Shooting and fishing: The first to be done won't be a moor-owning toff

It is not often you get all sides of an argument "welcoming" a ministerial announcement, especially on such a contentious issue as the poisoning of birds of prey.

But Roseanna Cunningham appears to have satisfied everyone by announcing a new offence of vicarious liability; that is a landowner may be prosecuted if poisoning has been taking place on his or her land, even if no-one can prove who has been at it.

I have to say that my first reaction to the announcement was that Ms Cunningham had been badly got at by the raptor brigade and agreed to lock up anyone who was found with so much as a dead pigeon on their front lawn without an adequate explanation.

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But it seems she has gone quite some way to answering the demand for tighter legislation on raptor poisoning without actually introducing internment without trial or overly aggravating the land-owning fraternity.

The law on poison is already pretty tight. But the raptor people always felt that the shooting landowners got away with it because they left the dirty work to keepers, who then also got away with it because it is very hard to prove who laid the poison. The best way to describe the effect of the new offence is that it is akin to the Licensing Act. If a pub is found to be permanently strewn with the semi-conscious bodies of 12-year-olds who can't remember who served them the drink, and the staff are struck dumb, then the buck stops with the landlord.

So if, for instance, a rambler happens to stagger upon a pile of dead birds halfway down a blind corrie which all turn out to be poisoned, and traces of poison are then found on the seat of an estate vehicle but no-one knows anything about it, then the landowner should start worrying. But only, and it's a big only, if he or she hasn't made it clear to all employees that illegal poisoning or possessing poison is at the very least a dismissable offence. In fact, it should be written into their contracts.

As the Scottish Government press release says: "There will be a defence for those who can show they took steps to prevent persecution." So as long as everyone knows where they stand, no-one should worry. And, as 99 per cent of all landowners make it demonstrably clear to keepers and managers and so forth that poisoning is verboten, then they have nothing to fear.

I suspect the first person to be done won't be a grouse moor-owning toff who, let's face it, are the ones everyone is out to get, but an unfortunate farmer who lets his land for rough shooting and "didnae ken".