Concerns have been raised over blood sports lobbying taking place at Holyrood as MSPs begin taking evidence on legislation to regulate grouse shooting.

Campaigners have criticised the “propaganda” being on show at the Scottish Parliament as politicians consider evidence on the SNP Government’s Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill.

The legislation would change rules around how people can capture and kill certain wild birds such as grouse and regulate muirburn - the controlled burning of heather and other plants for land management purposes.

Blood sports lobbying campaign, the Gift of Grouse, under the banner of Scottish Land and Estates, has been granted the right to host a stall in the Scottish Parliament this week.

The three-day exhibition comes despite the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill starting stage one evidence sessions this week.

In 2019 when the last Climate Bill was passing through Holyrood, some organisations were not allowed to host events on climate targets specifically over concerns it would allow MSPs to be lobbied over live legislations outside committee evidence sessions.

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The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body’s (SPCB) policy used to prohibit member-sponsored events that potentially related to live legislation, but that rule was removed in updated guidance in 2020.

A leaflet being handed out to MSPs claims that the Gift of Grouse initiative “offers a voice to all those involved in moorland management and highlights its benefits for biodiversity, carbon sequestration, the economy and rural communities”.

The leaflet claims that the licensing schemes proposed in the Scottish Government’s bill “have three fatal flaws which are of major concern to land managers”.

The material claims NatureScot’s power over licences gives the public body “a huge amount of discretion” which it says “would not provide land managers with the certainty that is required to invest long-term in moorland management”.

It adds: “If passed, the bill would render moorland management unviable, putting jobs and investment at risk, as well as our ability to protect crucial carbon stores and upland biodiversity.

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“We urge the Scottish Government to work with stakeholder organisations to make this bill proportionate and workable.”

The leaflet also contains a quote from Scottish Tory net zero spokesperson, Liam Kerr, in which he claims the legislation “must provide an outcome that delivers in the best interests of wildlife, the environment, the rural economy and sustainability of our rural communities”.

The Herald: Freebies on offer to MSPs by Gift of Grouse campaignersFreebies on offer to MSPs by Gift of Grouse campaigners (Image: Scottish Land and Estates)

A press release issued by the campaigners claims that the legislation being discussed means “there was no better time to raise awareness of potential impacts of the bill”.

Ross Ewing, director of moorland at Scottish Land and Estates, said: “This exhibition allows us to engage in informal discussions with politicians to help raise our concerns about the bill, whilst stressing the importance of the moorland management sector for the rural economy, jobs, communities, wildlife conservation, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.”

Since November last year, Scottish Land and Estates has lobbied MSPs 13 times, including two lobbying meetings each with Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton and SNP MSP Jim Fairlie, as well as twice with SNP minister Mairi McAllan.

The organisation has met with members of the Tories, SNP, Labour and the Greens, according to lobbying records – with the majority of interactions related to the bill.

Read more: Greens minister Lorna Slater lobbied by industry 48 hours before delaying deposit return scheme

Mr Fairlie, who sponsored the stall, said it was “important to give colleagues that may be less familiar and less experienced with the issues involved the opportunity to engage with a diverse group of stakeholders representing Scottish Land and Estates”.

He added: “I encourage my colleagues to check out their stall, to takeaway a pot of heather and other goodies and to learn about the effect of muirburn on heather, and wish every success for this week’s exhibition.”

Speaking to The Herald, PETA’s vice president of programmes Elisa Allen, said: “The hunting lobby knows its days are numbered and is clutching at straws.

“Sensible MSPs aren’t likely to be swayed by its propaganda and will instead listen to the wishes of their constituents – the vast majority of whom are opposed to gunning down animals for ‘sport’ and see grouse shooting for what it is: a violent perversion that hurts and kills beautiful birds and destroys precious ecosystems.

“The sooner this cruel pastime is banned, the better.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Greens said: "It raises questions when a group like this is using our parliament to promote grouse shooting and lobby MSPs at the same time as we are considering legislation to licence grouse moors to address the illegal killing of birds of prey.

"It is of course a decision for the Scottish Parliament's Corporate Body, but we were surprised and disappointed to see these bloodsports being promoted in our garden lobby.

"The Scotland we want to see is one that looks after all of our wildlife and protects their welfare. We look forward to the day when these so-called sports can be ended for good."

The Scottish Parliament’s events and exhibition team reminds organisers, and others, of their legal duties in regards the lobbying register.

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “Following a review by the SPCB in January 2020, and the creation of the lobbying register, the nature of members’ sponsored events and exhibitions are no longer impacted by any live legislation being considered by Parliament.”