7th December 2020

New Regulations for Grouse Moore Licensing

In November of this year the Scottish Government announced that Grouse shooting businesses in Scotland will need to be licensed to operate under new proposals to tackle raptor persecution.

Mairi Gougeon, Scotland’s rural affairs minister, told the Scottish parliament that licensing was needed to strengthen moor management and in particular to prevent birds of prey being killed in order to maximise grouse populations. The plans are part of a range of measures set out in response to the recommendations of the Grouse Moor Management Group, an independent group tasked by the Scottish Government with assessing the environmental impact of grouse moor management.

In the Werritty Report the group discussed how the popularity of grouse shooting and associated bags[1] has varied considerably since the 1850s. Since the late 19th century, the area of moorland managed for shooting grouse has declined. Where this has occurred, heather has given way to grass new tree plantations. An example of the significant decline in the number of grouse moors is in South West Scotland where in 1914 more than 100 properties shot grouse and by 2019 this has reduced to a handful. Similar pressures resulted in the complete disappearance of driven grouse shooting in Wales. By contrast, the Northern Pennines grouse moors have long reported much larger bags than in Scotland. Where there is still open land, heather restoration is possible if grazing is restricted, but, this can be an expensive and lengthy operation, especially if the aim is to re-establish a functioning grouse moor. For estates that continue to provide driven grouse shooting, a pre-shooting target of at least 150 to 200 grouse per km2 is considered desirable. The Report commented that this can only be achieved by actively managing grouse and their habitat as a sustainable wild bird ecosystem.

Despite the findings, the shooting industry is dismayed. Industry experts claim that the introduction of the licensing scheme risks grouse moors closing down, resulting in job losses among game keepers and estate staff, as well as damaging other vulnerable rural businesses, including hotels, country sports shops and suppliers.

In a joint statement issued by five bodies representing landowners, gamekeepers and shooting enthusiasts, the industry said Scotland already had the UK’s strictest anti-persecution measures and incidents were declining.

Despite the Werritty report calling for a five-year probation period before deciding minster’s have called for the licensing rules be in force immediately. Whilst some estate and landowner’s seeing this enforcement as devastating others argue it is just like the regulation they already have for other parts of the business. The licensing would shift the burden of proof onto landowners when it comes to wildlife crime. At the moment, it relies on criminal prosecutions as any kind of deterrent but it is very difficult to secure convictions. The change would mean the land owners would have to respond to claims about raptor persecution or risk losing their licence.

The Werrity Report Response did not solely address the regulation of Grouse Moors but also discussed Muirburn and burning peatland.

Muirburn is the intentional burning of moorland to remove the top layer of vegetation. Burning targets tall, woody patches of heather to allow for new growth. The burn creates the patchwork hill sides and is said to provide food and shelter for game and moorland birds. Under the new regulations Muirburn will also only be permitted under licence, regardless of if in season or not.

There will also be a statutory ban on burning on peatland, except under licence for strictly limited purposes, such as approved habitat restoration projects.

To find out more about the new licencing rules or any other matters raised in the Werritty Report, please contact a member of our Rural Team.

[1] Is the agreed number of game birds that a shoot should allow the Guns to harvest during a days shooting

Fiona James
Rural Land & Business
Blackadders LLP





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