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)

17 thoughts on “Lochan Estate penalised after discovery of illegally-killed hen harrier on grouse moor”

  1. If the Scottish Government is dragging its feet on Individual licences (see previous post as well) what hope is there for grouse moor licensing. 15 years and counting, all talk but no effective action.

    1. The fault doesnt lie with individual governments, its with our archaic landowner system which still has its tentacles reaching into every aspect of government and society.

        1. Progressive indeed ………. looks like their idea of reform is to change things so that the attitude to killing wildlife is what could be expected in 1822. Perhaps they have been induced not to notice that we are in year 2022 when people arsing about with guns, snares and traps etc. should have been confined to the annals (or is that anals) of the countryside.

  2. The statement from NatureScot, is very clear- The decision to suspend the GL was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.
    The BBC report on the incident states – “A Perthshire estate has been sanctioned after “clear evidence” of wildlife crime was found on the property.”

    There appears to be no ambiguity in this- evidence has been found of criminal behaviour alleged to have occurred on the Lochan estate.

    A quick internet search reveals that shooting on this estate is promoted by Country Sport Scotland.
    I hope Country Sport Scotland are now going to do the right thing and cease promoting this estate?

    I also hope those that who want to shoot grouse are also going to carry out a little bit of research before deciding where they wish to shoot and spend their money.

    There is an opportunity here for the shooting industry and shooters to distance by avoiding shooting at estates where alleged wildlife crime has been detected.

    So, it will be interesting to see whether the shooters and the shooting industry put “their money where their mouth is”, and boycott estates where police evidence has uncovered alleged wildlife crime.

    Actions speak louder than words- so lets see what action the shooters and the shooting industry take?

      1. Thanks.
        This raises serious questions about the honesty of claims from the shooting industry of zero tolerance towards raptor persecution.
        Honesty once lost is very hard to regain.
        Dishonesty is despicable and a true measure of a person.
        We are all entitled to make mistakes and get things wrong, but there is no excuse for not being honest.
        If I am not mistaken, dishonesty and a propensity to commit crime are also intrinsically linked.
        Thanks for all your hard work in exposing all the different facets of raptor persecution- I just wish the politicians would wake up to the truth and deal with this abhorrence once and for all.

    1. HI John, I would bet “those that shoot grouse” will actually be thinking – ‘at least that one [harrier] won’t be around to come flapping across during a drive and spoil everything’. While the keeper wants rid of them all year round, your average Gun in the butts is only really acutely conscious of them if and when they compromise his red-letter day(s) that he has likely planned and prepared for and looked forward to for weeks.

  3. It really isn’t a penalty: where is the fine? How about land confiscation? How about jail for the owner under vicarious liability laws? Total whitewashing / gaslighting.

    1. Vicarious liability doesn’t apply here because the offender has not been identified and thus it’s not possible to establish a supervisory relationship between the offender and the estate owner.

      For clarity, according to the BBC report a spokesperson for Lochan Estate is quoted:

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

      We can’t accuse the owner of committing an offence because there isn’t any evidence of his/her involvement. People will have their own views on that, of course, but to express an accusation in public would amount to defamation.

  4. Apalling language and accuarcy from SNH! ” In this case, there is clear evidence that crime involving a wild bird occurred on this property.”

    Was it just a “wild bird” like a crow or a grouse?

    Or was it possibly a little more significant – say an “internationally important, specially protected raptor that was part of a national research project?

    Why on earth is our national conservation body down playing the severity and impact of the crime and using language worthy of SLE or SGA?

  5. I remember looking at these photos a couple of years ago, and thinking “blimey I bet that rusty old faithful Fenn trap has notched up a few kills in its time”. I wonder was it ever tested for the DNA of any other victims / species? That would be interesting. The SNH statement might tempt some people merely glancing at it into thinking it was just one naughty person who put down one trap. [Ed: sorry, Spaghnum, rest of comment deleted as libellous]

  6. Common practice in the industry.
    Walk on to most estates early,check the trap runs
    And you will get them all bang to rights.
    Land owners,managers to blame.
    Keepers are told no traps no job.
    This practice is endemic.
    Same goes for drag,fox hunting.

  7. The Estate should face a massive fine plus be banned for a year of any Grouse/Phesant shooting clients…. they must realise that killing birds of Prey just isnt on…
    Racehorse trainers have Training licences taken away….it should be the same for any Found animal/Bird cruelty….

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