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Grouse shooting to be licenced in Moray and rest of Scotland

By Alistair Whitfield

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A fierce row has broken out following news that grouse shooting and Muirburn will soon only be permitted under licence.

The Scottish Government announced today that it is going to develop a licensing system.

The Red Grouse was taken at Broubster, trying to hide from me.
The Red Grouse was taken at Broubster, trying to hide from me.

Mairi Gougeon, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, said: "Grouse moor management is a complex issue, attracting strong views and public interest.

"Having given full consideration to the recommendations of the Grouse Moor Management Group, alongside a wealth of other evidence and research, I have concluded that greater oversight of the practices associated with grouse moor management is necessary.

"The majority of those tasked with managing land already follow best practice guidance and care deeply about the countryside and the land that they manage.

"I cannot, though, ignore the fact that some of the practices associated with 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 disappear in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors.

"The changes that I have announced today strike what I believe is the right balance.

"They are 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.

Mairi Gougeon, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment.
Mairi Gougeon, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment.

"But, crucially, where there is clear evidence that this is not happening, where 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 such behaviour."

Several rural organisations have hit out at today's announcement.

A joint statement has been issued by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Scottish Countryside Alliance, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, the Scottish Association for Country Sports and Scottish Land and Estates.

They said: "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.

"It threatens to engulf the sector in a blizzard of red tape that is unprecedented and out of all proportion.

"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.

"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 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.

"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."

Alex Hogg MBE, the chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.
Alex Hogg MBE, the chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

In addition, Alex Hogg, who is the chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, 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.

"They and their families are under the strain of constantly having to face never-ending scrutiny and inquiry, which is driven by elite charities with big influence over politicians and axes to grind against 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."

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