How has the game-shooting industry reacted to the conviction of gamekeeper John Orrey?

Gamekeeper John Orrey’s conviction was secured in December 2021 when he pleaded guilty to five wildlife crime offences and four firearms offences. Sentencing was deferred until yesterday when he was handed a suspended custodial sentence and a small fine (see here) – nowhere near as severe as he deserved for deliberately baiting a trap to attract buzzards and then casually but brutally beating those buzzards to death with a stick as if it was part of his daily routine.

[Screengrab from the RSPB’s covert footage of criminal gamekeeper John Orrey killing buzzards at Hall Farm, Kneeton, Nottinghamshire]

At the time of his guilty plea I checked around the websites of the five game-shooting organisations that claim to have a ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution to read their statements of condemnation and see what efforts they’d made to distance themselves from this criminal gamekeeper, e.g. expelled him from membership (if he is a member) or blacklisted him to prevent future membership, blacklisted the pheasant shoot at Hall Farm in Kneeton, Nottinghamshire where Orrey is employed etc.

I found absolutely nothing about his conviction on any of the shooting org websites.

Perhaps they were waiting for sentencing before they took action?

Well let’s see. At the time of writing this blog, 24 hours after Orrey was sentenced, and with the story being covered widely online and in local, regional and national press, of the five shooting organisations claiming zero tolerance of raptor persecution, the National Gamekeepers Organisation has remained silent, the Countryside Alliance has remained silent, the Moorland Association has remained silent, and the CLA has remained silent. So has the GWCT. How telling is that?

The only shooting organisation to have published a statement is BASC, although it’s so weak and heavily disguised it really needn’t have bothered.

Here it is:

Note there is no mention of gamekeeper John Orrey or that he’s just been convicted of committing 5 wildlife crimes and 4 firearms offences on a pheasant shoot in Nottinghamshire. There are just generic statements suggesting, as BASC always does, that it’s a ‘tiny minority’ responsible for the wide ranging criminality found within the game-shooting industry, even though the most recent report shows the number of raptor persecution crimes is at a 30-year high.

Any casual visitor to the BASC website will struggle to know what the article is even about, and I’d argue that that is exactly what the BASC press team intended when it decided on what the headline and text would be. ‘Yeah, let’s make it look as though we’re condemning this gamekeeper’s actions without actually referring to him or his case or providing any details, because that would be too embarrassing/damaging for our industry‘.

BASC has added a link at the foot of its statement but this is a link to an article in the Newark Advertiser! No disrespect to the Newark Advertiser, but why on earth didn’t BASC include a link to the RSPB blog and the RSPB video? BASC even mentions in its statement its so-called partnership work with the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), a group on which the RSPB is also present, so why not share the work of an RPPDG partner that’s been at the centre of this criminal investigation, if BASC is genuinely interested in dealing with raptor persecution?

I’ll tell you why. Because the publicity about gamekeeper John Orrey’s criminality is highly damaging to the game-shooting industry’s reputation. BASC even admits this in its own press statement. BASC needs to be seen to be condemning the criminality because otherwise it looks to be supportive of the crime at best, complicit at worst, but it will go out of its way to avoid providing the abhorrent details that a casual visitor to its website will rightly associate with the game-shooting industry.

Orrey is the 4th gamekeeper to be convicted of wildlife crimes/raptor persecution since November 2021. The three others were gamekeeper Shane Leech (33) in Suffolk (here), gamekeeper Peter Givens (53) in the Scottish Borders (here) and gamekeeper Hilton Prest (58) in Cheshire (here). I didn’t see any publicity/condemnation from any of the shooting organisations in relation to these other convictions.

So why has BASC responded to Orrey’s conviction and not the others? Simply pressure to be seen to be doing the right thing, because Orrey’s case has been high profile and drawn plenty of media attention due to the brutality of his crimes that were laid bare in the RSPB video. That footage is shocking and has caused revulsion amongst the general public. How else do you explain BASC’s silence (and all the other shooting organisations’ silence) about these three other convictions?

I’ve asked whether Orrey was/is a member of these organisations and if so, whether he’s been expelled. I haven’t received any responses.

And what now of John Orrey?

We know that his firearms were removed from him by Nottinghamshire Police back in January 2021 when his house was raided but there is no indication that he lost his job at that time. Indeed, in court his defence solicitor highlighted the fact that Orrey had managed to go a whole year without killing any more buzzards (see here).

