Red kite found poisoned on Swinton Estate – North Yorkshire Police refuses to investigate

Last November I was reading an online article on the Teeside Live website about the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in North Yorkshire being dubbed ‘the bird poisoning capital of the UK‘ (here).

The article was illustrated with various photographs, including this image of a poisoned red kite that was reportedly found dead at Roundhill Reservoir, near Masham in 2021:

The given location caught my eye as I understand the Roundhill Reservoir is surrounded by the Swinton Estate, a notorious grouse-shooting estate that has been at the centre of police investigations into confirmed and alleged raptor persecution for years.

For example, this is the estate where hen harrier ‘Bowland Betty’ was found dead in 2012, later confirmed to have been shot (here & here) although it has never been established whether she was shot on or off the estate. It’s also where a Swinton Estate gamekeeper was convicted for twice setting an illegal pole trap in 2013 (here) and where another hen harrier, ‘River’, was found shot dead in 2019 (here). Around the same time as River’s demise, an unidentified gunman had been filmed with two dogs walking through a hen harrier roost on the estate (here). There have also been reports from local raptor workers of the ‘mysterious disappearances’ of many raptors on this estate for over a decade.

The owner of Swinton Estate is Mark Cunliffe-Lister, Earl of Swinton, who in 2020 became the new Chairman of the grouse moor owners’ lobby group, the Moorland Association (here). This is a high profile position and in recent years Mr Cunliffe-Lister’s estate has become somewhat of a poster child for DEFRA’s ludicrous hen harrier brood meddling trial, where the estate has championed the removal of some hen harrier chicks in return for permitting others to remain and to be diversionary fed by estate staff, although this hasn’t been without controversy either after it emerged that Natural England had appeared to ‘bend the rules’ in favour of estate activities (e.g. see here). Controversially, in 2021 a Guardian journalist described Swinton Estate as the ‘hen harrier’s friend’ (here), supported by a statement from Stephen Murphy (Natural England) about the estate’s head gamekeeper, “What he’s done for harriers, word’s can’t describe“. Murphy also claimed that hen harrier Bowland Betty had definitely been shot elsewhere and merely flew on to the estate to die – an unevidenced claim that was later amended in the article. Last year the estate won what was described as ‘a prestigious conservation award’ for its involvement in the hen harrier brood meddling trial (here).

So, back to that article I was reading in November 2022. I didn’t recall hearing about a poisoned red kite being found on the Swinton Estate in 2021 and I’m pretty sure I would have remembered, given the location, so I did some digging to make sure the poisoning had been confirmed and the location verified, just in case the journalist had cocked up (she’d already mistakenly described Nidderdale as a ‘village’ instead of a region so I couldn’t rely on her account of the poisoned red kite to be accurate).

The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), North Yorkshire
Roundhill Reservoir in the Nidderdale AONB

I found details about this crime on the HSE’s Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme spreadsheet, which confirmed the kite had been found poisoned on a Right of Way footpath in November 2021. The poisons found in the kite’s stomach included Bendiocarb, Carbofuran, Chloralose and Isofenphos – this highly toxic combination has become known as the ‘Nidderdale Cocktail’ as it’s so frequently used to kill birds of prey in this region, especially red kites (e.g. see here, here, here).

The red star denotes the approximate location of the poisoned red kite found in November 2021, close to Roundhill Reservoir and surrounded by the grouse moors of Swinton Estate

However, I couldn’t find any media coverage of this crime, nor any police appeals for information, nor any warnings to the public about the continued use of poisons so dangerous that some of them have been banned for years. Given that a year had already passed since the poisoned kite was discovered, I found this puzzling. So I contacted North Yorkshire Police’s rural crime team and asked them about the status of the investigation:

Here’s the astonishing response I received:

This North Yorkshire Police Inspector admitted that this poisoned red kite “unfortunately slipped through the net” but then went on to justify the police’s decision not to investigate by accusing the RSPB of failing to notify the police about this incident when the poisoned kite was first picked up. He claimed the police only found out about it five months later, in April 2022, whilst chasing the lab for the results of another investigation.

His allegations about the RSPB aside (and which I’ll come to, below), I was still stunned that he thought that launching an investigation, and issuing a public appeal for information, let alone issue a warning to the public about the use of poisons in the countryside, wasn’t worthwhile due to the ‘passage of time’ (five months), especially given the location where the poisoned kite had been found.

