More clarity is needed about how measures proposed in the Wildlife Management & Muirburn (Scotland) Bill would work in practice, says Holyrood’s Rural Affairs & Islands Committee.

In its report published today, the Committee calls on the Scottish Government to provide further information on several proposals contained within the wide-ranging Bill, in advance of Parliament taking a decision on its general principles before Christmas.

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The Committee agreed it is essential that the increased regulation of wildlife traps, grouse moor management, and muirburn is proportionate, transparent, and workable. It must also balance the protection of birds of prey and other protected species whilst continuing to sustain rural businesses and employment around Scotland’s moorlands.

Launching the Committee’s report, Convener Finlay Carson MSP, said: “Maintaining the delicate balance between improving wildlife welfare wherever possible whilst safeguarding economic, environmental, and conservation considerations is paramount. We hope the clarity the Scottish Government provides in response to this report will enable Parliament to accurately address many of the legitimate but polarised concerns expressed to us by stakeholders.

“Our scrutiny has been extensive, hearing from a wide range of stakeholders with passionate and well-informed views. I’d like to thank all respondents for their written evidence and witnesses for giving evidence.”

Some areas of clarification required, include:

Glue traps – the Committee agrees that members of the public should be banned from using or purchasing glue traps but asks for more information on alternative forms of rodent control appropriate for use in settings where there is an enhanced public health risk. The report also asks for clarification as to why a licensing scheme would not be practical.

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Measures to address raptor persecution – more information is needed on the levels of recovery of raptor populations on or in the vicinity of grouse moors to enable a view on whether the Bill’s proposals for licence schemes for the use of wildlife traps and for grouse shooting are a proportionate response.

Muirburn licensing scheme – The committee supports the principle of additional regulation for making Muirburn in Scotland but members have mixed views about whether this proposed licensing scheme is appropriate. The Committee agreed with Muirburn as a way of preventing the spread of wildfires but agrees any licensing scheme needs to be workable and appropriate to accommodate a wide variety of practitioners. Further information on an updated Muirburn code is called for, with training for practitioners included in it.

Extension of Scottish SPCA’s investigatory powers – the report asks for further information about the scope of the new powers being given to Scottish SPCA inspectors and about whether these powers will come into effect before a protocol is agreed with Police Scotland.

Some key recommendations in the report, include -

Ability to suspend a licence – strong concerns were expressed to the Committee by potential licence applicants around NatureScot’s power (as licence administrator) to suspend or revoke a licence, despite it not being satisfied an offence has been committed. The Committee calls for greater reassurances that this power would not be used in response to vexatious complaints.

Wildlife trap licensing scheme – The Committee agrees there is a case for a specific offence of trap vandalism to be included in the Bill.

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Annual grouse moor licensing scheme – in response to strong representation from stakeholders, who described the idea of an annual licence of land for killing and taking of birds as ‘frankly idiotic’, the Committee recommends that the proposed licensing period should be extended.

Ban on the use of snares – the Committee agrees with the ban on the use of ‘traditional’ snares to protect animal welfare. The Committee does not endorse the use of any method of predation control which causes unnecessary suffering to sentient animals or unacceptable risks to non-target species but is not able to take a view on the use of modified cable restraints.