Just before Christmas we wrote a blog about a hilarious GWCT video in which Scottish gamekeeper Ronnie Kippen (of Garrows Estate, Strathbraan) claimed, with a straight face, that “Rewilding is deadlier to a mountain hare than a 12 bore shotgun“.
Here’s the video again for those that missed it – it’s well worth a few minutes of your day:
But that ridiculous statement wasn’t the only thing to catch our attention. In this video Ronnie Kippen also let on that last year SNH had issued a licence to gamekeepers in Strathbraan to use jackdaws as decoys in Larsen traps (to attract other jackdaws that would then be killed to protect waders).
This was really interesting on a number of points, not least because this was Strathbraan, an area identified in a Government-commissioned report as a raptor persecution hotspot and also the location of the controversial raven cull in 2018 which was successfully challenged by the Scottish Raptor Study Group after it emerged the GWCT’s scientific proposal was “completely inadequate” and “seriously flawed“.
Gamekeepers are permitted to kill jackdaws under the General Licences, but this species cannot be used as a decoy bird inside a Larsen trap in Scotland – only inside crow cage traps. We wanted to know the evidential basis that SNH had used to agree to issuing this licence (i.e. what evidence was provided by the gamekeepers to SNH of the purported damage to waders by jackdaws?) so we submitted an FoI to ask for the licence application and associated documents, as well as the actual licence itself.
SNH has responded with the following letter:
Hmm. Ok, so according to this letter the decision to issue the licence was apparently based on a “site visit“. Hold that in mind and also hold in mind the statement, “We have not yet received a return for this licence“.
Now let’s look at the supporting documentation that SNH released as part of this FoI:
We don’t know who the licence applicant is because the name has been redacted so let’s just call him Mr Gammon. On 27 March 2019 Mr Gammon emailed SNH and asked for a licence. The ‘evidence’ provided by Mr Gammon appears to be that during an undisclosed meeting someone from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) said he’d seen jackdaws predating wader eggs and Mr Gammon had agreed with him. That’s it!
Mr Gammon’s ‘evidence’ was apparently sufficient, according to this internal email between SNH’s Robbie Kernahan and an unnamed SNH employee, presumably someone in the licensing dept:
Later that day, an unidentified SNH employee sent an email to SNH licensing asking them to contact Mr Gammon to ask for a licensing application:
The next morning SNH licensing contacted Mr Gammon and asked for some basic details (note, no request for actual evidence):
A couple of days later Mr Gammon responds with the basic information requested, and a map (which has been redacted):
A couple of weeks later, SNH issued the licence to Mr Gammon. Take note that one of the licence conditions has been highlighted – Mr Gammon must submit a return within one month of the licence’s expiry date (31 July 2019):
So, according to all this documentation there was no ‘site visit’ as described in SNH’s letter to us, or if there was, SNH has forgotten to include it in this bundle of associated documents. What actually happened, according to these documents, is that Mr Gammon asked for a licence because some bloke from the BTO had once mentioned jackdaws predating waders and SNH decided to issue one without asking for any supportive evidence.
The second big issue here is that it appears Mr Gammon has breached the licence. A clear condition (#5) of the licence, as highlighted to Mr Gammon by SNH’s cover letter to him, was that ‘the licence holder must provide SNH licensing team with a return within one month of the expiry of this licence [so by 31 August 2019]. The return must summarise all works carried out under the terms of this licence. Please send this information by email’.
According to the FoI cover letter we received from SNH on 31 January 2020, ‘We have not received a return for this licence’.
We’ll be seeking further clarification on this from SNH and seeking assurances that if Mr Gammon is applying for any further licences this year that due consideration is given to this apparent breach of last year’s licence.
Watch this space.
UPDATE 12 March 2020: This morning we received an email from an SNH licensing officer which included the following:
“In my letter about the Jackdaw licence dated 31 March I include a paragraph which said that no licence return had been received. This paragraph was included in error. The licence return was recorded in database and the information is provided in the paragraph above. A corrected version of our response is attached. I apologise for any confusion this has caused“.
It’s good to receive a swift response from SNH – although it still doesn’t clarify when the licence return was received, nor why a copy of the return wasn’t included in the FoI response docs. Is there a written return, as stipulated by the licence, or was the ‘return’ just a hasty phone call after the deadline?
It also doesn’t address the issue of SNH’s apparent failure to seek evidential support for the licence application. We will be following up on these points.