Major changes proposed for the operation of Scotland's grouse moors have not been economically assessed and could deliver a hugely damaging blow to rural Scotland.
Following evidence by members of the grouse moor review group to the Scottish Parliament's Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee today, a joint statement was issued by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Gamekeepers Association for Country Sports and Scottish Land & Estates.
The organisations said:
"Grouse moor managers are bracing themselves for huge changes in the wake of the Werritty review and the impact this could have on rural Scotland cannot be underestimated.
"New regulations regarding mountain hares, muirburn and the use of medicated grit - when taken on an individual basis - represents colossal change for the sector. On top of that, any overarching licensing scheme for grouse moors is hugely complex and could wreak havoc on a crucial source of employment in Scotland.
"The panel who gave evidence this morning acknowledged that there had been a huge change in how grouse moors operate in recent years, particularly in the upskilling of a new generation of gamekeepers who are well aware of their wildlife conservation, legal and regulatory responsibilities.
"We were also pleased that the full benefits of skilled muirburn - backed by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service as an important tool in reducing the risk of wildfires - was acknowledged by the panel. Similarly, the need to improve monitoring of all mountain hare populations in Scotland is vital, not just those which are already doing well on grouse moors.
"The sector recognises the concerns of the public that we should operate at the highest welfare and environmental standards and it has been achieving this."
The organisation added that no economic and community impact assessment had been undertaken on the effect licensing would have.
"The Werritty review undertook its own survey of the economic impact of grouse shooting based on 16 estates. Only one grouse enterprise made a small profit; all the rest were loss-making and reliant on substantial private investment.
"Despite this, the parliamentary committee was told that no study of the economic impact of licensing has been carried out. If licensing is pursued with no economic assessment - and against the backdrop of an already fragile sector - then it could deliver a destructive blow to vital businesses and hard-pressed communities in Scotland's rural economy."