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Moorland conference – The Wildlife Management and Muirburn Act

The Scottish Countryside Alliance attended a very informative Moorland Conference on the 11 June, hosted by Scottish Land and Estates. It was very well attended by estates from all over Scotland, Scottish parliamentarians, NatureScot and rural stakeholder organisations. Presentations and discussions centred around the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Act, which received Royal Assent on the 30 April 2024.

A section 16AA licence will be required to enable estate and landowners or occupiers to take or kill red grouse on land they are responsible for. This licence and accompanying code of practice will be published by NatureScot, and ready for applications this summer, before the start of the grouse shooting season on the 12 August. It will be a very simple to use online application that should only take around 15 minutes to complete.

All applicants will be asked for their name and address, name of estate/landholding where the shoot will take place, an OS grid reference denoting the centre of the landholding, and a declaration to agree to comply with the new Code of Practice. Applicants will also be required to provide a boundary map of the licensable area. The majority of licences will be issued for 5 years, giving some comfort to those who rely on grouse shooting as a business.

The wildlife trap and muirburn licensing schemes will not be available until around spring 2025 at the earliest. We expect these licences to be similarly straight-forward to apply for, using an online application. Training for these licences will be mandatory.

One of the main recurring points from this conference was the light-touch approach to section 16AA licensing, which looks very much like the online application process for renewing a passport or driver’s licence. Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity, Jim Fairlie, stressed that the licence will be easy to obtain and will be a workable, practical scheme. He appealed to the room to help the grouse shooting sector to improve their public image, stating they have nothing to fear with this new legislation. He explained that the minority that continue to break the law by committing wildlife offences, such as raptor persecution “are not your friends”, going on to say that obtaining a section 16AA licence should be “a badge of honour” and seen as the next stage of the journey for this sector.

Whilst this speech went some way to try and allay fears, many in the room were concerned that time is running out. With around 65 days to go until the start of the grouse shooting season, will NatureScot have the capacity to process the large numbers of applications expected? Many of the representatives we spoke to at the conference were doubtful, with some suggesting that there should be a delay in the licensing scheme for shooting grouse until next year. Mr Fairlie was “confident” that NatureScot can provide a workable scheme in the allocated timeframe but could not guarantee everyone applying for a licence will get one. NatureScot did assure all conference delegates that they will deal with all applications, and licences will be in place before the start of the season.

With a review expected within 5 years of the Act being made law, both Rachael Hamilton MSP and Finlay Carson MSP suggested that all estates should be collating evidence and data within that time period to show the Government how important this sector is to our rural communities both in terms of the national economy, social cohesion, and our national identity as one of the best locations for country pursuits.

We cannot stress enough how much the rural way of life has come under the spotlight recently. The Wildlife Management and Muirburn Act is just one piece of legislation in a list of new bills expected to be taken through the Scottish Parliament over the next few years. With the upcoming General Election, it is important to be mindful of who you are proposing to put into power at Westminster. Whilst agricultural and rural affairs is a devolved matter, it is still essential that the rural agenda is foremost in the minds of all MPs across the board in Westminster. Time and again we see similar damaging rural legislation pushed through the parliaments across the UK. Let us become a collective voice and fight for the countryside now and for future generations.

We thank all at SLE for organising such a useful and informative conference and for their valuable input throughout the passing of the Bill.

Jake Swindells, Director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, said:

“We were pleased to be able to attend such a well-presented conference and at such a crucial time in this stage of the legislation. The clarification given by both NatureScot and by the Scottish Government will put many minds at ease”.


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