Mixed reaction in the Highlands to Holyrood's proposed grouse shooting licences
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In response to yesterday's announcement in Scottish Parliament that Scottish Government will introduce a licensing system for grouse shoots in Scotland, battle lines have pretty much remained unchanged across the countryside spectrum.
Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg, MBE, said: “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.”
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: "We fully support the announcement by Mairi Gougeon MSP and the Scottish Government regarding the implementation of licensing for grouse moors.
"Responsible shooting estates and operators should have nothing to fear from it.
"The Werrity report found that there was a scarcity of breeding birds of prey on many grouse moors. There has been sufficient time to address these issues but there has been no evidence of improvement which led to this decision.
"This announcement will mean further protections for Scotland’s wild animals and habitats which we completely endorse.’
Adam Smith, director of policy at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust in Scotland, commented: “The Scottish Government’s announcement on its Review of Grouse Moor Management shows that it has chosen to constrain land management rather than support it with practical options. That is despite the advice of that review concluding that the disadvantages of licensing far outweighed the advantages, and it’s easy to see why the independent review group was so cautious about licensing. They recommended that licensing be held in reserve and implemented in five years’ time only if other reasonable conservation management options were not acted on.
“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 grouse moors 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.
“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. 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.”
The Scottish Wildlife Trust welcomed the Scottish Government’s response to the independent Grouse Moor Management Group’s report.
Jo Pike, chief executive, said: “We’re delighted that the Scottish Government has announced it will act to ensure that driven grouse shooting is managed in a way that delivers better outcomes for our climate and for biodiversity.
“We believe introducing a licensing scheme will support efforts to tackle raptor persecution in Scotland. Everyone with an interest in the country’s uplands is agreed that this serious crime must be stamped out.
“We also welcome a ban on muirburn to protect peatlands, and further controls on the use of medicated grit.
“The Scottish Government, conservationists and land managers can work together to ensure the approach taken to licensing is practical, and that it delivers meaningful progress towards tackling climate change and protecting Scotland’s wildlife.”
Rural organisations said that the Scottish Government’s announcement would be a seriously damaging blow to fragile rural communities.
A joint statement was issued by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scottish Association for Country Sports and Scottish Land & Estates:
“We are dismayed that the Scottish Government has not listened to the voice of some of our most fragile communities which are at the heart of a world class rural business sector. People involved in grouse shooting have already embraced a huge amount of legislation, regulation and guidance to make sure the highest standards are met. This includes estates embracing many of the recommendations contained within the Werritty report.
“Instead, the Scottish Government has paved the way for a very uncertain future for many rural people by announcing that it intends to introduce a licensing scheme for grouse moors which interferes with legitimate business activities and threatens to engulf the sector in a blizzard of red tape that is unprecedented and out of all proportion.
“Substantive work has already been done to improve Muirburn practices with more to come and we need to understand urgently what the Scottish Government envisages in terms of even further controls.
“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.
“The Werritty Review group itself stated there is no scientific or evidential basis for introducinglicensing and we are disappointed that this has been ignored. The real weakness is that this measure misses the target in relation to wildlife crime – which is already at its lowest level - and Scotland already has the most stringent laws to deal with raptor persecution in the UK. A one-size fits all licensing scheme will serve only to play into the hands of those who are dedicated to banning shooting altogether, regardless of the consequences for communities and the environment.
“Grouse shooting plays a vital role in rural Scotland, sustaining communities and delivering substantial economic and environmental benefits. It would be bad legislation if the unsubsidised private investment that underpins these benefits is put at risk by this unnecessary proposal. We also have serious concerns about how such a scheme would work in practice and will be seeking an urgent meeting with Ministers to discuss the details.
“Every element of the Scottish economy will need as much help as possible in the foreseeable future and the proposal to introduce licensing for grouse shooting will do nothing to help achieve this. We will be seeking an urgent meeting with Ministers to discuss how they see this being developed.”