That’s absolutely fabulous news that Raeshaw Estate has lost the judicial review it raised against the withdrawal by Scottish Natural Heritage of the privilege of the use of general licences to control certain species of birds some consider to be pests. The judicial review was heard by Lord Armstrong and the written judgement was published on 28 March.
The petitioner in the case was Lord Davidson of Glen Clova who, it was stated in the judgement, represented the owner of ‘land near Heriot, Midlothian, which comprises a substantial rural estate of some 8,000 acres, much of which is grouse moor’. The owner is not so easily established, given on the web as Raeshaw Holdings, Channel Islands. These are the difficulties the police encounter in trying to establish vicarious liability, though the shooting is run by William Powell Sporting, Banbury, Oxfordshire. The representative from there, who I suspect I know well, would be a good starting point if a prosecution for vicarious liability is ever required.
The evidence for the withdrawal of the use of general licences was based primarily on a number of set spring traps found during a police search on 8 May 2014 and which were attached to a small homemade cage which contained a live pigeon as bait to lure in birds of prey. Additionally, there were skeletal remains of birds of prey found nearby. These were near a crow cage registered to Raeshaw Estate and which, during the spring and probably up till the month of May, would no doubt be operated daily by the Raeshaw gamekeepers. Isn’t it strange that they never saw the dead birds of prey and reported to the police that someone had come on to the estate and either killed them or dumped them.
During a further police search one of the estate gamekeepers was found to have homemade traps identical to that in which the pigeon was being held captive. This was tremendous evidence and must have brought the situation near to the point when someone could have been charged with setting the pigeon cage and spring traps. All that may have been lacking was a wee bit of forensic evidence or an admission, though suspect gamekeepers, like hardened criminals, invariably give a ‘no comment’ interview (which is their entitlement).
Historically, the report mentioned that several poisoned buzzards and red kites, plus poisoned baits, had been found on the estate and, as seems often to be the case with the combination of satellite-tagged birds and driven grouse moors, a tag fitted to a hen harrier stopped working over Raeshaw Estate in 2011.
It appears that the estate staff had training ‘in relation to the relevant legislation, and in relation to the possibility of prosecution, a corresponding disciplinary procedure which included the possibility of summary dismissal, and protocols and requirements in relation to the relevant reporting of the use of traps and pesticides and the maintenance of records’. This was clearly ineffective, as was the investigation carried out by the estate, which concluded that ‘nothing was revealed suggesting that any estate employee was involved in, or aware of, the (trapping) incident’.
With this catalogue of criminality, of which a decent proportion of the hill walking and conservation-minded public in Scotland had knowledge, it was strange that the Raeshaw Estate owner remained blissfully unaware, otherwise I’m sure he would have sacked all the keepers on the spot. He must wish now that he had as the report claimed that ‘the petitioner had been adversely affected by the consequential inference of criminality, and the associated actions of pressure groups’.
Many folks associated with grouse moors have been getting away with criminality for far too long. Thankfully, at long last, one of the battles on behalf of the public has been won. I look forward now to seeing the backlog of general licence withdrawals being put in place now the judicial review that blocked them is out of the road.