£1 million award ‘major game-changer’ for South Scotland’s biggest community buy-out at Langholm

Press release from the Langholm Initiative (9th June 2022):

£1 million award ‘major-game-changer’ for South Scotland’s biggest community buy-out

The Scottish Land Fund has awarded the Langholm Initiative charity £1 million in a “major game-changer” for South Scotland’s biggest ever community buyout.

The town of Langholm in Dumfries and Galloway aims to raise £2.2m by July to purchase 5,300 acres of Langholm Moor from Buccleuch, and so double the size of the new community-owned Tarras Valley Nature Reserve.

[Tarras Valley Nature Reserve. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Success would allow the community to put into action ambitious plans for tackling the nature and climate emergencies while boosting community regeneration.

With the clock seriously ticking if we are to achieve this once-in-a-lifetime community purchase, this award from the Scottish Land Fund is a major game-changer. It has really turned the tide in our favour, and we are hugely grateful,” said Jenny Barlow, Tarras Valley Nature Reserve’s Estate Manager.

Thanks to other generous donations, including from thousands of people from all over the world to our public crowdfunder, we are now just £450,000 shy of reaching our overall target. We’re going to work tirelessly to make this happen.” 

A new stretch target of £200,000 for the buyout’s public crowdfunder has now been set, after donations recently surged past its initial target of raising £150,000 towards the purchase. The crowdfunder can be supported at bit.ly/LangholmMoorAppeal.

The ambitious scale of the buyout has meant that it has at times seemed at risk. Last month an agreement was reached between the community and Buccleuch to extend the purchase deadline by two months until 31 July, to allow more time to raise funds from major donors.

The Tarras Valley Nature Reserve was established last year, following the successful first stage of the community buyout. This saw the community defy the odds to raise £3.8 million to buy 5,200 acres and six residential properties from Buccleuchin March 2021.

On the reserve, globally important peatlands and ancient woods are being restored, native woodlands established, and a haven ensured for wildlife including hen harrier, short-eared owl and merlin.

[Short-eared owl photographed at Tarras Valley Nature Reserve by John Wright]

Community regeneration and creating new jobs through a nature-based approach is a central aim of the project. Langholm was once a thriving textile centre, but the industry has declined in recent years.

Leading charities backing the buyout include Borders Forest Trust, John Muir Trust, Rewilding Britain, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Trees for Life, and the Woodland Trust.

ENDS

NatureScot refuses to publish details of Leadhills Estate’s general licence restriction appeal

This is a long and sorry saga, and it’s not yet over.

As many blog readers will know, 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 an unprecedented TWO General Licence restrictions imposed by NatureScot after ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime was provided to the statutory regulator by Police Scotland (see here and here), including the illegal killing of short-eared owls, buzzards, hen harriers and the discovery of two stashes of banned poisons.

Incredibly, Leadhills Estate with its double General Licence restriction is STILL a member of the lobby group Scottish Land & Estates, which claims to have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution. Convincing, eh?

[Grouse moor on the Leadhills Estate. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

The first three-year General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in November 2019 (here). The estate appealed this decision, with an hilarious letter of objection (here), but its appeal failed.

The second General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in September 2021 (here) after Police Scotland reported even more wildlife crime while the estate was still serving its first restriction.

Once again, Leadhills Estate appealed the decision with a written objection letter.

It is this letter of objection that I have been trying to get from NatureScot since September 2021. Five months on, it is still being withheld, for what I have argued are spurious reasons.

Here’s a short summary of what’s happened so far:

On 30th September 2021 I submitted an FoI to NatureScot to request copies of Leadhills Estate’s appeal.

On 3 November 2021 NatureScot responded as follows:

We have withheld a letter from an agent acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, pending an appeal against NatureScot’s decision to restrict General Licence. This information is of a sensitive nature and disclosure into the public domain could prejudice the applicant’s right to a fair hearing’.

I didn’t see how public disclosure could possibly prejudice a hearing given that it’s all done in-house at NatureScot but fine, I could wait.

In December 2021 it was announced that Leadhills Estate had lost its appeal against the second General Licence restriction (here) so I wrote back to NatureScot on 3rd December as follows:

You told me in the letter dated 3 November 2021 that you were withholding a letter from an agent who was acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, and the reason you gave for withholding it was that releasing it may prejudice the applicant’s right to a fair appeal. As the appeal process has now concluded and therefore the applicant’s right to a fair hearing cannot be affected, please can you send me the agent’s letter that was previously withheld‘.