A couple of years ago a previous North Yorkshire Police Inspector had issued a public appeal/warning, ten months after the discovery of another poisoned red kite in Nidderdale (see here), so it seemed to me that there was no reason not to issue one after a five month delay.

I wrote back to North Yorkshire Police asking for an explanation:

Apparently, it wasn’t up for debate. Here’s the response I received:

Meanwhile, I contacted the RSPB and put to them the allegations this Inspector had made, that the RSPB hadn’t notified the police about the discovery of this red kite. It turns out those allegations were utterly unfounded/untrue. The RSPB DID contact North Yorkshire Police, on the day the poisoned kite was discovered, and took instruction from the police about submitting the corpse for toxicology analysis. Furthermore, they had the email correspondence to prove it:

So what are we to make of North Yorkshire Police’s refusal to investigate a confirmed poisoning incident (a so-called national wildlife crime priority), on an estate with a long history of alleged wildlife crime, that has enjoyed recent adulation from Natural England staff and the media, that has played a significant role in the hen harrier brood meddling trial, and whose owner is a high profile representative of the grouse-shooting industry?

Does Mr Cunliffe-Lister even know about this poisoned kite being found on his estate? Given the Moorland Association’s claimed ‘zero tolerance’ of raptor persecution, and Mr Cunliffe-Lister’s widely-reported apparent welcoming of birds of prey on his estate, I’d have expected him to speak out and condemn this disgraceful poisoning incident, as any decent landowner would. It’d be interesting to know whether North Yorkshire Police have informed him, or not.

Whatever, North Yorkshire Police’s refusal to investigate this crime is wholly unacceptable. In the first instance, I’ll be writing a letter of complaint to the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Zoe Metcalfe.

In her Police and Crime Plan 2022-2025 (here), she details an objective of ‘an improved [police] response to crime in rural areas, especially wildlife crime...’ as this had been identified as a major concern for North Yorkshire residents in the recent PCC consultation.

I would urge blog readers who reside in North Yorkshire to also submit a complaint and to request she conducts an inquiry into why North Yorkshire Police refused to investigate this serious crime.

Please send your (polite and respectful) emails to:

I’ll provide an update on this blog when a response has been received.

UPDATE 23.30hrs: Natural England’s senior management team has a lovely day out…on Swinton Estate!! (see here).

Reintroduced white-tailed eagle poisoned with banned pesticide Carbofuran

A young white-tailed eagle, released into the wild as part of a conservation reintroduction project, has been found poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran.

The National Parks & Wildlife Service in Ireland is appealing for information after the discovery of the dead eagle in November 2022 on land between counties Cavan and Westmeath.

Juvenile white-tailed eagle. Photo: Piotr Krzeslak

The juvenile male white-tailed eagle who was just over a year old had been brought in as a chick in 2021 from Norway under phase two of a national re-introduction programme (e.g. see here and here).

It had been fitted with a satellite tag prior to its release on Lough Derg in 2021 and subsequent monitoring showed the eagle had been spending time around Lough Sheelin in Co Westmeath with two other white-tailed eagles, but tag data indicated the eagle had become stationary in November.

The corpse was retrieved and toxicology tests undertaken at the State Laboratory confirmed the eagle had been poisoned with Carbofuran, a deadly pesticide so dangerous it was withdrawn for use in Ireland over a decade ago.

NPWS regional manager, Maurice Eakin, said white-tailed eagles were a protected species under the Wildlife Acts. The death of the bird last November highlighted “once again” the extent of the illegal practice of using poisonous material as pest control.

“In this instance, it is particularly disturbing that the reckless laying of poison has resulted in the death of a white-tailed eagle, one of our largest and most majestic bird species, which had been persecuted to extinction by the early 1900s,” he said.

The NPWS is seeking any information from the public in the Westmeath/Cavan region, particularly anyone who may have seen anyone or any vehicles acting suspiciously in recent weeks in the area between Lough Sheelin and Lough Ramor.

Over 100 white-tailed eagles, donated by Norway, have been reintroduced to the Irish Republic since 2007, with the first successful breeding taking place in 2012 and there have been many successes over the last decade, bringing biodiversity and ecosystem benefits as well as a boost to local economies via ecotourism.

