The Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill consultation, which runs until 4 September, has amongst its proposals:
– Scrapping the national male deer stalking season.
– Introducing compulsory stalking competence training and a new mandatory stalking register.
– Amending game licences under the 1860 Game Licences Act.
– Eradicating the need to hold a game dealing licence and removing the restriction on dealing in game birds during the close season.
– Proposals on the muirburn regulations and snaring are also included.
Launching the consultation, environment secretary Richard Lochhead said: ?Current legislation contains anomalies and weaknesses which need to be addressed to ensure Scotland has suitable structures in place to manage and sustain its wildlife and the natural environment.?
Though Scottish shooting organisations have welcomed the proposals affecting land management, they have condemned the new deer management proposals, which were written by the Deer Commission for Scotland (DCS).
BASC Scotland?s Dr Colin Shedden, said: ?While the sections on reforming the Game Acts and on muirburn reflect much-needed change, the same cannot be said for the proposals on deer management. Mandatory testing of all stalkers, the removal of male deer close seasons and a possible increase in night shooting is causing massive concern for all stalkers, both professional and recreational.?
Alex Hogg of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) welcomed the government?s proposal to make it an offence to tamper with legally set snares and the proposed extension of the muir burning season to include September, saying: ?This will be significant in the ability to control heather beetle.?
However, Mr Hogg was concerned by the proposals affecting the proposed deer culling seasons: ?Abolishing the close season for male deer removes the respect and reverence this iconic animal deserves, and reduces red deer to the status of vermin. Only officials could write so dismissively about these wild creatures, which are admired by the general public and deer stalkers alike, and attract high-value tourism to Scotland. Rather than abolishing the seasons, we believe they should be reinforced in legislation with no-one allowed to take stags within the current closed dates unless a serious problem was developing on protected land or human lives were being endangered in deer related road accidents.?
The DCS responded to the criticism by pointing out that deer managers would ultimately remain in control of culling operations.
Chairman John Milne said voluntary deer management by local deer groups remains at the heart of the new plans: ?Compulsory powers would only be used when the voluntary system is not working. The proposals to strengthen local deer management allow the decision as to when and how many deer should be shot to be firmly placed with local deer managers. This would allow local managers to set their own male deer seasons.?
He added that concerns have been raised about deer welfare in a number of high-profile cases, which have received substantial media coverage.
?As issues of deer in and around towns and on Scotland?s roads become more apparent, these concerns are likely to increase. That is why we recommend stalkers to demonstrate skills and knowledge and to be registered.?
Scottish stalkers are also outraged by the divisive proposals and are calling for them to be scrapped.
Colin McClean, the wildlife manager at Glen Tanar estate on Deeside, said: ?This will mean that stags can be shot anywhere, all year round without any protection. It will lead to over-exploitation of male deer but also under-exploitation of female deer. Removal of close seasons is detrimental to all interests and must not become law.?