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‘Poor legislation, with little thought for constituents’

As the controversial Scottish Act comes into force this week, will the new licences be processed in time for the upcoming grouse season?

The Wildlife and Muirburn (Scotland) Act came into force on Monday this week (1 July), after the Scottish government published the required legislation. 

The Act received royal assent on 30 April and, as expected, the most recent legislation confirms that grouse moor licensing will be operational from the approaching season, starting on 12 August. 

This means that grouse moor owners will shortly need to apply to NatureScot — Scotland’s wildlife agency — for their 16AA licences, which allow specific birds to be taken or killed, in this case the red grouse. 

Grouse moors are estimated to cover somewhere between 2.5 million and 3.7 million acres of Scotland, which amount to 12% to 18% of the country’s landmass. 

Application and granting of the 16AA licences will oblige the proprietors of the moors to comply with the associated Grouse Moor Code of Practice, which is still in draft form. NatureScot says it is continuing to work with stakeholders through its Grouse Code Working Group to develop this draft. Once granted, appropriate licences will be valid for up to five years. 

The instruments to regulate and license the practice of muirburn, and the associated code of practice, will not be ready until next year. 

Lindsay Waddell, former chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, told Shooting Times: “If ever there was a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut this is it, and it’s about as dangerous as well, certainly for those who are simply trying to manage a certain landscape, which so many species rely on for their very existence. 

“It would appear the SNP is trying to get it enacted before it loses control in Scotland. Like so much before, it is very poor legislation, with little thought for their rural constituents.” 

Director of The Heather Trust Katrina Candy said: “The Heather Trust is represented on both the Grouse Code and Muirburn Code Working Groups. As such [we are] collaborating with others in the grouse moor management sector to develop a Grouse Code of Practice and licensing system, which are not overly onerous or impractical for practitioners and landowners to comply with. 

“We were recently assured by NatureScot that licence applications will be processed in time for the start of the 2024 grouse season, and we sincerely hope there is no hold up in that process,” she added.