More raptor persecution uncovered in the Scottish Borders

We’re still working our way through RSPB Scotland’s recently published twenty-year review (see here) and what a fascinating read it’s proving to be. We’ve already blogged about two things that caught our eye (see here and here), and now here’s the third.

On page 14 of the report, the following has been written:

Lines 5, 6 and 7 of Table 4 describe the finding at one site, in an area intensively managed for driven grouse shooting, of a set crow trap, hidden within a small area of woodland, which was found to contain two feral pigeons indubitably being used as illegal lures to attract birds of prey. Under a tree, only a few metres away, were found the decomposed carcasses of four buzzards that had been shot, while a short distance from the crow trap a pigeon was found in a small circular cage, with four set spring traps set on the ground, hidden under moss, attached to the trap“.

Here’s a copy of Table 4, with lines 5, 6 and 7 highlighted:

Nr Heriot 2014

Also included in the report is a photograph of the pigeon inside a small cage with the four set spring traps hidden under moss:

Pigeon in trap Heriot 2014

So, according to the RSPB report, these offences were uncovered in May 2014 on a driven grouse moor in the Borders, with the location given as “nr Heriot“. Funny, we don’t remember seeing anything in the press about these crimes.

Hmm. Could these wildlife crimes be in any way related to SNH’s recent decision to serve a General Licence restriction order on parts of the Raeshaw Estate and Corsehope Estate (see here)? Both Raeshaw Estate and neighbouring Corsehope Estate can be described as being ‘nr Heriot’; indeed, the recorded property address for Raeshaw Estate is given as ‘Raeshaw House, Heriot, EH38 5YE’ (although the owner is only listed as Raeshaw Holdings Ltd., registered in the Channel Islands, natch), according to Andy Wightman’s excellent Who Owns Scotland website. And according to SNH, the General Licence restriction order on these two estates was served due to “issues about the illegal placement of traps” (see here). It’s possible that they’re connected, but it’s also possible that these crimes are unconnected with SNH’s General Licence restriction order on these two estates because Raeshaw isn’t the only grouse moor that could be described as being ‘nr Heriot’. Unfortunately, the (lack of) detail available in the public domain doesn’t allow us to be conclusive. Perhaps there’ll be some transparency once the legal arguments (see here) about the General Licence restrictions have concluded (which should happen fairly soon). Then again, perhaps there won’t.

If these crimes were not uncovered on either the Raeshaw or Corsehope Estates, we hope there’ll at least be a General Licence restriction order served on whichever grouse moor these traps were found because there’s been a clear breach of the General Licence rules – pigeons are not permitted as decoy birds in crow cage traps; set spring traps are not permitted out in the open; oh, and shooting buzzards is also illegal. There should also be a prosecution of course, but that’s highly improbable given the track record of non-prosecutions for raptor crimes uncovered in this part of the Borders.

There’s been a long history of raptor persecution “nr Heriot“, dating back to at least 2001. Here’s a list we’ve compiled of confirmed raptor persecution crimes, all listed within RSPB annual reports:

2001 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot Dale”. No prosecution

2003 Feb: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2003 Mar: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2003 Apr: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2003 Nov: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2004 Feb: Carbofuran (possession for use) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2004 Feb: two poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2004 Oct: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2005 Dec: poisoned buzzard & raven (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2006 Sep: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2006 Oct: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2009 Mar: two poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2009 Jun: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2009 Jun: 4 x poisoned baits (2 x rabbits; 2 x pigeons) (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2010 Nov: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2011 Jan: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot” No prosecution

2013 Jun: shot + poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2014 May: crow trap baited with two live pigeon decoys “nr Heriot”. Prosecution?

2014 May: four set spring traps beside live pigeon decoy “nr Heriot”. Prosecution?

2014 May: four shot buzzards “nr Heriot” Prosecution?

Not included in an RSPB annual report (because it happened this year): 2015 Jul: shot buzzard “found by side of road between Heriot and Innerleithen” according to media reports (see here). Prosecution?

Interestingly, also not included in the RSPB’s annual reports but reported by the Southern Reporter (here) and the Guardian (here), a police raid on Raeshaw Estate in 2004 uncovered nine dead birds of prey, including five barn owls, two buzzards, a kestrel and a tawny owl, described as being “poisoned or shot“. In addition, “a number of illegal poisons were discovered but no-one was ever prosecuted“. According to both these articles, during a further police raid on Raeshaw in 2009 ‘three injured hunting dogs were seized by the SSPCA on suspicion of involvement with badger baiting’. We don’t know whether that resulted in a prosecution.

