A NEW deal has been signed to help avoid future conflict in the countryside between conservation and game-bird organisations in Scotland.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) signed the agreement at the Scottish Game Fair at Scone yesterday.
The accord promises that both bodies will promote integrated and balanced land management through farming, sporting, fisheries and forestry to benefit Scotland's economy, wildlife and habitats.
A key aim is to address nature conservation issues in the wider countryside, as well as protected areas, by promoting suitable management activities.
Stewart Stevenson, the environment minister, said: "The relationship between conservationists, landowners and gamekeepers is continuing to improve through collaborative efforts such as this accord.
"Conservationists see the benefits which experienced and knowledgeable land managers can bring to biodiversity and wildlife habitats, while land managers appreciate how conservation and a healthy eco- system equate to healthy game.
"This agreement is an important step in progressing this understanding, and I welcome it wholeheartedly."
SNH and GWCT already work together on the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, which is investigating whether an economically viable grouse moor can work alongside the conservation needs of protected raptors.
Ian Jardine, SNH chief executive, said: "Some may find it surprising, but conservation, hunting and fishing interests have many of the same goals. After all, when wildlife flourishes in Scotland, it helps nurture our country's environment and supports our rural communities and the economy.
"This agreement is a landmark which shows how far we have come, but also how much hard work we still have to do."