By Meg Montague
Grouse moors in Scotland will be subject to a new licensing scheme after they were unable to combat the illegal persecution of birds of prey through self-regulation, the Scottish government has announced.
However, conservationist and founder of Raptor Persecution UK, Dr. Ruth Tingay has serious doubts about the effectiveness of a licensing scheme.
“Licensing will only be effective if it’s adequately enforced,” explains Dr. Tingay. “That requires resources, and based on past experience I don’t believe for one second that a licensing scheme will be effective in this case.”
The Scottish rural affairs minister, Mairi Gougeon, told the Scottish parliament the government intends to bring forward the necessary legislation to license grouse moors during the next parliamentary term, after the May 2021 election. This is contrary to the five-year timeframe that was suggested by a review group last year.
The Werrity review was commissioned following a 2017 report by Nature Scot, known at the time as Scottish Natural Heritage, that revealed a third of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland had disappeared in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors.
The shooting industry has voiced its “dismay” at the news and warned that a licensing scheme risks grouse moors closing down, affecting employment and other businesses in rural communities.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association and four other organisations representing landowners and shooting enthusiasts said in a joint statement: “Grouse shooting plays a vital role in rural Scotland, sustaining communities and delivering substantial economic and environmental benefits.”
A Scottish government report published earlier this month revealed that driven grouse shooting enterprises are rarely profitable as stand-alone land uses, as spending costs generally outweigh revenue. However, the report also stated that grouse moors represent a higher per hectare employment impact than other moorland uses, generating one full-time equivalent (FTE) per 1,450 hectares.
In response, Dr. Tingay said, “A licensing scheme will only negatively affect rural communities if the businesses are operating outwith the law. It’s as simple as that.”
A spokesman for the SGA has also voiced concerns that law-abiding businesses could be framed by anti-shooting campaigners.
“We have had members having legal traps stolen and vandalised, online monitor groups attempting to stage allegations of illegality with fake photos and online videos when no illegality has occurred,” they said. “If someone removes a legal snare and sets it somewhere else, someone’s license could be under threat if that snare catches something illegally. “
According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ annual bird crime report, of the 85 instances of raptor persecution in the UK in 2019: 45 were from shooting or attempted shooting, 25 were from poisoning and only 9 were from trapping.
In their statement, the industry bodies also made clear their doubts of how the licensing scheme would work in practice and that they would be seeking an urgent meeting with Ministers.
While Dr. Tingay may fundamentally disagree with the shooting industry’s defence of grouse moors, she also does not believe the licensing scheme will work.
“If licensing works, then great, no need for further regulation,” she said, “But if licensing fails, as I believe it will, then the only action remaining is a ban.”
All birds of prey are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the intentional killing or injuring of such a bird is an arrestable offence, yet raptor persecution is an ongoing issue in Scotland. According to the RSPB, 28 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution occurred in Scotland in 2019, making up 33% of the total incidents across the UK.
In 2019, a Scottish gamekeeper evaded jail after pleading guilty to nine wildlife offences including killing two goshawks and three buzzards. The RSPB’s report states that of the 181 individuals prosecuted for bird of prey persecution in the UK between 1990 and 2019 nearly 70% were gamekeepers.