The general licence restriction applies to the Leadhills Estate. Photo: Iain Russell CC-BY-SA-2.0

The general licence restriction applies to the Leadhills Estate. Photo: Iain Russell CC-BY-SA-2.0

Scottish Natural Heritage has turned down an estate’s appeal against its general licence suspension.

The Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire is at the centre of raptor persecution allegations.

It appealed against the decision by the Scottish Government’s advisory body on the outdoors to suspend for three years the general licence, which would allow bird-control activities that would otherwise be illegal, including on common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

Sally Thomas, SNH’s director of people and nature, said: “We have refused the appeal, as there is clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on this property.

“The general licence on this property will be suspended 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.”

SNH said evidence of either illegal killing of raptors or illegal disturbance was found on the Leadhills Estate, involving the killing of three hen harriers, one short-eared owl, two buzzards, and disturbing the nest of a wild bird between 2014 and 2019.

Ms Thomas said: “The police have investigated each of these cases and while it is very clear that offences have been committed, as is often the case with these types of crime, it hasn’t been possible to gather the evidence to identify the person responsible.”

Restrictions will prevent use of general licences on the land in question for three years. This period can increase if more evidence of offences comes to light.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects all wild birds. General licences permit authorised persons to carry out actions that would otherwise be illegal. They cover certain types of activity relating to birds, such as preventing damage to crops or livestock, preserving public health or air safety, and preventing the spread of disease.

General licences cover situations which are seen as relatively commonplace and where there is unlikely to be any great conservation impact. General licences avoid the need for people to apply for individual licences for the specific circumstances. General licences are subject to strict conditions, and abuse of them or failure to comply with the conditions could constitute an offence.

The Leadhills Estate covers 7,890ha (19,500 acres), in the Lowther Hills, west of the M74 near Wanlockhead.

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