Scotland to licence grouse moors

PUBLISHED: 17:19 26 November 2020 | UPDATED: 12:51 30 November 2020

Grouse moors are an integral part of Scotland's rural economy...

Pic credit: ANNEYP/Getty

Grouse moors are an integral part of Scotland's rural economy... Pic credit: ANNEYP/Getty

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The Scottish Government has announced it will develop a licensing scheme for grouse moors; rural organisations respond with a joint statement

Rural organisations said today that the Scottish Government’s announcement that it is to develop a licensing scheme for grouse moors will be a seriously damaging blow to fragile rural communities.

Following publication of Scottish Government’s response to Werritty Review of grouse moor management, the following joint statement was issued by: British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scottish Association for Country Sports and Scottish Land & Estates.

“We are dismayed that the Scottish Government has not listened to the voice of some of our most fragile communities which are at the heart of a world class rural business sector. People involved in grouse shooting have already embraced a huge amount of legislation, regulation and guidance to make sure the highest standards are met. This includes estates embracing many of the recommendations contained within the Werritty report.

“Instead, the Scottish Government has paved the way for a very uncertain future for many rural people by announcing that it intends to introduce a licensing scheme for grouse moors which interferes with legitimate business activities and threatens to engulf the sector in a blizzard of red tape that is unprecedented and out of all proportion.

“Substantive work has already been done to improve Muirburn practices with more to come and we need to understand urgently what the Scottish Government envisages in terms of even further controls.

“We are not reassured that moor managers have ‘nothing to fear’. The Minister has herself described the potential withdrawal of a licence as a ‘serious sanction’ – there are real fears this could impact perfectly law-abiding shooting businesses.

“The Werritty Review group itself stated there is no scientific or evidential basis for introducing licensing and we are disappointed that this has been ignored. The real weakness is that this measure misses the target in relation to wildlife crime – which is already at its lowest level – and Scotland already has the most stringent laws to deal with raptor persecution in the UK. A one-size fits all licensing scheme will serve only to play into the hands of those who are dedicated to banning shooting altogether, regardless of the consequences for communities and the environment.

“Grouse shooting plays a vital role in rural Scotland, sustaining communities and delivering substantial economic and environmental benefits. It would be bad legislation if the unsubsidised private investment that underpins these benefits is put at risk by this unnecessary proposal. We also have serious concerns about how such a scheme would work in practice and will be seeking an urgent meeting with Ministers to discuss the details.

“Every element of the Scottish economy will need as much help as possible in the foreseeable future and the proposal to introduce licensing for grouse shooting will do nothing to help achieve this. We will be seeking an urgent meeting with Ministers to discuss how they see this being developed.”

GWCT Scotland statement

Adam Smith, Director of Policy, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust in Scotland, commented: “The Scottish Government’s announcement today on its Review of Grouse Moor Management shows that it has chosen to constrain land management rather than support it with practical options. That is despite the advice of that review concluding that the disadvantages of licensing far outweighed the advantages, and it’s easy to see why the independent review group was so cautious about licensing. They recommended that licensing be held in reserve and implemented in five years’ time only if other reasonable conservation management options were not acted on.

“The Grouse Moor Management report estimated that there are just 120 grouse estates left in Scotland. This reinforces what we know about loss of heather, namely that we have seen over 40% loss of heather habitat since the second world war. Considerable work has been done on this, not least through 20 years of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project which the Scottish Government supported. Many grouse moors have been replaced by farming or forestry to the detriment of many ground-nesting species whose losses are alarming, among them golden plover, lapwing and curlew. Once these priority species lose their open habitat they effectively face local extinction.

“Adding yet more red tape for those best placed to try to preserve and maintain this globally important open habitat, also a massive carbon store, will have consequences. As Scotland loses yet more grouse estates, it risks losing more of its increasingly rare moorland habitat, the species that depend on it and the social and economic life that goes with it.

“Those who claim that licensing is an obvious way to end the illegal killing of raptors have led the Scottish Government on a merry dance. The independent review group decided that the arguments for and against licensing were finely balanced and recommended everyone - from Government to gamekeeper – work to improve moorland management with new approaches. What wildlife management needs is solutions, not another layer of bureaucracy.”

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