On 5th January 2022 NatureScot responded as follows:

We have completed our information searches, and we have identified eight documents comprising 126 pages relevant to your request. We shared a redacted version of these documents with the solicitors acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, who have provided additional legal arguments as to why certain information should be withheld. We will need additional time to assess these arguments and, potentially, take further legal advice.

Regulation 7 of the EIRs allows public authorities to extend the time for compliance with requests for up to an additional 20 working days. This means we must respond to your information request by 3 February 2022 at the latest‘.

Hmm. Why might Leadhills Estate not want the details of its appeal to be made public? And what legal arguments might it use to block the transparency of the decision-making process of a statutory agency?

On 7th February 2022, NatureScot sent this explanation:

That’s all very interesting. Obviously, I’ve appealed this decision and asked for a review. I don’t believe there are further proceedings to ‘prejudice’ as Leadhills Estate has now exhausted the appeals process for the General Licence restriction. I also don’t believe that correspondence between an agent and a public authority qualifies as ‘legal privilege’ and especially when it’s in the public interest to understand how the statutory agency has reached its decision with transparency and fairness.

Let’s see. Another 20 working days to wait, which will take us to six months since I made the original request.

Leadhills Estate wants to keep details of its General Licence restriction appeal a secret

As many blog readers will know, 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 two General Licence restrictions imposed by NatureScot after ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime was provided to the statutory regulator by Police Scotland (see here and here).

For new blog readers, a General Licence restriction is a light-touch sanction for estates in Scotland where there is sufficient evidence of wildlife crime taking place but insufficient evidence to prosecute a specific individual. It’s not really a sanction at all though, because an estate can simply apply to NatureScot for ‘individual’ licences instead of a General Licence which allows them to continue the activities they were supposedly restricted from doing, just with a tiny bit of scrutiny attached (e.g. 1,000 birds were legally killed on a shooting estate despite being under a General Licence restriction, see here).

Nevertheless, a General Licence restriction is useful for campaigners for highlighting to the law makers that wildlife crime persists and further regulation/enforcement is therefore required.

So, back to Leadhills Estate. The reason why this grouse moor estate is currently serving an unprecedented double General Licence restriction is because of police reports relating to the illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate in the last few years (see here), the discovery of banned poisons on the estate in May 2019 (see here), 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 consider 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.

Incredibly, Leadhills Estate with its double General Licence restriction is STILL a member of the lobby group Scottish Land & Estates, which claims to have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution. Hmm.

[Grouse moor on the Leadhills Estate. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

As you may recall, Leadhills Estate’s second General Licence restriction was announced by NatureScot in late September 2021 (here) and the estate was reported to be considering an appeal (here).

Having seen the estate’s previous (failed) appeal against its first General Licence restriction in 2019 (here), I was keen to see the arguments it would make for an appeal against a second restriction.

On 30th September 2021 I submitted an FoI to NatureScot to request copies of Leadhills Estate’s appeal.

On 3 November 2021 NatureScot responded as follows:

We have withheld a letter from an agent acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, pending an appeal against NatureScot’s decision to restrict General Licence. This information is of a sensitive nature and disclosure into the public domain could prejudice the applicant’s right to a fair hearing’.

I didn’t see how public disclosure could possibly prejudice a hearing given that it’s all done in-house at NatureScot but fine, I could wait.

In December 2021 it was announced that Leadhills Estate had lost its appeal against the second General Licence restriction (here) so I wrote back to NatureScot on 3rd December as follows:

You told me in the letter dated 3 November 2021 that you were withholding a letter from an agent who was acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, and the reason you gave for withholding it was that releasing it may prejudice the applicant’s right to a fair appeal. As the appeal process has now concluded and therefore the applicant’s right to a fair hearing cannot be affected, please can you send me the agent’s letter that was previously withheld‘.

Yesterday (5th January 2022) NatureScot responded to my latest FoI request, as follows:

We have completed our information searches, and we have identified eight documents comprising 126 pages relevant to your request. We shared a redacted version of these documents with the solicitors acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, who have provided additional legal arguments as to why certain information should be withheld. We will need additional time to assess these arguments and, potentially, take further legal advice.

Regulation 7 of the EIRs allows public authorities to extend the time for compliance with requests for up to an additional 20 working days. This means we must respond to your information request by 3 February 2022 at the latest‘.

