Rural businesses continue to hold ‘grave concerns’ regarding the operation of the proposed licensing scheme for grouse shooting.

This follows the Stage 1 debate on the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament.

Minister Gillian Martin announced in the debate her intention to bring forward a Stage Two amendment to introduce a new specific offence to penalise those who wreck and interfere with legal predator control traps in the countryside.

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Scottish Land and Estates said that the licensing scheme as it stands is ‘disproportionate and unworkable’, and that significant amendments would be required at stage 2 to address these matters.

The organisation also ‘strongly welcomed’ a commitment from Environment Minister, Gillian Martin MSP, to make interfering with wildlife traps a bespoke criminal offence.

This follows evidence provided to MSPs by the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scotland’s Regional Moorland Groups, and SLE throughout stage 1.

Director of moorland at SLaE, Ross Ewing, said: “As it stands, the draft legislation is disproportionate and unworkable. It would empower NatureScot to suspend licences without any proof of criminality, which exposes grouse moors to punitive sanctions based on vexatious allegations or actions.

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“NatureScot would also have the power to decide whether or not it is ‘appropriate’ to grant a licence, which provides a complete deficit of certainty to business and ultimately would disincentivise investment in moorland management, as well as local businesses and jobs.

“Earlier this year, 400 rural businesses wrote to Environment Minister, Gillian Martin MSP, urging amendments to be made to the licensing scheme for grouse shooting. The letter warned of legal action if pivotal safeguards were not introduced to the Bill.

“Many parliamentarians during the debate recognised the disproportionate nature of some of the Bill’s provisions, and have called for the requisite changes to be made at stage 2 to ensure workability.

“While the Scottish Government has accepted some important recommendations made by SLE and others, we need Ministers to make further changes and, in particular, remove the ability for NatureScot to suspend licences without proof.

“It is important that we also acknowledge the announcement by Gillian Martin to create a bespoke offence to tackle widespread interference with traps in the Scottish countryside. This is an issue that has continually blighted the ability of land managers to manage predation and promote biodiversity, and we strongly welcome this step which will make a real difference across Scotland.

“Finally, it was fantastic to hear so many MSPs – including the Minister – acknowledge the importance of grouse shooting to Scotland’s rural economy, as well as the positive role moorland management plays in enriching nature and biodiversity. Ministers now need to bring forward amendments to ensure these fantastic contributions are not compromised.”

The quest for a robust measure to tackle such offences has been a long-running campaign of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA).

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg, MBE, said: “Our members have suffered a long time because of the lack of a robust and clear offence to tackle criminal wrecking and interference with legal predator control traps.

“The announcement from Minister Gillian Martin MSP that she intends to bring forward a specific offence at Stage Two to cover this is, therefore, warmly welcomed by everyone connected with the SGA.

“Not only does this represent a sensible end to a long campaign by ourselves, but it is a common sense move for wildlife and for public safety as well as professional operators.

“At the SGA we will continue to advocate the benefits of professional, legal trapping for conservation and economic purposes in Scotland. This announcement assists that process by offering clarity to everyone on what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to the operation of legal and approved predator control tools in our countryside.”