Leadhills Estate granted ‘individual licence’ to shoot crows

As many will recall, in November 2019 SNH imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire following ‘clear evidence from Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on this estate’ (see herehere, 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 has consistently denied responsibility, obviously.

[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]

As many of you will also know, a General Licence restriction is supposed to prevent an estate from killing so-called ‘pest’ species (e.g. crows) that would otherwise be permissible under the General Licences but that estates can still apply to SNH for an ‘individual licence’ to circumvent the General Licence restriction and continue killing birds, albeit with a bit more paperwork to complete.

This ridiculous situation is a legal quirk, outlined in a Judicial Review, and isn’t SNH’s fault (although SNH could be doing a lot more to point out the system failings to the Scottish Government). Basically if a penalised estate isn’t provided with an opportunity to apply for an individual licence the estate could argue the system was unfair and the legality of the General Licence restriction probably wouldn’t stand. If further wildlife crimes are discovered on the estate when an individual licence is in place, SNH can revoke the individual licence but the estate can simply reapply for another one. We’ve discussed how the General Licence restriction is a wholly ineffective deterrent plenty of times in the past, (e.g. see here, here, here, here) and last year we even gave evidence to this effect alongside RSPB Scotland and others to a Scottish parliamentary committee (here).

Since the General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in Nov 2019 we’ve been interested to find out whether the estate has applied for, and been granted, an individual licence.

An FoI request has revealed that yes, SNH issued an individual licence that was valid between 27 April – 1 June 2020 but this was far more restrictive than the individual licences (e.g. see licence details here) that were issued to Raeshaw Estate when a GL restriction was imposed on that estate in 2015.

The individual licence at Leadhills Estate only permits the shooting of two species – hooded crow and carrion crow, in a limited part of the estate and apparently to protect lambs.

According to condition #8 of this licence, the licensee has to submit a written report to SNH within one month of the licence expiring (so by 1 July 2020) detailing the scaring methods deployed and the number of birds shot. We have submitted an FoI request for this information.

We’ve also asked SNH for details of the compliance checks made for the duration of this licence. SNH has said in the past that compliance checks would form part of the ‘tighter scrutiny’ involved with an individual licence. Let’s see. Presumably this type of environmental monitoring/legal compliance check would have been one of the Government-sanctioned jobs during lockdown.

28 thoughts on “Leadhills Estate granted ‘individual licence’ to shoot crows”

  1. This is precisely the kind of situation that ensures that I support Wild Justice as much as I am able to with the work they do – to let ALL the UK Governments know it’s time they sorted out ALL the mess that is surrounding wildlife in our isles whether legal or illegal.

  2. Responsibility for failure to remedy this type of situation, over which Scottish Nasty Heritage presides, again lies with Holyrood. Until the government is sorted out the problems will not be sorted out.

  3. Would anyone be able to explain to me what is individual about an individual licence, and what is general about a general licence? Does an individual licence apply to an individual species and a general licence to all pest species? I’ve never quite got my head around it!

    1. Hi Nick,

      An individual licence is issued, after an application has been made, to a named individual (with named agents who can also operate under the licence) and usually specifies a geographic boundary.

      A general licence isn’t actually issued to anyone specific, hence the name ‘general’. This licence is ‘issued’ (published online) on 1 Jan each year and covers anybody who has landowner permission to kill certain species in any given area.

  4. Can’t a petition be generated to confront the issue of using these medieval trapping tools? It is unacceptable in the 21st century, in a civilised and rich country, and where we have Strict Animal Welfare Acts!!
    We campaign against other countries destruction or persecuted species but ignore or do not educate against our own shambolic cruelties!!

  5. This is a great example of the problems with licensing and all campaigners should take note. Can you imagine what would happen if driven grouse shooting (and other killing ‘sports’) was licensed? God help us, and our wildlife/environment if that ever happened.

    1. Correct ………. licensing (in reality it is pseudo licensing) is a route to introduce a measure that has the appearance of preventing an undesirable activity whilst simultaneously providing all manner of exemptions designed to absolve criminals who wish to continue doing the very things that should be unconditionally outlawed.

      1. In which case, both Stephen and Dougie need to explain how licensing ‘fails’ in other professions.

        1. That’s very simple Keith: Enforcement, or to be more accurate the distinct lack of it. We already have a plethora of laws and licences regarding the killing of wildlife. How’s that working out so far?

        2. Licensing does not fail in any activity where the participants have a desire to comply with laid down standards. Indeed, where that is the case the professions (shooting & associated activities is a long way from being a profession) are enhanced by being openly scrutinised to verify that they meet the obligatory standards.
          The problem in relation to wildlife crime and destruction is that those involved, continually over many decades, have demonstrated that they simply refuse to desist from their illegal and/or otherwise objectionable activities.
          There is no possibility that such people can be licenced to behave in an acceptable manner.
          It also appears to be far from hopeful that those who wield legislative power (who have failed to provide an effective criminal justice system) can be relied upon to exercise control through licensing.

