Millden is yet another grouse-shooting estate to be sanctioned after police find evidence of raptor persecution

Further to this morning’s news that Millden Estate in the Angus Glens has been slapped with a three-year General Licence restriction after evidence was found of raptor persecution crimes (see here), it’s worth examining the background to this case.

Millden is one of a number of grouse-shooting estates situated in the Angus Glens that has featured many, many times on this blog (see here for all Millden posts).

Location of Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. Estate boundaries sourced from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website

Millden Estate first came to my attention in July 2009 when a young satellite-tagged golden eagle called Alma was found dead on the moor – she’d ingested the deadly poison Carbofuran (here). It wasn’t clear where she’d been poisoned and the estate denied responsibility.

Then in 2012 there was the case of another satellite-tagged golden eagle, believed to have been caught in a spring trap on Millden Estate before moving, mysteriously, several km north during the night-time only to be found dead in a layby with two broken legs a few days later (here and here). The estate denied responsibility and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association conducted an ‘analysis’ (cough) and deduced it was all just a terrible accident (here).

There have been other incidents – former Tayside Police Wildlife Crime Officer Alan Stewart describes ‘a horrendous catalogue of criminality’ recorded on Millden Estate during his time (see here). However, despite this history, nobody has ever been prosecuted for raptor persecution crimes on Millden Estate.

Today’s announcement from NatureScot that a General Licence restriction has been imposed on Millden Estate is the first sanction I’m aware of at this location. It has been imposed after three shot buzzards were found in bags outside two gamekeeper’s cottages during an SSPCA-led investigation into badger-baiting and other animal-fighting offences in 2019.

That investigation led to the successful conviction in May 2022 of depraved Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Davies for his involvement in some sickening animal cruelty crimes (see here). Despite his conviction, Millden Estate denied all knowledge of this employee’s criminal activities (here).

There hasn’t been a prosecution for the shooting (or possession) of those three shot buzzards, nor for the six other shot raptors found in a bag just a short distance from the Millden Estate boundary (here), and nor will there be, according to a statement provided to me by the Crown Office (here).

With this long history of un-attributable wildlife crime on and close to Millden Estate, the imposition of a General Licence restriction is welcome news, although in real terms it’s nothing more than a minor inconvenience to the estate. It doesn’t stop their legal killing of so-called pest species (e.g. crows) because all they have to do is apply for an Individual licence, which NatureScot will have to grant (although it can revoke an Individual licence if more evidence of crime emerges – as happened on Raeshaw Estate in 2017 – see here), and nor does it stop the legal killing of red grouse, pheasants or red-legged partridge by paying guests.

This photograph appeared on social media in 2017 titled ‘Team Millden’ and shows a bunch of blokes dressed in Millden tweed grinning inside the estate’s larder after a day’s grouse shooting.

I’ve written about the monumental ineffectiveness of General Licence restrictions many times (e.g. see hereherehereherehere) and my view hasn’t changed. The only weight that a General Licence restriction carries is a reputational hit for the estate on which it is imposed, which was the Environment Minister’s aim when GL restrictions were first mooted (here).

This is useful from a campaigner’s perspective because it allows us to demonstrate that raptor persecution continues on Scottish grouse moors, despite the absurd denials of senior industry representatives (e.g. see here).

But it doesn’t stop the estate’s business activities. You might think that others in the industry, or even elected politicians, would shun a restricted estate but that simply doesn’t happen (e.g. see here and here).

And nor is it an effective deterrent – Leadhills Estate, a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire, was slapped with a second General Licence restriction after ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime was uncovered whilst the estate was still serving its first restriction notice (see here)!

Given the current number of grouse-shooting estates serving General Licence restrictions after ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime was provided by Police Scotland: Leadhills Estate (here), Lochan Estate (here), Leadhills Estate [again] (here), Invercauld Estate (here), Moy Estate (here) and now Millden Estate (here), it’s clear that the Scottish Government’s proposed grouse-shoot licensing scheme can’t come soon enough.

There are strong rumours that the Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill will be presented to the Scottish Parliament before Easter and many of us are eagerly awaiting its publication to see the details of what is proposed and, importantly, how it will be enforced.

One thing’s for sure, it will need to be a lot more robust than the General Licence restriction and any sanctions, which should hopefully include terminating an estate’s ability to continue gamebird shooting during a determined-sanction period, will need to be deployed a lot quicker than the time it takes for a General Licence restriction to be imposed (it’s taken four years for the GL restriction to be placed on Millden Estate).

UPDATE 10th March 2023: Millden Estate says it will appeal General Licence restriction imposed after evidence of raptor persecution (here)

12 thoughts on “Millden is yet another grouse-shooting estate to be sanctioned after police find evidence of raptor persecution”

  1. The only answer, because they aren’t going to ban it, is commercial licensing which can be revoked on the basis of the civil law burden of proof: bankrupt the scum.

  2. Thanks Ruth for your information once again.
    It is sad that it takes so long to have these matters investigated and action taken. There is no doubt in my mind that we need to push NatureScot further and take away individual licences being issued to estates who have a general licence restriction placed on them. The present situation is a joke..
    The fight goes on..

