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Further amendments made to the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill

There were some positive outcomes from the Rural Affairs and Islands meeting that took place on Wednesday 7 February, and a number of expected losses for land managers and rural workers.

Gillian Martin, Minister for Energy, Just Transition and Fair Work put forward amendments to ban the use of all snares, including Humane Cable Restraints (HCRs) despite compelling research from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), detailing the importance of these devices in the land managers toolbox for restraining target predators and for research purposes. This will undoubtedly affect biodiversity in Scotland and have a negative impact on the current nature crisis. She is also proposing to ban the use of all glue traps, which may have a devastating effect on pest control operations in public buildings such as hospitals, schools, and care homes and for businesses such as hotels and restaurants.

Amendments put forward by the Scottish Countryside Alliance in relation to the abolition of cost recovery for certain wildlife management licences were not supported by the majority of the Rural Affairs committee. This is very disappointing, and our sector will likely now foot the bill for what is a national public service. Importantly, this will include the practice of muirburn, which is currently undertaken by highly trained practitioners using existing codes of practice. This service and the expensive equipment used by land managers and gamekeepers to help control wildfires is utilised by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service every year. Together, with volunteers from local communities, they are the front-line in both preventing and minimising annual wildfire devastation in Scotland, which has a detrimental impact on local wildlife and can cause excessive carbon emissions on a far greater scale than controlled burning ever would.

We were very pleased to see the amendments to make it an offence to tamper with or destroy legally set traps were approved by the committee. This has been an issue that rural stakeholder groups, including the Scottish Countryside Alliance, have been lobbying on for many years, so it is heartening to see that the Minister has listened to our advice on this matter.  

We welcome the news that the provisions for NatureScot to suspend a licence pending a formal investigation has been removed. As we explained in our last update, mere suspicion and the start of a police investigation could have halted any and all grouse shooting. Following significant pressure by our organisations, it has now been clarified that a suspension can only be initiated if NatureScot is satisfied that a relevant offence has taken place on the licenced ground and by someone who is directly involved with that ground and/or licence. This is a significant step forward, ensuring shooting businesses can still operate unless a relevant offence has been committed.

We will provide further updates following the second Rural Affairs meeting, due to take place on Wednesday 21 February. Consideration of the Bill at Stage 2 will now be completed by Friday 23 February.

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