The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

Grouse shoots under fire as licensing starts

The Scottish government’s long-awaited consultation on the licensing of grouse shoots, muirburn and the use of snares has now begun

There are concerns that licensing will affect the rural economy in Scotland

The Scottish government has begun the process of licensing the country’s grouse shoots, with a long-awaited consultation on the legal structure of its licensing scheme.  Introducing the proposal, the government said it hoped to address a “number of problematical issues surrounding certain practices on grouse moors”. However, rural groups express their concern over “the introduction of yet another layer of legislation, regulation and bureaucracy”.

Under the proposal, licences would be issued on an annual basis as a licence to kill grouse on a specified area of land. The proposed legislation would introduce three new criminal offences of taking grouse where a licence was not in place. 

Much of the concern from the shooting community over the proposal has centred on the revocation of licences on spurious grounds and the possibility that grouse shoots could be framed by anti-shooting campaigners. The consultation had little to say about this possibility. However, it did state that NatureScot, which will have the power to issue and revoke licences, would not require proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ but “will base their decision on the civil standard of proof — they would have to be satisfied that on ‘the balance of probabilities’ that the offence had taken place”. 


New muirburn restrictions

The bill will also introduce restrictions on the use of controlled burning to reduce wildfire risk and manage habitats. All burning would be banned except under licence; additionally there would be a ban on burning on a peat soil over 40cm in depth. The ban on burning on deep peat comes despite the known benefits of controlled burning for the vital carbon-storing peat-forming mosses. (Read more on muirburn here.) 

New regulations would also apply to the use of traps and snares; however, these are mainly focused on tightening the existing regime and introducing stronger penalties for misuse. There are currently no proposals to ban the use of snares.

Scotland’s rural groups took a pragmatic view, with a joint statement released by BASC, the Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Land and Estates, and others, stating: “It is difficult to see why licensing is necessary — and that is why our organisations have been opposed from the outset. 

“We do, however, acknowledge the political reality that Scottish government has the power to licence grouse shooting and muirburn. It is vital that these licensing schemes are proportionate, transparent and workable.”