A licensing scheme for grouse moor shooting will be introduced in Scotland as part of efforts to stop the illegal killing of birds of prey, rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon has announced.
Grouse shooting businesses will need a licence to operate under new Scottish Government proposals that also include controls for muirburn – the burning of vegetation in moorland areas.
Ms Gougeon insisted that law-abiding gamekeepers “should have nothing to fear” from the plans but warned that evidence of “illegal raptor persecution” would lead to licences being revoked.
Seeking to allay fears from the shooting and gamekeeping sectors, she said the government would ensure that “no credence is given to any vexatious or malicious claims of malpractice”.
In a statement to parliament, Ms Gougeon said: “It’s clear to me we could not continue with the status quo.
“We all benefit from our natural environment and we all have a responsibility to ensure that it is not only protected, but enriched.
“The changes that I’ve announced today strike what I believe to be the right balance.
“They’re not designed to bring an end to grouse shooting; indeed those businesses which comply with the law should have no problems at all with licensing.
“But crucially, where there is clear evidence that this is not happening, that 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 that behaviour.”
The proposed policy was based on a study examining grouse moor management conducted by Dundee University’s Professor Alan Werritty.
He was commissioned by the Scottish Government to make recommendations on how to reduce the illegal killing of raptors but also give due regard to the socioeconomic contribution that grouse shooting makes to Scotland’s rural economy.
In his report, Prof Werritty suggested that a shooting licensing scheme should be introduced if there is no “marked improvement” in the ecological sustainability of grouse moor management within five years.
But Ms Gougeon said the government concluded it “needs to act sooner” because of “persistent issues” linked to grouse moors.
She added: “I cannot ignore the fact that some of the practices associated with the grouse moor management, such as muirburn and the use of medicated grit, have the potential to cause serious harm to the environment if the correct procedures are not followed.
“Neither can I ignore the fact that, despite our many attempts to address this issue, every year birds of prey continue to be killed or disappeared in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors.”