divide us.

          To rephrase the West Lothian Question

          Why are people in Blackburn Lancashire who voted for Brexit a ‘bunch of bigoted morons’ whereas a the people in Blackburn West Lothian who voted for Scottish Independence enlightened and savy?

        2. Running with the hare and hunting with the hounds comes to mind.
          I am not surprised.
          I will be surprised if the Sc. Gov. ever makes any significant improvement in the fight against wildlife crime.

        3. Agree Wildlife Warrior,do a lot of leg work and give a lot of hard earned cash to further the SNP cause then this!!! final straw for me, I’m off to the Greens for good.
          If there was any doubt just remember, the SNP are proud to support blood sports.

    2. He has been attacked quite badly on social media for this.
      He defends it by claiming it is his job. He should therefore be open to meet with RPUK and Common Weal etc.
      His defence was further attacked for the chummy tone.
      Sorry to be the off-topic but it is of interest.

  8. To be fair [we should all try, even after decades of criminal destruction of our natural heritage], the SNP werent voted in on promises of environmental protection..and they are a mixed bag as regards MPs and MSPs background and knowledge of the countryside….I would suggest someone sends Mr Swinney the link to this site so he can see in detail, just who he appears to be dealing with…?

    1. Dave, I would think he knows exactly who he is dealing with. SNP 10 years plus in charge nothing has changed more laws but all BLUFF AND BLUNDER………….. Wonder who’s ear he has.

    2. Environmental protection should never need to be stated in any party’s manifesto. It should be viewed as written in tablets of stone by any government irrespective of it’s political leaning. If a party believes that environmental protection is a choice it is not fit for government.

    3. Tried it (he is my MSP] does not want to know, I suppose he recons he’s got more to gain supporting the hunting ,shooting crowd in this particular constituency. By the way I have also tried with his wee mate in the photo, he is worse.

  9. In both England and Scotland those fighting for our wildlife be that decent environmental protection or specific laws dealing with raptor persecution by the HSF brigade have been fighting a seriously uphill battle because so many of our politicians have a vested interest HSF and a number of other things which impinge badly on our wildlife. WE need to make life difficult for them by exposing their vested interests and unacceptable associations. Given the recent statement by various shooting organisations in England exclaiming a zero tolerance of raptor persecution we perhaps should be emphasising this in any comment on persecution incidents, exposing the hypocrisy of it all and turning their own information against them. Given that statement we should expect none of those organisations to be associated with any estates or individuals with a history of wildlife crime proven or otherwise.

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