Grouse moor shooting licences should be introduced if breeding raptor populations do not improve, a review has recommended.

The study, commissioned by the Scottish Government, examined how to ensure grouse moor management continues to contribute to the rural economy while being environmentally sustainable.

It was asked to make recommendations to reduce the illegal killing of raptors but also give due regard to the socioeconomic contribution that grouse shooting makes to Scotland’s rural economy.

READ MORE: Rural Scotland at war over illegal killings of birds of prey

The review, chaired by Professor Alan Werritty of the University of Dundee, recommends a shooting licensing scheme should be introduced if there is no “marked improvement” in the ecological sustainability of grouse moor management within five years.

It said ultimately the question of whether or not to license the shooting of grouse is a political decision.

The review also recommends licensing for muirburn, the controlled burning of vegetation in moorland areas, to maintain open moorland.

It also proposes increased legal regulation for shooting mountain hares and a voluntary code of practice for the use of medicated grit.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “As well as the issue of raptor persecution, the review was asked to look at grouse moor management practices including muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls and also to examine regulatory options including possible licensing of grouse shooting businesses.

“It is important that we give careful consideration to the recommendations, alongside other evidence, before issuing a response.

“An important part of this will involve meeting key stakeholders to discuss the findings of the review, and we will publish a full response to the report in due course.

“At this early stage, however, I believe the option of a licensing scheme will need to be considered and – if required – implemented earlier than the five-year time-frame suggested by the review group.”

RSPB Scotland called for more urgent action to address the issues.

READ MORE: Scottish campaigners call for review of bird killing licences 

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: “The illegal killing of Scotland’s birds of prey simply has to stop.

“Those perpetrating these criminal acts have shown no willingness over decades to change their criminal behaviours.

“Letting this issue languish for another half decade will not help and we fully expect more prevarication.”

Rural organisations said the recommendations would mean a “seismic change” for grouse moors.

In a joint statement the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scottish Association for Country Sports and Scottish Land & Estates said: “This report has recommended a barrage of measures that will leave the grouse shooting sector engulfed by legislation and red tape.

“On top of that, penalties for wildlife crime in Scotland are about to get much tougher.

“The sector has already willingly embraced change and improvements in how it operates.

“We believe further enhanced training and codes of practice covering muirburn, mountain hare management and medicated grit are the best solution rather than onerous licensing provisions and we will be seeking an urgent meeting with government to discuss these key areas.”

Scottish Greens environment spokesman Mark Ruskell said: “This report is a weak washout that kowtows to powerful vested interests.”

Campaign manager for Revive, Max Wiszniewski said: “We are deeply concerned that the Werritty Commission has failed to recognise the severity of the damaging problems with grouse moor management in its current form, and has missed the single biggest opportunity in our generation to take significant action to reform Scotland’s grouse moors for the benefit of our economy, our people, our environment and our wildlife.”