Reaction to proposals for a licensing scheme for grouse moor shooting in Scotland has been mixed, with environmental groups welcoming the decision while gamekeepers have complained of an “endless battering” against rural life.
Rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon said the Scottish Government intended to require grouse shooting businesses to be licensed in an attempt to curb “illegal raptor persecution”.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Ms Gougeon acknowledged the measures “will not be welcomed by everyone” but that action had to be taken to stop the mysterious killing and disappearance of birds of prey near grouse moors.
Reacting to the announcement, Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg said: “This decision will anger our community. It will not be easily forgotten. Our members have effectively had targets painted on their backs, today.”
He claimed that those who campaigned for licensing “have no interest in seeing it being a success” and instead want to use it “to agitate for a full ban”.
Mr Hogg added: “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.”
Revive – an umbrella organisation for grouse moor reform in Scotland, made up of charities such as OneKind, Friends of the Earth Scotland, League Against Cruel Sports and Raptor Persecution UK – welcomed the plan.
Campaign manager Max Wiszniewski said: “We are encouraged by some of what we have heard from the Scottish Government and welcome proposals to address the severe damage caused by grouse moor management.
“Scotland’s grouse moors are barren landscapes devoid of the majority of naturally occurring flora and fauna, surrounded by a circle of destruction intended to wipe out anything which pose a threat to red grouse, which are effectively farmed to be shot for entertainment.”
The Scottish Conservatives’ environment spokesperson Liz Smith said the decision was “another SNP attack on rural Scotland which will have deeply damaging and long-lasting consequences”.
She criticised ministers for not waiting five years – as suggested by a grouse more management study – to introduce a license scheme if there were no improvements.
Scottish Greens environment spokesman Mark Ruskell was critical that a consultation on the plans will involve gamekeeper and shooting organisations but no environmental groups were mentioned.
He said: “It’s very disappointing that after 150 years of wildlife being mass killed on Scottish moors, delays to the watered-down Werrity report and the Scottish Government dragging its heels for another year, all we have is a consultation on licencing which will be drawn up by the industry.”
Scottish Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur said: “Scottish Liberal Democrats have been calling for a licensing scheme and this is a positive step in that direction.
“There needs to be a better balance in the interests of animal welfare, the environment and biodiversity. But a scheme can protect responsible operators too.”
Scottish Labour’s Claudia Beamish said: “The persecution of wildlife and the illegal shooting of raptors to preserve only grouse for sport must stop and will require additional resourcing for proper enforcement.
“Scottish Labour is not against shooting in the countryside by local residents with appropriate gun licenses, shooting for the pot or commercial enterprises for sport, but a robust licensing system must to be introduced immediately to regulate driven grouse moors.”