"This report is a weak washout that cow-tows to powerful vested interests"
A Scottish Government commission into grouse shooting was branded a “washout” after it stopped short from ordering that the industry become licensed.
Environmental campaigners had demanded the move in order to prevent the illegal – and frequent - killing of birds of prey over hunting estates.
They reacted with dismay as the Independent Grouse Moor Review Group, chaired by Professor Alan Werritty, released its findings today (Thursday, 19 December).
A proposal to urge ministers to immediately introduction a licensing system to regulate grouse shooting was dropped in favour of a recommendation that licences only be brought in after five years if the illegal persecution of birds of prey persists.
The commission made recommendations relating to the controversial practice of muirburn– burning heather moorland to provide optimum habitats for game birds - and better safeguards for mountain hare populations.
But environmental groups had been hoping – expecting even – recommendations on licencing, especially after the Scottish Government itself had said that grouse moor owners are “in the last chance saloon” because of their practices.
Investigative journalism group The Ferret says that the decision was made to step away from immediate licensing because of pressure brought to bear inside the commission itself by members supporting landowning interests.
Max Wiszniewski, campaigns manager of the Revive coalition, which includes OneKind, Friends of the Earth Scotland, League Against Cruel Sports and Raptor Persecution UK, said: “We are deeply concerned that the Werritty Commission has failed to recognise the severity of the damaging problems with grouse moor management in its current form, and has missed the single biggest opportunity in our generation to take significant action to reform Scotland’s grouse moors for the benefit of our economy, our people, our environment and our wildlife.
“Huge swathes of Scotland are grouse moors which, under intense management programmes result in barren landscapes devoid of the majority of naturally occurring flora and fauna. These moors instead are surrounded by a circle of destruction intended to wipe out anything which pose a threat to red grouse, which are effectively farmed to be shot for entertainment.”
Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and management at RSPB Scotland, said: “We are concerned that more urgency is now needed to address the criminality and poor land management practices on Scottish grouse moors that have been highlighted for decades.
“It is very important to remember that the background to this review was the overwhelming evidence base of the link between serious organised wildlife crime and grouse moor management; the ever-intensifying management of this land to produce excessive grouse bags leading to the killing of protected wildlife; as well as public concerns about huge culls of mountain hares; and burning of heather on deep peatland soils. Addressing these issues is now even more essential to combat both the climate emergency and nature crisis, which were confirmed as priorities by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier this year.”
The Scottish Green Party dismissed the report as “a washout”.
Mark Ruskell MSP said: “A five-year probationary period isn’t going to stop [raptors] disappearing around grouse moors.
“Meanwhile, up to a fifth of Scotland’s land has been kept barren and thousands of birds and mammals have been slaughtered to enable a cruel hobby of a very few people. This report is a weak washout that cow-tows to powerful vested interests.
Cabinet secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “It is important that we give careful consideration to the recommendations, alongside other evidence, before issuing a response. An important part of this will involve meeting key stakeholders to discuss the findings of the review, and we will publish a full response to the report in due course.
“At this early stage, however. I believe the option of a licensing scheme will need to be considered and - if required – implemented earlier than the five-year timeframe suggested by the review group.”