Grouse Moor Management Group: report

Report to the Scottish Government from the independent Grouse Moor Management Group which looks at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices and advises on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.

5. Recommendations

In this section we examine the role of licensing in regulating grouse shooting. We then itemise our main recommendations that arise directly from an examination of options for regulation (Section 3) and also from summaries of the scientific evidence relating to raptors and predation, muirburn, Mountain Hares and the use of medicated grit (Section 4). Additional more specific recommendations on the use of muirburn, culling of Mountain Hares and the use of medicated grit are added in the next section (Increased control on specific activities Section 6), again based on evidence reported in our earlier science summaries.

Options for using licensing to regulate grouse shooting

Licensing is only one of many regulatory approaches that can be used to address our remit. But it is explicitly referred to in our remit and so warrants particular attention. The remit for this review invites the Group “to advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses” and to do so in a way that balances “the Government's commitment to tackling wildlife crime with grouse moor management practice, ….. so that this form of management continues to contribute to our rural economy, while being sustainable and compliant with the law”. As documented in an extended discussion on how licensing might operate (Section 3: Options for Regulation) and the itemisation of the advantages and disadvantages of licensing (Appendix 1), we have explored the option of licensing in great detail. In order to promote further debate on this issue, arguments in favour of and against licensing have been provided by individual members of the Group and brought together in Appendix 1. Not all Group members are in agreement with all points made, so any one individual point cannot be assumed to represent the views of the whole Group.

As noted in Appendix 1, licensing grouse shooting businesses is problematic not least because there is no agreed definition of the term ‘grouse shooting business’. This does not mean that licensing cannot be introduced to better manage grouse shooting – rather it points to the need for such licensing to be appropriately targeted, as recommended in the discussion on licensing in Section 3. This is clearly evident in our recommendations itemised below, which are designed to make the use of muirburn and medicated grit and the management of Mountain Hares more sustainable. For each of these practices, we variously propose licensing, increased legal regulation and a voluntary Code of Practice respectively, with licensing for the management of Mountain Hares and use of medicated grit being introduced should less onerous regulation fail. Such targeted and proportionate regulation for these land management practices accords with relevant scientific evidence and meets the criteria for Better Regulation.

Licensing can also be used to shape the wider context of specific activities. For some Group members the association between some areas of grouse moor management and the evidence for activities adversely affecting raptor populations provides grounds for the licensing of grouse shooting. But for other Group members this evidence is strongly contested and the case for licensing on these grounds is deemed to be flawed (see Annex 1). However, we are agreed that if the effect of our more specific recommendations and the sector’s response to scrutiny do not result in an improvement, and evidence of unlawful activity continues, measures must be taken. There is then justification for taking action which controls, and might ultimately prevent, the use of land which malefactors think is being served by illegal persecution.

It is this anticipated deterrent effect which provides the strongest grounds for considering the introduction of licensing, especially since this review was triggered by the Cabinet Secretary’s concern over the suspicious disappearance of 31% of satellite-tracked Golden Eagles over the period 2004 to 2016. Appendix 1 demonstrates, however, that it is not the only reason for considering the introduction of licensing.

In order to manage the proliferation of licensing schemes, with their attendant costs, should a licensing scheme to shoot grouse be introduced, its implementation should build on the experience of using general and specific licences (as for the control of corvids) and allow for integration with other regulatory schemes. A framework Code of Practice on grouse shooting could be introduced providing advice on best management practices and on regulatory requirements, including licences on muirburn, the management of Mountain Hares and use of medicated grit if and when these are introduced.

