New laws aimed at cracking down on bird of prey killings in Scotland could be a “powerful tool” in tackling the problem, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has said.
Campaigners are calling for the measures through a new hard-line licensing regime on game bird shoots amid claims that these target eagles, falcons and hawks.
Estate chiefs insist that the move is not needed, with the latest statistics showing a 26 per cent fall in wildlife crime involving birds of prey over the past year.
Ms Cunningham has written to Holyrood’s environment committee in response to a petition from the Scottish Raptor Study Group which is demanding a state regulated licencing regime of game bird hunting, such as “driven” grouse moor and pheasant shoots.
The petition claims there has been no evidence of any decline in the “criminal targeting” of raptors in Scotland and insist a tougher approach could see any shooting businesses involved in such activity stripped of their licences.
Ms Cunningham states: “I can see the attraction of this proposal in that it could be a powerful tool for deterring and responding to wildlife crime.
“It could also provide a means for ensuring that shooting businesses, which are at present lightly regulated, operate sustainably and in accordance with best practice.”
But she warns that such a move would require primary legislation and would not be a “short cut” to securing evidence of criminal behaviour.
The latest official figures last month showed an overall decrease of 26 per cent over the year, from 19 down to 14 incidents, continuing a trend of declining persecution over the last five years.
Tim Baynes, director of Scottish Land & Estates, said further regulation is unnecessary. “While the problem is not yet eradicated, considerable progress has been made across all types of raptor crime,” he said.
“We believe that any move towards any form of licensing system would undermine future partnership working without bringing any clear benefit.”
The petition states that other European countries, such as Germany and Spain, have powers for their authorities to remove hunting licences and firearms certificates, among other sanctions, where wildlife crimes have been committed.