Conservation at Work

Blog & News


29th February 2024

Ross Ewing on X: " In @ScotParl this afternoon for the stage 1 debate on the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill. Live tweets in this thread as the debate progresses. @ScotLandEstates" /

Plans to license grouse shooting in Scotland (both walked up and driven) are inching forward.

The stated policy aim of the legislation is to protect bird of prey populations, but needless to say this has expanded.

The Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill, as it is called, has now completed the second stage of its progress through the Scottish Parliament. The final stage of debate may take place within the next four weeks.

Successful campaigning by rural organisations has achieved some notable improvements:

  • Firstly, and most crucially, the removal from the Bill of an option to suspend or revoke a grouse moor licence without proof that any offence had been committed.
  • Secondly, a change in the duration of grouse shoot licences – each licence will now be valid for five years, rather than one year, as had been proposed initially.
  • Finally, the removal of a provision which would have classified heather burning as the ‘tool of last resort’ – and only allowable in exceptional circumstances. It seems likely that evidence relating to the increasing threat of wildfire, along with the numerous catastrophic wildfires that have ranged across vast areas of Scotland in recent years, have had an influence on this decision.

The problematic elements of the legislation that remain include the increased powers due to be granted to the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) to search, examine and seize evidence in connection with wildlife crime offences.

This decision goes against the advice of an independent taskforce set up by the Scottish Government to examine the issue. Rural organisations have expressed their opposition to increased powers for the SSPCA, which has a track record of opposing land management for game shooting.

Police Scotland, in its evidence to the Scottish government, pointed out that SSPCA involvement could damage the likelihood of successful prosecutions where a crime has been committed, due to the organisation’s inexperience in adhering to due process. This evidence has so far been ignored by the Scottish Government.

The other worrying aspects are the potential inclusion of other ‘relevant’ offences at the final stage of the Bill. It is not yet clear what these offences may be and all those in the shooting community are concerned that the Bill goes already far beyond its original stated aim — to reduce the likelihood of the illegal killing of birds of prey.

Finally, it is incredibly disappointing that the legislation brings forward an outright ban on the use of snares and Humane Cable Restraints. This will make it extremely difficult to effectively control foxes. Scottish Land & Estates has lamented the effect this will likely have on Scotland’s most threatened, iconic species, including the lapwing, capercaillie, curlew, merlin, and hen harrier.

In England, campaigners are already pushing for all the same snaring restrictions to be imposed. We note that they have yet to propose how they plan to protect some of the last remaining strongholds for these species in this country.


Did You Know?

75% of Europe’s remaining upland heather moorland is found in the UK – but this area declined alarmingly over the latter part of the last century. The Moorland Association was set up in 1986 to coordinate the efforts of moorland owners and managers to halt this loss, particularly in England and Wales.

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