However, a scientific review of the reintroduction project in 2019 indicated that the small population was still vulnerable to illegal poisoning events so additional eagles have been reintroduced as part of phase two of the reintroduction to help bolster the population. It’s sadly ironic that one of those eagles has become the latest poisoning victim.

Raven poisoned with banned chemicals – Police Scotland withhold information

Last month I wrote about a poisoned red kite that had been found dead on a grouse moor, next to a poisoned bait (a Lapwing), and how Police Scotland had deliberately withheld the details of this crime for over 18 months (see here).

Now there’s another poisoning crime where Police Scotland has deliberately withheld information from the public. This time it’s a poisoned raven, and this time Police Scotland has been nothing short of obstructive when I started to ask questions about it.

A poisoned raven (file copy, photographer unknown)

I found out about this poisoned raven after stumbling across an entry on the database published by the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS), back in November 2022. The details were as follows:

‘Ref #21094. Raven, found April 2021. Lothian. Category: Abuse. Pesticide(s) involved: Carbofuran, Isofenphos. Case information: Despite extensive enquiries and property searches the investigation carried out by Police Scotland into the illegal poisoning of this raven failed to identify a suspect for the crime and the case is now closed‘.

This incident jumped out at me given that one of the poisons used was Carbofuran – a pesticide so dangerously toxic (to both humans and wildlife) that even possessing it, let alone placing it out in the open on a bait, has been an offence in Scotland since 2005 (Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005). The combination of Carbofuran with Isofenphos has been used frequently in the illegal poisoning of birds of prey for years, notably by the game-shooting sector.

I didn’t recall seeing any media about this particular poisoning crime, and the Scottish Government’s annual wildlife crime report is so far behind the curve that we won’t see details of anything found in April 2021 until 2024(!), so I asked a couple of officers from Police Scotland what they could tell me about the case.

Both officers told me that they weren’t allowed to comment, and that I should direct my enquiries to Police Scotland’s media communications team. So I did.

I emailed the news desk and asked for details, giving them all the info that I’d read on the WIIS database.

No reply.

I followed up eight days later to ask again. Here’s the response:

Good morning Ruth, we have been trying to track this one down for you. Apologies, but I need a bit more information. Unfortunately the incident number is not one we use on our systems so that has not enabled me to find it.

Are you able to provide a date in April when this was reported to police. I am afraid it is for the media to provide us with a location rather than the other way round so if you can narrow it down for me please – Lothian is not a county in Scotland – we have East Lothian, West Lothian and Midlothian, so a more accurate location would be helpful at our end“.

Eh? How many poisoned ravens were found in Lothian in April 2021 that triggered a police search? Surely there can’t be that many? And how am I supposed to know the location of this crime when it hasn’t even been publicised?! I wrote back to this effect, and suggested that the media officer could simply ask the Lothian & Borders Wildlife Crime Officer for details, given that his ‘patch’ covers East, West and Midlothian.

Here’s the response I received:

Hi again Ruth, sorry but I really do need to know a more accurate location. As mentioned we have East Lothian, West Lothian and Midlothian. Or if you have the name of a town nearest to where this is supposed to have happened. To speak to officers to find out more I need to know where. Please get back to me when you have that information“.

Needless to say, I was less than impressed. This is a serious wildlife crime, supposedly a national wildlife crime priority, involving the use of a highly toxic poison of which just a few granules could kill a human should they come into contact with it. It seemed to me that Police Scotland’s media team was being deliberately obstructive in releasing any information about it. Not even an appeal for information or a warning to the public that this poison had been used in the area.

I wrote back, asking the media officer where he might suggest I find a more detailed location to help him find the case, given that Police Officers had been directed not to comment about it? I also indicated that I was considering submitting a formal complaint.

Four days later, a different media officer contacted me with the following statement:

Hi Ruth, Regarding your previous enquiry please see our statement below:

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We received a report of a poisoned raven in the East Lothian area on Monday, 5 April, 2021. Extensive enquiries have been carried out. Any new information will be thoroughly investigated and anyone with new information should contact police on 101 quoting incident 1314 of 5 April, 2021.”

