Fishing and shooting: Estates saved from horrors of licensing

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UNTIL the other day I had never thought about Paul Wheelhouse any more than I imagine he thought about me. But I am now a huge fan of our environment minister.

Any chap who can break off in mid sentence to admire my tie is clearly a man of taste and distinction. The tie is green with little gold bees all over it, so Wheelhouse is spot on for environmentally-friendly chit chat.

We had gathered in Gifford, for the launch of the Wildlife Estates Scotland (WES) accreditation scheme. This is 250 (so far) mixed sporting and agricultural estates signing up for what is essentially a quality assurance scheme promoting best practice in land and game management. Estates will have to be assessed under the watchful eye of Scottish Natural Heritage, among others, who will ensure everyone’s bio is sufficiently well diversified. Indeed SNH, that is the taxpayer, is putting in £100,000 over five years. The RSPB, which runs huge estates even if it doesn’t go in for pheasant shooting, has been brought in to make sure everyone understands the difference between a buzzard and a hoodie crow. What we have here is a credible bit of pragmatism, helped by the fact the SNP has a better grasp of the realities of rural economics than the last lot.

The story goes like this. By the mid 2000s arguments over the right to roam were pretty well done and dusted. But there was no avoiding the fact that birds of prey, eagles and notably hen harriers, continued to die in suspicious circumstances. The shooting lobby and particularly gamekeepers were loudly blamed.

The only answer, said some, was to nobble the landowners with a system of estate licensing. The problem with licensing, however, was that it cost a fortune in extra civil servants, engendered a great deal of ill will and would be almost impossible to police. In the meantime there were schools and hospitals to pay for.

The answer was self-regulation through WES and an accreditation scheme which has been two years in the making. As long as the “industry” that is field sports and the estates, gets itself up to standard, government will back off. Anyway, in Gifford Mr Wheelhouse made happy and encouraging noises to general applause, as well he might. Field sports and estates have been saved from the horrors of government licensing and the government is saving a packet in return for a greatly improved quality of flora and fauna. Better beetles for all, raise your glass to a raptor and hooray for self regulation.

But let’s hope it works rather better than it did with the banks and the fish farming industry.