General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate: some fascinating details

In November 2019, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire following ‘clear evidence from Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on this estate’ (see here, here, 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 consistently denied responsibility.

[The shot short-eared owl that was found shoved under some heather on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

In December 2019 Leadhills Estate appealed against SNH’s decision to impose the General Licence restriction (see here) but on 31 January 2020 SNH announced that it had rejected the estate’s appeal and the General Licence restriction still stood (see here).

We were really interested in the details of Leadhills Estate’s appeal so a freedom of information request was submitted to SNH to ask for the documents.

The information released by SNH in response is fascinating. Some material hasn’t been released due to what appear to be legitimate police concerns about the flow of intelligence about wildlife crime in the Leadhills area but what has been released provides a real insight to what goes on behind the scenes.

First up is an eight page rebuttal from Leadhills Estate’s lawyers about why it thinks SNH was “manifestly unfair” to impose the General Licence restriction.

Download it here: Leadhills Estate appeal against GL restriction decision

Next comes SNH’s six-page rejection of the estate’s appeal and the reasons for that rejection.

Download it here: SNH rejects Leadhills Estate appeal against GLrestriction

Prepare for some jaw-dropping correspondence from Leadhills Estate’s lawyers, including a discussion about how the raptor workers who found the hen harrier trapped by it’s leg in an illegally-set spring trap next to its nest last year ‘didn’t take steps to assist in the discovery of the suspect, which could have included placing a camera on the nest’.

Are they for real??!! Can you imagine the uproar, had those raptor workers placed a camera pointing at the nest and identified a suspect who was subsequently charged? We’ve all seen how that scenario plays out, with video evidence dismissed as ‘inadmissible’ and the game-shooting lobby leering about the court victory. That Leadhills Estate is now arguing that the failure of the raptor workers to install covert cameras is reason for the estate to avoid a penalty is simply astonishing, although the next time covert video evidence is challenged in a Scottish court it’ll be useful to be able to refer to this estate’s view that such action would be deemed reasonable. Apart from anything else though, those raptor workers were too busy trying to rescue that severely distressed hen harrier from an illegally-set trap:

[The illegally trapped hen harrier. Photo by Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Other gems to be found within this correspondence include the news that a container of an illegal pesticide (Carbosulfan) was found on Leadhills Estate in May 2019 and contributed to SNH’s decision to impose the General Licence restriction (this information has not previously been made public – why not?) and that during a police search of the estate (sometime in 2019 but the actual date has been redacted) the police seized some traps. The details of why those traps were seized has also been redacted but SNH write, ‘Although this in itself does not establish criminality it certainly adds weight to our “loss of confidence” [in the estate]’.

The Estate claims that the alleged impartiality of the witnesses should have some bearing on proceedings but SNH bats this away with ease, saying that the evidence on which the restriction decision was made was provided by Police Scotland and that the partiality of witnesses has not been identified as a significant factor of concern for the police, and thus not for SNH either.

It’s also amusing to see the estate claim ‘full cooperation’ by the estate with police enquiries. SNH points out that this so-called ‘full cooperation’ was actually largely limited to “no comment” interviews!

We don’t get to say this very often but hats off to SNH for treating the estate’s appeal with the disdain which, in our opinion, it thoroughly deserves.

Meanwhile, following SNH’s decision in January to uphold the General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate due to ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime, we’re still waiting for Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) to respond to our enquiries about whether Leadhills Estate is still a member and whether Lord Hopetoun of Leadhills Estate is still Chairman of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group.


16 thoughts on “General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate: some fascinating details”

  1. Interesting that they lead on the theme of “lack of evidence”, and play the usual trump card of “no individual has been charged, prosecuted or convicted” – just laughing at the authorities, but conveniently omit to say anything about the traps or poison recovered from their estate. [Ed: the last sentence has been deleted as potentially defamatory…although you’re spot on!]

  2. Im pleased to see SNHs robust defence of their action..and thats not something youll often hear from me either!…is this the sound of a worm turning?..

