What happened next with licence application for out-of-season muirburn on Leadhills Estate

Further to yesterday’s blog where it was revealed that earlier this summer, Mark Osborne, the agent/manager at Leadhills Estate had applied to SNH for an out-of-season muirburn licence to allow him to set fire to parts of the grouse moor after being sprayed with toxic glyphosate (see here), here’s what happened next.

[Setting fire to the grouse moors at Leadhills in previous years. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

SNH’s licensing department sent Osborne’s 2020 licence application to other members of staff for their comments. It’s interesting to note that Leadhills Estate applied for a similar licence in 2019 but this was refused, for reasons not yet known. Those documents have been requested from SNH via a Freedom of Information request but haven’t yet arrived.

It’s not known how many members of staff were invited to comment on Osborne’s 2020 licence application, or from which departments, because SNH has chosen to hide some internal correspondence on this issue (for example, there is no indication in the material released under a Freedom of Information request that Leadhills Estate’s status of being subject to a General Licence restriction for ongoing wildlife crime was even considered at this stage) but the following response was given by SNH’s Uplands and Peatlands Officer, who, alarmingly, doesn’t seem to think there’s any issue in principle with spraying the grouse moor with glyphosate and then setting fire to it, but does argue that this could be undertaken during the muirburn season (starts 1st Oct) and doesn’t require a special out-of-season licence:

Subsequently, SNH decided to refuse this latest licence application and notified Osborne on 14 August 2020 as follows:

On 18th August 2020 Osborne appealed the decision, stating that the glyphosate spraying had already been undertaken:

On 21st August 2020 SNH wrote back to Osborne to say they were treating his appeal as a formal complaint. Osborne wrote back the same day and said he wasn’t making a formal complaint, he was appealing SNH’s decision to refuse the out-of-season muirburn licence:

More to come on this saga…..

UPDATE 19th October 2020: SNH considers appeal from Leadhills Estate to undertake out-of-season muirburn (see here)

26 thoughts on “What happened next with licence application for out-of-season muirburn on Leadhills Estate”

  1. So he does not need permission to spray chemicals all over the place then ?? This seems s trange to me.

    1. Alan Dickinson, are you aware of the primary use of glyphosate? It is never sprayed ‘all over the place’, it’s too expensive. The usage of this and all chemicals is licensed and the operators are certificated.

      1. Who monitors and regulates this, Perdix? Or are you seriously suggesting the same industry who consistently lied about its use of muirburn, after signing voluntary agreements to stop it, can be trusted to regulate themselves?

    2. If the land is designated (e.g. SSSI) you need consent from NatureScot, if the spraying may affect a watercourse you need consent from SEPA, including on wet blanket bog/raised mire. Otherwise no, the operators just need the appropriate qualifications to use it professionally and be able to do an environmental risk assessment

      1. PS if they have a problem with Molinia invasion, it (like bracken) is indicative of poor management, so if the moorland is degraded by excessive burning to support grouse farming and heather restoration is needed to maximise grouse numbers you need to kill it with herbicide and reseed as livestock don’t graze it enough to control it. Recent paper on Molinia here if interested in some of the details: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228759201_Fire_increase_invasive_spread_of_Molinia_Caerulea_mainly_through_changes_in_demographic_parameters

        1. So, according to the paper, (I only read the summary), Molinia is very invasive, and will usurp the place of the heather over a burned area given the opportunity, but it can be controlled by mowing before it seeds.
          So Leadhills would appear to be trying to shoot itself in the foot by burning, even after Glyphosphate treatment of Molinia., as it will attempt to spread further. Mowing and reseeding should be the apparent route, surely?
          Hardly good for grouse either way then, is it?

      2. There is no way SEPA has the resources, even if they had the will, to monitor spraying. Think about all the land above an SSSI in Scotland. It doesn’t even matter if it is near a watercourse, surface water flows down. My area of limited knowledge on this is concerning neonics in forestry. The people spraying are low paid workers and although they are not supposed to spray on wet and windy days there is no way they can follow these guidelines because of the unpredictable weather and the planning involved. Who i. s going to pay them for sitting around or calling the work off. The contractor will just tell them to get on with it as they may have driven far (although there are obviously some contractors who will follow the rules they will be rare exceptions). On Mull streams a banned chemical was found by a friend via help of Greenpeace. SEPA doesn’t know where it came from and didn’t give a damn. In fact they were outraged that the test were even done and challenged whether they had permission.

