Leadhills Estate – General Licence restriction extended after police report more evidence of wildlife crime

Regular blog readers will be well aware that the notorious Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s, is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction based on ‘clear evidence’ of raptor persecution offences, including 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 (see here) and the discovery of banned poisons on the estate in May 2019 (see here).

That original General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate by NatureScot in November 2019 and is valid until November 2022.

[Chris Packham holds a dead hen harrier. This bird was caught by the leg in an illegally-set trap on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor in May 2019. The trap had been set next to the harrier’s nest and was hidden by moss. The harrier’s leg was almost severed. Unfortunately, extensive surgery could not save this bird. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

However, since that original restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in November 2019, further alleged offences have been reported and are the subject of ongoing police investigations (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 in July 2020 (see here) and the discovery of yet another batch of banned poisons, also in July 2020 (here). A satellite-tagged hen harrier (Silver) also vanished in suspicious circumstances on the estate in May 2020 (here), and although NatureScot don’t count missing satellite-tagged raptors as sufficient evidence for a General Licence restriction, the disappearance can be used as supportive evidence if further alleged offences are also being considered.

It’s been over a year since those further alleged offences were reported and we’ve all been waiting to see whether NatureScot would impose a further General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. Instead, the licensing team appears to have been focusing on helping out the estate by issuing it with an out-of-season muirburn licence last year (see here) and considering another application from the estate this year (see here). It really beggars belief.

Anyway, NatureScot has finally got its act together and has indeed imposed a further General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. Here is the statement on the NatureScot website:

29 September 2021

NatureScot has extended the restriction of the use of general licences on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire until 2023. The decision was made on the basis of additional evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, including controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

A restriction of the use of general licences was implemented on Leadhills estate in November 2019, in response to police evidence of crimes against wild birds occurring on the land. This decision extends the period of the existing restriction.

Robbie Kernahan, NatureScot’s s Director of Sustainable Growth, said: “It is hugely disappointing to have to be considering further issues of wildlife crime against wild birds and we are committed to using the tools we have available to us in tackling this. In this case we have concluded that there is enough evidence to suspend the general licences on this property for a further three years. They may still apply for individual licences, but -if granted – these will be closely monitored.

We work closely with Police Scotland and will continue to consider information they provide us on cases which may warrant restriction of general licences. The detection of wildlife crime can be difficult but new and emerging technologies along with a commitment from a range of partners to take a collective approach to these issues will help us stop this from occurring in the future.”


NatureScot’s Robbie Kernahan is quoted here as saying the General Licence restriction will apply “for a further three years“, which should take the restriction up to November 2025.

However, when you look at the actual restriction notice on NatureScot’s website, it says the restriction will extend to July 2023.

Eh? That’s not a three-year extension. That’s only an eight-month extension. I sincerely hope this is just a typo and the date should read November 2025.

It’s good to see NatureScot finally get on with this but I have to say that given there’s a need for an extension of the original General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, due to further evidence from Police Scotland about ongoing alleged wildlife crime there, doesn’t that demonstrate just how ineffective the General Licence restriction is as a tool for tackling wildlife crime??

I’ve written many times about the futility of this scheme, and have even presented evidence about it to a Parliamentary committee, not least because even when a General Licence restriction has been imposed, estate employees can simply apply to NatureScot for an individual licence to continue doing exactly what they were doing under the (now restricted) General Licence (e.g. see here)!

And although former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, who was responsible for first introducing General Licence restrictions in 2014, considered that it would work as a ‘reputational driver’ (here), I’ve previously shown with several examples how this is simply not the case (e.g. see here) and that a General Licence restriction remains an ineffective sanction.

Nevertheless, it’s all we’ve got available at the moment and on that basis I would like to see NatureScot now get on with making decisions about restrictions on a number of other estates, such as Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park where a poisoned golden eagle was found dead next to a poisoned bait earlier this year (here).

And Invercauld isn’t the only estate that should be sanctioned, is it, NatureScot?

UPDATE 30th September 2021: Extension of General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate confirmed as pitiful 8 months (here).

