Part 1: Licensing of grouse shooting
The Werritty report recommended 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."
It is important to note that this was a compromise. The Chair of the review, in the preface to the report stated:
"The Group was evenly split on whether or not to license grouse shooting. When, as Chair, I sought to exercise a casting vote in favour of the immediate introduction of licensing, this was contested by two members of the Group. In order to have a unanimous recommendation on this key issue with the authority that implies, the Group proposes a five-year probationary period for specified raptors on or near grouse shooting estates to recover to a 'favourable' conservation status. Should this target fail to be achieved, then licensing should immediately be introduced."
On 29 November 2020, responding to the Werritty report in a statement to the Scottish Parliament, the then Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment said:
"The key recommendation put forward in the Werritty report – is that a 'licensing scheme be introduced for the shooting of grouse'. This is a recommendation that I accept.
However, while I understand why the review group also recommended that such a scheme should be introduced if, after five years, 'there is no marked improvement in the ecological sustainability of grouse moor management', I believe that the Government needs to act sooner than this and begin developing a licensing scheme now."
The Scottish Government has always been clear that wildlife crime is unacceptable, and we have brought forward a number of measures to tackle the issue over the years, escalating in response to the ongoing illegal persecution.
These measures have included a poisons amnesty, vicarious liability, restrictions on general licences and most recently, significant increases in penalties for wildlife crimes.
Scottish Government Proposals
In its written response to the Werritty Report the Scottish Government stated:
"The Scottish Government agrees that a licensing scheme should be introduced. However, we believe that it should be implemented earlier than the five-year timeframe suggested by the review group.
Grouse shooting makes an important contribution to the rural economy and many grouse moor managers already follow best practice guidance and take good care of the land that they manage.
However, the Werritty report is clear that there are a number of problematical issues surrounding certain practices on grouse moors and that further regulation and increased/enhanced monitoring is needed across a number of areas. In terms of raptor persecution in particular, although the official recommendation of the Grouse Moor Management Group (GMMG) is as stated above, Professor Werritty noted in his introduction to the report that this recommendation was a compromise and half of the group, including the Chair, were in favour of immediate introduction."
The Scottish Government is proposing the scheme will operate as follows:
Purpose of the scheme
The main purpose of the proposals to license grouse shooting is to address the on-going issue of wildlife crime and in particular persecution of raptors on grouse moors. It will do this by enabling the application of a meaningful civil sanction regime for offences against wild birds and other specified wildlife crimes.
Who will be licensed
We have considered licensing grouse moors, grouse estates or commercial grouse shooting businesses. The main difficulty with this approach, however, is that any definition that we are able to create for a grouse moor/estate/shooting business may create loopholes. The process of creating an inclusive definition is made more difficult by the fact that yearly variations can mean that in different years the same land is used for driven, walked-up or sees no shooting of grouse.
We therefore believe that the best option is to licence the activity of grouse shooting itself. By taking this approach we intend to avoid issues with interpretations of or uncertainty over what constitutes a grouse moor, grouse estate, or commercial grouse shooting business.
This approach means that shooting of grouse will only be permitted if the landowner (or other relevant person) has a licence which covers the land on which the shooting takes place. A licence will be required whether that person chooses to shoot the grouse on their land for their own benefit, permits others to shoot grouse on their land for free, or permits others to shoot grouse on payment of a fee. If a landowner (or other relevant person) does not hold a licence they must not knowingly permit another person to shoot grouse on their land.
The licence holder must be a named individual responsible for the sporting right to shoot grouse, someone authorised by the landowner/occupier to apply for a licence on their behalf, or the person who is responsible for or accountable for the management decisions and actions which take place on the area where grouse shooting is to take place.
Where a person wishes to shoot grouse on land that they do not own or occupy it will be incumbent upon them to ensure that they have permission to do so from the licence holder and that such a person holds a licence which allows for the taking of grouse on that area of land.
The intention is that the person applying for a licence would need to specify the land intended to be used for shooting grouse and provide information on ownership and the management of the land in question.