That’s interesting. Why might Leadhills Estate not want the details of its appeal to be made public? And what legal arguments might it use to block the transparency of the decision-making process of a statutory agency?

I guess we’ll find out on 3rd February.

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

Leadhills Estate loses appeal over extension to General Licence restriction

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 what NatureScot described as ‘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.

A General Licence restriction can be imposed by NatureScot when there is sufficient evidence of wildlife crime on an estate but insufficient evidence for the police to charge a named individual. Leadhills Estate has denied all knowledge of any wildlife crime on its land.

[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]

Since that original General Licence 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 consider 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.

In light of these latest allegations, in late September 2021 NatureScot announced that a further three-year General Licence restriction (an extension to the first one) was being imposed on Leadhills Estate (here), although it turned out that it wasn’t a three-year extension, as NatureScot had claimed, but was rather an eight-month extension because this latest restriction was running concurrently with the first restriction (see here).

In early October 2021 Leadhills Estate was reported to be considering appealing against the extended restriction (here) and shortly afterwards NatureScot removed the official notification of the extension from its website, a sure sign that an appeal was underway.

Roll on two months and the official notification has been re-posted on NatureScot’s website (here), which I take to mean that Leadhills Estate has lost its appeal and the General Licence restriction has been re-instated until it expires on 8th July 2023. This means that the estate cannot undertake certain activities (e.g. the operation of crow cage traps to kill hundreds of corvids) unless estate gamekeepers apply to NatureScot for an individual licence and NatureScot approves the application(s).

I’ll be monitoring this and will be keen to see whether individual licences are granted to gamekeepers on an estate that has had, in effect, a double General Licence restriction imposed after evidence of multiple wildlife crimes has been provided to NatureScot by Police Scotland.

Earlier this autumn I submitted an FoI to NatureScot to find out on what basis Leadhills Estate was appealing the General Licence restriction. The last time the estate appealed (against the original General Licence restriction), the grounds for appeal were laughable (see here) and were not accepted by NatureScot.

This time, NatureScot refused to release the details of the estate’s appeal because at the time the appeal was considered to be ‘live’ and it was thought that publication might affect the estate’s right to a fair hearing. I don’t know how it would have affected the estate’s appeal, given the appeal is heard in-house at NatureScot and cannot be influenced by outside commentary, but that was NatureScot’s decision.

That’s fine. Now the appeal has been dismissed and the restriction is in place, I have submitted another FoI to NatureScot and I expect the estate’s grounds for appeal to be released in to the public domain.

A response is due from NatureScot by the end of this month. I’ll keep you posted.

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

Game-shooting industry silent about short-eared owl found shot on North Pennines grouse moor

Earlier this week I blogged about the discovery of a short-eared owl that had been found shot on a grouse moor on the Wemmergill Estate in the North Pennines AONB (see here).

This is the same estate where two short-eared owls were found shot and stuffed into a hole in 2015 (here) and where a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Marc had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2018 (here).

[Short-eared owl. Photographer unknown]

Those of us interested in stamping out illegal raptor persecution have made sure that Durham Constabulary’s appeal for information about this latest victim has been distributed far and wide (e.g. see blog here by Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB partnership, and blog here by the Northern England Raptor Forum).

Unfortunately, the leading game-shooting organisations, some of whose members have been and/or are currently under investigation for various raptor persecution crimes, have once again failed to publicise or condemn this crime. I’ve just looked at the websites of the National Gamekeepers Organisation, BASC, Countryside Alliance and the Moorland Association and not one of them has published the police appeal or issued their own appeal.

It’s worth remembering that these organisations also serve on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), along with Government officials, police and NGOs. One of the roles of the RPPDG is apparently to raise awareness of ongoing raptor persecution crimes.

I’m not sure how staying silent meets this objective.

On the subject of the RPPDG, I’ve written to the Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and asked whether the Countryside Alliance representative, former Police Inspector Phil Davies, will be removed from the RPPDG following his participation in a webinar where criminal information was disseminated about persecuting wildlife and avoiding prosecution (see here). I await a response with interest.

UPDATE 25th October 2021: Police boot off Countryside Alliance rep from all wildlife crime priority delivery groups after hunting webinar trial (here)

Short-eared owl confirmed shot in Teesdale grouse moor area where two short-eared owls previously found shot

Article published in the Northern Echo yesterday:

Short-eared owl shot and killed in Teesdale

POLICE are appealing for information after a short-eared owl was shot down in Teesdale earlier this year.

