Scottish government lashes out with grouseshooting restrictions

The Scottish government has lashed out at grouseshooters with a raft of measures designed to restrict the sport. It plans to introduce licensing for both ‘grouse shooting businesses’ and muirburn, and it is threatening a ban on medicated grit.

Muirburn licences will only be given out ‘in order to protect wildlife and habitats’, and no licences will be given to burning on peatland, which is where almost all muirburn takes place. The government insists that licensing businesses will ‘tackle raptor persecution’, which is basically the lowest it’s been in about 30 years. It defines the kind of business it wants to licence as ‘a driven grouse moor business’ and a ‘grouse shooting business’.

It gives no timescale for the legislation, which threatens an end to heather moorland. The UK has 75% of the world’s heather moorland, providing a unique habitat for birds including rare waders. The legislation will reduce that by two-thirds. However the government confirms that it plans to introduce the measures immediately.

The new measures are a reaction to the ‘Werritty report’ on grouse shooting – produced by Grouse Moor Management Group, chaired by Professor Alan Werritty – which recommended a five-year trial of licensing. The Scottish government rejects that. In a statement, minister for rural affairs and the natural environment Mairi Gougeon says: “While I understand why the review group also recommended that such a scheme should be introduced if, after five years, ‘there is no marked improvement in the ecological sustainability of grouse moor management’, I believe that the Government needs to act sooner than this and begin developing a licensing scheme now.

Gougeon ignores research showing that muirburn and medicated grit encourages rare birds and that muirburn helps prevent summer wildfires. She claims that, “muirburn and the use of medicated grit have the potential to cause serious harm to the environment, if the correct procedures are not followed”.

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Gougeon’s measures will end this good work.

Despite a new record low for convictions of gamekeepers killing gamebirds on grousemoors, she continues to follow the RSPB line that, as she says, “every year birds of prey continue to be killed or disappear in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors”.

She claims that the new measures are “not designed to bring an end to grouse shooting”.

However, shooting and countryside organisations are united in their condemnation of the move. BASC’s Ross Ewing says the move shows “utter contempt for the ‘independent review’, not to mention the fragile communities and iconic wildlife which rely on sustainable, ethical grouse moor management in Scotland”.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg says: “This decision will anger our community. It will not be easily forgotten. Our members have effectively had targets painted on their backs, today.

“Our responsibility now is protect them from spurious claims sure to come their way from those seeking to end grouse shooting in Scotland and to have licences taken away.

“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.

“If we are not to lose an important element of Scottish rural life, gamekeepers require some substantive recognition from Parliament for the many benefits they deliver and not the endless battering they perpetually experience.”

A joint statement by BASC, SGA, the Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Association for Country Sports and Scottish Land & Estates expresses dismay about the move, and a mistrust of Gougeon’s reassurances that the legislation will have no impact on driven grouseshooting. It talks of the minister engulfing driven grouseshooting in a “blizzard of red tape that is unprecedented and out of all proportion” and adds: “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.”

GWCT director of policy Adam Smith, says: “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 grousemoors 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.

Smith says that antis have misled politicians. “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,” he says. “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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