A SHOOTING estate in the Borders has failed in its legal bid to have its 'general license' reinstated.

Owners of the 8,000 acre Raeshaw Estate at Heriot were hit with the sanction by Scottish Natural Heritage back in 2015 after evidence of illegal bird persecution was discovered during a police raid.

The skeletal remains of protected species and illegal traps were found by officers.

But there wasn't enough evidence to bring about a prosecution.

Instead, Scottish Natural Heritage withdrew three 'general licences' for the control of pest species such as crows and magpies on the estate and a neighbouring farm.

Raeshaw challenged the decision under judicial review.

This week in the Court of Session Lord Armstrong threw out the case, subject to an area of neighbouring Corsehope Farm being removed from the restriction area.

Ian Ross, chairman of SNH, said: “We welcome the outcome of the judicial review.

"This was in effect a test case, and the result supports our decision.

“More widely this decision provides us with confidence that a light touch approach to regulation is not appropriate in situations in which there is evidence of wildlife crime having taken place, but no criminal convictions have been secured.

"Because of the remote locations where wildlife crime often takes place it can be difficult to find sufficient evidence to secure a criminal conviction. So we need every tool we can to help tackle wildlife crime in Scotland.”

General licences are used for land managers and the public to control certain common bird species for conservation purposes and preserving public health with minimal bureaucracy or additional requirements.

A spokesman for Raeshaw Estate told us: “We are disappointed in this ruling and are considering our options with our legal team.

"We would reiterate that responsible game management practices are at the heart of what Raeshaw and its staff do.

"As a major employer of local people, the estate has been, and continues to be, an important part of the local economy and community.”

The decision by SNH to implement the restriction was made after evidence was found by Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on the land.

In the submission to the Court of Session, the historic evidence included the remains of a red kite and several buzzards being found on the estate in 2009, the satellite tag of a hen harrier stopping working over the estate in 2011, and a dead buzzard being found adjacent to Raeshaw, having ingested pesticide, the following year.

Details of the police raid on the estate during May 8, 2014, were also revealed during the judicial review.

Officer descended on Heriot following the discovery of a buzzard, thought to have been poisoned some 12 months earlier.

The search found a number of set spring-traps attached to a small homemade cage containing a live pigeon in a woodland on neighbouring Corsehope Farm, which was keepered by the estate.

Skeletal remains of other birds of prey were found nearby as well as a crow cage trap registered to Raeshaw Estate.

A gamekeeper was also found in possession of homemade traps, identical to the one used to hold the pigeon.

But the estate's legal team argued that the decision to withdraw the general licences 'lacked logic'.

Lord Davidson of Glen Clova QC, who represented the estate, told the judicial review: "In circumstances where the object of the licensing system was to promote the conservation of wild birds, the decisions lacked logic, since their effect, by removing the control of predators, was to frustrate conservation.

"Further, the removal of the petitioner’s right to use its general licences could have no deterrent effect in respect of the commission of wildlife crime."

Lord Davidson argued that, while Raeshaw could still apply for specific licences to control pests, it created an administrative burden.

He added: "In the highly charged context of wildlife conservation and associated crime, the effect of the publicity arising from the decisions was to stigmatise the petitioner.

"The petitioner had been adversely affected by the consequential inference of criminality, and the associated actions of pressure groups."

Following the judicial review within the Outer House of the Court of Session Lord Armstrong sided with Scottish Natural Heritage.

He stated: "The question at large was not whether the petitioner was responsible for wildlife crime but whether wildlife crime, or an attempt to commit it, had taken place on the land concerned.

"In that regard, I attach weight to the fact that the evidence of the caged live pigeon and associated spring-set traps was unchallenged."

The judicial review was used as a test case by the government agency.

And it is now expected Scottish Natural Heritage will impose similar sanctions against other estates where illegal persecution is suspected.

Nick Halfhide, SNH’s director of operations, said: “Nature-based tourism is worth £1.4 billion a year to Scotland’s economy.

"Raptor persecution detracts from that value and diminishes Scotland’s appeal as a major wildlife tourism destination.

"We are committed to working strongly in partnership with Police Scotland, and other members of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife crime Scotland to stamp out wildlife crime in Scotland.

"This is a useful tool to help deter wildlife crime and we will now consider its use more widely.”