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General licences restricted on Leadhills Estate following wildlife crime

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has put down restrictions on the South Lanarkshire estate

hen harrier female

Hen Harrier adult female in flight carrying prey back to nest.

In the past week Scottish Natural Heritage has announced that it is restricting the use of general licences on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire after evidence of wildlife crime against birds was provided by Police Scotland.

Nick Halfhide, SNH’s Director of Sustainable Growth, explained:

“There is clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on this property. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the general licences on this property for three years. They may though still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

“This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, albeit under tighter supervision. We consider that this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime.”

Rules on general licences

The Government body can withdraw the use of General Licences 01, 02 and 03 by certain persons and/or on certain areas of land, when it has “reason to believe that wild birds have been taken or killed by such persons and/or on such land other than in accordance with the general licence.” The exclusion period can be extended if evidence of more offences is given.

In the case of the Leadhills Estate notice of the restriction has been given from 26th November 2019 to 26th November 2022 but “does not infer responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals.”


Lindsay Waddell, former chairman of the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO) and a retired gamekeeper, warned that wading birds such as the curlew would affected by the general licence restrictions

“Disappointed by this decision”

Leadhills Estate has replied with a statement issued through a PR agency which says: “We are disappointed by this decision and are currently exploring an appeal. The decision is particularly disappointing as anything which restricts legal predator control does have an impact on conservation of species such as wading birds activity which is important to the estate. The decision to restrict the general licence does make clear it is not inferring any criminal activity on the part of the estate. The estate condemns all forms of wildlife crime and all employees and agents of the estate are in no doubt as to their responsibilities. There has been minimal grouse shooting on Leadhills now for five years and shooting that has taken place has largely been on a walked up basis.”

Shooting UK contacted the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and the Scottish Gamekeepers Organisation but neither was able to comment on the situation.

However Alan Stewart, a retired police crime office and intelligence officer with National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) spoke to Shooting UK, commenting: “There has been an eye-watering history on several grouse moors in Scotland of the recovery of shot or trapped birds of prey or poisoned baits or victims… Clearly a much stronger sanction is required.”

Alleged incidents

Shooting Times contributor Matt Cross commented:

“Yesterday SNH announced that it would not allow Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire to use the general licences. This will prevent it carrying out any corvid control, however its ability to control foxes, stoats and weasels is unaffected. SNH could be referring to several incidents. These include the alleged shooting of hen harrier witnessed by a member of the public, the alleged shooting of a short eared owl also witnessed by a member of the public (unlike the harrier the owl was recovered and found to have been shot). There were also two alleged incidents involving the use of traps, one of which was said to have been found in a nest and another of which was allegedly found attached to a harrier’s leg. There was also an alleged incident involving a buzzard in a crow cage trap. There has not been sufficient evidence in any of these cases to prosecute an individual for any of these offences. But this is not required to restrict the GL. Instead these restrictions are made on the basis of a civil burden of proof (the balance of probabilities) that an offence has occurred. SNH clearly feels this has been met.

Matt continues: “This is a severe blow to grouse shooting in Scotland at a time when it needed it least. The Scottish government will respond to the Werrity report on grouse moor licensing very shortly, this will undoubtedly influence that response.”

RSPB Scotland reaction

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations commented: “RSPB Scotland welcomes today’s announcement by Scottish Natural Heritage of a general licence restriction covering the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire.”

“While the imposition of this sanction is positive news, it is becoming increasingly clear that the threat of such a penalty is no deterrent to those whose sole motivation is the maximising of grouse numbers. Until sporting estates face the potential removal of the right to shoot, we do not believe there is a sufficient deterrent to those who continue to slaughter our birds of prey. We call upon the Scottish Government to introduce a robust system of licensing where the right to shoot grouse is dependent on legal and sustainable management.”