Recommendation concerning licensing grouse shooting

In contrast to our other recommendations that are strongly evidence-based, any proposal to license grouse shooting is problematic, its underlying rationale being contested. In our summary of the science on raptors and predation, we state there is evidence of illegal killing. But we also recognise that the scale and impact of this is contested by land managers on the grounds of recent reductions in officially recorded illegal killing (especially involving the use of poison) and recovering populations at a national level despite local declines in the numbers of Golden Eagles, Hen Harriers and Peregrines on or near grouse moors. The claim that licensing will provide an effective deterrent in terms of future illegal killing is also contested (see Appendix 1). Furthermore, our remit requires a balance to be struck between introducing new regulation and it adversely impacting on the contribution that grouse shooting makes to the rural economy. This inevitably takes the debate into a question of values.

This means that any recommendation to license grouse shooting although science-based inevitably involves expert judgment in which values and opinions also come into play. In making a recommendation in this area we are very aware of these challenges and note that at a societal level the final decision is ultimately a political one.

The Review Group was evenly divided on the relative merits for and against the licensing of grouse shooting. In light of this and noting the contested nature of some of the evidence, we make the following recommendation:

1. We unanimously recommend that a licensing scheme be introduced for the shooting of grouse if, within five years from the Scottish Government publishing this report, there is no marked improvement in the ecological sustainability of grouse moor management, as evidenced by the populations of breeding Golden Eagles, Hen Harriers and Peregrines on or within the vicinity of grouse moors being in favourable condition.

The primary goal of such a recommendation is a decrease in the illegal killing of raptors on or within the vicinity of grouse moors, and a significant improvement in their conservation status in these areas. We would not expect all three specified raptors to increase on every moor because conditions may not be locally suitable for them, but what is needed is a measurable increase over grouse moors as a whole.

Statement from the Chair: My option to use the Chair’s casting vote in favour of the immediate introduction of licensing was contested by two members of the Group. In the interests of seeking to produce a unanimous recommendation I chose not to exercise my casting vote.

Recommendations arising from the science reviews

In light of the evidence reported in the reviews of scientific evidence, we recommend:

2. That a framework Code of Practice on grouse shooting be produced reflecting regulation specific to the sector and advising on best management practices. If statutory provisions are included, the Code would need approval by Scottish Ministers with SNH having oversight and ownership.

Within this framework and in light of the science summaries covering raptor persecution and predation, muirburn, the management of Mountain Hares and the use of medicated grit, we make the following recommendations:

Raptor persecution and predation

3. That there should be no change in the legal status of any bird-of-prey species in Scotland.

4. That where particular species are perceived to be limiting the populations of red and or amber-listed ground-nesting birds, including Red Grouse, greater use should be made of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 s16. This existing licensing legislation allows SNH to permit under licence a range of lethal and non-lethal management options.

5. That the brood management programme for Hen Harriers in England should be monitored, and if it is deemed successful in producing an increase in the breeding numbers and distribution of Hen Harriers, then consideration should be given to introducing a similar programme in Scotland.

6. That as much as possible should be done to change the culture of grouse moor management to accept more loss of grouse to avian predators and to allow these predators to nest locally.

7. That SNH, possibly through their licensing agent the BTO, or directly, ensure that the licences issued for the satellite-based tracking of tagged raptors includes a condition that commits the data holder (i.e. the owner of the tag) to: (a) being listed on a register of data holders which SNH, BTO and Police Scotland have access to; and (b) cooperate expeditiously with Police Scotland and SNH in sharing data and associated information regarding tagged birds found dead or missing in suspicious circumstances. That on receipt of shared data and associated information, Police Scotland expeditiously processes the shared data and associated information to determine whether or not it warrants referral to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. The current priority raptors for data sharing would be Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Red Kite, Peregrine, White-tailed Eagle and Goshawk.


8. That muirburn should be subject to increased legal regulation. This should apply to all muirburn, not only on grouse moors.