We are proposing that the licensing scheme will be administered by NatureScot. NatureScot currently oversee a number of licensing schemes relating to wildlife management on behalf of Scottish Ministers, such as those for controlling protected species, out of season muirburn and the release of non-native or formerly native species.
Duration of the Licence
We are proposing that licences can be granted for a period of one year, licence holders will then be able to apply for a renewal of their licence at the end of this period for a further year on an ongoing annual basis. We intend that this will not be a burdensome process.
Grouse shooting is a seasonal activity and grouse moor mangers who sell rights to shoot grouse on their land generally decide on an annual basis whether to open for commercial shooting. We therefore think it makes sense for these licences to be granted on an annual basis.
Standard of proof
Where Police Scotland have evidence which leads them to believe that a specified wildlife crime may have taken place on the land in question, the licensing authority (NatureScot) would consider the evidence and decide whether they believe that the licence holder has not been acting in accordance with licence conditions, or where the licence holder is suspected to have committed, or been convicted of, an offence. NatureScot will base their decision on the civil standard of proof, i.e. they would have to be satisfied that on 'the balance of probabilities' that the offence had taken place (as opposed to the criminal standard of proof of 'beyond reasonable doubt'). Once this determination had been made, a decision on the appropriate further action to take could be made (for instance by suspending or revoking a licence).
The process of considering police evidence of wildlife crime using the civil standard of proof is already used by NatureScot for considering whether to place restrictions on a person's ability to manage wildlife under a General Licence.
Code of Practice
The new licensing scheme will be accompanied by a Code of Practice for grouse moor managers. The Code of Practice will contain material on management practices expected such as; compliance with the regulations surrounding predator control, including the undertaking of trapping and snaring; use of medicines to control parasites and diseases; and habitat and species management for protection of the natural environment and biodiversity.
The Code of Practice will set out legal requirements (i.e. those set out in statute or regulations) as well as strongly recommended practice and best practice guidance for moorland management. The Code will be developed by the Scottish Government and NatureScot in conjunction with key stakeholders and other relevant parties including but not limited to those involved in grouse shooting, land management, animal welfare, and conservation. It is our intention that the Code of Practice will be reviewed and updated at regular intervals.
The Bill will provide that NatureScot may have regard to the Code of Practice when taking licensing decisions. This means that NatureScot will be able take into account how the of Code of Practice is being complied when making decision about whether to grant a license
We are proposing that as part of the licensing conditions operators would need to keep records of their operations which they will be provide to the licensing authority when requested. These records should be a report of their operations including but not limited to:
- Written records of the activities carried out under the licence, for example: the number of days on which grouse shooting took place; the number of grouse shot on each day; and information on the type and extent of any predator control that is undertaken.
We are proposing the following:
- It should be an offence for a landowner or the person who holds the rights to shoot game on that land to shoot or take grouse unless they hold a licence.
- It should be an offence for the landowner or the person who holds the rights to shoot game to allow someone else to shoot grouse if they (the landowner/rights holder) do not hold a licence for the land in question.
- It should be an offence for a person to shoot grouse on land if they know or have reason to suspect that the land in question is not covered by a licence.
We are proposing that, where a person holds a valid licence and there is sufficient evidence to show that on the balance of probabilities a wildlife crime has been committed on their property the licensing authority should have the power to impose the following sanctions:
- Issue a written warning
- Temporarily suspend a licence
- Permanently revoke a licence
They should also have the power to suspend or revoke a licence if they have sufficient proof that the licence holder is not acting in accordance with the licence conditions or with the Code of Practice.
If a sanction is issued the licence holder will have a right of appeal against that decision.
Cost of a licence
NatureScot does not currently operate licences on a cost recovery basis. The Scottish Government/Scottish Green Party Shared Policy Programme contains the commitment to review the wider species licensing system and assess the potential to apply the principle of full cost recovery to species licensing. We are therefore proposing that future legislation will allow for the possible introduction of reasonable charges for licences issued at a later date.
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