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Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill passes its Stage 3 debate

The Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill has a great many moving parts and has given the Scottish Government the opportunity to legislate in an area of rural life which has been happily co-existing with nature for hundreds of years. The original proposal for the Bill was primarily to reduce the incidence of raptor persecution in Scotland, allegedly taking place near or on grouse moors. Incidentally, raptor persecution is now at an all-time low, yet the Bill still progressed through Scottish Parliament.

This Bill required very careful consideration to deliver numerous licensing schemes that are workable and fit for purpose. As it progressed through the various stages in parliament, the Bill developed into what we have today – legislation that licenses grouse moors, licenses the use of traps, a ban on the use of snares, a ban on the use of glue traps except in exceptional circumstances, and the licensing of muirburn.

The first Stage 3 debate took place on 19 March, and concluded on 21 March, when the Bill was passed, with 85 MSPs voting for and 30 against.


Part 1: Wildlife management

Now that the Bill has passed, it will:

  1. Make it an offence to use or buy a glue trap that could be used to catch an animal other than an invertebrate.

The minister has made an exception in certain limited circumstances to give pest controllers licences to use glue traps as a “last resort”. This last-minute amendment from the Scottish Government did not go down well in the debating chamber, with MSPs stating they did not have enough time to review these amendments adequately prior to the debate. The Scottish Government are proposing to ban the sale of all glue traps in Scotland, but this has yet to be agreed with the UK Government.

  1. Introduce a licensing scheme for the use of specific traps to catch wild birds and animals, which will require practitioners to complete an approved training course.

A snaring ban will now go through. This ban will include humane cable restraints (HCRs), despite strong evidence to support their use. HCRs are an important tool for research projects and predator control purposes, however, the Scottish Government determined that HCRs were not too dissimilar to other types of snares, and they were ultimately included in this ban.

It is now an offence under the new Bill for anyone to tamper with, disarm or destroy a legally set wildlife trap. This has been an area that the Scottish Countryside Alliance and our partner organisations have been pushing for a long time, and it is good to see that the Scottish Government has finally listened.

Further discussion is due to take place regarding the costs of training courses and capping the costs of such courses. There may be a provision for exemptions if training has already been given in the operation of wildlife traps as part of another course, e.g. Gamekeeping courses.

  1. Introduce a licensing scheme for killing red grouse, which will require the landowner to have a licence to allow the killing and taking of red grouse on their land and introduces a code of practice for managing that land.

It was agreed that the red grouse licensing period will be extended from one to five years, giving land managers more flexibility when planning for future business needs.

Rachael Hamilton MSP successfully introduced amendments which will ensure that NatureScot provide adequate reasons for refusing, modifying, suspending, or revoking a licence to shoot grouse. This is especially important given the recent difficulties experienced by applicants to obtain licences to hunt with more than 2 dogs. NatureScot has not to date provided clear reasons to applicants for refusal of these licences, so we welcome that these provisions are in place for grouse moor licensing.

Jim Fairlie MSP successfully introduced a number of amendments which will strengthen the statutory right to appeal. These amendments will ensure that potential complainants will have a full 21 days to decide whether to appeal a licensing decision made by NatureScot. They will also ensure a Sheriff hearing an appeal can make interim orders in respect of grouse shoot licences.

A review on the Code of Practice and the operation and effectiveness of section 16AA licences will take place every five years by the Scottish Ministers.

  1. Make it possible to have Regulations that would give new powers to other bodies such as the Scottish SPCA, to collect evidence around certain wildlife crime offences.

The SSPCA have been granted additional powers to search for, examine and seize anything tending to provide evidence of a wildlife crime. Currently, the SSPCA’s jurisdiction concerns the welfare aspects where animals are involved. There are fears in our sector that as a charitable organisation, with a history of bias against fieldsports, the SSPCA will act as jury in an arena in which they would struggle to remain fully impartial.

Part 2: Muirburn

The Bill, now passed, will introduce licences for burning heather at any time of the year. The muirburn season will now commence earlier on the 15 September and end two weeks earlier on the 31 March. All applicants will now have to attend an approved muirburn training course and be compliant with the Muirburn Code in order to apply for a muirburn licence. The muirburn code will be reviewed and, if necessary, revised every five years by the Scottish Ministers.

Emma Harper MSP introduced an amendment which will allow licensees to make muirburn out of season under licence, if it is deemed necessary. In addition, Jim Fairlie MSP has created a new licensable purpose which will enable muirburn to be made to reduce wildfire risk on non-peatland habitats. These amendments will provide greater flexibility to land managers.

The definition of “the making of muirburn” in the Bill is “the setting of fire to, or the burning of vegetation on a heath or muir (moor)".

It is possible to carry out muirburn on land that is peatland (“land where the soil has a layer of peat with a thickness of more than 40 centimetres”), for the purposes of restoring the natural environment, to prevent the risk of wildfires and for research purposes where no other form of vegetative control is practicable.

Provisions have been made for the future potential inclusion of a register to cover a range of licences under this Bill, including muirburn.

It is likely the Bill will receive royal assent over the summer and can be accessed, as passed, here. Read what Countryside Alliance Chief Executive, Tim Bonner, had to say about the future of grouse shooting in Scotland here.

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