Also not included in the above list is the sudden ‘disappearance’ of a young satellite-tagged hen harrier in October 2011. This bird had fledged from Langholm and it’s last known signal came from Raeshaw Estate. A search failed to find the body or the tag.

Fascinating stuff.

SGA donor owns estate ‘among the worst in Scotland for wildlife crime’

SGA donors 2014 EdradynateThe Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association publishes a quarterly magazine for its members. The latest edition (winter/spring 2014) includes a list of recent donors. We were intrigued to see the following entry:

MDCC Campbell Edradynate Estate (Donation: £1720)

Could this be Michael David Colin Craven Campbell, who resides in Hampshire but owns Edradynate Estate? So why would this entry be intriguing? Why wouldn’t they accept funding from Mr Campbell, who was awarded an MBE in 2008 for services to charity, was appointed by the Queen to become High Sheriff of Hampshire 2008-2009 and has an entry in Debretts? No reason whatsoever to reject a generous donation from such an upstanding and distinguished gentleman whose Debrett’s entry lists ‘shooting’ and ‘escaping to Scotland’ amongst his recreational activities. Right?

Edradynate Estate near Aberfeldy in Perthshire was described in 2004 by the then RSPB Investigations Officer Dave Dick as being “among the worst in Scotland for wildlife crime” (see here).

In January 2005, the then Police Wildlife Crime officer for Tayside Police, Alan Stewart, described Edradynate Estate as follows:

Edradynate Estate, which is owned by an absentee landlord from Hampshire, has probably the worst record in Scotland for poisoning incidents, going back more than a decade. In 14 separate incidents since 1998, 16 poisoned victims (9 buzzards, 1 cat, 1 tawny owl, 2 sparrowhawks, 1 common gull, 1 polecat and 1 carrion crow) and 12 poisoned baits (rabbits, wood pigeons and a pheasant) have been found, with traces of the pesticides Mevinphos, Carbofuran and Alphachloralose” (see here, page 3).

These two prominent wildlife crime investigators were commenting following the collapse of a case against two gamekeepers from Edradynate Estate. In 2002, the Head gamekeeper and an under keeper had been charged with nine offences relating to the alleged use of poisoned baits and bird cruelty, including the use of spring traps. These charges followed a police raid on Edradynate Estate where three rabbit baits, a dead buzzard and a dead crow had been found. Lab tests detected Carbofuran and Alphachloralose. A game bag and a knife seized during the search showed traces of these poisons when swabbed.

On 22 July 2004, two years after the original arrests and 13 court hearings later, the Fiscal dropped the case following a series of adjournments called by both the defence and the prosecution. A Crown Office spokeswoman admitted that the time taken to prepare the case for trial had been a major factor in the decision to drop the case.

The 2002 raid was the second police search on Edradynate Estate. In Alan Stewart’s book, Wildlife Detective, he writes the following:

This would be our second major search of the estate under warrant and we hoped this time to find sufficient evidence to bring to an end the catalogue of poisoned baits and victims that had turned up on the estate with the worst record by far not just in Tayside but in Scotland”.

The crimes didn’t end there.

a dead red kiteIn July 2010 a poisoned red kite was discovered in the area (see here). According to Tayside Police, ‘five buzzards and a tawny owl met with the same fate in the same area in the last year’.

In September 2010, an un-named gamekeeper from Edradynate Estate, a self-proclaimed member of the SGA, talked to the Courier about the discovery of the poisoned red kite:

As a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, I am against anything illegal. Anybody who does this should be jailed because it’s not on and I have never done anything like this in my life. To find a poisoned bird on my ground is just wrong because I don’t use poison and wouldn’t know how to.

There is something funny about this and I think someone else has killed this bird and planted it on my estate. Why they have done that, I don’t know. We have never seen a red kite, living or dead, in the Strathtay valley so I don’t know where this has come from. The laird is so upset about it, as am I, because it besmirches our reputation and it’s reflecting badly on me.

I am a professional person and I have worked hard for all these years on the estate and never had anything against my name. This is causing me a lot of stress and strain because I don’t know what is going to happen next. I’ve never been involved in anything like this before.

It’s very reassuring to know that I have the full support of the laird because this job is something I love doing.” (see here).

