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As the ‘grouse bill’ is passed — what next?

New Bill places restrictions on grouse moors but if the illegal killing of raptors continues it won’t stop there, warns Conor O’Gorman.

Scottish countryside organisations, including BASC, have worked together with supportive MSPs to fight valiantly against a range of legislative proposals aimed at restricting shoot management in Scotland (see p6). 

Two weeks ago, the Scottish parliament passed the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill 2023, with 85 votes for and 30 against. Some amendments to the Bill were secured, such as the removal of disproportionate suspension powers on red grouse shooting and wildlife trapping that contravened the European Convention on Human Rights. 

However, many changes in law will go ahead in due course, including new licensing regimes for shooting grouse and the use of various wildlife traps, further restrictions on muirburn, and a ban on all snares. So how did we end up here and what happens next? 

National disgrace 

Some might say that the restrictions on shooting are because of an SNP-majority Scottish government determined to impose its urban agenda on rural Scotland. But there is an elephant in the room. More than a quarter of a century ago, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, pledged to take “all possible steps” to eliminate the illegal killing of birds of prey such as peregrines, golden eagles and hen harriers, describing the situation as a “national disgrace”. It was a clear shot across the bows for the shooting community. 

However, raptor killing continued with depressing regularity. Perhaps the last straw for public tolerance was a report in 2017 that found 31% of satellite tracked golden eagles in Scotland disappearing in suspicious circumstances. The outrage this triggered led to the Werritty Review, with the restrictions now being imposed on shooting its outcome. 

We can find fault in some of the reported incidents, dismiss the successful prosecutions as a few bad apples and argue about statistics. But at the end of the day every time an eagle, falcon, harrier or hawk is found shot or poisoned, it gives more ammunition to those who seek to ban game shooting for ideological reasons. 

The ammunition the raptor killers gave the antis was hugely influential in the drafting of the Bill. It won’t stop there. If the killing continues, we will see calls for further restrictions and it won’t only be grouse moors in Scotland being targeted — it will be all forms of game shooting everywhere in the UK. 

BASC has a zero-tolerance policy on raptor persecution and any member convicted of a crime against birds of prey will be expelled. In 2022, we expelled for life two members convicted of wildlife and firearms offences. Our staff work in partnership with conservation organisations and the police on a wide range of projects, including wildlife crime. We have committed £75,000 to Natural England’s hen harrier recovery plan. 


BASC and other shooting organisations will continue to argue against the need for further restrictions on game shooting. However, the credibility of our arguments around self-regulation will be undermined if the raptor killing does not stop. And if we are looking for blame, let’s stop focusing on the antis and start condemning and exposing the raptor-killing criminals and those who aid and abet them. 

Back to the Scottish grouse bill, it is likely that a snares ban will be first change in law, with details to be announced soon. Before any grouse shoot licensing system takes effect, a grouse code has to be agreed. Changes in the law on wildlife traps first requires a training scheme to be put in place. And for changes to rules on muirburn, both a code and training scheme is required first. 

So there is still plenty of policy work ahead before the various legal changes take effect. Meanwhile, we continue to work on proposed changes to Scottish deer legislation and the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill.