Absurd & ineffective General Licence restrictions for wildlife crime are ‘fair & proportionate’, says Environment Minister

The ability to impose a General Licence restriction on an estate where there is ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime has been an option available to the Scottish Government’s statutory nature conservation advisor (NatureScot) since 1st January 2014.

This measure, based on a civil burden of proof, was introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to the continuing difficulties of meeting a criminal burden of proof to facilitate a criminal prosecution in relation to raptor persecution crimes on game-shooting estates across Scotland (here). The measure has not yet been implemented in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

General Licences represent a relatively ‘light-touch’ approach to regulation, allowing persons to carry out activities (typically the killing of so-called ‘pest’ bird species such as crows) without the need for those persons to apply for a specific licence or indeed without them having to submit any records whatsoever of how many birds, and of what species, they’ve killed in a given period at a given location. It’s actually a bit of a free-for-all, enabling the casual killing of birds with virtually no oversight and just a few rules to follow about the type and specification of various traps and a list of species that are allowed to be killed. Conservation campaign group Wild Justice has been challenging the lawfulness of these General Licences for the last three years (see here).

[A cage trap used for catching multiple corvids at a time, which are then beaten to death by the trap operator]

The rationale behind imposing a restriction on the use of General Licences is that light touch regulation should not apply in situations where the regulator has “lost trust or confidence“.

Since this new measure was introduced in 2014, NatureScot has imposed a General Licence restriction on only a handful of shooting estates (and one unnamed individual in 2017) – Raeshaw & Corsehope Estates (2015), Burnfoot & Wester Cringate Estates (2015), Edradynate Estate (2017), Leadhills Estate (2019), Leadhills Estate again (2021), Lochan Estate (2022) and Invercauld Estate (2022).

I have been highly critical of the supposed ‘sanction’ that a General Licence restriction is meant to secure because I believe it to be wholly ineffective, for a number of reasons, but not least because the supposedly ‘sanctioned’ estate can simply apply to NatureScot for an Individual licence which then allows the estate’s gamekeepers to continue the activities that were supposed to have been restricted by the General Licence restriction! It’s utterly bonkers and I’ve written about it many times before (e.g. see herehereherehere) and I even gave evidence to this effect alongside RSPB Scotland and others to a Scottish parliamentary committee in 2019 (here).

In February this year, Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell took up the issue by submitting two written questions to the Scottish Parliament (see here). Scottish Environment Minister Mairi McAllan has now responded as follows:

I’m astounded that the Scottish Environment Minister thinks that this ineffective sanction is “a fair and proportionate response where there is evidence of wildlife crime“. Good grief. Really? She thinks this is a reasonable response to a deliberately poisoned golden eagle, found next to a poisoned bait, on a grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park?

Whatever happened to the Scottish Government’s 2019 commitment, made by former Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon, that the Scottish Government was ‘actively considering’ additional enforcement measures on wildlife crime, including whether General Licence restrictions are ‘as effective as they can be’ (see here)??

How about getting serious with estates where wildlife crime is discovered and imposing sanctions that actually are sanctions?

Otherwise, what’s the point?

8 thoughts on “Absurd & ineffective General Licence restrictions for wildlife crime are ‘fair & proportionate’, says Environment Minister”

  1. The situation with Naturescot is getting similar to (un)natural England. The Scottish government is starting to bear comparison with Biris and pals. Why? Even before they united with the Greens I had hopes that we could have good environmental protection in Scotland.
    Clearly I was mistaken.

