CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed Scottish Government moves to tighten restrictions on grouse moors with a licensing scheme. 

RSPB Scotland say that self-regulation of the grouse industry has not worked to curb deaths among birds of prey or environmental damage caused by muirburn.

The Scottish SPCA said that responsible moor woners had "nothing to fear" from tighter rules. 

The Scottish Wildlife Trust are also backing the scheme. 

Following the publication of a report on the industry, Rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon said there needs to be "greater oversight" of the practices associated with grouse moor management.

However, gamekeepers have reacted with fury and hit out at "never-ending scrutiny and inquiry driven by elite charities with big influence". 

READ MORE: Ministers announce licensing scheme for grouse moors amid gamekeeper fury

Anne McCall, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: “While we commend the work of both the current Government at Holyrood and that of its predecessors in trying to tackle the illegal killing of raptors on grouse moors, 21 years of piecemeal changes to wildlife protection laws so far have unfortunately not been enough to halt this practice. 

"We face twin crises in nature and climate that threaten human health and wellbeing and the survival of many species across the planet. Ensuring that land is managed to protect and restore nature is essential to delivering a Green Recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic and fulfilling Scotland’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2045. 

"The illegal killing of birds of prey; muirburn on peatland soils damaging our vital carbon stores; the mass culling of mountain hares; and the continued use of lead ammunition have absolutely no place in 21st century Scotland."

HeraldScotland:

A White-tailed eagle found poinosed on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms

Ms McCall added: "The Werritty Review was prompted by commissioned peer-reviewed research which showed that a significant proportion of satellite tagged golden eagles were going missing in illegal or suspicious circumstances, almost exclusively on areas intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.  

"Self-regulation by the grouse moor industry has not tackled the issues of wildlife crime and damage to the environment by unregulated muirburn.

"Any future licensing scheme for grouse moors must be robust and address these issues, hopefully once and for all. Grouse moor estates who are found to be breaking wildlife protection laws should lose their right to shoot. Only this will act as a genuine deterrent to this still-widespread criminal activity."

Under the Scottish Government's proposals, a licence will be required to operate a driven grouse moor business, which could be withdrawn if there is strong evidence of unlawful activity or serious breaches of codes of practice.

Ms McCall said: "We believe that landowners and their employees who manage their shoots legally and sustainably have nothing to fear from the introduction of licensing.  Indeed, gamebird shooting is licensed in some form or other in most other European countries."  

READ MORE: Scottish Government funded research 'confirms its major socio-economic importance'

"We believe that what has been announced today is supported by an overwhelming weight of evidence and is entirely proportionate. We are keen to work with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to quickly bring about an effective licensing system, to help address the nature and climate crises, to encourage sustainable management of our uplands and to consign raptor persecution to the history books.” 

HeraldScotland:

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn added: "We fully support the announcement by Mairi Gougeon MSP and the Scottish Government regarding the implementation of licensing for grouse moors.

"Responsible shooting estates and operators should have nothing to fear from it. 

"The Werrity report found that there was a scarcity of breeding birds of prey on many grouse moors. There has been sufficient time to address these issues but there has been no evidence of improvement which led to this decision.

"This announcement will mean further protections for Scotland’s wild animals and habitats which we completely endorse."

Jo Pike, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “We’re delighted that the Scottish Government has announced it will act to ensure that driven grouse shooting is managed in a way that delivers better outcomes for our climate and for biodiversity.  

“We believe introducing a licensing scheme will support efforts to tackle raptor persecution in Scotland. Everyone with an interest in the country’s uplands is agreed that this serious crime must be stamped out.  

“We also welcome a ban on muirburn to protect peatlands, and further controls on the use of medicated grit."  

She added: “The Scottish Government, conservationists and land managers can work together to ensure the approach taken to licensing is practical, and that it delivers meaningful progress towards tackling climate change and protecting Scotland’s wildlife.”