Orrey was (is still?) employed by Hill Farm in Kneeton, Ruchcliffe, Nottinghamshire. This is a working farm with an ancillary pheasant shoot. It’s been reported that Orrey’s role is a mixture of farm labourer and gamekeeper. His firearms certificates have now been revoked for an indeterminate period (it’ll be up to the Chief Constable to decide whether Orrey is fit to have them returned) and as a result of his fine and suspended sentence, it seems he will not be allowed to use the General Licences for two years until his conviction is considered ‘spent’ and he is considered to have been ‘rehabilitated’ (in the eyes of the law, at least).

This should restrict Orrey’s gamekeeping activities considerably assuming he’ll abide by the law (and if he doesn’t he’ll find himself in jail because the suspension on his custodial sentence will no longer apply). If anyone happens to be walking in the Kneeton area and particularly in the vicinity of Hall Farm (there are public footpaths) it will be worth keeping a look out to see whether any traps are being deployed to catch and kill so-called ‘pest’ birds such as crows, magpies, rooks, jays, woodpigeons etc. If you find anything that looks suspicious please report it to Nottinghamshire Police immediately.

“A shocking & unnecessary act of cruelty & violence” says Judge sentencing gamekeeper John Orrey

Further to today’s news that gamekeeper John Orrey, 63, of Hall Farm, Kneeton, Nottinghamshire was sentenced today at Nottingham Magistrates Court for battering to death two buzzards he’d caught inside a trap (see here), here’s a piece from BBC journalist Simon Hare on East Midlands Today. Hare door-stepped Orrey as he left the court today but Orrey refused to comment.

Tom Grose from the RSPB Investigations team deserves credit for his poise and professionalism in what must have been a harrowing case.

Unfortunately this short video will expire at 7pm tomorrow (Saturday 29th Jan 2022) so watch it while you have the chance. Starts at 04.40 min:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0013www/east-midlands-today-evening-news-28012022

Gamekeeper John Orrey, convicted of beating to death two buzzards, avoids jail

Press release from RSPB, 28th January 2022

Keeper caught on camera killing buzzards

A gamekeeper has been sentenced to a total of 20 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months and fined £1000 after pleading guilty to killing two buzzards on land managed for pheasant shooting after an investigation by Nottinghamshire Police and the RSPB.

Shocking footage was played in court, showing John Orrey, 63, of Hall Farm, Kneeton, brutally killing two healthy buzzards inside a cage trap, into which they had been lured.

The court heard how, early in January 2021, members of the public reported a live buzzard caught in a cage trap in Kneeton, Nottinghamshire. Following up the report, an RSPB Investigations Officer located the trap on a pheasant shoot. There was a live buzzard inside – later confirmed to be a different bird than the one first reported – along with the carcasses of a pheasant and two stock doves, used as bait to attract the buzzard.

Cage traps can be used legally under license for certain reasons to catch corvids such as crows and magpies. However the law states that traps must be checked at least every 25 hours, and anything caught accidentally must be released unharmed.

The buzzard was released due to concerns for its welfare and the RSPB Officer installed a remote camera.

A review of the footage revealed that the trap had been visited on several occasions by a man – later identified as John Orrey – driving a green 4×4. Two buzzards entered the trap on separate, consecutive days, no doubt attracted to the carrion in the harsh weather. On both occasions Orrey entered the trap and bludgeoned the buzzards to death with the long handle of a slash hook.

[Ed: A five-minute video of these offences has been produced by the RSPB’s Investigations Team. WARNING – it contains distressing footage]

Nottinghamshire Police were notified and swiftly identified the suspect as John Orrey, a gamekeeper on a pheasant shoot on the land in question. A warrant was obtained to search his premises. In a barn near his home was the same green 4×4 with a long-handled slash hook in the boot. The bodies of the buzzards had likely been disposed of. A forensic examination of the two stock doves confirmed they had been illegally shot.

Buzzards and stock doves are legally protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

Orrey pleaded guilty to all charges in December 2021 and was sentenced today (28 January) at Nottinghamshire Magistrates’ Court. In relation to the killing of the buzzards, for each bird he received an 18-week suspended sentence to run concurrently and a £500 fine for each bird. He was also ordered to pay £650 costs and £50 victim surcharge, and £180 compensation to the Wild Justice Raptor Forensics Fund.