  2. I wholeheartedly a free that as far as sanctions are concerned they don’t work for the simple fact they are not enforced, and all they have to do is request a license to kill again, it will never work.
    The only way to safeguard our birds of prey is to ban hunting and murdering of birds full stop.
    I personally don’t understand why there is still a culture for murdering slow moving game birds for fun, and indiscriminately killing birds of prey without a care in the word.
    And I understand even less why they feel it is necessary to kill birds of prey in the first place, game birds are not native birds here, but are good food for the birds of prey, along with rabbits, and hares, but all the native prey has been wiped out, so they don’t have a lot of choice but to eat game birds, so in effect the landowners have created a problem for themselves, but to resolve this small issue they just kill birds of prey.
    I honestly believe with all my heart that the landowners, gamekeepers, and wardens should be held accountable for all birds of prey killed, and a stiff centence needs to be imposed, for first offence the licence to kill game birds should be removed for 1 season, a second offence should result in a permanent ban.
    And a generous fine should be imposed, and all proceeds should go to protection of the birds of prey, and creating sanctuaries for wildlife, it is abundantly clear to everyone outside the game killing industry that there is absolutely no trust in them, and it is very clear that they are above the law, if they did follow the law without exception then there would be no issue, and harmony would fall upon the land, but pigs would also be flying overhead.
    The biggest issue is that many politicians, and members of the legal system like to kill game birds, and of course being the most affluent people they have the best lawyers, and the money to overthrow the legal system, personally I don’t believe that money should be a get out of jail free card, but it seems to work for them.
    If I decide to loose my mind and go kill a bird of prey I would be hit by the full force of the law, and would get the biggest fine ever, and probably a jail centence because I don’t have the money to pay my way out of trouble.
    Fox hunting was banned, so they found a way round it by using fake fox scent, but interestingly they still hunt the fake scent in the same place that they used to murder foxes, and unsurprisingly the foxes still live there, and accidentally the foxes get hunted down and killed just like before, but they claim accidents happen. If you train a dog to chase a scent, be it fake or real, it will chase it, sadly the dogs don’t know they should not be chasing foxes, because they don’t understand the difference, so again wealthy / rich people still hunt foxes, and get away with it, and all because the laws are not definitive, they are wishy washy, the same as for birds of prey, and game killing.
    Only true fix is to ban hunting of all types, or actually set up a rural policing system that is not flawed, and has the backing of government, but not controlled by them, because that would lead to the same issues, there would be get out clauses for the game industry, and for fox hunting, oh silly me we already have that in place.
    The rural police have their hands tied by politics, and politicians, oh and the criminal justice system, which is no longer fit for purpose, suspended centencing does not work, never has, and never will, it is just a badge of honour to thieves, they count the times they have gotten away with the crimes by how many suspended centences they have received.
    All traps, bait stations should be outlawed, along with interfering with any bird of prey nest and its offspring, if a bird of prey sets up a nest near or on a grouse murdering site its tough luck for the landowner, and all hunting, killing should be stopped until the birds move on.
    There is currently no system in place to monitor, or record what is killed, or how many, and it’s very likely that there have been many many more birds of prey killed than have been discovered, and many more buried without trace.
    An outright ban would fix the whole situation, and out amazing birds of prey would return to be found all over the UK, l

  3. General licences are an abomination: they are a killer’s / criminal’s charter: no real investigation of necessity, no control of its implementation, just slaughter of a wide number of species because the agencies cannot be bothered to do their jobs properly..

    Specific licences are a cop-out to keep the criminal classes happy. The whole things stinks of cynicism and corruption.

  4. This doesn’t surprise me one little bit. The pressure is off due to the short term co-operation with a faction of the Green/Rewilding Movementas the landowners seek to combine high income tourism by restoring small parts of the landscape which no doubt will be characterised by expensive accodation and elitist sports, with wild life theme areas looked after by a very different type of gamekeeper. Driven Grouse Shooting will be scaled back and will once again become the premise of the special few which political considerations rather than money will secure access.
    A return to the days of Brigadoon approaches if the leading lights of the Green Movement fail to understand the meaning, efficacy and success rate behind the phrase “A UNIFIED APPROACH” in an umbrella fashion which encompasses the whole holistic nature of the issue.
    At present it’s akin to what us Auld Scots called a “hayse” at a wedding — where small value coins were thrown on the ground and the children scrambled for them. Small issue funding have many of the “private green companies” scrambling for the pennies from the Government which will keep them in business.

  5. The SNP do not appear to be really that bothered about wildlife crime (depending upon whereabouts it take place, I guess). I wonder what they think about a degraded environment?

  6. The are so many things that are unfair and disproportionate about wildlife management. The whole issue needs to be subjected to moral and environmental assessment and firm action taken to align the management with public expectations.

  7. As ever this whole issue is about landownership and land management….the Law still seems to deem ownership as being above the power of government or even the justice system, that the rest of us are ruled by…mediaeval and just plain wrong. We are treated as ignorant peasants who cant be trusted with real power..in the countryside.

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