  2. I am at a loss to understand why the wholesale spraying of natural vegetation is allowed without the need for licence? Surely this agricultural activity is covered by the https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2017/102/schedule/2/made

    We know that the intention of the management activity is to reduce botanical biodiversity by replacing semi-natural vegetation with a heather monoculture. Surely there should be an assessment of the existing vegetation before its destruction is undertaken? For example- could there have been juniper or cloudberry on site?
    Was there an assessment to see if it was blanket bog? Sphagnum does not like glyphosphate! killing the bog forming species and replacing them with heather (that does best on dry ground)?

    Regulation is needed.

    1. The areas of bog which hold and support Sphagnum moss are neither burned (bogs don’t burn too well) and neither would they be sprayed with any chemical which was likely to be injurious.
      Using licensed chemicals and in a careless or irresponsible manner would have penalties for the user and their certification would be withdrawn.
      The idea and the suggestion that illegal activity is carried out when it isn’t, and by making hysterical claims sets back the work of those who are attempting Moorland reform. In short, you are damaging your own agenda.

      1. Your idea of reform is not the same as mine.
        If you believe that people who use agricultural sprays only do it within the limits of the guidelines you need a reality check but there is nothing new there. Since raptors can be killed without constraint i don’t think irresponsible spraying will be too hard to imagine unless of course it profits you to believe otherwise.
        “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” (Upton Sinclair)

      2. You’re talking complete and utter rubbish. We already know areas of deep peat are regularly burned in rotation on grouse moors, hence the outcry to ban it. Do you realise what the association with deep peat and blanket bog is, or do you just think it’s a name? Many of those areas could have their hydrological function restored, but the constant burning favours species like heather at the cost of sphagnum species which prefer wet, waterlogged conditions, where the water table is at the surface. You’re acting like burning plays no part in this, but we already have plenty of evidence that shows the exact opposite. Instead of parroting shooting propaganda, and accusing people of having an agenda (which, in this case, is to protect our uplands from commercial and unsustainable shooting), I’d strongly suggest you start educating yourself on the actual ecology of the areas in question.

      3. Perdix,

        Are you a gamekeeper, estate owner, manager or just a shooter?

        Even without weed killers and burning, the reform of moorland and obeying the law has not improved in the 60 years since raptor protection became a law.

        The game bird killers still support the criminals that try to eradicate all predators including protected species.

        The people involved in killing birds for fun, know who the criminals are but continue to turn a blind eye.

        The industry hide’s behind the pretence of conservation, when all they conserve is gun fodder. When has killing been conservation? If it’s dead it is dead!

        Doug

        1. Bang on, Douglas.

          Perdix (Alec, Al? I may be wrong, but all three show a particular pretentious and patronising manner) really has come to the wrong place with such an amatuerish defence of the DGS crime syndicate. Either he has little understanding or experience of the issue, or he’s simply attempting to mislead. Whichever it is , all he’s achieved is to show just how seriously out of his depth he is.

      4. Perdix, congratulations on some knowledge of the muirburn code! However your knowledge of muirburn as practiced is sadly lacking. If you can direct us to an estate where practice could pass an assessment against code compliance it would be very helpful.

  3. In the application the Estate makes several references to this work being about the recovery of the heather, which to me suggests to put it back to what it once was before the Estate went into it’s decline as a grouse moor. But I will bet, knowing other JM Osborne run Estate’s, that they do in fact aim to do more than that and that the long term goal will be to turn it into a patchwork carpet of pristine heather, shorter and denser than ever, making an artificial monoculture it has never been in all its history.

  4. An estate with an infamous reputation like Leadhills should never be given any consideration for such a request. The same should hold for wider areas such as Strathbraan and half a dozen other locations where criminality is rife.

  5. The area WAS sprayed with glyphosate, presumably there was a paper trail of appropriate licence(s) issued if it was/is a SSSI?

  6. Can’t se that there’s any provision for NatureScot to intervene in glyphosate spraying. Unless it’s an operation requiring consent on an SSSI. And then they would need to determine if the nature and timing would harm the ‘natural features’ of the SSSI. We might not like it, but that is the limits to the powers of NatureScot.
    It seemed to me that what was being requested in the out of season licence could easily be done within the burning season and so I’m not surprised it was refused.

  7. One of the great things about walking in Scotland is that you can generally drink from any watercourse above habitation. Spraying glyphosate on moorland surely raises serious issues around risk to human health? Plus, what does it do potentially to local wildlife?

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