District Judge Grace Leong remarked: “This was a shocking and unnecessary act of cruelty and violence.”

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “When I first saw the footage I was shocked and sickened. The birds were subject to a repeated torrent of blows before being thrown into the boot of a vehicle. This was clearly a premeditated operation and yet again illustrates that the shooting industry has a serious problem that needs to be sorted. Killing birds of prey has been illegal for decades, and yet it is still commonplace. Why? Clearly the punishments are no deterrent and the courts must look at using the full range of sentences available – including jail – to signal clearly that this sort of behaviour is simply not acceptable.

“Better regulation is needed too. The RSPB has repeatedly asked for the conditions on cage traps to be tightened. The UK Government must follow the recommendations of the recent

UN assessment, which calls for stronger regulation of the shooting industry and to allow for the removal of licences to use these traps.”

Chief Inspector Heather Sutton, Nottinghamshire Police’s lead for rural crime, said: “This sentencing is extremely significant and I hope it demonstrates just how seriously Nottinghamshire Police takes reports of rural crime and how we will work together with our partners to bring anyone committing these horrific offences to justice. It is unacceptable that any wildlife should experience the kind of ordeal John Orrey subjected them to.”

Orrey pleaded guilty to 5 x WCA and 4 x firearms charges:

• Possession of two dead stock doves.

• Intentionally killing a common buzzard on 8/1/21

• Intentionally killing a common buzzard on 9/1/21

• Using a cage trap to kill or take a wild bird

• Possession of an article (slash hook) capable of being used to commit an offence

• Failure to comply with condition of shotgun certificate (weapon not securely stored)

• Failure to comply with condition of firearms certificate (ammunition not securely stored)

• Failure to comply with condition of firearms certificate (weapons and ammunition not securely stored)

• Possessing ammunition for a firearm without a certificate

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, phone the police on 101, email RSPB Investigations at crime@rspb.org.uk or fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx

ENDS

I understand a blog from the RSPB is imminent, providing more detail and commentary than this press release.

I’ll post both as soon as they become available.

UPDATE 15.20hrs: An article in the Newark Advertiser provides more detail about the case and states that Orrey’s shotgun licence has been revoked (see here).

UPDATE 15.50hrs: The blog by the RSPB’s Investigations Team can be read here

UPDATE 18.50hrs: Photo of buzzard-killer John Orrey from BBC News:

UPDATE 19.10hrs: Wild Justice Raptor Forensic Fund helps secure conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey (here)

UPDATE 21.00hrs: “A shocking and unnecessary act of cruelty and violence” says Judge sentencing gamekeeper John Orrey (here)

UPDATE 23.00hrs: Coverage on Channel 4 News here

UPDATE 29th January 2022: How has the game-shooting industry reacted to the conviction of gamekeeper John Orrey? (here)

UPDATE 24th August 2022: BBC programme ‘Caught Red Handed’ features conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey (here)

Shooting estate admits gamekeeper responsible for mass dumping of shot pheasants

Following on from the disturbing footage released yesterday by the League Against Cruel Sports, showing an individual tossing dead gamebirds into an unused mineshaft in Powys, Wales (see here), an extraordinary admission has been made by the local shooting estate.

[Photo from a video clip from the League Against Cruel Sports, published yesterday, here]

Published in an article by ITV News (here), a spokesperson for Dyfi Falls shooting estate is quoted as follows:

All game shot on the shooting estates run by Cambrian Birds Limited is processed through a certified game dealer which then goes on for human consumption.

Cambrian Birds allow their keepers to retain a certain number of birds for their personal consumption.

We understand that in this instance the individual in question stripped the meat off the birds and thereafter disposed of the carcasses by throwing them into a disused mineshaft.

Such a practice is contrary to the company rules and procedures. The individual in question was severely reprimanded and no longer works for the company“.

Severely reprimanded?? Why the hell wasn’t he sacked and reported to the authorities?

Cambrian Birds Limited, the outfit reported to be ‘managing’ the shoot at Dyfi Falls, is worth a closer look. Particularly this blog written by someone who seems to know the local area well.

I’ve been looking for statements of unequivocal condemnation about this latest pheasant-dumping debacle from the major shooting organisations but at the time of writing I haven’t seen anything on the websites of BASC, National Gamekeepers Association, Countryside Alliance or the GWCT.

