Last week I blogged about how NatureScot has extended the General Licence restriction on the notorious Leadhills Estate after receiving more evidence of wildlife crime (see here). The extension was supposedly for a further three years for alleged offences that were uncovered in July 2020, but in effect is only for eight months because it is running concurrently with the original three year restriction imposed on the estate in November 2019 (see here).
A few days after news of the restriction extension emerged, an unnamed spokesperson for Leadhills Estate has told a journalist at The Herald that the estate is ‘actively considering’ an appeal against the extended restriction and claims not to have seen the evidence behind the restriction decision. The link to the article is here but I’ve cut and pasted it below for posterity:
A sporting estate whose ban from shooting or trapping wild birds has been extended for a further two years has said it is considering an appeal against the ruling.
Scottish Government conservation body NatureScot has said that the restriction on “general licenses” at the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire will now last until 2023 after additional evidence was uncovered.
However, a spokesman for Leadhills has questioned the justification for the extra two-year prohibition, saying that it has not been shown the evidence behind the decision.
The killing of wild birds has been prohibited on the estate since 2019 in response to police evidence of crimes against wild birds occurring on the land.
This included signs of the illegal killing of raptors, chiefly three hen harriers, one short-eared owl and two buzzards, and the illegal disturbance of a wild bird nest.
Leadhills Estate encompasses approximately 19,500 acres, mixed between farming and grouse moors. It is owned by two Trusts, the Leadhills Trust and Glengeith Trust.
The estate’s spokesman said: “The estate is extremely disappointed by this decision and is actively considering an appeal against it.
“We have yet to see the evidence leading to this decision and have been requesting this information from the relevant authorities.
“Without that evidence, we question the justification for such a decision, which is likely to have an impact on wildlife on the estate.”
General licences are granted to 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.
The spokesman added: “There has been no commercial driven grouse shooting on the estate for several years and the moorland is managed on a care and maintenance basis.
“The estate has a zero tolerance approach to wildlife crime and has robust compliance systems in place.
“Employees are fully aware of their responsibilities with regard to the conservation of wildlife and we are confident that wildlife crimes have not been committed by anyone employed on the estate.”
It seems very strange to me that Leadhills Estate claims to be ‘actively considering’ an appeal at this stage. If you read the protocol and process used by NatureScot when making restriction decisions (and decisions to extend the original extension), you’ll see that there are multiple opportunities for an estate to make appeals and challenge the decision, well before now (see here).
Indeed, Leadhills Estate will be very familiar with this appeal process, having gone through it when the original three-year restriction was imposed in November 2019 (and it’s well worth reading the Estate’s appeal letter for it’s comedic value – see here).
It also sounds strange that Leadhills Estate claims not to have been provided with the evidence to justify the restriction extension. Again, have a look at the decision-making process used by NatureScot, particularly this paragraph about notification:
‘The Head of Wildlife Management will notify the owners and occupiers of the land in respect of which a restriction is recommended (“the Affected Parties”), in writing (“the Notification”). The notification will include a summary of the evidence on which the recommendation is based and will set out the reasons, the land to which the recommended restriction would apply and the duration of the recommended restriction (“the Decision Notice”). The possibility of a restriction being imposed will also be discussed with Police Scotland to ensure there is no risk to any potential prosecutions‘.
Given how risk averse NatureScot is, and its conservative approach when it comes to dealing with General Licence restrictions, I find it very hard to believe that NatureScot staff wouldn’t have followed the protocol and process to the letter.
It couldn’t be that Leadhills Estate is just grandstanding for the press, could it?
Time will tell. I’ve requested details of the correspondence between Leadhills Estate and NatureScot via a freedom of information request.