The country landowner is not some kind of wildlife serial killer

LORD DAVID JOHNSTONE, Annandale Estates, Lockerbie

THE term landowner tends to evoke as much goodwill as lawyer, estate agent or accountant. Bankers are among the few who have muscled in on the act recently and joined the ranks of the most regularly abused stereotypes.

Landowners are well used to it, as we have been getting it in the neck for centuries. Never-theless, we get on with running rural businesses and looking after chunks of the countryside as best we can. For most of us, it's a labour of love (with a hint of masochism) and a way of life.

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Although you learn to develop a thick skin as a landowner, you cannot help but be dismayed when seemingly all the ills of rural Scotland are laid at your front door.

The most striking example of this during the past year in part-icular has been the issue of wildlife crime. The Scotsman has been campaigning intensively to help eradicate illegal raptor poisoning in particular, and that is an objective that I support, as do the overwhelming majority of landowners in Scotland.

Both the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association and the Scottish Estates Business Group, which represent nearly 3,000 Scottish landowners or estates, have made their positions abundantly clear – wildlife crime should not be tolerated and should be punished accordingly.

Unfortunately, there are those who do not seem willing to hear, let alone listen to, that message. It was therefore depressing, but predictable, to read the latest volley of criticism of landowners emanating from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is now advocating that landowners could face criminal charges for wildlife crime, even if they have nothing to do with the offence.

Let me say that I believe any landowner who instructs gamekeeping staff or any employee to use illegal poison or bait should face the appropriate consequences. However, holding landowners responsible for the unilateral actions of others, be they employees or tenants on the land, is not only Draconian but unprecedented.

There are ample provisions in existence to take action against landowners who indulge in acts of wildlife crime.

Of course, it would be absurd to suggest that some landowners or their employees have not engaged in poisoning of birds. However, these instances are rare when you consider the amount of Scotland's countryside that is managed to some of the highest standards in the world. It should also be remembered what action is being taken by landowners to tackle the issue of wildlife crime. We work with all government agencies and a host of other organisations with the interests of the countryside at heart.

Landowners are active participants in Paw – the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime – which is working on an in-depth report on raptor persecution.

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No-one in their right mind wishes to see the pages of The Scotsman, or any other paper, emblazoned with photographs of poisoned birds of prey.

The control of raptors is a complex and sensitive issue and a huge amount of time and effort goes into getting the balance right.

Take, for example, the Lang-holm Project which is dedicated to addressing raptor-moorland management and will run for up to ten years.

Estates in Scotland are part of their local communities and in general deliver significant social, economic and environmental benefits. There is a vast range of challenges in the countryside and ensuring the preservation of wildlife is undoubtedly one.

It serves no real purpose to portray the landowners gratuitously as some kind of wildlife serial killer.

The fact is that the protection and enhancement of wildlife are in our interests as much as anyone else's.

Where there is a genuine will to deliver a solution to this problem landowners can, and will, play their part.

We're up for it – will others be prepared to put pragmatism before prejudice?

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