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Amendments to the Scottish Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill, which recently had its first reading, could include proposals to license shoots and to impose restrictions on the number of pheasants and partridges that shoots are permitted to release.

BASC Scotland’s Colin Shedden said: “While there was discussion about the introduction of a shoot licence, I hope that we have been robust enough in pointing out the impracticality of this, given that it could affect 5,000 individual shoots in Scotland. We are pleased that the environment minister, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, has understood the arguments that we have put forward.”

Peter Peacock MSP’s proposal for shoot licensing is a response to recent cases of raptor persecution.

A licence could be withdrawn were evidence of raptor persecution to be discovered on a particular shoot.

The proposal to restrict the number of pheasants and partridges permitted to be released stems from the fact that the bill categorises the gamebird species as “nonnative”.

Normally, this would mean that it was illegal to release them, but the bill also includes an “exemption from no release” clause whereby shoots are allowed to let them go into the wild.

The non-native classification has, however, led to arguments that large numbers of released birds could damage native wildlife. The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA) has refuted this.

SGA committee member Bert Burnett wrote: ‘Pheasants and partridges both breed and are released in Scotland in significant numbers every year and there is no science to indicate that they cause any problems for biodiversity. In fact, quite the opposite is true: the accompanying gamecrops, which are grown to feed pheasants and partridges over the winter, create food sources for countless other species. Game rearing also encourages positive environmental management. Mr Burnett points out that other naturalised species such as brown hares, sycamore and beech trees, or fallow and sika deer have been accepted as naturalised.’

He concludes: ‘The SGA believes that pheasants and partridges have been singled out by the self-serving pressure groups purely for reasons of political expediency. Those opposed to shooting and fieldsports see a non-native classification as the first stage in the process of closing the industry down. Surely it can’t be the Parliament’s intention to create lists of species, segregating them into degrees of acceptability?’

Ross Montague, of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, also voiced concern about proposed amendments: “Various suggestions for amendments to the bill have been mooted. Some of these, if successful, could have serious implications for the Scottish countryside. Suggestions such as the creation of a licensing system for shoots (no licence, no shoot) and amending the bill to introduce a ban on snaring, have all been voiced. We now need to work to ensure that if these suggestions are brought forward as amendments to the Stage 2 bill debate, that they do not make it into the final legislation.”

Any such amendments submitted by MSPs will start to be considered by the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee on 22 December.

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