Nearly 400 businesses have joined together to urge the Scottish Government to avoid a ‘disastrous and irreversible’ outcome for rural Scotland from its plans to licence grouse shooting.

Butchers, hotels, tradespeople, farms and upland estates are amongst those to have written to Environment Minister, Gillan Martin MSP, seeking changes to be made to the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill, currently at stage 1 in the Scottish Parliament.

However, the Scottish Government has maintained its position arguing the measures are “practical, proportionate and targeted.”

READ MORE: Grouse Moor Management: Halting Wildlife Decline!!

Areas of concern identified in the letter include the short, one-year duration of the licence, the proposed discretionary power of NatureScot to suspend licences and the wide range of offences that could lead to a licence being modified, suspended or revoked.

Ross Ewing, Director of Moorland at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “If the proposed licensing scheme is introduced without amendments, then it would be disastrous - not only for moorland estates; but also for the broad range of businesses and communities that rely on them across rural Scotland.

“Scottish Government commissioned research has shown that, compared to other upland land uses, grouse shooting provides: the greatest number of jobs per hectare; the highest levels of local and regional spending; and the greatest levels of investment per hectare without public subsidy. The Scottish Government will jeopardise this if it does not bring forward amendments that will provide certainty to businesses and legal safeguards for licence holders.

“We believe that - by working with us on the suggestions set out in this letter - the Scottish Government will be able to achieve its policy objective, without running the risk of fatally damaging a vital rural sector. We very much hope they will be willing to constructively engage.”

The game and country sports sector is worth over £350m per year to the Scottish economy. Over 11,000 full time jobs are supported by sporting shooting, often in rural areas where alternative sources of employment are scarce.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the valuable contribution that grouse shooting makes to our rural economy. But it is clear that grouse moors must be managed in a sustainable and responsible way that minimises environmental impacts and helps to protect nature and wildlife.

“The provisions in the Bill provide for a practical, proportionate and targeted licensing regime which will support those carrying out activities appropriately and in line with the law, and will have consequences for those that don’t.”

READ MORE: MSPs seek views on grouse moors raptor laws

Mark Tyndall, owner of the Horseupcleugh Farm in the Lammermuirs, said: “There is deep-seated concern among rural farms and estates about the total lack of procedural safeguards within the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill, as well as the disproportionate nature of several provisions outlined in our letter.

“The Scottish Government must see that the Bill, in its present form, goes way further than is required to address the policy aim of reducing raptor persecution. Furthermore there are significant questions over whether the bill is compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“We sincerely hope that the Scottish Government is willing to address the problems with this Bill and avoid protracted litigation, so that moorland management can continue to deliver biodiversity gains as well as a sustainable rural economy with unparalleled levels of employment and investment, all at virtually no cost to the public purse.”