BASC is cited in the ITV news article but simply says it would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation and gave some general advice about the disposal of shot gamebirds. Why BASC can’t make a statement of unequivocal condemnation about those pheasants being flung down the mineshaft, I don’t know. The estate has already admitted that a gamekeeper from Cambrian Birds Limited was responsible so there is no danger of libelling the shoot or prejudicing a potential prosecution.

Countryside Alliance Wales was also cited in the ITV news article but again failed to offer anything more robust than a sentence of advice about how gamebirds should be disposed.

What a pathetic response from the shooting industry. It was suggested to me on Twitter by a former policy director at the CLA (Country Land & Business Association) that even if the shooting organisations did condemn it, the shooters/gamekeepers won’t necessarily listen. That’s an damning admission that these organisations can’t influence enough of their members to stop this appalling behaviour, in which case, as self-regulation is impossible then statutory regulation of the game-shooting industry should be imposed without delay.

In an article on today’s BBC website (here), a spokesperson from Natural Resources Wales said its investigation was ongoing.

UPDATE 1st February 2022: Game-shooting industry scrupulously ignoring the mass dumping of shot pheasants (here)

UPDATE 2nd February 2022: Awkward….(here)

Gamekeeper to be sentenced today for beating to death two buzzards in a trap

A gamekeeper will be sentenced at Nottinghamshire Magistrates Court today after he pleaded guilty to beating to death two buzzards that he caught inside a crow cage trap in Nottinghamshire in January 2021 (see here for previous blog). There are additional offences, including a firearms offence.

[Nottinghamshire Police visited the crime scene to collect evidence with the RSPB Investigations Team in January last year. Photo via Nottinghamshire Police Rural Crime Team].

I think we can expect to see extensive coverage of this case from the RSPB, including the video of the so-far-unnamed gamekeeper killing the buzzards, once sentencing has been handed down. I also understand there may be coverage on Channel 4 News this evening.

Video footage shows dozens of dead gamebirds being thrown into a pit to rot

Press release from the League Against Cruel Sports, 27th January 2022.

Damning video shows dozens of dead gamebirds being dumped by Welsh shoot

Damning video evidence has been obtained showing dozens of dead ‘game’ birds being dumped into a natural cavern on the Dyfi Falls shooting estate in mid-Wales.

The footage was captured at the Welsh beauty spot in Powys by professional investigators from leading animal welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports, which campaigns to end commercial game shooting.

The shocking incident has been reported to Natural Resources Wales and police amid strong concerns that the dead pheasants and partridges will contaminate water flowing into the nearby River Llyfnant, and potentially pose a risk to human life.

Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “The film shows bird after bird being casually tossed into the cavern, next to one of Wales’ most sensitive and protected pieces of land because of its range, quality and variety of habitats, species and geological features. This scandalous incident shows a blatant disregard by the shooting industry for this environment.

More than 61 million non-native pheasants and partridges are released into the British countryside every year only for them to be cruelly blasted out of the sky. That these birds are just being dumped shows there is no other reason for them to be shot other than for so-called ‘sport’.”

The two-minute video taken on a trail camera set up by the natural cavern shows what is believed to be a shoot employee dump at least 45 dead pheasants and partridges into the cavern, with more loaded up on his quadbike ready for disposal.

Chris added: “This isn’t a one-off. Earlier this year our investigators watched as a man threw dead birds into the cavern – the Dyfi Falls Shoot, run by Cambrian Birds, will have serious questions to answer about the potential pollution to this important site, not to mention the high levels of cruelty involved in the wholesale killing of these birds.”

The cavern is located next to the Pencreigiau’r Llan Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the Nant Y Gog stream which flows into the river Llyfnant.

The Dyfi Falls shooting estate is managed by Cambrian Birds in the Cwm Rhaeadr, which translates as Valley of the Waterfall. It only opened in October 2020 and has already been at the centre of local controversy because of the impact on the environment due to the high density of pheasants and partridges released onto the site and the ugly tracks gouged by the shoot across the valley.

The League Against Cruel Sports is campaigning in Wales for a ban on the manufacture, sale, possession and use of snares – brutal wire traps used by gamekeepers – and for a ban on the caged breeding of game birds.

Chris added: “We’ve seen in recent years reports of game birds being dumped, burnt or buried but never before have we seen a shoot show such a callous indifference to the environment.

We look forward to working closely with the Welsh Government to help eliminate the animal cruelty and poor environmental practices which are endemic to the shooting industry.