          1. To Stephen and Dougie, the licensing proposed for Driven Grouse Shooting, for example, is that the licensee, at their expense, must produce independent evidence every year that their grouse moor holds all the biodiversity and abundance expected of that habitat. Otherwise, they cannot shoot until it does.

            Enforcement is straight forward. No license – no shooting, no insurance, no advertising, no business accounting. It does not matter whether the licensee has a desire to comply or not; unless an independent ecologist is satisfied that the moorland is meeting all its targets no license can be issued for that year.

            1. Keith, what licensing ‘proposal’ are you referring to? I note that you did not answer my question about existing compliance.

              In Scotland, SNH – presumably – would be the DGS licensing enforcement body. You must surely agree that SNH’s track record in taking on the landed/shooting interests is, er, how can I put this politely, abysmal e.g. the raven cull. ‘Independent ecologist’ is another flaw in your argument. Who? Who pays them? What does ‘independent’ mean etc.

              As Dougie says, we are dealing with a bunch of highly organised, wealthy and motivated wildlife criminals who would easily circumvent, water-down and/or ignore a complex licensing regime. That fact coupled with piss-poor ‘enforcement’ would mean that DGS would be legitimised and stay with us for decades. I have argued here before that a licensing system is EXACTLY what the shooters want and any campaign for such a system is playing right into their hands. Besides, licensing such an environmentally disastrous activity such as DGS is utterly nonsensical. The only answer is to campaign, relentlessly, for a ban on DGS.

              1. Yes, Stephen you are right.
                The aim should be for a ban. Plain and simple solution with nothing to subsequently contest.

                The shooting lobby will provide money to contest licensing introduction and if they lose they will continue to contest every single detail that hinders them doing as they do today (note how often QC’s are hired to defend employees and how cases are made to drag on and on).
                Also, licence or no licence, unlawful killing will continue because the chances of being caught will remain slight.

                Unless these people in Holyrood are made to believe that failure to stop wildlife crime (plus the currently lawful killing) will cost them substantial votes they will endlessly shilly-shally and avoid altering the status quo.
                Be in no doubt that Holyrood is adept at talking a good game whilst not achieving much (lessons will be learned baloney). E.g. Edinburgh Trams enquiry pickle . Enquiry into the project fiasco was announced 6 years ago. It is over 2 years since the last public evidence, but not a sign of any conclusion. Then there is the small matter of the enquiry costs – now exceeding £11 millions ………….. tax payer funded, of course !

                Endless debate and solutions whose application is complex and/or open to legal challenge are a booby trap leading to stalemate and setback.

                1. “Also, licence or no licence, unlawful killing will continue because the chances of being caught will remain slight.”

                  The point is that no one has ‘to be caught’ when the license condition is that breeding hen harriers must be recorded – in the numbers expected for that habitat on the estate – by an independent ecologist. Otherwise, no one gets to shoot.

              2. “Keith, what licensing ‘proposal’ are you referring to?”

                The one contained in the Parliamentary e-petition, and which the RSPB supported, where the license conditions were spelled out in Mark Avery’s blog.

                “‘Independent ecologist’ is another flaw in your argument. Who? Who pays them? What does ‘independent’ mean etc”

                It would be an ecologist appointed by the licensing authority, and – as I said – paid for by the licensee.

                “we are dealing with a bunch of highly organised, wealthy and motivated wildlife criminals who would easily circumvent, water-down and/or ignore a complex licensing regime”

                How do you propose that anyone could ‘circumvent, water-down and/or ignore’ an ecologist who reports that a shooting estate had no breeding hen harriers, no peregrines, foxes, stoats, ravens etc… that the natural moorland vegetation had been replaced with a monoculture and that water run-off was polluted and threatening communities downstream?

                1. Thanks for that Keith. The e-petition is a campaign wish not a proposal by anyone who can enforce it. It is also a misguided wish punted by a gutless RSPB and others. This is a MASSIVE campaigning error in my and many others’ opinion. Incidentally, Mark Avery, rightly, is pro-ban (he wrote an excellent book about it) and not pro-license for DGS.

                  Ecology is not a precise science like, say, physics or chemistry. Hen harrier population density figures, for example, are based on stats. Anything that is based on stats has a variable tolerance (i.e. open to interpretation and therefore argument) and would be ruthlessly and legally challenged by the shooters, as would many other licence conditions. This would be enormously costly and time consuming and do you really think that SNH would be that arsed (or indeed funded) taking on wealthy landowners and their expensive lawyers in the courts? I think not.

                  You still have not answered my point about the current woeful enforcement by SNH, NE of the existing (and far simpler than the DGS licensing regime that you favour) laws/licences. The track record of the lack of enforcement by the likes of SNH is hard evidence that any future DGS licensing regime would be a farce. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

                  Can you just not accept that licensing something as heinous as DGS (might as well license burglary…) is both daft and counterproductive? If DGS is licensed it will be around a lot longer as any Government will see it as ‘problem solved’. The ‘stepping stone’ argument that first DGS will be licensed and then it will be banned is also fanciful. I urge you to put your energies into the only logical solution and campaign for a ban.

