Flaws remain in licensing proposals for grouse shooting

SCOTTISH rural businesses continue to hold ‘grave concerns’ regarding the operation of the proposed licensing scheme for grouse shooting.

Scottish Land & Estates made these comments following the Stage 1 debate on the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament.

They said that the licensing scheme as it stands is ‘disproportionate and unworkable’, and that significant amendments would be required at stage 2 to address these matters.

The rural business organisation also ‘strongly welcomed’ a commitment from the Environment Minister to make interfering with wildlife traps a bespoke criminal offence.

Two women in gear ready for grouse shooting
The grouse shooting season began in August

This follows evidence provided to MSPs by the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scotland’s Regional Moorland Groups and SLE throughout stage 1.

Ross Ewing, Director of Moorland at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “As it stands, the draft legislation is disproportionate and unworkable.

“It would empower NatureScot to suspend licences without any proof of criminality, which exposes grouse moors to punitive sanctions based on vexatious allegations or actions.

“NatureScot would also have the power to decide whether or not it is ‘appropriate’ to grant a licence, which provides a complete deficit of certainty to business.

“[It] ultimately would disincentivise investment in moorland management, as well as local businesses and jobs.

“Earlier this year, 400 rural businesses wrote to Environment Minister, Gillian Martin MSP, urging amendments to be made to the licensing scheme for grouse shooting.

“The letter warned of legal action if pivotal safeguards were not introduced to the Bill.

“Many parliamentarians during today’s debate recognised the disproportionate nature of some of the Bill’s provisions, and have called for the requisite changes to be made at stage 2 to ensure workability.

“While the Scottish Government have accepted some important recommendations made by SLE and others, we need ministers to make further changes and, in particular, remove the ability for NatureScot to suspend licences without proof.

“It is important that we also acknowledge the announcement by Gillian Martin to create a bespoke offence to tackle widespread interference with traps in the Scottish countryside.

“This is an issue which has continually blighted the ability of land managers to manage predation and promote biodiversity.

“We strongly welcome this step which will make a real difference across Scotland.

“Ministers now need to bring forward amendments to ensure these fantastic contributions are not compromised.”