I really don’t know what’s going on with Police Scotland. They have some fantastic wildlife crime officers on the ground, many of them going above and beyond in their investigations to bring the raptor killers to justice, but they, and we, are being badly let down by the Force’s upper hierarchy who have clearly made a decision about withholding serious wildlife crime news from the public.

Why is that? Who benefits from such censorship?

As I wrote a few months ago on the withheld news of the poisoned red kite found on a Scottish grouse moor, news that Police Scotland had kept hidden for 18 months (here), I don’t understand the rationale at all. Certainly, in the early stages of an investigation it often pays for details to be withheld so as not to compromise searches etc. But 19 months (in the poisoned raven case) after the crime is discovered? It doesn’t make sense, and all it does is undermine public confidence, which really isn’t helpful when Police Scotland needs the public onside to report suspected wildlife crimes.

By the way, according to the WIIS database, a ‘suspected bait’ categorised as ‘abuse’ (name of chemical withheld) was discovered in Lothian in March 2021. The case notes say: ‘This incident is the subject of an ongoing Police Scotland investigation’.

So a poisoned bait was found one month prior to the poisoned raven. Are these crimes linked? Or is there another undisclosed location in ‘Lothian’ where deadly poisons are being laid out?

Where is the warning to both locals and visitors to the area from Police Scotland about this serious threat to public safety?

An MSP is currently in the process of asking formal questions about this ongoing censorship. Watch this space.

No prosecution for shot raptors found on Millden Estate, Angus Glens

On 8th October 2019, the Scottish SPCA executed a search warrant with Police Scotland on various properties on Millden Estate in the Angus Glens looking for evidence of animal cruelty and animal fighting, including badger baiting, after 58 gruesome photographs were reportedly sent to a printing shop in England by a Millden Estate employee.

Millden Estate is known for its grouse shooting (having been described in a sales brochure in 2011 as being ‘The Holy Grail‘ of grouse moors and ‘One of the finest sporting estates in Scotland‘) The estate also hosts pheasant and partridge-shooting on its low ground.

Millden Estate has also been described as a ‘savage, stripped, blasted land‘ by author and photographer Chris Townsend (here).

Millden Estate gamekeepers, along with others in the Angus Glens, have previously been feted by senior politicians, including former Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Fergus Ewing MSP, former Minister Graeme Dey MSP, and by Prince Charles who was photographed with Millden keepers as he opened a tweed workshop in Beauly in 2019.

Millden Estate was also visited by Professor Werritty and his colleagues in 2018 during the review of grouse moor management; they visited the estate apparently to see an example of ‘best practice for managing grouse moors’.

The estate, one of a number in the Angus Glens, is also long- known amongst conservationists as a raptor persecution hotspot after the discovery of poisoned and shot buzzards in 2009 and 2011 (here), a poisoned golden eagle (Alma) in 2009 (here), and a satellite-tagged golden eagle seemingly caught in a spring trap and then apparently uplifted overnight and dumped on Deeside with two broken legs & left to die (here). Nobody has ever been prosecuted for any of these alleged offences and Millden Estate has denied any responsibility.

In October 2019 during the morning raid at Millden Estate the SSPCA did find evidence of animal fighting and cruelty, including badger baiting, and after two and a half years of protracted legal process, in May this year 28 year old gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies was convicted of a number of animal cruelty, animal fighting, and firearms offences: (for previous blogs on this case see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). Davies is due to be sentenced on Monday.

Other evidence of alleged wildlife crime was also uncovered during that search of Millden Estate back in October 2019, including the discovery of a number of dead raptors wrapped in bags at at least three separate locations, apparently including at the residences of two estate employees.

Whilst the SSPCA led on the investigation into animal cruelty/animal fighting, Police Scotland led on the investigation into the dead raptors (because the SSPCA don’t, yet, have the powers to investigate cases where a wild animal is already dead – bonkers, I know – see here for the background on this).

I have spent the last two and a half years chasing Police Scotland about these dead raptors and asking for status updates on the investigation. I have to say I’ve been summarily unimpressed. The investigation has been conducted at a snail’s pace and communication has been dire. I understand that the dead raptors all underwent post mortems and it was determined they’d been shot. No information has been provided about the number of species involved (although it’s been reported that some were buzzards), nor the number of individuals confirmed to have been shot, although I know of at least three.