UPDATE 6th October 2021: Leadhills Estate’s reaction to extended General Licence restriction (here).

UPDATE 23rd February 2022: NatureScot refuses to publish details of Leadhills Estate’s general licence restriction appeal (here)

25 thoughts on “Leadhills Estate – General Licence restriction extended after police report more evidence of wildlife crime”

  1. General licence restrictions are relatively meaningless if they are going to issue specific licences and if they aren’t going to closely monitor the estate to ensure there is no non-compliance. There should be just a general suspension of all licences, including shooting licences if and when they come in.

  2. Licencing of game shooting long overdue. Hurt them a lot more if they were not allowed to shoot grouse for a couple of years – and much easier to monitor.

  3. Both the nature of the continuing crimes which come to light, and the number of crimes, portray the estate and all involved in DGS as sticking up two fingers to the law and all involved. It’s almost as if NatureScot needs prompting by this blog in order to get around to taking action, maybe they will now get around to following up others. It really is one enormous sham.

    1. An excellent suggestion, though I’ve no doubt that intensive lobbying would ensure that no such provision would be included in the implementation provisions of the licensing legislation.

  4. Please tell me if I am wrong.
    My concern is as follows:
    Does imposing a General Licence restriction, or extending an existing restriction actually stop the raptor persecution or other wildlife crimes taking place?
    From reading the report, it would appear that as regards the GL restriction on this estate, the original restriction hasn’t deterred further suspected criminal activity.
    Even if a restriction is in place, is the mindset of those upon who the restriction is placed such that they will go out and ignore the restriction anyway?
    Who is actively monitoring what activities actually take place on an estate which has a restriction in place to ensure that the restriction isn’t simply being ignored?
    (If we are dealing with criminals, who despite all the legislation to protect raptors are still capable of raptor persecution, then surely it is very doubtful they will adhere to any GL restrictions?)
    The notion that imposing a GL restriction is “reputational driver” is just nonsense. How will this deter criminal behaviour by those who clearly don’t adhere to societies norms and values, and probably place far more value on their reputation as someone who breaks the rules?

    I have to agree with Ruth that a GL restriction is most probably an ineffective sanction.
    (Someone who is quite happy breaking the law to the point that a GL restriction is imposed, will most probably be quite happy to ignore the restriction, and carry on with the original criminal behaviour which triggered the process in the first place!)
    This looks to me like a total failure to understand the nature of criminality, or by introducing GL restrictions it was simply another public relations stunt by politicians to pretend to be dealing with raptor crime and vested interests, but in reality turning a blind eye and in effect doing nothing to deal with the real issues?

    Far more effective might be a restriction on the right to shoot game birds, which hopefully would have severe consequences for the economic viability of a shooting estate.
    But will any proposed licensing scheme” be simple and robust enough to impose this sanction in the same way that NatureScot can currently impose a GL restriction?
    If it isn’t, and the processes of any proposed licensing scheme are complex and convoluted, then a licensing scheme could be as ineffective as GL restrictions?

    Which suggests that any proposed licensing scheme will have to be very carefully scrutinised to ensure it is capable of imposing proper and meaningful sanctions.

  5. Never been enamored with NatureScot as an effective body now I can include something else at which they are useless…….arithmetic. What a waste of tax payers money.

  6. It not only demonstrates the futility of the scheme but also the arrogance of and feeling of immunity, even when technically under scrutiny, from any meaningful negative consequences by the criminals involved.

    1. I am wondering are NatScot obliged to keep a record of the measures (eg unannounced site visits by their officers) they have taken to ensure the Estate has stayed within the rules? If they have done no unnannounced visits and long walks around the place then this is likely just a paper exercise – a small additional burden of work to the Agents admin team, and maybe a very slight tarnish to their reputation.

      1. I’m not sure whether they are duty bound to monitor compliance with the General Licence restriction, but they have to record monitoring visits to check compliance with the terms of an individual licence, if one has been issued in lieu of the General Licence. SNH claims that individual licence users are subject to ‘close monitoring’ and ‘tight supervision’.

