SCOTTISH GROUSE shooting estates fear that the introduction of a licensing system would set them up for further false claims by campaigners vying to have them closed down.

In 2017, the Scottish Government announced an independent review of grouse shooting, looking at new legislative options, including the possibility of licensing. Under such a system, should criminality be suspected on a grouse moor, licences could be removed on a reduced proof burden than required for criminal conviction.

Grouse moor owners have warned, however, that anti-bloodsports campaigners have no real interest in shoots continuing under licence, and only see licensing as a step towards the complete shutdown of the industry. The moor managers have also suggested that 'third parties' have been coming onto their ground to commit 'illegal acts' and a ' campaign of intimidation' timed to coincide with the ongoing political review.

Scotland’s regional moorland groups claimed this week that mountain hares had been strung up by rope near roads, and illegal snares had been photographed for publicity – and then removed – fuelling online post urging Ministers to ban grouse shooting.

One Grampian estate said that it was now employing a security firm to safeguard employees after covert cameras were illegally deployed by campaigners to film gamekeepers’ family homes. In the same area, gamekeepers alleged that GPS tracking equipment had been fitted illegally to the underside of work vehicles by saboteurs, while hand written 'hate' letters and persistent online abuse have been endured by staff, whilst supportive businesses and charities have also been targeted.

In Angus, one estate previously reported three dead buzzards to Police which it believed had been planted on its ground to manufacture a criminal case against them.

“It should be everyone’s right to work without fear," said spokesperson for Scotland’s regional moorland groups, Lianne MacLennan. "That is no longer the case for a gamekeeper in Scotland. The strain on them, partners and kids would not be tolerated in any other walk of life.

“If licensing is introduced, this will only escalate. Campaigners want grouse shooting banned. This is their green light. Licensing is their first step," she said.

“People have a right to know what protection they are going to have, if this comes in. If anyone is breaking the law, they deserve to be punished but no estate is safe and we ask Scottish Government to consider evidence carefully before making decisions which will affect families’ lives. Because nothing is being done to protect estates just now, it is becoming passively accepted in Scotland that people can go onto land, cause wilful damage and manufacture problems for those involved in occupations that campaigners don’t like.”

In one incident in Grampian, it is claimed that bolts securing a high seat three metres off the ground were removed, with potential to cause serious injury if not spotted, especially a fall with a firearm.

One gamekeeper, who did not wish to be named, said: “I’ve been filmed, verbally abused, verbally threatened and had very unpleasant messages left for me. On most occasions I have a firearm so I never respond as I would put myself in a difficult position, no matter how innocent I am.

“We’ve had 33 incidents of damage since last July and, on most occasions, the Police don’t even know if a crime has been committed, nor do the Wildlife Crime unit. We’ve lost countless work hours and thousands of pounds in revenue.”

The regional groups and The Scottish Gamekeepers Association have collated these incidents and behaviours in a game sector survey, which they now intend to present to politicians, with crime/ incident numbers, where available.