In March 2011 two poisoned buzzards and two poisoned crows were discovered, along with two poisoned pheasant baits. Carbofuran was detected this time. Tayside Police conducted another search (their third on this estate?) and it was reported that a 62 year old man was taken in for questioning but was released pending further enquiries (see here). We’re not aware of any other media statements about this incident.

In September 2013, the Crown deserted a case against Edradynate Estate’s Head gamekeeper on alleged firearms and explosives charges. The reason for this desertion was not made public (see here).

Nobody has ever been convicted for any of the alleged offences on Edradynate Estate.

Alan Stewart wrote about a 1995 incident on Edradynate Estate in his Wildlife Detective book, concerning the discovery of a poisoned cat belonging to the occupier of a cottage on Edradynate Estate. A search in a nearby wood had recovered a poisoned pheasant bait and a poisoned tawny owl – later all found to contain traces of Mevinphos. A further search had recovered two wood pigeon baits and a poisoned sparrowhawk, all found inside a pheasant pen. They all contained traces of Mevinphos. Stewart wrote:

I visited a number of residents on the estate and was absolutely shocked at what I learned. According to the interviews I carried out, my suspect had, at various times, set up a gun with a string attached to the trigger to pepper with wheat any intruder who brushed against the string. He had allegedly driven into Perth to the workplace of a person who lived on the estate, to remonstrate with him after a pheasant had been knocked down and killed by the person’s car. He had allegedly poisoned a tenant farmer’s collie, and also shot dead the dog of a visitor to a neighbouring estate after the dog had run off and was being pursued by its owner. I was taken aback by the vitriol these people had for my suspect but their hatred was tempered with fear and all interviews were ‘strictly off the record’. All those I spoke to were in tied houses and none wanted to become involved in a prosecution. News of my investigation had travelled fast and out of the blue I received a telephone call from a former factor for the estate. He had anticipated the reluctance of those who could potentially help, wished me the best of luck, but doubted that my enquiry would ever result in court proceedings”.

A prosecution in this case was attempted but the case was deserted after it became time-barred due to a lack of available evidence to link the individual suspect to the alleged offences.

Alan Stewart wrote:

The following week [just after the case had been deserted] I learned that another employee had borrowed the suspect’s Land Rover but it had broken down. In his search for tools to repair it, he had lifted up the passenger seat to search the compartment underneath as the most likely place for tools to be stored. Instead of tools there were three dead sparrowhawks. I am sure this would have clinched the case but naturally the employee wanted to keep his job and his house and the information came to me via a third party”.

Stewart wrote about another incident in 2001 – the discovery of a poisoned buzzard on the estate that had been killed by Carbofuran:

The usual enquiries were made and the usual suspect interviewed, but his involvement could not be established……..In the investigations on Edradynate Estate, we could prove beyond reasonable doubt that baits and dead birds and animals were being found with monotonous regularity on the estate. We could prove beyond reasonable doubt that the baits were laced with particular pesticides and that the victims had been poisoned after having consumed part of these baits. What we were so far unable to prove was who set the baits”.

Eighth red kite to die in scotland from poisoning in 2001

Red kite

A red kite released in the summer of 2001 as part of a programme to reintroduce the species to Britain was found poisoned later the same year. The rare bird of prey was found in the Balmagie area, north of Castle Douglas in Dumfries & Galloway, and was the 8th red kite to be poisoned in Scotland during 2001. The bird was one of 33 radio-tagged kites released this summer in Dumfries & Galloway. It is the fifth bird of prey that has been found poisoned in the area after the bodies of two buzzards, a tawny owl and a sparrowhawk were found.

Also in 2001, a red kite was found poisoned in the Borders, and six red kites were found poisoned on or near shotting estates in Perthshire, Stirlingshire and Inverness-shire.


Red kites were persecuted to extinction north and south of the border and were reintroduced into Scotland in the late 1980s. In 2001, there were around 40 breeding pairs.

gin traps and a poisoned buzzard found on balmanno estate, perthshire

After several poisoning incidents in the Glenfarg area of Perthshire over a number of years, a buzzard poisoned by carbofuran was found on the Balmanno Estate in November 2001.

Tayside Police, the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department and the RSPB searched the shooting estate, as well as the premises of the gamekeeper, on 15 March 2002, under powers of the Food and Environment Act. On the estate, they found a freshly dead crow, which was later found to contain carbofuran. At the keeper’s premises they found a small quantity of carbofuran, a small egg collection and several gin traps with pieces of fur on the jaws. The keeper was detained and admitted that he had used the gin traps to take fox cubs. Admissions were also made in relation to the buzzard’s egg.

