So another bird of prey has been shot on Leadhills Estate, Biggar. This time it was a short-eared owl, shot in broad daylight at 11.45 on 31 May by a man whose description was given by a witness and who was driving a black 4×4 with a dark canopy. The previous bird, a hen harrier, was also shot in broad daylight, this time at 17.15 on 4 May. The criminal on this occasion was believed to be a man on a quad bike with his face covered.
The police have appealed for information in relation to both incidents. I can understand the slight delay in the publication of the most recent incident. When a crime is witnessed – an unusual bonus in the case of wildlife crime on grouse moors – there is a higher than normal chance of obtaining evidence against the criminal and the police would want to carry out certain investigations before putting the crime into the public domain. They are still clearly short of the evidence they would like and an appeal through the media gives a further (slight) chance of more evidence. Importantly it also lets the public know what is still going on in relation to some driven grouse moors.
It is not only Leadhills that is currently the centre of police attention for wildlife crime; an investigation is also underway on Raeshaw Estate, a driven grouse moor in the Borders and, as I said in a recent blog, a gas gun was photographed in use on a third driven grouse moor: Glenogil in Angus.
It is almost beyond belief that these incidents are still taking place in an industry teetering on the edge of being licensed. This disgraceful conduct affects the decent, hard-working and law-abiding gamekeepers and landowners who will be dragged under by their criminal colleagues. The common factor with all three estates I have mentioned, plus several more, is that they have been hotbeds of wildlife crime for many years with a disgraceful catalogue of incidents logged against them. Despite reservations by some senior police officers of these incidents being the ‘tip of the iceberg’ I totally disagree. It stands to reason that the crimes discovered on an estate of many thousands of acres must surely be only a fraction of those taking place.
I wonder if, at last, shooting and landowning organisations will collectively make an approach to the landowners, sporting agents, shooting tenants or gamekeepers who are still determined to bring about the demise of driven grouse shooting? Will they also deign to pass on intelligence to Police Scotland that might allow them to put the criminals responsible before a court?
Unfortunately on past records neither of these aspirations is likely to materialise.