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Amendment to muirburn bill removes ‘inherent flaw’

Hailed as a significant step forward, licences in Scotland cannot be suspended nor revoked on an allegation, with no evidence provided.

Disproportionate powers of suspension are to be removed from the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill after an amendment was approved on the second day of voting. The Bill is seeking to introduce grouse shooting, muirburn and trapping licences (News, 21 February) 

The vote is a triumph for BASC and other bodies; without it, licences could have been suspended or revoked based purely on an allegation, with no evidence of wrongdoing, for a range of so-called “relevant offences”. 

An “official investigation” could have triggered a licence suspension, but BASC argued such a power could have potentially contravened articles within the European Convention on Human Rights. Now, a suspension can only be initiated if NatureScot is satisfied that a relevant offence has taken place on the licensed ground and by someone who is directly involved with that ground/licence. 

Further changes to the Bill have been the extension of grouse shoot licences from one year to five years. However, countryside organisations are campaigning for a 10-year licence, which they argue would be more appropriate for investment and planning. 

Lobbying continues for further amendments before Stage 3, such as the removal of the total ban on the use of snares. BASC Scotland director Peter Clark said: “It is evident our work to engage with and lobby MSPs and ministers throughout the progress of the Bill has resulted in the removal of an inherent flaw in future legislation. 

“The power to suspend licences, even when NatureScot was not satisfied of any wrongdoing, was simply absurd, and we are glad our political pressure has seen this aspect taken out. BASC will be lobbying MSPs ahead of Stage 3, the final stage, to make further improvements to the Bill.” 

Ross Ewing, director of moorland at Scottish Land & Estates, told ST: “Management of land for grouse provides a huge social, economic and environmental contribution to Scotland and while we believe new legislation is excessive, any future regulation needs to be workable for the sector to operate within. 

“The proposed annual licence for grouse shooting did not reflect the long-term nature of grouse moor management. By increasing the duration of grouse shoot licences from one year to five years, the Scottish government has recognised a more viable system had to be put in place,” he added. 

“The committee has also adopted pragmatic changes to the section on muirburn, recognising its importance as a land management tool for agriculture and moorland management — as well as its role in preventing wildfire.