Grouse shoots in Scotland will have to be licensed under a new scheme to tackle the persecution of birds of prey.
New licensing laws will be introduced in the next parliament in a move that triggered an angry backlash from gamekeepers and landowners.
Those with concerns about the scheme argued that it would harm fragile rural economies and played into the hands of those campaigning for an outright ban on the country sport.
A Scottish Government-commissioned review had said licensing should be introduced if there was no improvement in grouse moor management within five years.
But the SNP’s Rural Affairs Minister, Mhairi Gougeon, said the government had to act sooner to tackle “persistent issues” linked to grouse moors.
I am angry beyond expression at the way a community of working people is being treated today in this country and the strain they and their families are constantly having to face as they cope with never-ending scrutiny and inquiry driven by elite charities with big influence over politicians and axes to grind against a people who produce so much for Scotland yet ask little back.”
Alex Hogg of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association
Habitat restoration projects
The review led by Professor Alan Werrity was announced after a NatureScot report found around a third of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland disappeared in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors.
Ms Gougeon said it was likely that NatureScot would oversee the scheme and if grouse moors were managed improperly their licences would be removed.
The proposals also include the licencing of muirburn – the burning of vegetation on moorland – in order to protect wildlife and habitats.
There will also be a statutory ban on burning on peatland, except under licence for strictly limited purposes, such as approved habitat restoration projects.
Guidance on the use of medicated grit and a new code of practice will be produced. Medicated grit is used to control a parasite that harms grouse but concerns have been raised about its impact on the wider environment.
Birds of prey
Amid concerns that birds of prey have been targeted in order to protect grouse populations, Ms Gougeon said she was unable to ignore the suspicious disappearance of raptors.
In a statement to Holyrood, Ms Gougeon argued that a licencing scheme would strike “the right balance”, adding it was not intended to bring an end to grouse shooting.
“Those businesses which comply with the law should have no problems at all with licensing,” she said.
“But, crucially, where there is clear evidence that this is not happening, where agreed standards are not being adhered to or there is evidence of illegal raptor persecution, there will be a range of effective and transparent mechanisms in place to allow us to address such behaviour.”
I am angry beyond expression at the way a community of working people is being treated today in this country…”
Alex Hogg of the SGA
But the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA) warned it would now need to protect its members from “spurious claims” made by activists campaigning to end grouse shooting as they attempt to get licences removed.
Alex Hogg of the SGA said: “Ironically, those who lobbied so hard for licensing have no interest in seeing it being a success. For them, this was always a vehicle to agitate for a full ban. Scottish Parliament legislators should not be naive in thinking otherwise.
“I am angry beyond expression at the way a community of working people is being treated today in this country and the strain they and their families are constantly having to face as they cope with never-ending scrutiny and inquiry driven by elite charities with big influence over politicians and axes to grind against a people who produce so much for Scotland yet ask little back.”
Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), which represents the country’s landowners, also expressed dismay at the scheme.
In a statement issued in conjunction with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, SGA, Scottish Association for Country Sports, SLE said: “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.
“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.”
The organisations added: “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.”