  3. My God, that picture, those grinning faces. How the flying anything are such sick individuals even walking around being responsible for the horror they are part of. I am not of the same species as these things……

    1. Whenever I see a photo of a “big bag” like this I always see in my mind’s eye a second “companion photo” alongside it – i.e. a photo of all the stuff that was killed (sorry, ‘controlled’) in the preceding months / years to make the first photo possible.

  4. “It wasn’t clear where she’d been poisoned and the estate denied responsibility.”

    Has there ever been a case where an estate has acknowledged responsibility for a raptor persecution incident? Silly question, I guess…

    General Licence restrictions may be ineffectual but licencing of estates will only improve matters if the authorities are actually prepared to suspend licences when raptor persecution incidents are uncovered.

  5. In the last few years it appears to me that all the laws enacted in Scotland, apparently designed to prevent wildlife crimes against raptors have been almost completely ineffective. One might almost believe that those framing the laws were deliberately writing them in such a manner that they would be almost useless. It would be a shame if any new laws put into effect in future were examined by someone who does not participate in fieldsports, and had some input before they are enacted. Perhaps that is too much to hope for, but I live in hope.

    1. Surely what is needed s someone who DOES have knowledge of all the tricks of the trade involved in fieldsports to ensure that there are no loopholes to be exploited etc.. Whether anyone exists who would undertake this and report without bias is another matter. Like Alex, I live in hope.

    2. This is one of the principles of democracy.
      I am sure you are already aware that for a Bill to become law in the UK it has to pass through the parliament, in a number of stages.
      Initially there is a 1st reading when the Bill is introduced, followed by a 2nd reading when MP’s are given a chance to debate the Bill.
      After the 2nd stage the Bill then goes onto the committee stage, where a detailed examination of the Bill takes place, with inputs from experts, and any amendments are made.
      Following the committee stage the Bill returns to the House of Commons where MP’s again debate the Bill and can make further amendments.
      This is followed by the 3rd reading.
      If the Bill originated in the House of Commons it then goes to the House of Lords, where it again goes through a similar process.
      As can be seen there are ample opportunities for any proposed piece of legislation to be amended, and I would suggest those MP’s elected to represent the interests of certain sections of society, or members of the House of Lords who also represent those sections of society will try to introduce amendments which could make the Bill less effective in controlling the activities of those sections of society, especially if the Bill could have a detrimental effect upon those activities.
      There is also the fact that experts may have different opinions, and those who fear that any proposed new legislation might impact upon their activities will no doubt seek out experts who will provide evidence to support their activities, and thus attempt to get any proposed legislation suitable amended.
      Hence a legislation can become very watered down from the what was originally proposed.

      From what I understand of Scottish law, Scotland is slightly different in that there are 3 stages, the first stage incorporates the committee stage where the Bill is examined by a lead committee who also hear from experts. The Scottish parliament then debate the bill, which if successful moves to stage 2 where amendments can be made. These amendments are voted on by the committee responsible for the Bill. The Bill then returns to the Scottish parliament where it is again debated by all MSP’s. (- if I have got this wrong- please can someone tell me?)

      If we consider any proposed legislation to regulate game shooting, then if one considers just how many MP’s or Lords own land and shoot, then any Bill which might negatively impact upon this will face a very tough journey before it becomes law.

      This is why the timing of any legislation is crucial to it’s success, and I would suggest it would be pointless to try an introduce any legislation to control or regulate shooting whilst the Conservatives are in power in Westminster. It also might mean the proposed grouse moor licensing scheme might have a chance in Scotland, as currently there is a power sharing agreement between the Green party and SNP, who are probably less influenced by certain vested interests?

      An interesting matter for discussion could relate to the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the provisions for general Licences and game birds. This Act protects all wild birds and states that they cannot be killed or taken except in certain circumstances. The GL allows the killing of certain species of birds under the conditions set out in the GL. The Wildlife and Countryside Act also defines which species are game birds and these species can only be taken during the open seasons which were established by the Game Act of 1831. So effectively if someone killed or injured a game bird outside the open season they would commit an offence under the WCA. Likewise if a wild bird is killed or injured outside the terms of the GL an offence under the WCA would be committed.
      So, as essentially all wild birds are protected by the WCA, I would have thought that it shouldn’t be too difficult for parliament to amend the legislation so that any suspension of a GL would also be applicable to game birds, so that anyone wishing to kill game birds during the open season would then have to apply for an individual licence in a similar manner to applying for an individual licence to control so called pest species as set out in the GL.
      This could have a positive effect on deterring shooting estates from engaging in or permitting any activity which might result in a suspension of the GL, as the suspension would equally apply to game birds.
      It then raises the question as to whether game shooters would want to apply for an individual licence to shoot game birds on a particular estate which had its GL suspended, or would they simply take their custom elsewhere, to estates which weren’t under any restrictions and where game birds could be freely shot during the open season?
      This could effectively put out of those business those estates where there was evidence of criminal activity taking place and where the authorities deemed it necessary to restrict the GL.
      Food for thought?

  6. There’s simply no deterrent. Until that changes the criminals will continue with their sadistic practices.

  7. Appalling horrible people we have the same problem in North Yorkshire it’s heartbreaking and I don’t know how these people sleep at night our birds of prey are persecuted I am vigilant and we need the good people to keep up the fight . I support the league against cruel sport , animal aid hopefully good will prevail evil .

    1. Well said Karen, saw two red kites over Thirsk today but dont hold much hope of them surving in this area. !!

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