Mark Ruskell has submitted a couple of timely Parliamentary written questions on General Licence restrictions:
These questions are very relevant right now given the recent General Licence restrictions imposed on Lochan Estate in Strathbraan (here) and Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park (here) after evidence of wildlife crime was detected.
For new readers, a three-year General Licence restriction can be imposed on a game-shooting estate if Government agency NatureScot receives notification from Police Scotland that there is evidence of wildlife crime taking place on the estate but it is insufficient evidence to initiate a prosecution of a named individual.
The GL restriction does not affect the shooting of gamebirds on the estate but it does restrict the estate from undertaking any activity that would normally be covered by a General Licence, e.g. catching and killing certain so-called ‘pest’ species such as carrion crows.
Well, it’s supposed to restrict those activities, but in reality it does no such thing because the estate can simply apply to NatureScot for an Individual licence which allows the estate to continue its activities as if the General Licence restriction doesn’t exist!
It’s bonkers, and I’ve called it out many times in the past (e.g. see here, here, here, here) and I even gave evidence to this effect alongside RSPB Scotland and others to a Scottish parliamentary committee in 2019 (here).
I believe this absurd situation is a legal quirk, outlined in the proceedings of a Judicial Review in 2017 of NatureScot’s decision to impose a GL restriction on Raeshaw Estate. I don’t believe it’s NatureScot’s fault that this situation has arisen, although NatureScot could be doing a lot more to point out the system’s failings to the Scottish Government.
As I understand it, if a penalised estate isn’t provided with an opportunity to apply for an individual licence then the estate could argue the system was unfair and the legality of the General Licence restriction probably wouldn’t stand. If further wildlife crimes are discovered on the estate when an individual licence is in place, NatureScot can revoke the individual licence but the estate can simply reapply for another one. NatureScot may refuse to issue another individual licence, but then it risks a costly legal challenge.
I’m pleased Mark Ruskell has asked for clarity on this situation because it strikes me some clever legal minds should be looking to close this loophole so that when a GL restriction is imposed on an estate, it actually has a meaningful application.
I’ll blog again on this when Mark’s questions have been answered.
UPDATE 8th April 2022: Absurd & ineffective General Licence restrictions for wildlife crime are ‘fair and proportionate’, says Environment Minister (here)