                  1. Mark may be pro-ban (as am I), but that doesn’t make him anti-license (as neither am I). He signed the e-petition and publicised it. It all depends upon the wording of the license. And it is, indeed, a proposal. As is a total ban.

                    Mark’s and Wild Justice’s e-petition, by-the-way, proposes the banning of Driven Grouse Shooting, but not ‘walked-up Grouse shooting’.

                    No one, especially the author of the license petition, believe that its constraints can be met whilst maintaining the artificially high numbers of Grouse, but the over-riding strategy is finding a way to end this appalling assault upon our environment which Parliamentarians can support.

                    If we fail to find a majority for a complete ban (I am opposed to all shooting of any kind) is there a ‘compromise’ which a majority may support but which effectively curtails the ecological damage being done?

                    A licensing regime, with the correct wording, is an acceptable ‘back-stop’ for me, so I do not write it off. But that doesn’t stop me campaigning for a complete ban. I simply do not routinely rubbish the idea of a license, because it depends entirely upon its wording and it is a strategic move.

                    1. Keith I’m afraid you are simply incorrect about Mark Avery’s position. He is pro-ban and against licensing – see his blog post (and book ‘Inglorious’) “Why licensing of DGS will not work”, 21 Aug 2014. End of. Walked-up grouse shooting is not under discussion here, but, like you, I oppose all forms of fun killing but DGS remains the most egregious form and thus is the main target.

                      If no one believes that your wishlist of licensing conditions for DGS can be met what is the point of campaigning for it? Surely, I restate, it would be better to put our energies into a solution that works i.e. a ban? Besides, licensing will not end ‘this appalling assault on our environment’. On the contrary it will prolong it. Parliament should reflect the will of the people and not the other way round and you and I should have the guts to tell them what is right and not be listen to some mealy-mouthed compromise shite offered by politicians in hock to vested interests. It worked for fox hunting and it can work for DGS, but it takes balls, tenacity and relentlessness in restating the message to win through.

                      You still have not addressed my point the woeful current enforcement situation (which blows a big hole in your licensing argument) and I’m afraid to say that ‘licensing ,with the correct wording’ is cloud-cuckoo land stuff and therefore a strategic error not a ‘strategic move’.

  6. Any pretence that the Scottish National Party might claim to radicalism is laid bare here and the accompanying issue of land rights that bestows the corrupt entitlement that underlies this whole situation; the SNP are Tartan Tories.

  7. Semi-automatic weapons? How can condition 4 of this licence permit use of a semi-automatic weapon when the WCA 1981 explicitly prohibits their use? What obscure clause am I missing here? Or can we expect to see AK-47 or pistol-toting gamekeepers out on this estate, now?

    1. You are correct Nick:

      Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

      5 Prohibition of certain methods of killing or taking wild birds (Scotland)

      (1) Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person—

      (c) uses for the purpose of killing or taking any wild bird—

      (iii) any automatic or semi-automatic weapon;

      he shall be guilty of an offence

  8. What it shows is that SNH is as entrenched in the anachronistic practices associated with land management as Natural England. They should demand evidence of harm before granting a licence – and by evidence I mean film of an attack on a healthy lamb or sheep in progress, not a scavenged carcass as they usually show and pretend it was killed by crows / ravens rather than died from neglect or disease.

  9. Stephen Lewis writes: “Can you imagine what would happen if driven grouse shooting (and other killing ‘sports’) was licensed?” and “Walked-up grouse shooting is not under discussion here, but, like you, I oppose all forms of fun killing but DGS remains the most egregious form and thus is the main target”

    If driven Grouse shooting alone were to be banned, rather than all (Grouse) shooting being licensed, does that not leave walked-up shooting completely unregulated? Wouldn’t predator ‘control’ for that (smaller) business simply continue, with all the problems we currently have of proving guilt?

    1. No and no Keith. There are some regulations/licenses/codes etc. already for shooting and as I’ve asked you many times now how’s that working out? You seem unwilling to address the question of the woeful enforcement of the existing situation so i put it to you (again) that a complex licensing system fro DGS will simply be unenforced or even unenforceable.

      Unlike you Keith I offer you the courtesy of addressing your points head-on and whilst I want ALL blood sports banned I could live with some walked-up shooting if DGS were banned for reasons previously explained ad nauseum. Licensing will make fuck-all difference to raptor persecution and predator control; only banning DGS and it’s reliance on ‘big bags’ etc. will do that. The pressure for predator control for walked-up shooting is far less than DGS. If DGS gets banned then the campaign to end all blood ‘sports’ would continue.

      I urge you to channel your energies into getting a ban and not playing into the hand of the fun-killers by legitimising their ‘sports’ with a licence.

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