Wildlife conservation organisations are calling for a progressive partnership with the shooting community, to develop a licensing scheme for gamebird hunting in Scotland.
The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG), the Scottish Wildlife Trust and RSPB Scotland want to see a regulatory system introduced that helps tackle wildlife crime while delivering a range of public benefits, and would like to see the shooting industry play a full role in this approach.
The call follows the Scottish Parliament's Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee's consideration this week, of a petition calling for gamebird shooting in Scotland to be licensed - which was lodged by the SRSG.
The committee recognised that the illegal persecution of birds of prey remains a widespread concern and has voted to write to the Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, recommending that the Scottish Government commission an inquiry to explore how such a licensing system could work.
All three wildlife groups welcome the ECCLR Committee's decision and its view that a fresh approach to address the issue of persecution and the associated unsustainable land management practices is required.
SRSG and RSPB Scotland had previously provided detailed evidence to the committee, reinforced by a "Review of Sustainable Moorland Management" conducted by the Scottish Natural Heritage Scientific Advisory Committee in October 2015, and hope the Cabinet Secretary will respond positively to the ECCLR Committee's advice.
Logan Steele of the Scottish Raptor Study Group and lead petitioner said: "The ECCLR Committee has made a thorough assessment of the evidence put before it, and clearly concluded that raptor persecution has not been dealt with by the gamebird shooting industry. I warmly welcome the committee's decision to write to the Cabinet Secretary, recommending that the Scottish Government gives consideration to implementing a licensing system for shooting businesses. The Scottish Raptor Study Group accepts that many within the shooting industry are law abiding and are as keen as we are to bear down on the criminal element within their ranks. A Government-sponsored inquiry, into how a licensing regime might work, presents an opportunity to work in partnership with forward-looking representatives from the industry, and other stakeholders, towards creating a sustainable upland environment where our birds of prey can thrive alongside legitimate shoot management."
Jonny Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: "We fully support this call for a constructive and broad partnership to provide expertise to a much needed inquiry into licensing of gamebird hunting in Scotland. Now is the time for all interested parties to come together to address what is clearly still a significant problem in our countryside. Shooting organisations should not see this as a threat, but more as a real opportunity to put differences aside and ensure that the best long term interests of nature and enhanced rural employment are at the heart of such discussions."
As he prepares to retire from his position as Director of RSPB Scotland, Stuart Housden said: "We commend the committee's thorough scrutiny of the evidence put before it over the last few months, and welcome their vote to recommend an inquiry into a potential licensing regime for gamebird shooting in Scotland.
"Throughout my 23 years in this role, the illegal killing of our birds of prey has been a constant stain on the reputation of our country, with no evidence to support claims that these crimes are diminishing in large parts of our uplands in particular. The body of evidence - including many peer-reviewed scientific studies have demonstrated very clearly that our populations of golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines are still being significantly impacted by poisoning; the illegal use of traps; shooting; and destruction of nests, particularly in areas intensively managed for driven grouse shooting. This simply must stop if the grouse shooting community is to enjoy public confidence in the future.
"There has also been an increasing recognition that self-regulation by a significant part of the gamebird shooting industry has failed, and that new regulatory measures are required to ensure that our uplands are managed in line with the public interest. We consider that a bespoke licensing arrangement, including sanctions for removal of a licence where there is clear evidence that wildlife crimes are occurring, would provide a meaningful deterrent to illegal behaviour, as well as protecting the interests of those sporting managers who already operate to legal and sustainable standards. We commend those that do, and ask that this must now be the norm.
"We expect the Cabinet Secretary to respond positively to ECCLR Committee advice. But in particular, we also invite progressive elements of the gamebird shooting industry to fully endorse and play a full part in this approach, to help heal the unnecessary divisions between conservation and gamebird shooting, and to recognise the many opportunities that sustainable management of our uplands will bring for wildlife, important landscapes and rural employment."