Back 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, here, here, and here).
Those alleged offences included the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that had been ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 2014. SNH also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests had also been disturbed’, although there was no further detail on this. The estate 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 regular blog readers will 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 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).
In July this year we discovered via a freedom of information request that SNH had indeed granted an individual licence to Leadhills Estate that was valid between 27 April – 1 June 2020. It permitted the shooting of two species, hooded crow and carrion crow, in a limited part of the estate and apparently to protect lambs (see here).
One of the conditions of the licence was that the estate had to submit a return to SNH no later than 1 July 2020, documenting all shooting and scaring activities undertaken under this licence.
We wanted to see this return and we also wanted to know the details of the compliance checks undertaken by SNH. SNH has stated previously that any individual licences issued to Leadhills Estate would be ‘closely monitored’ and this ‘tighter supervision is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime’.
Another FoI was submitted and here is SNH’s response:
It’s all very interesting, isn’t it?
But not as interesting as the fact that Police Scotland are currently investigating a number of new alleged wildlife crimes on this estate (see here) including the alleged shooting of a(nother) short-eared owl by a masked gunman on a quad bike as witnessed by a local resident and his eight year old son (see here).
The question now is, in light of these new alleged offences and the obvious conclusion that imposing a three-year General Licence restriction did not prevent further wildlife crime taking place, as SNH thought it might, will SNH now extend Leadhills Estate’s three-year General Licence restriction as its policy allows if further evidence of wildlife crime is uncovered during the original three-year restriction period, and refuse the individual licence that the estate appears to want for next spring? Is there any point to further licence restrictions? It seems pretty ineffective, to be honest.
There are another couple of questions, too, but these are for Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the grouse shooting owners’ lobby group. We’ve been asking these questions for years but SLE hasn’t replied yet. Can’t imagine why. These are really questions that should be asked by the so-called ‘partner organisations’ that serve alongside SLE on the so-called ‘partnerships’ such as the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Raptor Group with its zero tolerance for raptor persecution. Here are the questions again, for old times’ sake:
- Is Leadhills Estate still a member of SLE?
- Is Lord Hopetoun of Leadhills Estate still Chairman of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group?
If you’re concerned about the level of illegal raptor persecution in the UK, especially the high incidence of killing that takes place on or close to driven grouse moors, you can sign this e-action which urges your politician to take note and actually do something about it.
Launched two weeks ago by three organisations: Wild Justice, the RSPB and Hen Harrier Action, so far over 86,000 people have signed up. All you need to do is enter your postcode and a polite, pre-written email will automatically be sent to your parliamentary representative asking them to stop ignoring this issue.
If you want to add your voice and give your elected politician a polite nudge, please sign up HERE and pass this link on to others.