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).
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 here, here, here, here, here) 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)