Earlier this week I asked the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) about this case and whether it was progressing (i.e. has anyone been charged?). To its credit, the COPFS response was fast, but the case outcome familiarly frustrating:

The Procurator Fiscal received a report relating to a 28 year old male and incidents said to have occurred between 1 January 2019 and 8 October 2019. After careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the available admissible evidence, the Procurator Fiscal decided that there should be no proceedings taken at this time. The Crown reserves the right to proceed in the future should further evidence become available‘.

I doubt we’ll ever be informed about the extent of the raptor persecution uncovered (even now, nearly three years after the raptor corpses were found, Police Scotland has failed to issue any press statement) and we’ll certainly not learn any more detail about why charges weren’t brought because the COPFS is not obliged to inform the public about its decision-making process. Apparently transparency doesn’t apply.

To be fair, a prosecution would depend on an individual suspect being identified but there are multiple employees at Millden Estate (16 were listed in the estate’s sales brochure in 2011) and a recent photo on social media suggests there are multiple gamekeepers (there’s a photo online showing 13 men dressed as gamekeepers in Millden Estate tweed at the start of the 2020 grouse season).

I think it’s fair to say that any employee could have the motivation, means and opportunity to commit wildlife crime – we now know that at least one of them, Rhys Owen Davies, was doing exactly that, apparently right under the noses of his colleagues and bosses on Millden Estate – but just having the motivation, means and opportunity isn’t sufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution. Having a carrier bag full of shot raptors at your house isn’t enough for a court of law to convict, although if there was a bag of dead raptors at my house I’m pretty sure I’d notice them and I’m pretty certain I’d have notified the police.

So where does that leave us? We await the sentencing of gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies on Monday but I don’t expect any of us have high hopes for a fitting sentence.

Millden Estate must surely now qualify for a General Licence restriction, a monumentally ineffective sanction but the only thing left on the table until the Scottish Government pulls its finger out and introduces the licensing scheme it promised to develop in November 2020.

But even if the authorities do decide to impose a General Licence restriction on Millden Estate, that won’t curtail the estate’s ability to continue to host grouse, pheasant and partridge shoots. The estate, which is run through a series of companies and limited liability partnerships (LLPs), including one called Millden Sporting LLP, reported tangible assets in 2021 of £17.5 million.

That’s a lot of money, and with it comes a lot of influence.

UPDATE 30th August 2022: 3 shot buzzards found on Millden Estate – confirmation from Police Scotland (here)

Farmer receives pathetic fine for poisoning two buzzards & a raven

This article appeared in The Journal today:

Farmer fined €500 for poisoning protected bird species in Co Wicklow

By Lauren Boland

A FARMER HAS been fined for poisoning protected birds in Co Wicklow after pleading guilty to what a judge described as a “serious crime”.

Christopher Thomas Noel Doyle, also known as Noel Doyle Senior, with an address at Crehelp in Co Wicklow, came before the Carlow District Court over a breach of restrictions on the use of poisoned bait.

The judge imposed a €500 fine and €1,500 in expenses that he must pay within four months.

A conservation ranger told the court he had discovered two dead buzzards, a dead raven, and a sheep carcass on lands at Athgreaney, Co Wicklow.

[Buzzard, photographer unknown]

The court heard that the ranger first found a dead buzzard and after further investigation identified a second dead buzzard, a dead raven, and a sheep carcass placed near a fox den.

Post-mortems by the Department of Agriculture and testing by Dublin Regional Veterinary Laboratory and the State Laboratory found that the birds died due to high levels of poison (carbofuran) in their systems.

The sheep had been cut open and the wound was laced with large amounts of carbofuran.

The ranger said that the levels of poison were extremely hazardous to all forms of life and that it was very fortunate that no humans had been accidentally poisoned.

He said it was likely that other wild animals had scavenged the carcasses and died from poisoning but were never found. 

Judge Marie Keane said there was an “astonishing amount of poison” used in what she described as a “serious crime” and “a deliberate enterprise” to try to persecute the local wildlife.

In a statement, Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan called it a “particularly heinous and disturbing wildlife crime”.

