A BILL which aims to end the illegal persecution of raptors through a variety of measures, including a licensing regime for grouse moors, has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament.

The Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill seeks to simultaneously end the illegal killing of protected birds of prey and ensure that grouse moors are run in a manner which is sustainable and complies with animal welfare standards.

The RSPB’s Birdcrime report for 2021 found that there were 108 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK that year – with 71% of them linked to land managed for gamebird shooting.

Amongst the birds killed in the 17 incidents to occur in Scotland was a young golden eagle found dead on the Invercauld Estate in Cairngorms National Park.

A toxicology report confirmed it had been illegally poisoned with a rabbit bait laced with a banned pesticide.

Since 1981, 68 golden eagles have been illegally killed in Scotland. Yet despite the majority of them being poisoned on grouse moors nobody has ever been convicted in the relation to the deaths.

It is hoped the bill will bring an end to such persecution by making it an offence to purchase and use glue traps for the trapping and killing of any animal that isn’t an invertebrate.

Licencing and training requirements for the use of other wildlife traps will also be introduced as well as a licencing scheme for land used to shoot red grouse.

Furthermore, the bill will extend the existing licencing regime for muirburn – the practice of burning old growth heather on grouse moors – and only permit muirburn on peatland in limited circumstances.

Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said: “The illegal killing of Scotland’s magnificent birds of prey cannot be tolerated.

“This bill will seek to tackle the destructive minority who would continue to commit these wildlife crimes.

The National:

“I recognise that grouse shooting contributes to the rural economy and this bill is not about stopping this activity.

“However, it is clear that grouse moors must be managed in a sustainable and responsible way ensuring any environmental impacts are minimised.

“The public consultation on the Bill, which received over 4,500 responses, made clear that the regulation and protection of our natural environment is an important issue for many.

“The views of both the public and stakeholders have been carefully considered in the formation of this bill and I look forward to its passage through Parliament.”

Peatlands are regarded as an important habitat to protect in Scotland due to their ability to absorb and store large amounts of carbon. Environmental organisations such as the RSPB have previously called for muirburn to be prohibited on peat rich soils except in “exceptional circumstances” due to fears about its impact on carbon sequestration.

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However, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has said that the proposals in the bill seeking to restrict the use of muirburn on peatlands are “short sighted”.

An SGA spokesperson said: “The Bill leaves some fundamental questions unanswered for our members and we will be seeking meetings with decision makers in the coming days.

“It is very disappointing that Scottish Government has ignored the longest running UK research, Peatland- ES-UK, which is finally giving us fresh insights into the important role that controlled muirburn can play in sequestering carbon in peatlands.

“This bill will, instead, restrict that activity in Scotland at a time when it could be assisting national objectives.

“It is a short-sighted step at a time when our understanding has developed considerably. Scottish Government should understand this move will not be taken well by rural workers.”

The Peatland-ES-UK ten-year report undertaken by academics at the University of York found that both burning and mowing heather released significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, both initially and in the first few years following.

However, it stated that this was counteracted by increased absorption later down the line – particularly in the case of burning.

But Max Wiszniewski, campaign manager for REVIVE – a coalition of organisations calling for the reform of Scotland’s grouse moors – welcomed the bill.

He said: “Intensively managed grouse moors are unnatural monocultures that are burned and stripped of competing wildlife so more grouse can be shot for sport.

“By creating a circle of destruction around huge areas of our land, biodiversity and more diverse economic opportunities are missed for Scottish people and communities.

“With a new first minister on the horizon, as the bill progresses through Parliament, we hope it will be even bolder and braver to meet the expectations of the Scottish people.”

The Scottish Greens also hailed the introduction of the bill as a key commitment of the Bute House Agreement with the SNP.

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The party’s rural affairs spokesperson Ariane Burgess said: “Carrying out muirburn to try and improve the habitat for red grouse so that there are more of them to be shot for bloodsports is outdated, unnecessary, and damages the environment and our climate.

“Our iconic hills and wildlife are for all of us. Their management must serve local communities and the national interest rather than the interests of the few who pursue what has become a niche and elitist bloodsport.”

But the director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, Jake Swindells, said the bill could “undermine” the management of wildlife in the country.

“We remain extremely concerned that the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill could undermine effective wildlife management, while also risking much of the investment associated with grouse shooting, which is vital for the management of precious moorland habitats and the livelihoods of many rural workers,” he said.

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“Unless the Government works closely with those who actually manage the land, they risk getting this very wrong. Much of the devil will be in the detail of the regulations and licensing regimes which will follow.

“The Scottish Countryside Alliance will work to ensure the future of Scotland’s rural community and wildlife are protected and that policy is based on sound evidence, which has not always been the case with policy impacting the countryside in recent years”.

The Scottish Conservatives spokesperson for rural affairs, Rachael Hamilton, said she already had concerns about what the proposals would mean for rural communities. 

She said: "The Scottish Conservatives will be carefully scrutinising this legislation when it comes before Parliament.

"We already have concerns about what these proposals will mean for rural communities and livelihoods.

"All too often we are seeing proposals from the SNP-Green government that do not take into account the unique needs of the rural economy.

"Many rural stakeholders have rightly raised concerns over how this could potentially undermine successful moorland management and I will be working closely with colleagues and ministers to ensure this does not come to fruition.”