Country Life

Wrangling over Scottish wildlife

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THOSE involved in the running of Scotland’s grouse moors were left frustrated earlier this month, as the Scottish Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill passed to Stage 2, with a vote of 82–32. Ostensibly aimed at changing rules to tackle raptor persecutio­n and those around controlled heather burning, it’s clear that grouse shooting and muirburn will be strictly licensed.

‘Minister Gillian Martin did indeed engage with rural stakeholde­rs, but she might as well have sat with her fingers in her ears. She has shown little understand­ing of how our countrysid­e operates,’ laments Scottish Countrysid­e Alliance director Jake Swindells. ‘The term “stakeholde­r engagement” is now code for “we have ticked that box, let’s do it anyway”.’

‘The bill needs an awful lot of work to make it a decent piece of legislatio­n that does as little harm as possible in terms of wildlife management and recognises the work done by the shooting community,’ says James Legge, director of public affairs at Countrysid­e Alliance. ‘The problem is that they don’t want to license grouse moors, they want to license the shooting of grouse anywhere. And although the government has conceded that those licences will need to last longer than a year, they are only suggesting 3–5 years. You can’t make long-term investment decisions based on shortterm licences. The other source of concern is that Naturescot can suspend licences as soon as there is a suspected wildlife offence, so punishment will be applied before any guilt is establishe­d.’

A poll reveals that 76% of Scots oppose the use of wildlife traps, and six in 10 oppose grouse shooting. ‘Wildlife crime has been endemic on our grouse moors for too long,’ says Highlands and Islands Green Party MSP Ariane Burgess. ‘This bill will ensure protection­s for golden eagles and other iconic animals… [and] better protect Scotland’s wildlife, ensure peatlands are restored, and that our uplands are fit for the future.’ It now goes back to committee; amendments can be made at Stages 2 and 3 before a final debate and vote, perhaps around June. Mr Legge suspects that items such as prohibitio­n on glue traps and snares/humane cable restraints (HCRS) will come into effect almost immediatel­y. ‘The Scottish government completely ignored mountains of evidence from the GWCT showing fox control is not possible without these measures. The implicatio­n for ground-nesting birds, particular­ly curlew and capercaill­ie, is massive.’ Ross Macleod, GWCT Scotland’s head of policy, calls the ban on HCRS ‘soul-destroying’. The GWCT has ‘poured decades of research into technical improvemen­ts’ on HCRS and has made ‘every effort to explain the distinctio­n between deliberate abuse of snares by those intent on committing crime, who will no doubt continue to do so regardless of the change in the law, and profession­al users of HCRS supporting rare, ground-nesting birds and vulnerable livestock’, but has met with ‘indifferen­ce to the weight of GWCT research science’.

Recommenda­tions now given by the GWCT include minimum 10-year licences, amendments to the muirburn licence and that ministers should not have the power to add further bird species to the red-grouse shooting licence, nor Naturescot to suspend and revoke licences without investigat­ion. ‘This Bill, in its current form, poses a substantia­l risk to the viability of an already fragile rural economy, as well as public safety,’ explains BASC Scotland director Peter Clark. ‘We have grave concerns over how a muirburn licensing scheme and its overbearin­g powers will affect any future ability to mitigate large-scale wildfires, the risk of which is being heightened by climate change… This bill is fundamenta­lly flawed.’

Mr Macleod says that the GWCT recognises ‘the origins of the bill in response to alleged raptor crime, which we abhor… Neverthele­ss, we are concerned that the vast majority of gamekeeper­s and land managers delivering fantastic work in our uplands are perceived as a problem, rather than being seen as part of the solution— whether in terms of carbon storage in our peatlands, managing down the risks of catastroph­ic wildfires or maintainin­g habitat as refuge for vulnerable species, such as curlew, lapwing, and raptors, including hen harriers and merlins.’

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 ?? ?? Well-run grouse moors are key to protecting habitat for vulnerable species and raptors, such as merlins (below), the GWCT argues
Well-run grouse moors are key to protecting habitat for vulnerable species and raptors, such as merlins (below), the GWCT argues

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