Buzzards are a protected species and deliberate poisoning of them is an offence under the Birds and Natural Habitats (Restrictions on the Use of Poisoned Bait) Regulations 2010.

Carbofuran was previously used as a pesticide in agriculture but is now banned because of its toxicity to wildlife, especially to birds.

Approval for the use of carbofuran products was withdrawn throughout the EU in 2007, including in Ireland in December of that year.

After an 18-month period to use up remaining stock, it was banned fully from 2009.


Leadhills Estate – General Licence restriction extended after police report more evidence of wildlife crime

Regular blog readers will be well aware that the notorious Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s, is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction based on ‘clear evidence’ of raptor persecution offences, including the illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (see here) and the discovery of banned poisons on the estate in May 2019 (see here).

That original General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate by NatureScot in November 2019 and is valid until November 2022.

[Chris Packham holds a dead hen harrier. This bird was caught by the leg in an illegally-set trap on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor in May 2019. The trap had been set next to the harrier’s nest and was hidden by moss. The harrier’s leg was almost severed. Unfortunately, extensive surgery could not save this bird. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

However, since that original restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in November 2019, further alleged offences have been reported and are the subject of ongoing police investigations (see here) including the alleged shooting of a(nother) short-eared owl by a masked gunman on a quad bike as witnessed by a local resident and his eight year old son in July 2020 (see here) and the discovery of yet another batch of banned poisons, also in July 2020 (here). A satellite-tagged hen harrier (Silver) also vanished in suspicious circumstances on the estate in May 2020 (here), and although NatureScot don’t count missing satellite-tagged raptors as sufficient evidence for a General Licence restriction, the disappearance can be used as supportive evidence if further alleged offences are also being considered.

It’s been over a year since those further alleged offences were reported and we’ve all been waiting to see whether NatureScot would impose a further General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. Instead, the licensing team appears to have been focusing on helping out the estate by issuing it with an out-of-season muirburn licence last year (see here) and considering another application from the estate this year (see here). It really beggars belief.

Anyway, NatureScot has finally got its act together and has indeed imposed a further General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. Here is the statement on the NatureScot website:

29 September 2021

NatureScot has extended the restriction of the use of general licences on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire until 2023. The decision was made on the basis of additional evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, including controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

A restriction of the use of general licences was implemented on Leadhills estate in November 2019, in response to police evidence of crimes against wild birds occurring on the land. This decision extends the period of the existing restriction.

Robbie Kernahan, NatureScot’s s Director of Sustainable Growth, said: “It is hugely disappointing to have to be considering further issues of wildlife crime against wild birds and we are committed to using the tools we have available to us in tackling this. In this case we have concluded that there is enough evidence to suspend the general licences on this property for a further three years. They may still apply for individual licences, but -if granted – these will be closely monitored.

We work closely with Police Scotland and will continue to consider information they provide us on cases which may warrant restriction of general licences. The detection of wildlife crime can be difficult but new and emerging technologies along with a commitment from a range of partners to take a collective approach to these issues will help us stop this from occurring in the future.”


NatureScot’s Robbie Kernahan is quoted here as saying the General Licence restriction will apply “for a further three years“, which should take the restriction up to November 2025.

However, when you look at the actual restriction notice on NatureScot’s website, it says the restriction will extend to July 2023.

Eh? That’s not a three-year extension. That’s only an eight-month extension. I sincerely hope this is just a typo and the date should read November 2025.

It’s good to see NatureScot finally get on with this but I have to say that given there’s a need for an extension of the original General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, due to further evidence from Police Scotland about ongoing alleged wildlife crime there, doesn’t that demonstrate just how ineffective the General Licence restriction is as a tool for tackling wildlife crime??

I’ve written many times about the futility of this scheme, and have even presented evidence about it to a Parliamentary committee, not least because even when a General Licence restriction has been imposed, estate employees can simply apply to NatureScot for an individual licence to continue doing exactly what they were doing under the (now restricted) General Licence (e.g. see here)!

And although former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, who was responsible for first introducing General Licence restrictions in 2014, considered that it would work as a ‘reputational driver’ (here), I’ve previously shown with several examples how this is simply not the case (e.g. see here) and that a General Licence restriction remains an ineffective sanction.

