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Scottish government admits buzzard licence blunder

The Scottish Government has admitted it failed to provide specific guidelines for gamekeepers wishing to apply for a licence to protect reared game birds from protected predators such as buzzards, sparrowhawks and pine martens.

At the same time, the Scottish director of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Ian McCall, has called for limits to be placed on the growing number of raptors in Scotland.

In a recent interview with The Scotsman newspaper, Mr McCall argued that the Scottish Government should be more realistic about the damaging impact of raptors.

He said: ?We have got to decide how many raptors we want because an infinite number is unacceptable. There should be target populations and when we exceed them then we may need to control them.?

Though landowners can already apply for a licence to shoot birds of prey in certain circumstances, one has never been granted to protect reared game birds.

In May, Scottish Natural Heritage issued long awaited guidelines designed to help land managers apply for licences to cull protected predators.

However, the guidance failed to cover how keepers should go about applying for a licence to protect their birds.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) then accused the Scottish Government of lacking training and being ill equipped to deal with requests from keepers wishing to control protected predators.

The Scottish Government is holding a crisis meeting with industry representatives on 26 October to discuss the problem.

Buzzard statistics

A Government spokesperson said: ?It has been judged that no application to cull protected predators received to date has met the legal requirements allowing for the issue of a licence for the protection of game birds.?

The spokesman added: ?Licences to control raptors for the protection of wild birds have been discussed with guidelines issued by Scottish Natural Heritage. However, the separate issue of controlling raptors to protect reared game birds, which can be classed as livestock, is not covered by this guidance.?

Shooting organisations are optimistic that gamekeepers will be able to apply for a licence in time for the 2010 rearing season.

BASC Scotland?s Dr Colin Shedden said: ?We will be attending this meeting. Research that we have undertaken on dealing with the problems of raptors at release pens will be pivotal to the outcome. We all hope that after this meeting we will be able to publish clear guidance on how such licences might be applied for and successfully granted for the next rearing season.?

The SGA?s Alex Hogg said that he presented the Scottish Government with clear evidence of heavy buzzard predation and serious losses at his pheasant pens in the summer, yet failed to secure a licence to control the raptors.

He said: ?My experiences will not have been in vain, however, if we can thrash out the criteria required to obtain licences in future when we all meet next week. In the meantime I can only repeat my plea to fellow gamekeepers to be patient while we do our best to find solutions to these challenges.?

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