RSPB in row over event linked to bird poisoning at estate
THE RSPB is under fire for organising an event at the stately home of a lord who owns a country estate at the centre of several court cases for killing birds.
The Scottish Bird Fair will take place at Hopetoun House near Edinburgh in May and is expected to attract 5,000 visitors.
The Earl of Hopetoun also owns the Leadhills grouse shooting estate whose workers have been prosecuted on several occasions for persecuting birds of prey.
A spokesman for the Earl said he unequivocally condemned wildlife crime and pointed out that he was not responsible for the sporting management of the estate.
The RSPB said today it too was satisfied that Hopetoun Estate did not condone illegal practices.
Leadhills, covering 11,000 acres in South Lanarkshire, is considered one of the best grouse moors in the country.
But in November 2010 a Hopetoun Estate gamekeeper was fined £800 after lacing a rabbit carcass with the banned pesticide carbofuran and planting it in the grounds.
Lewis Whitham, 20, was caught planting the carcass by an animal charity researcher in April of that year.
Four years earlier, a search of the estate carried out by scores of police officers, discovered the banned pesticide on two knives and a game bag.
A gamekeeper was accused of possessing banned pesticides but the case was found not proven.
And in 2004, one of the estate’s gamekeepers was fined £500 for shooting and killing a short-eared owl.
An anonymous critic wrote to a national newspaper this week to describe Leadhills as “notorious” and a “much publicised ‘black hole’ for the illegal persecution of birds of prey”.
The writer added: “It seems quite amazing that the RSPB who campaign tirelessly to end the poisoning, shooting and trapping of our birds of prey have chosen this location [Hopetoun House] to have the event.”
The letter concluded: “I feel that it is in the best interests of the people planning to attend this bird fair that they should know this connection between Hopetoun House and Leadhills estate so that they can make an informed decision whether to attend this event or stay away as I shall.”
A spokesman for RSPB Scotland said they were aware that Leadhills Estate was owned by Hopetoun Estate, but said it was being rented to American tenants.
He said: “We have met with the Earl of Hopetoun to discuss bird of prey persecution at Leadhills Estate, and sought clarification of the ownership arrangements that are in place.
“We understand that there is a clear separation between land managed in hand by Hopetoun Estate in West Lothian , and the Leadhills Estate, which is let on a long lease to American tenants.
“It is the American sporting tenants on Leadhills Estate, through a UK sporting agent, who employ and manage the land and the employees at this site, and who are therefore ultimately responsible with ensuring that birds of prey are protected on this land.
“We accept that Hopetoun Estate do not condone any illegal practises on their land.”
The RSPB spokesman said they would continue to tackle crimes against birds of prey.
He added: “We will not take issue with management of land for the shooting of redgrouse or other gamebird hunting, provided such activity is undertaken legally, and in accordance with recognised sustainable land-use practices.”
A spokesman for the Earl said: “The Earl of Hopetoun’s position on wildlife crime is unequivocal .
He has constantly condemned any such activity. More importantly, Hopetoun Estate has no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills Estate.
Leadhills Estate is run on a sporting lease completely separately and there is no connection between Hopetoun Estate and the sporting management of Leadhills.
Furthermore, Hopetoun Estate also runs quite a number of events with the RSPB at Hopetoun every year.”
The news of the event comes just weeks after a former head investigator for the RSPB said he quit his job because he was “sick to the back teeth” of seeing gamekeepers getting away with slaughtering raptors.
Dave Dick said he quit his job in 2006 after serving 25 years in the post, because he was fed up of witnessing landowners committing perjury and police tipping off gamekeepers when they were about to visit.
In a tell-all book Dick claims investigations and prosecutions were often frustrated because police were too close to gamekeepers.
Dick said last month: “I’ve had 25 years of this crap! I was sick to the back teeth of it.
“That’s why I left. I wasn’t being allowed to do what the public wanted me to do.”