RSPB is criticised over link to earl who owns ‘bird-poisoning’ Hopetoun estate

The driveway and entrance to Hopetoun House in South Queensferry
The driveway and entrance to Hopetoun House in South Queensferry
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THE RSPB has been criticised for holding an event celebrating Scottish birdlife at the stately home of a lord who also owns a grouse shooting estate that has been linked to bird of prey poisoning.

The first Scottish Bird Fair will take place in May at Hopetoun House near Edinburgh, and is expected to attract 5,000 visitors.

However, Hopetoun House is owned by the Earl of Hopetoun, Andrew Hopetoun, who also owns the Leadhills grouse shooting estate in South Lanarkshire. Leadhills has been linked in the past to persecution of birds of prey.

A critic of the decision, writing to The Scotsman, said the decision to hold the event at Hopetoun was “incredible”.

The letter writer, who was anonymous, described Leadhills as “notorious” and as a “much publicised ‘black hole’ for the illegal persecution of birds of prey”.

They added: “It seems quite amazing that the RSPB who campaign seemingly tirelessly to end the poisoning, shooting and trapping of our birds of prey have chosen this location to have this event.”

The letter concluded: “I feel that it is in the best interests of the people planning to attend this birdfair 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.”

Leadhills estate is regarded as one of the best grouse moors in the UK. The moors cover more than 11,000 acres around Lead-hills.

However, in November 2010 a gamekeeper on the estate, also known as the Hopetoun Estate, was fined £800 after planting a rabbit carcass laced with the banned pesticide carbofuran.

The 20-year-old, Lewis Whitham, had been caught by a researcher from animal charity OneKind in April 2010.

And in 2006, during a search of the estate by about 80 officers from Strathclyde Police and the RSPB, the banned pesticide carbofuran was found on two knives and a game bag.

Gamekeeper Andrew Livingstone was accused of possessing banned pesticides. However, the case was found not proven.

In 2004, one of the estate’s gamekeepers was fined £500 for shooting and killing a short-eared owl, a protected species.

A spokesman for RSPB Scotland said they were aware that Leadhills Estate was owned by Hopetoun Estate, but said it was being let to American tenants.

He said: “We have met with the Earl of Hopetoun to discuss bird of prey protection at Lead-hills 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 practices on their land.”

The RSPB spokesman said they were committed to tackling crime against birds of prey.

And he added: “We will not take issue with management of land for the shooting of red grouse or other gamebird hunting, provided such activity is undertaken legally, and in accordance with recognised sustainable land-use practices.”

Attempts to contact the Earl of Hopetoun were unsuccessful.