THE Scottish Government is preparing to introduce licensing for grouse moors.

The Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill, announced in the Programme for Government, will implement the findings of the Werritty Review, which recommended a system of licensing for grouse moors in order to tackle the illegal persecution of birds of prey.

When the government proposed the idea of a licensing scheme two years ago some gamekeepers reacted with disapproval, stating that campaigners had no interest in seeing the scheme succeed and would instead use it as a step towards calling for a full ban on grouse shooting.

The RSPB’s Birdcrime report found that 137 birds of prey were illegally killed in the UK in 2020, the highest number of confirmed persecutions in 30 years.

More than 50% of the deaths occurred in connection with land managed for or connected to gamebird shooting.

The National: A recently shot grouse being held by a shooter in Dunkeld A recently shot grouse being held by a shooter in Dunkeld (Image: Jane Barlow)

Conservationists also point to the slaughter of other animals on grouse moors, such as mountain hares, the use of potentially toxic medicated grit, and the burning of heather as reasons why the practice should be regulated.

Gamekeepers state that the driven grouse moor industry provides economic benefits to local communities and that the control of predators is beneficial for certain species.

However, another government commissioned report found that the practice was rarely profitable as a stand-alone land use and tended to be subsidised by other income streams such as deer stalking but that certain species of ground nesting birds did benefit from muirburn.

A spokesperson for the British Association of Shooting and Conservation Scotland (BASC Scotland) told The National: “Grouse moor management plays an essential role in protecting and enhancing habitats and biodiversity in Scotland’s uplands.

“This announcement to introduce licensing for grouse moor management must be cognisant of, and recognise, the high standard of management currently taking place.

“Scotland is facing nature and climate crises, any proposals taken forward must focus on tackling them, not simply appease a small but vocal animal rights agenda.

The National: David Milne, member of a shooting party on the moors in Dunkeld, Perthshire, as the Glorious 12th, the official start of the grouse shooting season, gets underwayDavid Milne, member of a shooting party on the moors in Dunkeld, Perthshire, as the Glorious 12th, the official start of the grouse shooting season, gets underway (Image: Jane Barlow)

“Throughout this Parliament, BASC will be putting forward evidence-based arguments to the Scottish Government, Ministers and MSPs to ensure the correct route is taken, one that supports the role of grouse moor management."

Max Wiszniewski, campaign manager for REVIVE – a coalition of groups calling for the reform of grouse moors – welcomed the announcement.

He said: "Every year, hundreds of thousands of foxes, stoats, weasels, crows and many other animals are killed, thousands of hectares are burned - damaging our environment - while grouse are subject to toxic chemical medication.

“This keeps the numbers of grouse, a supposedly wild bird, unnaturally high so more of them can be shot for sport.

"The Scottish Government must use this historic opportunity to end the entire circle of destruction that surrounds grouse moor management and achieve their own stated aim for a transition to better land uses that benefit our people, wildlife and the environment.”

Details of the Bill have not yet been announced but conservationists hope the licensing system will result in greater accountability for estates acting illegally and ensure all are operating to high legal and environmental standards.

The RSPB wants to see licenses revoked and the right to shoot removed for a defined period for those who fail to comply with the licensing requirements.

But a spokesperson for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association told The National that they hope the system is robust enough to shield them from “vexacious” claims.

They said: "As an organisation representing professional gamekeepers, what we want to see is a licensing system which protects gamekeepers from vexatious claims and enables them to be able to continue providing skilled habitat and wildlife management that brings well researched benefits to Scotland's biodiversity and economy."