You can view the disturbing video here:

ENDS

As the press release says, this isn’t a one-off incident. Shot pheasants and partridges are routinely dumped (fly-tipped, essentially, leaving local communities to pick up the council bill for clearing them away). Examples in recent years have included dumped gamebirds in Cheshire, Scottish borders (here), Norfolk (here), Perthshire (here), Berkshire (here), North York Moors National Park (here) and some more in North York Moors National Park (here) and even more in North Yorkshire (here), Co. Derry (here), West Yorkshire (here), and again in West Yorkshire (here), N Wales (here), mid-Wales (here), Leicestershire (here), Lincolnshire (here), Somerset (here), Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park (here), Suffolk (here), Leicestershire again (here), Liverpool (here) and even more in North Wales (here).

It’s quite incredible that this is the same industry that routinely asks for licences to kill birds of prey because of the perceived threat to these gamebirds before they’re shot for a bit of a laugh and then dumped.

The gamebird shooting industry is barely regulated, unscrutinised by the authorities, incapable of policing itself and as such is out of control.

Well done to the investigators at the League Against Cruel Sports for securing this footage and reporting it to the authorities. I look forward to seeing unequivocal condemnation from the game-shooting organisations, and an investigation and subsequent blacklisting of whichever shoot is involved.

UPDATE 28th January 2022: Shooting estate admits gamekeeper responsible for mass dumping of shot pheasants (here)

UPDATE 1st February 2022: Game-shooting industry scrupulously ignoring the mass dumping of shot pheasants (here)

UPDATE 2nd February 2022: Awkward…..(here)

Lochan Estate says it will appeal General Licence restriction

It was good to see plenty of media coverage yesterday about Lochan Estate in Strathbraan, Perthshire having a three-year General Licence restriction imposed on it after the discovery of an illegally-killed hen harrier on one of its grouse moors (see here and here).

I saw coverage of this story on the BBC News website (here), STV News (here), in The National (here), The Herald (here), and on the Grough website (here).

Strangely, I didn’t find any statements of condemnation on the websites of any of the game-shooting organisations; you know, those organisations that have trumpeted their supposed ‘zero tolerance’ of raptor persecution when its politically expedient to do so but who never seem to step up with a public denouncement when a crime has been uncovered on a game-shooting estate.

I wonder if Lochan Estate is a member of the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates? Or whether its gamekeepers are members of BASC or the Scottish Gamekeepers Association?

[Hen harrier Rannoch‘s corpse found trapped by an illegally-set trap on Lochan Estate. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

I saw one statement from Lochan Estate, reported by the BBC News. An unnamed spokesperson is quoted as follows:

The estate categorically rejects any suggestion of wrongdoing in relation to the welfare of wildlife.

We made very robust representations five months ago and only received the notification this week, which we found surprising given the material we produced.

We will therefore be appealing this decision.”

There wasn’t any explanation about this illegally-set trap being on one of its grouse moors.

The estate’s appeal should be interesting. Let’s hope it’s as entertaining as the (failed) appeal submitted by Leadhills Estate against its General Licence restriction in 2019 (see here).

Incidentally, the information I requested about Leadhills Estate’s most recent appeal against the General Licence restriction extension imposed on the estate in 2021, is due to be released next week. Solicitors acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate have been arguing that the information should be withheld from the public (see here). Let’s see what NatureScot thinks.

Lochan Estate penalised after discovery of illegally-killed hen harrier on grouse moor

Further to this morning’s blog about NatureScot imposing a three-year General Licence restriction on Lochan Estate, a grouse and pheasant-shooting estate in Strathbraan, Perthshire, after evidence of alleged raptor persecution was uncovered (see here), NatureScot has issued a press statement that provides more detail behind the restriction.

Thanks to the blog reader who pointed me to the press release (which isn’t mentioned on NatureScot’s General Licence restriction notices page). Here’s the statement in full:

26 January 2022

NatureScot has restricted the use of general licences on Lochan Estate in Perthshire.  The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

Evidence included a satellite-tagged hen harrier, found dead on Lochan estate in an illegally set spring trap.

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.

Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s Head of Wildlife Management, said:

We are committed to using all the tools we have available to tackle wildlife crime. In this case, there is clear evidence that crime involving a wild bird occurred on this property. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the general licences on this property for three years. They may still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, although under tighter supervision. We believe this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime.

