Press release from NatureScot, 21st June 2022:
General Licence restricted on Highland estate
NatureScot has restricted the use of General Licences on Moy Estate for three years
The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.
This evidence included a poisoned red kite found on the estate in 2020, and incidents in relation to trapping offences.
[Red kite. Photographer unknown]
Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s Head of Wildlife Management, said: “We consider the information from Police Scotland provides robust evidence that wild birds have been killed or taken or there has been intention to do so illegally on this land.
“Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the use of general licences on this property for three years until June 2025. They may still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.
“NatureScot is committed to using all the tools we have available to tackle wildlife crime. This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, although under tighter supervision.
“We believe this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime. We will continue to work closely with Police Scotland and consider information they provide on cases which may warrant restricting general licences.”
General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out control of common species of wild birds, such as crows and magpies, to protect crops or livestock, without the need to apply for an individual licence.
In addition to this restriction, there are currently three other restrictions in place on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, Lochan Estate in Perthshire and Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire.
The restriction notice reads as follows:
In line with NatureScot’s published General Licence restrictions: Framework for Implementing Restrictions we hereby give notice that a restriction has been applied to the land outlined in red overleaf. This restriction prohibits the use of General Licences 01, 02 and 03 on that land between 21st June 2022 and 21st June 2025.
Please note that this restriction does not imply responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals.
This one has been a long time coming. Moy is one of those estates where if its name comes up in conversation amongst raptor conservationists in Scotland, eyes tend to roll and knowing looks are exchanged. It has been identified as a raptor persecution hotspot for many, many years.
Here is a map we created way back in 2016 to highlight the extent of raptor persecution crimes in former Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s constituency (given his strong support of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association) and this shows the concentration of incidents on and close to Moy Estate:
Here is a selection of examples, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:
Moy Estate was raided by police in 2010 after the discovery of poisoned bait and dead raptors and illegally set traps. A gamekeeper was later convicted of possession of a red kite after its bloodied corpse was found in the back of his vehicle. It had two broken legs, consistent with being caught in spring traps, and a head injury. A bloodied shinty stick was also found in the back of the vehicle. Notably, the gamekeeper wasn’t convicted for killing the kite, just for having possession of it. Nobody was charged with killing this kite.
These baited traps were discovered on the moor (the illegally-set spring traps were originally disguised under moss, removed here for evidential purposes). No charges were brought.
The remains of two further red kites were discovered on the moor, including a severed red kite leg and some wing tags that had previously been fitted to a kite, all found buried in holes under some moss. No charges were brought.
A jar in one of the gamekeeper’s houses contained the leg rings of four young golden eagles – nobody could account for how they had ended up inside that jar. Perhaps he’d found them whilst ‘metal detecting at his uncle’s farm’ like gamekeeper Archie Watson, who recently gave this implausible explanation to the court for how he’d come to possess BTO leg rings from a buzzard and a red kite attached to his keyring.
This male hen harrier was found caught by its leg in an illegally-set spring trap on Moy Estate in 2010. No charges were brought. It survived after being rescued by raptor workers from the Scottish Raptor Study Group.
In May 2011 a satellite-tracked red kite ‘disappeared’ on Moy, and another one ‘disappeared’ in August 2011.
In 2016 Police Scotland issued an appeal for information following the discovery of disturbed and abandoned buzzard and goshawk nests in the Moy Forest. One goshawk and four buzzard nests were abandoned in suspicious circumstances, with some evidence of illegal disturbance. These nests were being monitored by staff from Forestry Enterprise Scotland (see here). No charges were brought.
In 2017 masked gunmen were caught on camera at a goshawk nest in Moy Forest. A few days later the nest and a clutch of four eggs was found abandoned (see here). No charges were brought.
In 2018 Police Scotland issued an appeal for information after a buzzard was found caught in an illegal pole trap in the Moy area (see here). No charges were brought.
In 2021 an individual was charged with the alleged killing of a bird of prey in this area. This case is believed to be progressing through the courts so I can’t comment further at this stage.
Of course, a General Licence restriction doesn’t amount to much of a sanction in real terms, as I’ve discussed on this blog endless times before (e.g. see here). However, it’s currently the only tool available to the authorities until we finally see the introduction of the promised grouse moor licensing scheme by the Scottish Government. Had that scheme been in place already, we’d hopefully have seen the removal of Moy Estate’s licence to shoot for a number of years, if not permanently.
Meanwhile, what will be really interesting to see is whether the Moy Game Fair goes ahead this year, given that the shooting organisations have all claimed to have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution. I don’t think the likes of Scottish Land & Estates, Fergus Ewing MSP and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association can expect anything other than high-level criticism if they attend this event on an estate that has now been sanctioned for wildlife crimes by the statutory nature conservation advisor, based on evidence provided by Police Scotland. Mind you, the conviction of a gamekeeper on Moy Estate in 2011 didn’t stop them attending (see here and here).