Dave Windle

Finally, the Government has published its intentions for the Group’s 2019 Werrity report. Roseanna Cunningham has decided to introduce the new licensing regime now citing “the clear evidence of illegal raptor persecution”. She decided to reject the five year delay that Werrity was forced to recommend in order to achieve a unanimous report. See Grouse shooting licence move sparks 'dismay' - BBC News or Press & Journal 27/11/20.

This is good news and probably sparked by the realisation that, if gamekeepers were given another five years, there might be no raptors at all left in Scotland. For example, see articles in the Press & Journal 29/9/20 and 1/10/20. The main benefit from our perspective is that the burden of proof for wildlife crime is shifted from that needed to secure a criminal conviction, which is almost impossible to achieve, to one of reasonable doubt. People persecuting raptors are typically by themselves in remote areas and, if they see anybody, simply wait for another day to do their worst. NatureScot could remove a licence if, for example, no raptors were observed on what should be prime habitat. Much will depend on NatureScot’s courage in standing up to the estate managers. Unfortunately, their past record in this respect is poor, but maybe they will gain some courage. Much will depend on who takes over from Roseanna Cunningham following the election in May.

Not surprisingly, the proposal has been greeted with consternation by the estate owners and their workers: Grouse Moor Licensing – Scotland abandons its own findings. Predictions of estates going bust due to the excessive extra costs were bandied about. Unfortunately, some estates have broken ranks and admitted that it won’t change much for a well-run estate – now, there’s a surprise!

Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), via its Regional Moorland Groups, put out its usual piece about boosting the rural economy. (Press & Journal, 12/12/20) This featured the £8.98 million put into the local rural economies by driven grouse shooting. It makes no mention of alternative uses for theland, which could generate more money, but is still an important piece of PR. It perpetuates the impression that local jobs would be at risk if the grouse moors scaled down their activities, instead of how many more jobs could be created by diversifying into eco-tourism related businesses.

Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica) by John Winder

A better reference on the economic impact of grouse shooting is “Driven grouse moors - socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts: summary report” available at It is written by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and JHI and includes an excellent summary table on the economic impact of different moorland uses. I had originally intended to summarise the report in Mountain Views but have retired defeated. It is already a summary report and, to quote Professor Alan Werrity, with whom I have often disagreed, “I had not fully appreciated the complexity of the issues involved”.

The Royal Family is coming under pressure to reform its environmental practices, eg. on 6/2/21, Queen under pressure to abandon grouse shooting on Royal estates ( Given the family’s long association with field so-called sports, it is doubtful whether this will have any impact.

However, Princes Charles and William are more vocal champions of the environment. Prince Charles sounds particularly hypocritical when talking about organic produce and climate change while presiding over the use of medicated grit and grouse moor monoculture at Delnadamph, his personal estate. Surely, he has to improve the management of this estate?

The RSPB published an interesting article in the Winter/Spring 2021 issue of their magazine Nature’s Home. It outlines the reasons that they are opposed to driven grouse shooting and is good reading.

Discussion on the impact of the proposed legislation to give mountain hares more protection rumbles on. In a story out of Kafka, whereby the Government say one thing and the officials do another, NatureScot is authorising significant culls. How do they justify authorising the cull of 200 hares on one estate as working in line with their masters’ wish to limit culling? We will see.

Interestingly, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) (Press & Journal, 7/12/20) ran a piece put out by the SGA, suggesting that gamekeepers could live trap mountain hares and then transfer them from areas where they are plentiful to areas where their numbers are low (presumably, where the gamekeeping has been over-enthusiastic in the past). This is much more nuanced move than the stuff they normally produce, which typically consists of an outright denial that there is anything wrong. Have they finally decided to employ a decent press officer?

We have one Parliamentary Question to report:
Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party), 4/2/21: To ask the Scottish Government what impact the prohibition of culling of mountain hares could have on the operation of licensed falconry on land with a significant hare population, and what consultation it had with operators before it introduced the prohibition.

(S5W-34988) Roseanna Cunningham, 12/2/21: From 1 March 2021, in order for NatureScot to consider granting a licence that includes falconry as a method of taking mountain hares an applicant will need to demonstrate that it is for a licensable purpose under Section 16 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. An example would be to prevent serious damage to timber or agriculture or for the conservation of natural habitats. NatureScot has engaged with land management, conservation and welfare bodies, including representatives of the Scottish Hawk Board and other operators, to help develop their approach to the licensing regime for the culling of mountain hares.

Finally, to end on another piece of good news, I am very pleased to see that the community buy-out of 5000 acres of Langholm Moor is to go ahead. Buccleuch Estates has decided that it can no longer subsidise grouse shooting in the area and worked with the local community to agree a sale. I understand that Buccleuch Estates has been very helpful.

This will turn 5000 acres of sterile grouse moor into a community owned nature reserve. Community ownership is not a panacea and can run into problems due to the need to provide livelihoods, but it does enable other models for managing the land, such as eco-tourism, to be tried out. I keep my fingers crossed that the community trust will find a way to purchase the remaining 5,300 acres.

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