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.

Restrictions will prevent people from using the general licences on the land in question for three years. This period can increase if more evidence of offences comes to light.

See the full licence restrictions details on our website. 

ENDS

The satellite-tagged hen harrier found dead on Lochan Estate in an illegally-set spring trap is believed to be hen harrier Rannoch, according to a tweet by Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland. You can read about Rannoch’s grisly ending here.

[Hen harrier Rannoch’s corpse found on Lochan Estate showing her foot caught in the illegally-set spring trap. Photos by RSPB Scotland]

Rannoch’s satellite tag data showed she was likely caught in this trap on 10th November 2018. Her body was eventually discovered in May 2019 and was sent off for a post mortem at SRUC veterinary lab, which subsequently concluded:

The bird was trapped by the left leg in a spring trap at time of death. Death will have been due to a combination of shock and blood loss if it died quickly or to exposure and dehydration/starvation if it died slowly. Either way the bird will have experienced significant unnecessary suffering‘.

Does that mean it’s taken NatureScot over three years to impose a General Licence restriction on Lochan Estate? Or were there any further alleged crimes recorded there between November 2018 and now?

NatureScot’s press release doesn’t provide any further detail about any other discoveries, it just says, ‘Evidence included a satellite-tagged hen harrier, found dead on Lochan estate in an illegally set spring trap‘ (emphasis is mine).

I guess the FoI request I’ve submitted to NatureScot will dig out anything else.

I did have a wry smile when reading the penultimate sentence of NatureScot’s press statement:

Restrictions will prevent people from using the general licences on the land in question for three years. This period can increase if more evidence of offences comes to light‘.

It all sounds very serious and convincingly restrictive doesn’t it, but as I’ve already mentioned in this morning’s blog (here) Lochan Estate’s General Licence restriction can simply be over-ridden by the estate if they apply for an Individual licence which will allow their gamekeepers to continue killing wild birds such as crows, rooks, jays, jackdaws etc as if nothing has happened. What sort of sanction is that? A useless one. That’s not NatureScot’s fault – they have to work with the regulations they’re given, but come on, where are all the civil servants pushing for legislative change to close this gaping loophole?

And that bit about the GL restriction ‘can be extended if more evidence of offences comes to light’ – yeah, like the extension applied to Leadhills Estate that runs concurrently with the estate’s original restriction, meaning that in effect, Leadhills has only been penalised for a further 8 months, not the three years claimed by NatureScot (see here).

The system’s a joke and an overhaul is long overdue.

UPDATE 27th January 2022: Lochan Estate says it will appeal General Licence restriction (here)

General Licence restriction imposed on Lochan Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in Strathbraan

Scotland’s statutory conservation agency, NatureScot, has today announced its decision to impose a three-year General Licence restriction on Lochan Estate, a grouse and pheasant-shooting estate in Strathbraan, Perthshire.

The statement on NaturesScot’s website reads:

In line with NatureScot’s published General Licence restrictions: Framework for Implementing Restrictions we hereby give notice that a restriction has been applied to the land outlined in red overleaf. This restriction prohibits the use of General Licences 01, 02 and 03 on that land between the 25th January 2022 and 25th January 2025.

Please note that this restriction does not imply responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals‘.

NatureScot has not published any further detail about the type of offence(s) uncovered on Lochan Estate or the date(s) of discovery. [See update at foot of blog]

Whilst I commend NatureScot (and Police Scotland, on whose evidence the decision to restrict the use of the General Licences has been made) for imposing the restriction, it’s frustrating that once again, the detail has been suppressed from the public domain. It is surely in the public interest to know what criminal activity has been uncovered on this estate, even though the alleged offences can’t be pinned on any named individual.

I have submitted an FoI asking for these details and I’ll publish the response here in due course.

For those of you unfamiliar with the geography, Lochan Estate sits in the Strathbraan area, a region recognised in a Government-commissioned report as being a raptor persecution hotspot (here). Lochan Estate was also within the boundary of the heavily-criticised Strathbraan raven cull back in 2018:

[Map of the raven cull area in Strathbraan in 2018. Yellow line = cull boundary; white line = areas of driven grouse moor where the raven cull was permitted until it was successfully challenged by the Scottish Raptor Study Group]

This three-year General Licence restriction means that the estate cannot kill magpies, carrion crows, hooded crows, jackdaws, jays, woodpigeons, feral pigeons, Canada geese, Greylag geese, or rooks either by shooting, removing nests, pricking eggs, oiling eggs, targeted falconry, or by using traps to capture and then kill them.

