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New bill to criminalise estates without proof

Updated Scottish legislation means an estate could be punished for the actions of a rogue employee or for evidence ‘planted’ by activists

red grouse

Despite recommendations in the Werritty review, the Scottish government has pressed ahead with licensing for grouse shoots

Scotland’s rural communities are braced for the publication of the Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill, which will introduce a licensing scheme for grouse shoots. The Scottish government carried out a consultation on the bill towards the end of last year and the text, which is to be placed before parliament, is expected imminently.

The bill arose from a review conducted by Professor Alan Werritty into grouse shooting in Scotland. The review chose not to recommend the introduction of licensing but suggested waiting five years and then reviewing the status of key species around grouse moors. However, the Scottish government pushed ahead with licensing.

Crucially, the government will not need to meet the criminal standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt but is expected to be able to take away a licence “on the balance of probabilities” that wildlife crime has occurred.

The relatively low burden of proof needed to take away an estate’s licence has led to concern from many in the countryside that estates could be set up by activists tampering with snares or traps or planting evidence of wildlife crime, or that rogue employees could cause an estate to lose its licence.

The risk of a single estate employee endangering an estate’s business and its conservation efforts was emphasised by the decision to prevent Millden Estate in the Angus Glens from using the general licence. The decision was made after one of the estate’s keepers was convicted for wildlife and animal cruelty offences.

Angus Glens gamekeeper Bert Burnett said: “It’s those left behind who are suffering from his stupidity.”

He pointed out that it was not only the estate’s shooting that would suffer. “It has other negative implications in that Millden is a stronghold for a myriad of wading bird species, and the reason they are there in high numbers is through the work the keepers do in predator control using the general licence,” he added.