Nevertheless, it’s all we’ve got available at the moment and on that basis I would like to see NatureScot now get on with making decisions about restrictions on a number of other estates, such as Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park where a poisoned golden eagle was found dead next to a poisoned bait earlier this year (here).

And Invercauld isn’t the only estate that should be sanctioned, is it, NatureScot?

UPDATE 30th September 2021: Extension of General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate confirmed as pitiful 8 months (here).

UPDATE 6th October 2021: Leadhills Estate’s reaction to extended General Licence restriction (here).

UPDATE 23rd February 2022: NatureScot refuses to publish details of Leadhills Estate’s general licence restriction appeal (here)

Investigation opens into suspected buzzard poisoning

Various media fora in the Irish Republic have reported on the suspected poisoning of two buzzards in Kerry.

A member of the public found the birds in August in the Currow/Scartaglen area, south of Castleisland, Co. Kerry. One buzzard was dead and the other one was taken for treatment and possible rehabilitation.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service is investigating and toxicology results are awaited.

[Common buzzard. Photographer unknown]

A Government report published in October 2020 demonstrated that illegal raptor persecution continues to be a problem in Ireland, especially for the common buzzard. In 2020, 23 buzzards were poisoned in one single incident by the banned pesticide Carbofuran (see here) and in the same area in 2018, three buzzards were poisoned with Carbofuran, two were then decapitated and one had its leg pulled off (here).

Police searches as peregrine confirmed illegally poisoned with Carbofuran

Back in March this year there were reports that two dead peregrines had been found underneath the iconic Samson & Goliath cranes in Belfast. Experts from the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group suspected the birds had been poisoned but there was also a potential issue with Avian Flu in the area which hadn’t been ruled out.

[One of the poisoned peregrines. Photo by the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group]

Fast forward four months and an article has appeared today on the Farming Life website as follows:

Police confirm peregrine falcon poisoned

Police have confirmed that a bird of prey found dead in the Queens Island area of Belfast earlier this year was poisoned.

It was reported in March that a Peregrine Falcon was found dead. The bird was retrieved and underwent testing to ascertain the exact circumstances. Enquiries have been ongoing. Today (July 28th), officers, accompanied by colleagues from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), carried out searches at two premises.

Con. Phelan said: “We can now confirm the Peregrine Falcon was poisoned with Aldicarb and Carbofuran. This is very concerning. These are dangerous substances. We would remind the public if there is a suspicion of poisoning on any bird of prey to leave the bird/s and/or bait in situ and call the PSNI as soon as possible.”

PSNI Wildlife Liaison Officer, Emma Meredith, said: “We have been working with our partner, NIEA, and our enquiries are ongoing. If anyone has information then we would be really keen to hear from you.”

Anyone with information can contact police on the non-emergency number 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


There seems to be some confusion here about whether it was one or two peregrines poisoned, but nevertheless, the detection of Aldicarb and Carbofuran in at least one peregrine is a clear indication of criminal activity.

Presumably the police didn’t release the toxicology results until today as they’d have wanted to undertake their searches without alerting any potential suspects, just in case those poisons were still on the premises.

Peregrines have long been persecuted in Northern Ireland, mostly linked to pigeon racing rather than gamekeeping, and the species has suffered population decline as a result (see here). Undertaking searches is a big step forward there so today’s searches are a very welcome move by the police and their partners at the NIEA.

Hopefully there’ll be some progress that’ll lead to a prosecution in this case. The illegal poisoning of any raptor in this day and age is an outrage, but to do this so close to Belfast city centre, with such dangerous poisons, is reckless beyond belief.

Grouse moor-owning Lord Benyon appointed new DEFRA Minister

DEFRA press release (13 May 2021)

DEFRA welcomes new Minister

Lord Benyon has today been appointed as a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defra. He will replace outgoing Defra minister Lord Gardiner, who will become Senior Deputy Speaker in the House of Lords.

The Environment Secretary today welcomed Lord Benyon, commenting on his passion and dedication to environmental causes.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

I am pleased to welcome Richard back to Defra. He brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and passion for the environment, developed during his previous experience as a Defra Minister and during his work as Chair of our review in to Highly Protected Marine Areas.