  3. This is a joke. I always feel so much when I hear about all these killings on grouse Moore. It should be banned. The whole thing. If xxxxxxxxxxx wasent abusing game birds anyway then this whole thing with persecuting birds of prey would no be happening. With all the deaths of birds there the moors should be riddle with cameras.why not? I know it’s in middle of no where this is why people are getting away with it. Criminals working together with xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. They all have their own ways of killing all the birds. Police dont do anything that impresses me. How are they helping? We need guys out there 247. Night & day. With how the moors are we need hundreds of men.what do they actually do to try & get convictions? And when they do. It’s a slap on the wrist. Well worth the crime in their eyes because the law allows them to get away with it.

  4. I am pleased that SNH have put this estate into a place where they belong. 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 xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx.

    I just hope that any individual applying for a licence on this estate is robustly monitored and an effort should be made to ensure that this happens.

    [Ed: Sorry, AnMac, had to delete part of your comment as it’s defamatory]

  5. Under the proposed licensing system would this estate’s licence have been revoked in these circumstances?

  6. If estate owners are so concerned about “unknown persons” tampering with their interests by going as far as to set traps for and shooting harriers, then why don’t they add more security to their grouse moors and immediately call the police if anyone suspicious-looking descends upon their estates. xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

    1. Aren’t we getting over-sensitive when it comes to redacting sentences from comments? In this case removing my attempt at mild humour was essential to pointing out the irony of the previous sentence! As it was clearly attributed to myself, I can’t imagine myself or RPUK having anything legal to worry about. It merely used attempted humour to express an opinion on gamekeepers, not too dissimilar to what appears on RPUK on a daily basis! I fail to understand this particular piece of censorship. Never mind, I will consistently support the contribution to sensible debate afforded by RPUK.

      [Ed: Iain, RPUK is ultimately responsible for everything published on this site, including comments. As such, RPUK retains the right to remove anything that it considers defamatory or potentially defamatory, even if the contributor deems it isn’t. These are the house rules and they’ve been in place for ten years and so far have worked well! You may consider us ‘over-sensitive’ and that’s fine, but it’s not your neck on the line nor is it your reputation that’s potentially being damaged by defamatory comments. If you could see the list of blog subscribers you’d know that there are some pretty heavyweight lawyers reading each post and they don’t all work for our side! You’ll just have to trust our judgement, I’m afraid, or start your own blog where you’re free to post whatever you like and take responsibility for the consequences]

      1. Dear Ed, I’ll make this brief to respond to your mildly offensive response, including the old chestnut of “start your own blog…” you don’t appear to realise that I’m one of RPUK’s greatest supporters up here, and would not be so naive as to make any statement that would result in any lawyer taking legal action. Your final retort is not fair, with little respect, and shocked me unexpectedly. I will not be starting my own blog, as you and your fellow helpers are already occupying that niche perfectly, and with this minor exception, doing a great job!

  7. Why has my brief, polite response been redacted? It’s unfair to disallow someone to defend themselves.

    1. Sorry it has just suddenly reappeared, still awaiting moderation. No need to show this message or the previous one.

  8. We all have to be pleased at SNH’s robust response to the legal gobbledegook contained in the appeal letter from the estate lawyers. Difficult to believe the arrogance, sense of entitlement and sheer denial that the lawyers letter contained. The next step of course is who or when individual licences are sought by estate employees and the reaction of SNH licensing.

  9. I think it’s safe to say that there are people out there with very deep pockets and lawyers to match who are just aching for RPUK to make a small lapse in judgment that would allow them to take them to court even on the flimsiest of pretexts. Such people would regard closing this blog down and vindictively not only causing those behind it months of anxiety but also saddling them with crippling debts a great victory. Having your comments redacted by what you may reasonably feel is an overly sensitive editorial policy is a small price to pay for the tremendous work done by RPUK, Besides, it’s great fun to mentally fill in all those lines of xxxxxxxxxxxx with the choicest expletives, most inventive suggestions as to what might be done to guilty parties and foulest insults of your own devising.

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