  • That the Scottish Government should increase regulatory control relating to the Muirburn Code;
  • That SNH and Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (RPID) should be given power and resources to monitor adherence to the Muirburn Code by any land manager[2] carrying out muirburn, whether or not they are in receipt of muirburn-related support payments;
  • That increased training should be required for any land manager directly involved in setting and managing fires;
  • That the Muirburn Code should be subject to regular updates to represent best available knowledge and consideration of predicted changes in climate that might require additional changes to parts of the Code. That this process be subject to expert peer-review;
  • That a fire danger rating system for Scotland should be introduced to better support decision-making about where and when to burn;
  • That the Scottish Government explore changes to the current RPID support payments that would discourage malpractice more effectively than the current very limited breach and penalty powers;
  • That the Muirburn Code published in 2017 should be updated to include the Supplement to the Code: A guide to Best Practice.

Mountain Hares

9. That the shooting of Mountain Hares should be subject to increased legal regulation.

  • That, where the shooting of Mountain Hares is to be undertaken, land managers should be required to report annually to SNH the number of Mountain Hares present (using a standard counting method) and numbers shot on an area of land;
  • That shooting of Mountain Hares should only be undertaken at the times licensed and in compliance with a Code of Practice on the management of Mountain Hares;
  • That, to address concerns about the reliability of estimates of Mountain Hare numbers, SNH should generate a more robust evidence-base on the distribution, numbers and management influences on Mountain Hares to better inform management as well as Article 17 reporting to the Scottish Government and the EU;
  • That adaptive management research should be used to determine relationships between local populations and numbers killed, to help inform and improve management recommendations over time to promote favourable conservation status for Mountain Hares in Scotland.

Medicated grit

10. That the use of medicated grit should be subject to increased regulation.

  • That SNH, following consultation with other appropriate bodies, should publish a Code of Practice on the use of medicated grit;
  • That all land managers using medicated grit to reduce the worm burden in Red

Grouse populations should adhere to the Code of Practice on the use of medicated grit;

  • That SNH should have powers to check compliance with the Code on the use of medicated grit;
  • That if, after five years or less, following introduction of the Code, non-compliance is widespread, the option of introducing licensing should be considered.

Further recommendations on implementing the above with respect to muirburn, managing Mountain Hares and the use of medicated grit are itemised in section 6.

Recommendations arising from options for regulation

In light of our examination of regulatory options (Section 3), we make the following recommendations:

11. That in accordance with our remit to “ensure that grouse moor management continues to contribute to the rural economy” we do not recommend that grouse shooting be banned.

12. That, while noting the progress of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill , the following recommendations of the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group (Poustie Review) should be enacted:

Levels of fines and custodial sentences

  • That maximum penalties available on summary conviction at least for the more serious offences, are raised to at least a £40,000 fine and up to 12 months imprisonment.
  • That conviction on indictment is more commonly made available across the range of wildlife offences with a maximum term of imprisonment of up to 5 years.

Alternative penalties

  • That forfeiture provisions are extended and these and other alternative penalties are made consistent across the range of wildlife legislation as appropriate.
  • That where a firearm or shotgun is involved in the commission of a wildlife crime, the court should have the power to cancel the relevant certificate, as is already the case in the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996.
  • That consideration should be given to amending firearms legislation which is reserved to the UK Parliament to allow the Chief Constable to withdraw a shotgun certificate where such a weapon has been involved in the commission of a wildlife crime not just on grounds of public safety but also on the grounds of a threat to the safety of wildlife.

Sentencing Guidelines

  • That with the establishment of the Scottish Sentencing Council in October 2015, sentencing guidelines are developed for wildlife offences in order to enhance the consistency and transparency of sentencing.

13. That a wider range of moorland management activities should become eligible for RPID support.

14. That land managers should undertake training on relevant land management activities (muirburn, use of medicated grit, managing Mountain Hares, corvid control and setting of traps) and refresher courses when required, to ensure compliance with relevant Codes of Practice.

15. That an accreditation scheme on grouse moor management should be developed following widespread consultation across the grouse shooting sector.

16. Given the fragmented nature of current wildlife legislation, we recommend consolidation of this area of law (as recommended by Poustie).



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