A post-mortem on the bird has confirmed the likely cause of its death was being shot with a shot gun.

The owl was found by the side of the road in May.

[Short-eared owl. Photographer unknown]

PC Lorraine Nelson said: “Persecuting birds of prey is never acceptable and we will always do everything we can to work with partners to act on information received about alleged criminal activity.

We would encourage anyone with information on this incident to get in touch.”

Jack Ashton-Booth, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “Short-eared owls are declining nationally as a species.

Yet they are still widely targeted in our UK uplands: this is the third shot short-eared owl we are aware of in this area in the last six years.

In 2015 two dead short-eared owls, both of which had been shot, were found in a hole on moorland just over 1km away.

Each of those birds could have gone on to have three, four or five chicks, had they been allowed to live.

When I think of the scale of even just one area of moorland, and its array of nooks and crannies… how many more of these stunning birds could have been shot and concealed down holes or buried under peat?

It’s impossible to know.

This illegal killing must stop.

I urge any of you who may have information regarding individuals targeting these birds to come forward and call them out.”

If you have any information, call 101 and ask to speak to PC Nelson.

Alternatively, call the RSPB confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

This short-eared owl was found shot in May close to the Selset Reservoir in Teesdale, which is an area dominated by land managed for driven grouse shooting, as you can see from this Google map showing the tell-tale rectangular strips of burned heather:

According to RSPB Investigations Officer Jack Ashton-Booth, the latest victim was discovered just over 1km from where two short-eared owls had been found shot and buried in potholes on the Wemmergill Estate in 2015 (see here). Nobody was prosecuted for those two offences, just as nobody will be prosecuted for this latest wildlife crime.

Wemmergill Estate is also the last known location of satellite-tagged hen harrier Marc, who vanished in suspicious circumstances on this grouse moor in 2018 (see here).

The article published yesterday in the Northern Echo was presumably based on information from Durham Constabulary, and claims that the police are appealing for information. I can’t find anything about the crime, investigation or subsequent appeal on the Durham Constabulary website or the police’s Facebook page. If it is there, it’s well hidden.

And once again, it has taken five months for this ‘appeal’ to emerge. I suppose that’s an improvement on the seven months it took Durham Constabulary to appeal for information after the discovery of the two shot owls found in 2015.

Yesterday’s article in the Northern Echo states that:

A post-mortem on the bird has confirmed the likely cause of its death was being shot with a shot gun‘.

My understanding is that the post-mortem report confirmed the owl had been shot and that was the cause of its death shortly afterwards.

There may be more news to come about this latest crime. I will update the blog if/when I receive further information.

UPDATE 18.00hrs:

The RSPB investigations team has confirmed on Twitter that this latest shot short-eared owl was found dead on a grouse moor (estate unnamed but believed to be the same estate (Wemmergill) where two short-eared owls were found shot and shoved down a pothole in 2015.

Also, Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership has written a blog on the AONB website to draw attention to this latest crime (see here). Well done, Chris.

Extension of General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate confirmed as pitiful 8 months

Yesterday I blogged (here) about the extended General Licence restriction that has been imposed on Leadhills Estate after further evidence of wildlife crime had come to light since an original three-year restriction was imposed (to run 26 Nov 2019 – 26 Nov 2022).

[The grouse moors of Leadhills Estate. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

However, there was some confusion from the licencing agency, NatureScot, as to just how long this extension was applicable.

Robbie Kernahan, NatureScot’s s Director of Sustainable Growth was quoted in a NatureScot announcement saying ‘…there is enough evidence to suspend the general licences on this property for a further three years‘, which should have taken the restriction to November 2025 but when I looked at the actual detail of the extension on another part of the NatureScot website, the expiry date of the extension was given as 8th July 2023.

I contacted NatureScot’s licensing team this morning and asked them to clarify the apparent discrepancy. I am grateful to Licensing Manager Liz McLachlan for a prompt and clear explanation, as follows:

We have amended the statement on our web-pages as we accept there was some ambiguity in the original wording which you have picked up on. To clarify, the 3 year extension to the restriction is from the date of the most recent (additional) offence, as recorded by Police Scotland, which takes the restriction to July 2023.

For completeness the restriction is from 8 July 2020 to 8 July 2023‘.

