Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill: Grouse shooting industry thought they were above the law, but those days are coming to an end – Dr Richard Dixon

New law introduces the licensing of grouse estates and new controls on the use of cruel traps and the controversial practice of muirburn

Last week the Scottish Parliament passed the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill into law, marking a very big step forward in curbing the impacts of grouse moors on wildlife and the environment. The new law follows several years of clever, dogged and well-informed campaigning by Revive Scotland, the coalition for grouse moor reform, whose members include One Kind, Commonweal, Friends of the Earth Scotland and the League Against Cruel Sports.

The new law sets up a system of licensing for grouse shooting, likely to be in place by this year’s ‘Glorious Twelfth’ of August. It is no coincidence that most of the birds of prey, like hen harriers or golden eagles, that disappear or turn up dead do so on or near shooting estates, yet few if any prosecutions are ever taken and the industry has repeatedly tried to deny that these is any problem. A survey in 2017 found that a third of satellite-tagged golden eagles had died in suspicious circumstances. In future, an estate where this is happening will have its licence suspended or taken away.

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The Bill will also tighten up control on other aspects of wildlife crime and cruelty. The use of snares – tightening wire loops to catch foxes and rabbits – and glue traps – sticky trays to catch rodents and other small animals which are often left to die of thirst or exposure – is finally banned.

Many people think that shooting grouse for ‘sport’ should be banned (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Many people think that shooting grouse for ‘sport’ should be banned (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Many people think that shooting grouse for ‘sport’ should be banned (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

This should also mean the end of ‘stink pits’ – piles of rotting dead animals that are laid out to lure live ones into traps. The rules on using some other wildlife traps have been tightened up, requiring licences and mandatory training. The SSPCA also gets greater investigatory powers relating to wildlife crime.

Burning peatland

The practice of muirburn – burning off heather on shooting estates to help the young birds which are being reared to be shot – was previously governed by a largely voluntary code of practice that failed to prevent burning in areas where birds were nesting and destruction of young trees. Particularly worrying was burning on areas of deep peaty soils, with the risk of damaging these valuable habitats and major releases of climate change gases. Scotland’s peatlands contain 25 times more carbon than all the vegetation in the UK and 80 per cent of them are already in a damaged state.

Now muirburn will now require a licence for each proposed burn, with a presumption again fires in areas of peat. This system is likely to be place from late next year. The Bill was passed by almost every MSP except the Tories and Fergus Ewing, who continues his quest to be more Tory than the Tories. The RSPB immediately suggested that England could usefully follow suit.

Most people don’t agree with rearing grouse so they can be driven in front of the guns of rich people for the ‘sport’ of killing them. A poll in 2020 found that the Scottish public thought, by six to one, that grouse shooting for sport should be banned. For 150 years, the grouse shooting industry has been a privileged and protected part of the Scottish establishment, feeling they were above the law. Those days are clearly coming to an end.

Dr Richard Dixon is an environmental campaigner and consultant



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