One of the most difficult challenges the Scottish government, and those of us living in rural communities face, is balancing the understandable concerns about the risks of the virus with the necessity of reopening the countryside and, in particular, the tourism industry which is so crucial to the rural economy. With this in mind, the Countryside Alliance drew up the guidance document "A return to shooting", outlining how a phased return of activities can be secured as lockdown restrictions are eased. Featuring key economic and environmental statistics, as well as quotes from leading voices in the shooting community, the 8-page dossier, which is now available to read here, has been submitted to the Government for consideration.
In response to that document, Scottish Countryside Alliance Director, Jamie Stewart, was joined by sector colleagues in a conference call with Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism and Mairi Gougeon MSP, Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment. The meeting centred on the progress of financial support for sporting businesses and the proposed framework for the safe return to country sports, while observing all appropriate COVID-19 precautions.
The Cabinet Secretary committed to further sharing the return to shooting document with parliamentary colleagues and decision makers in order that we meet the criteria posted by the First Minister in Scotland's route map 'through and out of the crisis'.
The document sets out what we can and will be allowed to do as the much spoken about 'R' number drops.
As we move forward:
When we enter phase 1 (likely to be on the 28th May), 'non-contact outdoor activities in the local area' will be permitted. This means that recreational deer stalking, pigeon shooting, and angling will be able to take place provided they take place locally - defined as 'broadly within five miles' of your community - and in a solitary manner.
When we enter phase 3 (the date of which has not been confirmed), travel beyond your local area for the purposes of leisure will be permitted. This means you will be able to travel outside of your local area to undertake solitary activities like deer stalking. Other shooting activities may also be acceptable at this stage, but we will await further guidance form the government on this.
Essential shooting activity for the protection of livestock and foodstuffs will be able to take place as it has done over the course of lockdown.
We continue to advise members undertaking such essential activity to ensure they have written permission from the landowner or tenant and a request for assistance to deal with serious damage and report the activities to Police Scotland via 101.
We remain committed to working with Scottish Ministers to get country sporting activities and associated supporting businesses back on track as soon as possible.