A poisoned buzzard

After many hearings, stretching back to an original trial date of 19 November 2002, the keeper changed his pleas to guilty. On 12 November 2003, at Perth Sheriff Court, he pleaded guilty to charges of possession of carbofuran in an unlabelled container, possession of several gin traps for use against foxes and possession of one buzzard egg.

The Procurator Fiscal accepted a ‘not guilty’ plea to poisoning a crow with carbofuran. The keeper was fined £250.


In Scotland, gin traps were only banned for use against foxes in 1974; in England and Wales, they were banned in 1958.

Gamekeeper convicted of poisoning 5 buzzards at tillyrie farm, perthshire.

On 21st November 2001, at Perth Sheriff Court, a gamekeeper was convicted of placing a bait containing carbofuran at Tillyrie Farm, Milnathort, Perthshire,  poisoning five buzzards and a carrion crow and possessing the banned substance carbofuran for the purpose of committing offences against the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. He was also convicted of illegal carbofuran storage under the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986.

He was fined a total of £2,400.

buzzard being mobbed by carrion crow

 At the time of the offence, the keeper leased the shooting rights at Tillyrie Farm and ran it as a pheasant shoot. Tillyrie Farm is owned by racehorse trainer Dorothy Thompson, who praised her gamekeeper by saying, “He makes a very good job of rearing the birds [pheasants] and wildlife on the estate has increased for the better”.

The keeper subsequently appealed his conviction at the High Court of Judiciary Appeal, Edinburgh, in September 2003. The appeal was unsuccessful and the keeper was ordered to pay the original £2,400 imposed by the Court.

Golden eagle found poisoned on Cawdor Estate, Invernesshire

Golden eagles run the gauntlet of poisoning throughout Scotland.

A golden eagle found dead on Cawdor Estate, Invernesshire, on 6 August 2001 had been poisoned by Carbofuran. The dead eagle’s decomposed remains were found by a hillwalker.

Cawdor Estate Factor John Higson and Head Gamekeeper Roddy Forbes denied any wrong-doing and suggested that the dead eagle could have been brought in by someone in their rucksack and planted on the estate to cause trouble. This explanation is commonly used by Alex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, to account for the numbers of dead raptors that turn up on shooting estates. Our sources suggest that recent DNA evidence has proven these claims unfounded.

Since 1988, there have been six other incidents involving the illegal use of poisons connected to the Cawdor Estate. These include:

1988: A pet labrador dies after consuming the deadly poison, strychnine, while walking on Cawdor estate.

1992: A buzzard, magpie and sheep all laced with strychnine are discovered on the estate.

1993: A buzzard found poisoned by the toxin, alphachloralose, on Forestry Commission land 100 metres from the boundary of Cawdor estate.

1994: Three buzzards and rabbit bait found poisoned by alphachloralose on Cawdor.

1996: Three baits discovered containing poisons: a hare laced with alphachloralose, a goat with aldicarb and a wigeon with strychnine.

1996: A hidden pit containing a suspected birds of prey poisoning kit uncovered by investigators three miles from Cawdor Castle.

1999: A report sent to the procurator fiscal alleging that mountain hares were illegally persecuted in snares.

2000: A second report submitted to the fiscal claiming mistreatment of hares.

2001: A dead eagle found on Cawdor estate confirmed to contain the lethal poison, carbofuran.

No convictions have been made as it has not been possible to identify the individual who laid the bait.

For further information:;col1

gamekeeper guilty of shooting hen harrier on Craigmill Estate, Morayshire

The hen harrier is the UK’s most persecuted raptor.

In May 2001, a part-time gamekeeper on Craigmill Estate, Morayshire was convicted of shooting a young female hen harrier. He pleaded not guilty to killing a 2nd harrier on the same day, not guilty to having both dead birds in his possession, and not guilty to carrying a shotgun for the purpose of killing a wild bird. The court accepted his not-guilty plea. He was fined £2,000 for killing the harrier.

In July 2000, the hen harrier nest had been under close observation by RSPB workers because eggs had been destroyed in previous years. They recorded video footage of the keeper as he approached the nest and shot the bird. In his defence, the keeper stated he had been attempting to restore the area for grouse shooting and he had shot the bird in “acute frustration”. There is a long history of hen harrier persecution on grouse moors in the UK, making it the most persecuted raptor in Britain.

Further info: