General Licence restriction imposed on Invercauld Estate in Cairngorms after poisoned golden eagle & baits found

In March last year a dead golden eagle was found face-down on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park. It had been ‘deliberately’ poisoned with a banned substance, according to Police Scotland, and two poisoned baits were found close-by (see here).

[The poisoned golden eagle, next to a poisoned hare bait. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

[Invercauld Estate inside the Cairngorms National Park. Boundary data from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website]

Today, 11 months after the grim discovery, the Scottish Government’s statutory nature conservation agency NatureScot has imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on part of Invercauld Estate. Here’s the press release:

General Licence restricted on Cairngorms Estate

NatureScot has restricted the use of general licences on part of the Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park.

The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds. This evidence included a poisoned golden eagle found on the estate in March 2021, along with a rabbit and a hare carcass, both baited with poison. The restriction will apply to the Gairnshiel and Micras moor on the estate, where the evidence of poisoning was found.

Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s Head of Wildlife Management, said: ““These poisoning incidents are appalling and an act of animal cruelty. The indiscriminate use of poisons is not only lethal to our iconic Scottish wildlife, but can also pose a serious health risk to people and domestic animals that come into contact with it. 

We are committed to using all the tools we have available to tackle wildlife crime. In this case, there is clear evidence of criminal behaviour. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the use of 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 on cases which may warrant restricting general licences. The detection of wildlife crime can be difficult, but this is the third time in recent months when we have restricted use of general licences on the basis of evidence of crime taking place. 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 wildlife crime.”

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out control of common species of wild birds, such as crows and magpies, to protect crops or livestock, without the need to apply for an individual licence.


Here is the map showing the restricted areas on Invercauld Estate. The restriction applies from 9th February 2022 to 9th February 2025.

This has been a long time coming for this estate. I wrote about it in May 2021 (here) and I’ll repeat it here.

Invercauld Estate and the surrounding area has been at the centre of many alleged wildlife crimes over the years, including the discovery of three poisoned buzzards on the estate in 2005 (here), the discovery of a poisoned red kite at the Spittal of Glenshee on Invercauld Estate in January 2007 according to former police wildlife crime officer Alan Stewart (in litt. 9 Feb 2022), the discovery of an illegally shot peregrine at the Pass of Ballater in 2011, the reported coordinated hunt and subsequent shooting of an adult hen harrier at Glen Gairn on the border of Invercauld and Dinnet Estates in 2013, the illegally-set traps that were found near Geallaig Hill on Invercauld Estate in 2016, the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Calluna ‘on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater’ on 12 August 2017, the opening day of the grouse shooting season (here) although it’s not clear whether this was on Invercauld Estate or neighbouring Dinnet Estate, the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘Blue T’ on Invercauld Estate in May 2018 (see here), the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Stelmaria ‘last recorded on grouse moor a few miles north west of Ballater, Aberdeenshire on 3rd September 2018 (see here), the discovery of a golden eagle flying around the area with a spring trap attached to its foot in August 2019 (here), the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier (Wildland 2) on Invercauld Estate on 24 September 2019 (here) and the discovery of a deliberately poisoned golden eagle and poisonous baits on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in March 2021 (see here).

I’m pleased to see this restriction finally imposed on Invercauld, although I’d much rather have seen a series of criminal prosecutions. The restriction will have very little material affect on the game-shooting activities on Invercauld because the estate can simply apply for an individual licence allowing it to continue its activities as if no ‘clear evidence of criminal behaviour’ has been uncovered (more on that ridiculous situation shortly) but it does mean the estate’s reputation is damaged and it also means this can be used to apply pressure on organisations such as Scottish Land & Estates and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, who both claim to have a zero tolerance of raptor persecution.

Will Invercauld Estate and its gamekeepers remain members of these two organisations?

UPDATE 7th April 2022: Invercauld Estate in Cairngorms National Park loses appeal against General Licence restriction imposed for wildlife crime (here)

18 thoughts on “General Licence restriction imposed on Invercauld Estate in Cairngorms after poisoned golden eagle & baits found”

  1. Should just be banned from shooting full stop. I find it hard to believe an estate thats already had dead eagles etc on its land will adhere to any restriction on shooting crows .

  2. Brilliant news that I pray will stop raptor persecution on the said estate but one of there big pheasant/ partridge release pens is in gairnsheil right opposite a prolific piece of grouse moor , fingers crossed but birds over guns brings in the pennies.

  3. Proportionate response my arse. It wouldn’t be anywhere, let alone in a National Park.
    Hire a footballer to film himself killing an Eagle, that should do it. How else will the public ever get to find out about this stuff? Aaarrrggggghhhhh!

  4. Invercauld Estate has been found to meet the criteria for General Licence restrictions “…on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.”

    This will have no effect on the ability of Invercauld to function as a shooting estate as individual General Licences can be applied for.

    The Scottish Government stated that it would introduce licencing for grouse moors in November 2020. We are still waiting.

    I would urge the Scottish Government to use this date as a baseline so that all General Licence restrictions imposed after this date would be taken into consideration when an estate applies for a grouse moor licence.

    1. Time to stop pussyfooting around and hit these estate owners hard. When legally protected birds of prey are found dead through poisoning or other illegal means, estate owners should be prosecuted – end of story. If the crime has been committed on their land they are culpable. Stop all this faffing around with licences.

      1. Mike,

        That’s not going to happen unless these offences are reclassified for strict liability.

        Currently, landowners can be prosecuted under vicarious liability legislation, but only when (a) the perpetrator has been identified [not in this case], (b) the perpetrator can be shown to have an employment relationship with the landowner [not in this case]. The landowner still then has an opportunity for defence if he/she can demonstrate that (a) he/she did not know the offence was being committed; AND (b) he/she took all reasonable steps AND exercised all due diligence to prevent the offence being committed.

  5. These crimes will continue until these estates are held responsible and prosecuted. Yes it may ruin their reputation but these precious birds are dying in vain.

  6. Publicity – massive publicity is what is needed to make a major impact.

    There are relatively few people interested in wildlife crime in this country and that allows the criminals and wildlife abusers to continue their evil ways with impunity. Simultaneously, it leaves the knaves in Holyrood and Westminster free to continue with their support for the rotters that execute or orchestrate wildlife crime. Make no mistake when deciding what constitutes “support for the rotters that execute or orchestrate wildlife crime”. Doing nothing (or being ‘neutral’) corresponds to supporting the criminals. There is no place for fence sitters and their ilk. Those that don’t declare themselves as being wholly on the side of those who are against wildlife crime can only be categorised as being allies of the scoundrels.

    Publicity example – there can be almost no one who has not seen or heard of the sickening violence dished out to a defenceless cat. It is still a topic on every news broadcast. The public, in their droves, are outraged and rightly so. That publicity is having a major impact and that will continue for some time.

    Clubbing a buzzard will not create the same noise as the cat incident, but if some help could be got or bought from those with advertising skills then many more people would be enticed to make their feelings known.

  7. It is not clear to me why the estate or gamekeepers are permitted to apply for individual licences and have them granted. Does Naturescot have to allow them? I would have thought that similar restrictions could be applied to individual licences because of the police reports. Could someone with a better understanding of the law confirm why this has been allowed in the past please?

    1. [Ed: Lizzybusy, I’ve deleted this comment as it’s not relevant to the Scottish system of General Licence restrictions]

  8. Is there any evidence to support the notion that imposing a GL restriction on an estate actually has any impact on the criminal persecution of birds of prey?
    If the perpetrators of wildlife crimes are willing to break the law in the first place, then why would they not simply ignore any GL restrictions?
    Who is to know what takes places in the dark corners of the moors, away from the gaze of potential witnesses.
    There may be some bad publicity for an estate which has GL restriction imposed, but can anyone offer any evidence to prove that a GL restriction actually stops criminal activity taking place?
    I suspect for most members of the public the concept of a GL restriction is pretty meaningless, so the effects of any bad publicity will be very limited.

    Is the imposing of a GL restriction, a bit like imposing bail conditions on an offender who is charged with an offence. There are many offenders who breach their bail conditions or simply re offend whilst on bail.

    What evidence is there that imposing a GL restriction changes the mindset of those who engage in raptor persecution?
    They are still going to perceive raptors as a threat to game bird numbers, and something which needs eradicating from the grouse moors.
    I remain very unconvinced that a GL restriction is a proper and effective mechanism to tackle criminal behaviour, as those who are inclined to break the law will do so regardless of restrictions. Restrictions which I am not sure can be effectively monitored out on a remote bit of moor anyway?
    Who is physically checking on what the staff of an estate on which a GL restriction has been imposed are actually doing every day?
    Does having a GL restriction actually stop game shooters coming to a particular estate, or are they more drawn to what an estate can offer in bag size or shooting?
    My suspicion is a GL restriction is nothing more than a paper exercise, and something that has very little effect on criminal fraternity responsible for raptor persecution.
    If you disagree please can you explain why???

    1. Hi John, I agree the GL restriction is only a token gesture on the ground right now, but the accumulation of these may well be significant as an evidence base, when one day there are government(s) in control with the will to say “f–k you” to the rich and powerful and to direct their relevant Department’s to do what they are supposed to have been doing all along to look after the environment throughout the UK.

  9. Thanks as ever to RPUK for documenting all these crimes on Invercauld over the years. Sadly, the regulatory framework only allows for these toothless gestures of enforcement. I’m sure NatureScot must be frustrated. Persistent criminal activity should indeed be treated proportionately – xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx How likely is it that Scot Gov will ever pass ‘proportionate’ legislation to allow for this? xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

    [Ed: Thanks Adrian. I’m afraid part of your comment has had to be deleted as it’s potentially libellous. Although I and probably many others would agree with your thoughts, as it stands there haven’t been any criminal convictions for raptor persecution offences uncovered on this estate, which limits the statements that can be made]

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