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Law passed aimed at improving wildlife protection – reaction

By Tom Ramage

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Scotland’s wildlife is set to benefit from increased protection from a new law passed by the Scottish Parliament, but reaction from lobby groups has been mixed.

The Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill includes a range of measures that will help tackle raptor persecution, and ensure that the management of species on grouse moors is done so sustainably and with animal welfare as a priority.

Controversy in the air: red grouse in flight.
Controversy in the air: red grouse in flight.

The Bill:

bans the practice of snaring in Scotland

bans the use of glue traps to catch rodents

gives greater powers to Scottish SPCA inspectors to tackle wildlife crime

introduces a new licensing framework for grouse moors

strictly regulates the use of muirburn, the controlled burning of vegetation on peatland

Agriculture Minister Jim Fairlie said: “This Bill is a significant step in our wider journey to ensure Scotland’s environment is managed sustainably.

“People who live and work on our land have shown that it’s possible to manage wildlife. They have shown that muirburn, which is a key approach to helping manage wildfires, can be undertaken responsibly and in a way that protects biodiversity.

“We have struck the right balance between improving animal welfare, supporting rural businesses and reinforcing a zero tolerance approach to raptor persecution and wildlife crime.”

Jim Fairlie: Bill is 'a sigificant step'
Jim Fairlie: Bill is 'a sigificant step'

The Bill was introduced as a means of addressing raptor persecution and intended to ensure that the management of grouse moors and related activities were undertaken in an environmentally sustainable and welfare conscious manner. "It will do this by implementing the recommendations of the independent review of grouse moor management," said Mr Fairlie.

Muirburn matters, say keepers
Muirburn matters, say keepers

Muirburn is the intentional and controlled burning of moorland vegetation to encourage new growth (either heather or grassland) for the management of moorland game and wildlife or for improving the grazing potential of the moorland for livestock or deer.

'Seismic change in grouse moors'

Licensing will be a ‘seismic change’ in how grouse moor management operates, Scottish Land & Estates said.

The rural business organisation was speaking after the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill was passed yesterday.

Estates wanting to shoot grouse will now require a licence which will run for a period of up to five years.

Muirburn and certain wildlife traps will also be subject to separate licensing regimes.

Muirburn in Strathspey
Muirburn in Strathspey

Ross Ewing, director of Moorland at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Licensing of grouse shooting represents a seismic change for rural estates and their employees, including gamekeepers and shepherds.

“The legislation goes far beyond the stated intention of deterring the persecution of raptors by introducing a broad range of relevant offences under which licences can be suspended or revoked.

"Many of these offences bear no connection to land managed for grouse shooting.

“The use of certain wildlife traps and muirburn – the rotational burning of heather – will also be subject to separate licensing regimes and, with peer-reviewed science demonstrating that these activities are delivering decisive benefits for biodiversity and nature, it is important that the licensing schemes are as light-touch as possible.

“As the Bill has made its way through parliament, the government has, to its credit, adopted several common-sense amendments after representations from Scottish Land & Estates and others. Extending the grouse licence duration from a year to up to five years, and removing the ability for NatureScot to suspend licences without proof of criminality, have given the legislation a greater chance of being workable in the long-term.

“Grouse management is funded completely privately, unlike other comparable land uses, and experts made clear during committee evidence sessions that there is no public interest in Scotland reducing its area of moorland managed for grouse such are the contributions it makes to combatting climate change and reversing biodiversity loss.

“Estates will engage constructively with the new licensing regime but it is also vital that the Scottish Government and its agencies adopt the same approach going forward and recognise the huge social, economic and environmental contribution that grouse moor management makes to Scotland.”

'Deep fears for red listed species'

Alex Hogg MBE, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: “We have deep fears for the future of red-listed species because of the snaring ban. The impacts of this step must be robustly reviewed and challenged, if need be.

Alex Hogg
Alex Hogg

"This Bill is the biggest change we’ve faced since devolution. We now go straight into new deer legislation.

"We take great heart from the words of MSPs and panelists who spoke the truth so strongly, during committee evidence, on what gamekeepers deliver for biodiversity and communities. It’s time to move forward, mindful of that endorsement.

"We will not be broken.”

Deer Group 'fundamentally opposed'

Members of the SGA Deer Group, comprising deer stalkers and deer managers from across upland and lowland Scotland, met in-person and online last Thursday to discuss a response.

Upon debating each point, it became apparent, unanimously, that the Deer Group were fundamentally and collectively opposed to key issues posed by the consultation.

Given this, and the experience of the most recent Government consultation on deer, where it was felt the key decisions had been taken and practitioner views were treated like a tick-box exercise, the Deer Group was not willing to put the name of the SGA to the consultation process, or any official response to said process.

Instead, the SGA Deer Group will choose to make its case on these issues through mechanisms other than the Scottish Government consultation; mechanisms which it feels will be "more responsive to practitioner views".

Red deer in the Highlands
Red deer in the Highlands

The SGA Deer Group stated that its wider membership had been responsible for the humane management of more deer in Scotland, for biodiversity, than any other body in Scotland and supported national deer management through its Training Centre, which trains new deer managers.

Members are involved in control schemes and environmental programmes across Scotland.

The SGA is currently proposing lowland pilot schemes to Scottish Ministers to help meet higher culls and biodiversity targets.

"Having examined the issues, it cannot, with conscience, support measures contained within the consultation, or the process behind it."

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