SNH grants licence to Leadhills Estate for out-of-season muirburn

Leadhills Estate, which has been at the centre of over 50 police wildlife crime investigations in the last two decades, has had two gamekeepers convicted for committing wildlife crime offences during that time, and is currently the subject of a three-year General Licence restriction, imposed after Police Scotland found ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crimes having being committed by persons unknown in recent years, and is under further police investigation since more allegations have been made this year, was granted a licence by SNH to undertake out-of-season muirburn on estate grouse moors in September.

There have been some jaw-dropping revelations on this blog over the years but this one is right up there.

[Muirburn on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

A quick recap of the situation (for those who want more detail please see the links to previous blog posts below).

In April 2020 the Scottish Government temporarily banned all muirburn in Scotland under emergency Coronavirus legislation (see here).

Despite being in the middle of a pandemic, in July 2020 Mark Osborne, acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, applied to Scottish Natural Heritage for an out-of-season licence to conduct muirburn on the estate in September after spraying some areas with glyphosate (see here).

Scottish Natural Heritage (now rebranded as NatureScot but that’s irrelevant) refused the licence application in August (here) and Osborne immediately appealed the decision (see here).

That’s where we left the saga last time. Here’s what happened next…..

SNH was obliged to consider Osborne’s appeal, although it wasn’t obliged to overturn it’s previous decision to refuse permission.

Here’s how SNH’s reconsideration went:

According to the Freedom of Information documents that have been released, that’s it. That’s the extent of the discussion at SNH about whether Leadhills Estate should be given permission to set fire to its grouse moors out of season and in the middle of a global pandemic.

A couple of days later SNH wrote to advise Osborne of its U-turn decision and sent him the licence, as follows:

There has been some discussion amongst RPUK colleagues and associates about whether SNH’s decision to issue this licence was a breach of the Government’s emergency Coronavirus legislation which had temporarily banned muirburn until the official season opened on 1 October 2020. I might return to that topic.

However, of greater interest, to me, is how SNH’s decision-making on whether to issue an out-of-season muirburn licence apparently failed to consider the wider picture of what’s been going on at Leadhills, and especially the current three-year General Licence restriction placed on the estate, by, er, SNH. Didn’t anybody think about that?

Ah, well somebody did, but unfortunately it seems this person’s expert input wasn’t invited as part of the decision-making process:

There’s quite a lot to take in about this case, and the details and circumstances of this particular licence. An FoI has been submitted to SNH to see the licence return which, as detailed in condition #9, should have now been submitted to SNH by Osborne.

And it turns out that this isn’t the first year that SNH has granted an out-of-season muirburn licence to Leadhills Estate. More on that shortly.

For some reason, the phrases ‘taking the piss’ and ‘impotent licensing authority’ are uppermost in my mind.

31 thoughts on “SNH grants licence to Leadhills Estate for out-of-season muirburn”

  1. As an aside, NatureScot has to be the worst name ever. Why not NatureScotland? Mind you, both are disingenuous

      1. The truth is that their chair’s sole contribution to the world of marketing was that he changed the Scottish Tourist Board to Visit Scotland (simply copying the trend in tourism organisations across the world). When he arrived at SNH he wanted to do the same thing… Just a vanity project.
        The “trend” was to change Scottish Natural Heritage to Natural Scotland. However this was stymied because the name was already in use. So they invented the meaningless twaddle “NatureScot” based around the fact that they could buy the website! Since then Cantley has dragged SNH (still the legal name) from one gaff to the next….

    1. Isn’t there a fundamental contradiction in the argument that NatureScot’s Uplands and Peatlands Officer employs to support the licence application?

      In the second paragraph of the first email, the officer argues that “.. if the burning was carried out during the muirburn season … the likelihood of the fire getting away would … be higher”.

      But in the third paragraph, the same officer says “As the works will be carried out outwith the season there is a greater risk of the fire getting away…”.

      So when does the officer think the risk greater, during or outside of muirburn season? Hard to understand how this illogical argument could be used to conclude that a licence should be issued.

  2. Utterly gutless and simply craven; so utterly spineless! it is worth remembering that the bureaucrats responsible for these decisions are well paid and pensioned.

    1. I think your being harsh. They are actually assessing an application based on the process they have to follow and no doubt guided by whoever leads the organisation and sets the approach taken. What is clear is that there is a distinct lack of consultation within NatureScot, so the process and the approach is clearly flawed.

      I have no doubt there are a number of enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff within the organisation, but if the leadership culture is one of ensuring that those with power and influence get their needs met, then they are not going to be able to change that.

  3. Well it just shows that you can have all the legal infrastructure, scientific research and well-intended low ranking civil servants that you want…but at the end of the day, it is chums in very high places that count. The bloke currently has (and has had) a hand in the running of a dozen or so of the best grouse moors there is, an invite to which is coveted by the richest and most powerful people on the planet, never mind a few british politicians and senior civil servants.