Unless of course the estate has applied for, and been granted, an Individual licence, which permits them to do what they were doing before as if the alleged offences never took place. Great, isn’t it?

Way back in December 2019, Ian Thomson (RSPB Scotland) and I gave evidence to the Scottish Government’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) committee where we argued that General Licence restrictions were wholly ineffective as sanctions for wildlife crime, especially (but not limited to) this ridiculous escape clause of being able to apply for an individual licence (see here).

In response, then Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon said that the Government was ‘actively considering’ the need for further, additional sanctions (see here).

It’s all gone deathly quiet since then.

UPDATE 15.07hrs: Lochan Estate penalised after discovery of illegally-killed hen harrier on grouse moor (here)

UPDATE 27th January 2022: Lochan Estate says it will appeal General Licence restriction (here)

UPDATE 22nd March 2022: Lochan Estate in Strathbraan loses its appeal against General Licence restriction imposed for wildlife crime (here)

Cambridge University paper does NOT suggest that setting fire to grouse moors is good for the environment!

The grouse-shooting industry has a well-evidenced reputation for misrepresentation, whether that be of crime statistics, science, technology, opinion or policy, in fact anything it can distort in a desperate attempt to portray itself more favourably, it will do.

So it should come as no surprise whatsoever to learn that its latest warped presentation of reality relates to the misinterpretation of a new scientific paper from esteemed academics at the University of Cambridge, a paper which the grouse-shooting industry is claiming, falsely, supports the idiotic notion that repeatedly setting fire to peatland vegetation (muirburn) as part of a grouse moor management plan, is somehow good for tackling the climate emergency.

[The horrific sight of muirburn on a UK grouse moor. Photo copyright RPUK]

The paper was recently published in the eminent scientific journal Nature Geoscience. Unfortunately it sits behind a paywall but you can access the authors’ copy here and the abstract is shown below:

This is a review paper, technically demanding for the non-scientific reader, but the general conclusion is that in some environments (note, peatland was not the focus) fire can be an important tool for increasing carbon storage in soils in some circumstances.

Here’s how spin master general Tim (Kim) Baynes, Director of Moorland at landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates, misinterpreted the findings of this paper in an article he wrote for The Herald on 13th January:

The usual suspects in the grouse-shooting industry took this dreadful piece of propaganda and splashed it across social media, claiming vindication against the ‘antis’. The funniest line came from The Shooting Times who hilariously used this quote from Strathbraan gamekeeper Ronnie Kippen to ratify the Cambridge University research:

This rather blows a hole in the conservation charities’ lies about controlled muirburn“.

Actually, Ronnie, it does no such thing, as pointed out in this blog by Nick Kempe of ParksWatchScotland and in this blog by Dr David Douglas, Principal Conservation Scientist at the RSPB who says:

The paper is a literature review to understand whether fire-driven loss of carbon from soils through combustion, erosion and leaching could be offset by the ability of fire to stabilize carbon and keep it within the soil. The paper concludes that using fire to promote the stability of soil organic matter may be an important means for increasing carbon storage. But the paper focuses largely on savannah, grassland and forest biomes of little relevance to UK moorlands which are subject to burning. Indeed, the paper states that the way in which fire affects the stability of carbon in soils differs across ecosystems – in other words, the results are not automatically generalisable across ecosystems.

The enthusiasm with which the paper has been used by proponents of burning in the UK to justify its continued use on grouse moors is misguided because the review does not evaluate the framework in moorlands or peatlands more generally. In fact, the authors of the paper state that “in ecosystems with deep organic horizons, such as boreal forests and peatlands, the utility and feasibility of prescribed burning to manage SOM [soil organic matter] losses via greater stabilization is less clear“.

Despite these clear caveats, those who wish to burn vegetation in the UK uplands are using the findings of the paper, misleadingly, as evidence of the benefits of burning“.

For anyone who still thinks Tim (Kim) Baynes and/or Ronnie Kippen’s scientific analyses are convincing, it’s probably best to listen to two of the paper’s authors (Pellegrini & Malhotra) responding to a discussion on Twitter about the grouse-shooting industry’s misrepresentation of their work, as follows:

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