I look forward to working with him during this truly exciting time for Defra, with the Environment Bill returning to parliament, our agricultural reforms now starting to take root and the government leading the world on protecting nature and tackling climate change. Richard will be invaluable as we continue our ambitious work to ensure we leave our natural environment in a better state for future generations.

I would also like to extend my congratulations to Lord Gardiner on his election as Senior Deputy Speaker in the House of Lords and to thank him for his work as Minister in Defra.”

Defra Minister Lord Benyon said:

It’s both a privilege and a pleasure to be returning to Defra as a Minister in the House of Lords. I have fond memories from my time as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.

From the flagship Environment Bill and tackling climate change to helping our farmers through the agricultural transition and supporting our fishing industry, Defra is at the heart of this Government’s work to build back greener. It’s an exciting time to be back at Defra.

I look forward to working with everyone as Defra tackles some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

Lord Benyon’s portfolio will be confirmed in due course.


Grouse moor and pheasant-shoot – owner Richard Benyon is a former Trustee of GWCT and is no stranger to the pages of this blog. E.g. this from 2014:

In 2013, as Wildlife Minister under David Cameron, Richard Benyon refused to make possession of Carbofuran a criminal offence in England, despite other MPs calling for such a move, and despite it being an offence in Scotland, and despite it being well known that Carbofuran is the gamekeepers’ poison of choice for killing birds of prey.

In response, Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party) said:

The minister’s shocking refusal to outlaw the possession of a poison used only by rogue gamekeepers to illegally kill birds of prey would be inexplicable were it not for his own cosy links to the shooting lobby“.

Also while Mr Benyon was in post at DEFRA, the government sanctioned the controversial buzzard ‘management’ trial and committed £375k of taxpayers money to help support it (see here), although they swiftly backtracked after a huge public outcry against the plan (see here). However, the following year Natural England, acting on behalf of DEFRA, decided to go ahead and issue a licence (to a gamekeeper with a past conviction for wildlife crime) to destroy buzzard eggs and nests to protect pheasants (see here).

Mr Benyon also decided there was no need to introduce vicarious liability to England because “there are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being effectively enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside” (see here and here).

In 2016 he spoke at the Westminster Hall debate on driven grouse shooting where, along with other grouse-shooting pals and supporters, he claimed that a ban on driven grouse shooting would be ‘a catastrophe for the biodiversity of the uplands‘.

It’s probably safe to assume that this latest appointment to DEFRA’s ministerial team will have significant influence on campaigning efforts to rid the English uplands of the wildlife crime and environmental damage continually associated with driven grouse shooting.

It doesn’t mean we’ll stop trying, though.

Police confirm banned poison Carbofuran found on Leadhills Estate, again

Police Scotland have confirmed the discovery of the banned poison Carbofuran on Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s.

The highly dangerous poison, which even in tiny amounts can kill humans and animals, was discovered in July 2020. Police Scotland have told the Daily Record:

We are aware of this incident and did investigate.

Forensics identified the substance as carbofuran, an illegal pesticide the use of which has been banned since 1991.

It is extremely concerning that this substance was found in a location which is accessible to the public. Anyone with further information about this incident should contact Police Scotland on 101.”

According to the Daily Record, ‘further enquiries were stopped after officers found no evidence to link the poison to any person or persons’.

There isn’t any explanation provided for why the public weren’t alerted to this discovery sooner.

As regular blog readers will know, Leadhills Estate is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction, imposed in November 2019 following ‘clear evidence from Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on this estate’ (see herehere, and here). We know via FoI that one of the contributing factors to the decision to pull the GL was the discovery of the banned pesticide Carbosulfan in May 2019 (see here).

[Chris Packham holds a dead hen harrier whose leg was caught in an illegally-set trap on Leadhills Estate in May 2019. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Since the General Licence restriction was imposed in late 2019, further alleged offences have been reported at Leadhills and are the subject of ongoing police investigations (see here) including the alleged shooting of a(nother) short-eared owl by a masked gunman on a quad bike as witnessed by a local resident and his eight year old son (see here).

And now the discovery of another batch of banned poison.

According to NatureScot’s Framework for GL Restrictions, ‘Individual restrictions will apply for a period of 3 years, but may be extended if evidence of further offences is obtained during this period’.

Let’s see whether NatureScot sees fit to extend the General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate.