Picture: Hilary Chambers
The Scottish parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee met on Tuesday 23 May to discuss a petition from Logan Steele, lodged on behalf of the Scottish Raptor Study Group, which describes itself as, “A network of ~300 raptor experts who monitor and record the fortunes of raptor species across Scotland.” The petition calls for “urgent action to introduce a state regulated system of licensing of gamebird hunting.” In advocating the petition’s position on 18 April Mr. Logan had told the committee, “Raptor persecution is found right across Scotland, but it is particularly intense on driven grouse moors. That is because the industry that drives driven grouse moors requires a large surplus of birds at the end of each season for the guests to shoot. Without that surplus of birds, the industry would not exist. Therefore, all legal and illegal means are taken to reduce the number of predators that could prey on the surplus of birds.” He later elaborated, “The issue is with intensive driven grouse moors where the business model generates a large volume of surplus birds to be killed. There is not a problem with walk-up grouse moors.”
In written evidence submitted to the committee, countryside groups urged government to consider a more measured response to the issue of wildlife crime. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust emphasised the conservation benefits of shooting and noted that it is already subject to extensive regulation. “Gamebird shooting is an important and useful incentive, and has motivated the successful conservation management of woodlands, farmland and moorland for over a hundred years,” their submission read. Meanwhile, a joint submission from Scottish Land & Estates, BASC, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and the Scottish Moorland Group set out a program of non-legislative measures that could build on recent progress in the fight against wildlife crime, including new sanctions for shoots under suspicion, harsher penalties for wildlife crime (as recommended in a report to PAW Scotland by Professor Mark Poustie in February 2016) and a due diligence package that shoots would be expected to adopt. “We would respectfully suggest that the very substantial efforts that have been made to tackle wildlife crime are bearing fruit and whichever course of action is chosen the outcome does not undermine the very considerable progress that has been made,” it concluded. The Scottish Countryside Alliance also submitted the same measures, and the Scottish Association for Country Sports added that “effective prevention, enforcement and training are justifiably preferred routes to address the issues.”
Three options were tabled in response to the petition. Option one was to “conclude that the current legislation and regulation in this area is working effectively” and close the petition. Option two was to write to the cabinet secretary (Roseanna Cunningham MSP) and argue “there may be merit in operating a flexible and non-onerous licensing regime to help ensure that driven grouse shooting businesses operate sustainably and in accordance with best practice” and option three was to put forward the proposals of the countryside groups to the cabinet secretary and close the petition. The committee voted through option two by six votes to four, while rejecting the third option by the narrowest of margins – four votes to five with one abstention.
Responding to the decision the groups that authored the proposals, including the Scottish Countryside Alliance, released a statement saying, “We are disappointed that the committee voted narrowly in favour of a course of action which includes examining the possibility of a licensing scheme for game shooting in Scotland as a method of tackling wildlife crime, particularly at a time when the level of wildlife crime – according to government statistics – is at a historically low level.
“It is widely acknowledged across the political spectrum that only a tiny minority of people engage in wildlife crime and further regulation will impact on communities where game shooting is of vital social, economic and environmental importance.”