LEADHILLS ESTATE in South Lanarkshire has this week had its general licence to control wild birds restricted, on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime on the property.

Announcing the move, Scottish Natural Heritage, which oversees the general licence system, said that the restriction would prevent people from using the general licences on the land in question for three years – a period that could increase if more evidence of offences came to light.

SNH's Nick Halfhide said: "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.

“We consider that this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime."

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects all wild birds, but within that, general licences permit authorised persons to carry out actions to prevent damage to crops or livestock, preserve public health or air safety, and prevent the spread of disease, without the need for people to apply for individual species control licences.

A spokesman for Leadhills Estate said: “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," stressed the spokesman. "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.”