        However, following an FoI request, SNH provided me with details of these monitoring visits at Raeshaw Estate a few years ago when the GL had been restricted and estate employees had been granted individual licences instead. The details demonstrated that these monitoring checks were not robust and could not possibly amount to anything like ‘close supervision’.




  7. Odd timing….

    If this had been announced last week then it could have formed the central theme of SNH’s stand at the Game Fair.

    It would have been a fantastic opportunity to hammer home the message to all of the killing for fun brigade.
    If they had wanted to.

    So its got to be assumed that they didnt want to be seen to be tough.

    Tells you all you need to know.

  8. NatureScot never seem to be all that enthusiastic about taking protective measures. They have to be dragged screaming. That can also be said about their lords and masters in Holyrood.

  9. What is the point in this GL restriction? xxxxx xxxxx appear to be rampantly illegally killing raptors. Does anyone seriously think that taking the GL away will stop these xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx from killing crows etc

    1. Richard,

      The purpose of the GL restriction is to sanction an estate where evidence of raptor persecution is provided by Police Scotland. ‘Sanction’ in this case simply amounts to estate employees having to apply for individual licences to continue the activities they would usually undertake on a General Licence. There is supposed to be closer supervision of their activities but in reality (e.g. see comment above at 9.32) this is not happening.

      The General Licence restriction is also supposed to work as a ‘reputational driver’ but as I’ve shown previously, this is ineffective (see link in blog).

      The only ‘good’ thing about the General Licence restriction is that campaigners can use it as official evidence to highlight that raptor persecution crimes continue, despite the barefaced denials from the grouse-shooting industry.

  10. This is simply another cosmetically ordered step on this bizarre dance between NatureScot and Leadhills Estate, where they feign to move in one direction only to find out it was designed to mesmerise the audience. Sadly it has the ability to grab punitive headlines but no teeth to inflict a warning of more to come. These headlines give the impression to those not fully engaged with the issue the impression that something is being done about the “few bad apples.”
    This has the potential to damage or weaken the general support to introduce new legislation with teeth and bends to the mendacious claim that it is only these “few rogues” who are causing this righteous group of bird and mammal shooters more cover for their activities than are justified. It might be worth a wee campaign to bust these myths in the eyes of the public and those not fully engaged. There is enough evidence around for those who know how it works to puncture this mythology and illustrate that in these conditions and circumstances everyone in the industry is implicated by their unwilliness to bear witness to these crimes.
    The recording of the CNP Committee meeting spoke volumes and, in my opinion, illustrates the fifth columnists in the ranks who are continually and disruptively working to maintain the Status Quo. These same people have been given a big voice in the Rewilding Circles seemingly due to their association as spokespeople for the interests of those who benefit financially from the crimes. This appears very odd to me as, even in the light of their denials, everyone and their dog knows and understands the exact nature of the crimes happening.
    Lots of changes on the go but I fear, given the power and influence of these shadowy individuals who support DGM’s and their practises, that a special case with special interpretations of laws and guidelines might be lying in wait for us … and real change missing from what I beleive will be a greatly reduced number of DGM’s in our Uplands.

  11. NatureScot (and SNH) is not an enforcement organisation and, with a few exceptions who are unsupported by more senior managers, is not staffed by people who are able to dispassionatly enforce rules and regulations. Assuming that this organisation is tasked with delivery of the Scottish Government’s estate licensing scheme then I don’t hold out much hope of any success with the current staff and management. New staff with the appropriate background, training and support will be required if there’s to be any hope of change.

    And while they are on with this, they could apply some leverage to the deer management part of the organisation which, with its predecessor bodies has wrung its hands over the past half century while the deer population has burgeoned and deer forest managers have gently patted its staff on the head.

      1. Thanks, Dougie. So xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx is ultimately responsible – shame on him !

        [Ed: No, Mobo, and that’s probably libellous. The ownership of Leadhills Estate is far more convoluted, with Trusts involved, as well as sporting agents. The role of the Earl of Hopetoun in the estate’s management has been discussed many times on this blog and it simply is not clear cut]

        1. … this has gone on for many years, will he not have had plenty of opportunity to influence had he wished. Surely he is raising two fingers just as much as anyone else in this whole debacle.

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