  4. I presume the site is an SSSI? So what is being destroyed is the ‘white ground’ traditionally the area used by BLACK GROUSE. This species is declining in most of Britain. If you look at a map of distribution you will see that most RED GROUSE MOORS do not cater for this species mainly as it has always been seen as VERMIN taking the reds away from the butts on shooting days. SO NATURE SCOT are helping the decline of a species in decline. Should that happen?

  5. Given we are in a climate and biodiversity emergency i can only think that someone or several people in the SNP are in bed with the grouse shooting landowners. Lets hope it can be found out which ones so the voting public can be made very aware they appear to value money before the scottish people and their wildlife and environment. Yet again more indication in my opinion to show theyre one trick ponies obseessed with independence and dont have a clue (or care?) About actually running the country and dealing with the issues on the ground

  6. Well, the owner is exceedingly wealthy. You may be in danger of applying the same set of rules that the vast majority of us live under, to the gentry.

  7. A very serious case of none joined up decision making! In the real world you wouldn’t licence this estate to have a pot to piss in!

  8. The burning, especially on such an estate, is bad enough. We can attempt to stop it by law
    I think the lack of rigour in the final decision is much worse because i suspect it happens all the time and probably throughout other departments (see Wings today). And there is very little we can do. We can’t even vote them out.

  9. A few years ago I was waiting for a train at Sanquhar station in Dumfriesshire. I overheard a conversation between a man with a far back, English public school, type accent and two girls, one of whom was his daughter. It is strange to hear an English accent, let alone an obviously upper class one, like that in those parts. This man was telling the others that he was attending a garden party with the Queen at Holyrood the next day. He added that he gets an invitation to from the Queen every year.

    Being a curious type, I made enquiries locally as to the identity of this person. I knew it wasn’t the Duke of Buccleuch as I know what he looks like. The consensus of opinion was that it was the owner of the Hopetoun Estate at Leadhills. This is credible as it is 11 miles and a 20 minute drive from there to Sanquhar Station.

    This is what we are up against. The English class system is still a powerful force in the UK. No doubt the connections would smooth the path for all requests. The Masonic handshake is another factor. The SNP is under the influence of Freemasonry as well as being corrupt.

    I could post more but it would be censored and removed. Some of this might be as well.

    1. At the start of my working life I used to see people exchanging “funny handshakes” as it was often referred to. I never knew much about it and cared even less, but out of curiosity I eventually read a few books and concluded that was a ridiculous organisation. I know a few people who are members, but they don’t seem to have done too well in life.
      Nevertheless, secret societies are potentially dangerous.

    2. A little bit racist there: the class system is a British atrocity, not an English one – or are you claiming that all those Scottish lairds and clan chiefs were down with the serfs?

      1. Correct, Simon – the class system is prevalent throughout Scotland. I am not familiar with Wales so cannot comment on that country.

  10. And there are plenty of folks in the conservation movement who advocate the licencing of driven grouse shooting itself that would, most likely, be overseen by the shower that is NS. In light of this textbook example of a fawning ‘rubber stamp’ perhaps they will think again? Does anyone seriously think that NS would ever stand up to the bird killers?

  11. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in any proposed licensing system for shooting estates, does it? Not if this is how it would be run.

  12. Err, the licence for muirburn at Deadhills was dated 31st August 2020, and valid from 1st – 30th September 2020 inclusive. So just what is behind the requirement under condition no. 4 (the breeding bird survey). Now, either this is one of the many piss takes from Nature Scot, or else their staff are so incompetent that they think there will be lots of breeding birds on the moor in September. Okay, there will be some late breeders, but really…. Be interesting to see what Deadhills Estate submit in the way of results from any survey they have carried out.
    If muirburn is to take place during the breeding season (and of course it should not) then a condition should be that an independent body or person carries out the survey and that the estate pays the cost.
    This is a blatant example of Nature Scot ignoring scientific advice and public opinion. And not forgetting the looong list of wildlife crimes from Deadhills and surroundings. Well done for the Wildlife Crime Officer for pointing out to his colleagues.
    The species licencing section at Nature Scot have again “doffed their hats for the laird”. They may have changed their name, but not their tactics. Shame!

  13. It is beyond comprehension.
    How can this licence be issued with all the facts available?
    And how can anyone have faith in the Scottish government over this, or any other, issue concerning grouse moors?

    1. The SG seems to wallow in some very murky waters and do not appear to showing signs of addressing the problems ceaselessly detailed on this blog.

  14. Infuriating! What the hell are they playing at granting anything at all to that raptor sinkhole of an estate! Happy to contribute to a crowd-funded action against this decision!

    And Nature Scot? Seriously? Sounds like a member of a regional nudist colony.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s