I have looked at the amended statement from Robbie Kernahan which now reads:

In this case we have concluded that there is enough evidence to suspend the general licences on this property until 2023‘.

So effectively, this ‘three year extension’ isn’t actually a three-year extension at all. Technically it might be, but in effect it’s actually only an eight month extension because the estate is already serving the original General Licence restriction up until 26 November 2022, so imposing another restriction for the period 8 July 2020 to 26 November 2022, on top of the one already being served, is utterly pointless.

The 8-month extension from 27 November 2022 to 8 July 2023 is the only part of this ‘extended’ restriction that will have any real effect.

And apparently the estate has already served 14 months of the extension, given that it began in July 2020! Why has it taken 14 months for NatureScot to publicise this extended restriction? When was the estate notified of this further restriction? And has it made any difference whatsoever to the estate’s activities, given that the original restriction was already underway (since November 2019)?

And if this extension was in place since July 2020, then why the hell did NatureScot give Leadhills Estate special privileges last year when it granted an out-of-season muirburn licence in September 2020??

What sort of idiotic ‘sanction’ is this? An eight month General Licence restriction for the shooting of a short-eared owl, which is the alleged offence that this extension is based upon. Well that’s really going to put the fear of God up other would-be raptor killers, isn’t it?

It’s a pitiful response.

I don’t know if it’s a result of legal limitations (e.g. can this legal sanction be lawfully applied several years after the original offence?) or if it’s a result of professional incompetence by NatureScot.

I have submitted an FoI to NatureScot to ask for details of the decision-making process in this case and will blog when I receive a response.

[Short-eared owl by Amy Lewis]

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.”

ENDS

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)

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.

SNH grants licence to Leadhills Estate for out-of-season muirburn

Leadhills Estate, which has been at the centre of over 50 police wildlife crime investigations in the last two decades, has had two gamekeepers convicted for committing wildlife crime offences during that time, and is currently the subject of a three-year General Licence restriction, imposed after Police Scotland found ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crimes having being committed by persons unknown in recent years, and is under further police investigation since more allegations have been made this year, was granted a licence by SNH to undertake out-of-season muirburn on estate grouse moors in September.

There have been some jaw-dropping revelations on this blog over the years but this one is right up there.

[Muirburn on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

A quick recap of the situation (for those who want more detail please see the links to previous blog posts below).

In April 2020 the Scottish Government temporarily banned all muirburn in Scotland under emergency Coronavirus legislation (see here).

Despite being in the middle of a pandemic, in July 2020 Mark Osborne, acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, applied to Scottish Natural Heritage for an out-of-season licence to conduct muirburn on the estate in September after spraying some areas with glyphosate (see here).

Scottish Natural Heritage (now rebranded as NatureScot but that’s irrelevant) refused the licence application in August (here) and Osborne immediately appealed the decision (see here).

That’s where we left the saga last time. Here’s what happened next…..

SNH was obliged to consider Osborne’s appeal, although it wasn’t obliged to overturn it’s previous decision to refuse permission.

Here’s how SNH’s reconsideration went:

According to the Freedom of Information documents that have been released, that’s it. That’s the extent of the discussion at SNH about whether Leadhills Estate should be given permission to set fire to its grouse moors out of season and in the middle of a global pandemic.

A couple of days later SNH wrote to advise Osborne of its U-turn decision and sent him the licence, as follows:

There has been some discussion amongst RPUK colleagues and associates about whether SNH’s decision to issue this licence was a breach of the Government’s emergency Coronavirus legislation which had temporarily banned muirburn until the official season opened on 1 October 2020. I might return to that topic.

However, of greater interest, to me, is how SNH’s decision-making on whether to issue an out-of-season muirburn licence apparently failed to consider the wider picture of what’s been going on at Leadhills, and especially the current three-year General Licence restriction placed on the estate, by, er, SNH. Didn’t anybody think about that?

Ah, well somebody did, but unfortunately it seems this person’s expert input wasn’t invited as part of the decision-making process:

There’s quite a lot to take in about this case, and the details and circumstances of this particular licence. An FoI has been submitted to SNH to see the licence return which, as detailed in condition #9, should have now been submitted to SNH by Osborne.

And it turns out that this isn’t the first year that SNH has granted an out-of-season muirburn licence to Leadhills Estate. More on that shortly.

For some reason, the phrases ‘taking the piss’ and ‘impotent licensing authority’ are uppermost in my mind.

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