Gamekeepers claim rural life under attack as licensing regime to be imposed on grouse shooting

Dan Sanderson
·4 min read
The sport will be hit with harder regulation by SNP ministers - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
The sport will be hit with harder regulation by SNP ministers - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Scottish gamekeepers have complained that rural life is facing an endless battering after it emerged that a licensing regime is to be imposed on grouse shooting businesses.

Firms warned that the move, announced by SNP ministers on Thursday, risked devastating rural economies, after they were warned those that fail to follow wildlife protection rules will face being shut down.

The Scottish Government claimed the new rules are necessary to protect rare raptors, and that it could not ignore several cases of birds of prey either dying or going missing in suspicious circumstances over grouse moors.

However, representatives of rural businesses said the changes were completely disproportionate and meant law-abiding, responsible estates would become engulfed in a “blizzard of red tape”.

The activities of shooting estates has become an increasingly divisive issue in Scotland and landowners warned that the new restrictions would “play into the hands” of campaigners who wanted shooting for sport banned altogether.

A major report published in 2018 included a suggestion of a licensing regime for shooting estates, but proposed a five-year probationary period, to assess whether businesses could improve practices themselves, before any such system was imposed.

However, Mairi Gougeon, the SNP’s rural affairs minister, rejected the timetable and said the government would “begin developing a licensing scheme now.”

Alex Hogg, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman, said those who campaigned for licensing "have no interest in seeing it being a success" and instead want to use it "to agitate for a full ban".

He added: "I am angry beyond expression at the way a community of working people is being treated in this country and the strain they and their families are constantly having to face as they cope with never-ending scrutiny and inquiry, driven by elite charities with big influence over politicians and axes to grind against a people who produce so much for Scotland yet ask little back."

Justin Muir takes a shot on first day of the grouse shooting season on Forneth Moor on August 13, 2018 in Dunkeld, Scotland - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
Justin Muir takes a shot on first day of the grouse shooting season on Forneth Moor on August 13, 2018 in Dunkeld, Scotland - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

A recent opinion poll commissioned by animal rights campaigners found that 71 per cent of the Scottish public oppose grouse shooting, with just 12 per cent in favour.

However, advocates of the sport say it is misunderstood, bringing significant economic benefits to otherwise deprived parts of the country, while sustaining swathes of moorland.

Ms Gougeon also said that muirburn, the process of using controlled fire on heather moorland, will also only be permitted under licence regardless of the time of year it is undertaken. There will also be a statutory ban on burning on peatland, except under licence for strictly limited purposes.

A recent report by the RSPB warned that damaged peatland is producing as much carbon as all HGVs on British roads, and that millions of hectares of degrading peat risked cancelling out planned climate action such as planting trees.

In a joint statement, five groups representing landowners and shooting estates expressed “dismay” at the changes and said grouse shooting businesses had already embraced a “huge amount” of legislation, regulation and guidance.

The groups, which include  the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Scottish Countryside Alliance and Scottish Land & Estates, said: “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.

“Every element of the Scottish economy will need as much help as possible in the foreseeable future and the proposal to introduce licensing for grouse shooting will do nothing to help achieve this.”

Ms Gougeon acknowledged the measures "will not be welcomed by everyone" but said action had to be taken to stop the mysterious killing and disappearance of birds of prey near grouse moors.

She insisted the changes were “not designed to bring an end to grouse shooting” and that law-abiding businesses should have “no problems at all with licensing”.

She added: “But, crucially, where there is clear evidence [following the law] 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."