Earl of Hopetoun allegedly responsible for illegal killings of birds of prey

The Earl of Hopetoun is Andrew Hope. His family has owned the Leadhills estate of 19,500 acres for 300 years. It is farmland and moorland across South Lancashire. It has a reputation, it is reported in The Times, as an alleged wildlife crime hotspot. The crimes alleged concern the shooting of protected birds of prey which have vanished or been found dead or dying. It appears that they are shot, trapped or poisoned by bait.

Earl of Hopetoun

Earl of Hopetoun. Photo: Daily Telegraph.

A recent incident highlights the issue. A man was walking on the hills when he watched what he believed to be the gamekeeper wearing a balaclava get off a quad bike and shoot a short-eared owl, one of a pair who were named as Betty and Bertie by locals. He got back onto his quad bike and drove off as calm as you like. It was noted that the quad bike was similar to the ones used by gamekeepers on the Leadhills estate. He was polite enough to close the gate behind him.

Betty and Bertie are well known to the locals. The guy who watched the gamekeeper shoot one of the owls, Anjo Abeleira, said that his son loved them. They reminded him of the Harry Potter owl. There are between 650 and 3,000 breeding pairs in the UK and Betty and Bertie arrived in the district in late spring this year.

They watched them grow up from one-year-of-age. They flew over his house every night and at midnight he could hear them screeching.

The shooting season in the UK has just started. There are grouse moors on the Leadhills estate. However, an estate spokesman said that there had been no commercial grouse shooting on the estate in recent years and that the moor was simply managed and maintained. Notwithstanding this, they have refused to divulge how many gamekeepers are employed on the estate. They also refuse to divulge what they have done in respect of identifying the man on the quad bike referred to.

It is well known that in the UK gamekeepers shoot birds of prey to protect grouse which in turn they believe protects their businesses which is shooting game for pleasure. I would allege that the Earl of Hopetoun is fully cognisant of the shooting of birds of prey and that he is directing the policy of eliminating these birds in order to preserve his business. The evidence points to it. His brick wall defence is transparent.

The manner of this latest shooting appears to have shocked at least one local person. Steph Spode, 35, a local mother of four said that it was devastating to lose another bird. She says that you can look at the hills and mounains and marvel at them but there is no wildlife. She can’t see birds and that there are “dead animals everywhere. What’s going on?”

There is a history of gamekeepers at the Leadhills estate being involved in similar offences over the past 15 years. Lewis Whitham was caught laying a rabbit carcass laced with a banned pesticide in 2010. He was convicted and fined £800. In another incident, Mark Palmer was seen shooting dead a short-eared owl by a birdwatcher. He was similarly convicted and fined £500. After the conviction he drove past the birdwatcher, Kenneth Sludden, and gave him a V sign.

Everyone knows who does it. They blatantly kill wildlife and they get away with it. – Kenneth Sludden

Comment: having read the story in The Times I get the distinct impression that law enforcement is toothless with respect to abuses of wildlife such as those mentioned. This is why the Earl of Hopetoun and his employees disdainfully carry on with their alleged illegal practices. They do indeed appear to be getting away with it. The only way to stop it is to enforce the law far more vigourously. They need to be punished to the point where it becomes a genuine deterrent. This is not happening at present. The best form of deterent would be to threaten to remove his license to run a grouse shooting operation but licenses are not required!

Government policy

This Conservative government supports this sort of activity unfortunately. There was a petition which I can’t read because it is closed but I presume it concerns the licensing of grouse shooting. The response from the government was:

Grouse shooting is a legitimate activity providing economic benefits, investment in remote areas and benefits for wildlife and habitat conservation. The government has no plans to introduce licensing.


There was a recent story which supports, in my view, the callousness of this government with respect to the conservation of wildlife. It concerns the culling of badgers. Carrie Symonds, the Prime Minister’s fiancée, has campaigned to restrict the culling of badgers and, as I understand it, to stop it in Derbyshire. She did succeed for a while but the government has reinstated the culling of badgers in Derbyshire undermining her campaigning.