Further to Thursday’s long-awaited publication of the Werritty Review on grouse moor management (here), the BBC has recorded an interview with Professor Alan Werritty.
The interview was conducted by the BBC’s Environment Correspondent Kevin Keane and was broadcast on the Out of Doors programme this morning (21 Dec 2019). You can listen to it here (from 00.42 to 10.03) but it’s only available for 29 days. For this reason, we’ve produced a transcript (see below).
Kevin Keane also interviewed Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland) and Sarah-Jane Laing (Scottish Land & Estates) but we haven’t bothered to transcribe those interviews because they’re largely a repeat of the two organisations’ recent press statements (here and here). Their interviews follow on immediately after the one with Professor Werritty.
Presenter – This week saw the long-awaited publication of the Grouse Management Group review. It was set up two years ago with the remit of making recommendations to reduce the illegal killing of raptors, but at the same time to give due regard to the socio-economic contribution that grouse shooting makes to the Scottish rural economy.
The man in charge was Professor Alan Werritty.
Professor Werritty – It is a huge canvas and we have been, I think, exhaustive in the way in which we’ve tried to interrogate the evidence. The remit which we were given was very specific. It was to examine the environmental impact of grouse moor management, two particular aspects to that. One, recommendations on reducing the illegal killing of raptors and secondly recommendations to promote a more sustainable style of managing the grouse moors, particularly in terms of muirburn, culling mountain hares and using medicated grit.
That was quite a big canvas but we hope that we have done justice to that task. In attempting those two tasks we’ve had to also give due regard to the impact our recommendations will make on the Scottish rural economy and that, of course, means a very delicate balancing act.
Kevin Keane – Of course a lot of that is a political balance as well, isn’t it, and already some of these countryside organisations are saying that it will result in job losses. Do you accept, do you think that will be the case or do you think your recommendations, if they’re adopted, will be able to be carried out without there being that impact on the sector?
Professor Werritty – If licensing is introduced in the way that we envisage, in my view I don’t think there should be undue disturbance to the current style of management and the viability of grouse enterprises. The style of regulation which we’re proposing to introduce is relatively light touch. The licensing we’re proposing follows the General Licence which is operated by Scottish Natural Heritage. Many of our other recommendations are not unduly onerous, they are merely inviting grouse moor managers to adopt this practice and to follow some of the existing codes of practice.
Kevin Keane – Do you think this is a sector that perhaps has had relatively little regulation to date, compared to other industries?
Professor Werritty – Yes, that’s undoubtedly the case compared to agriculture and forestry and particularly the level of regulation here has been quite light. It has been mainly focused on muirburn where there are prohibitions of burning outside the closed season and prohibitions on burning without giving notice to your neighbour.
But apart from that there is very little other formal regulation which is governed by statute relating to grouse moors.
[Extensive and intensive muirburn in the Cairngorms National Park. Photo by Ruth Tingay]
Kevin Keane – There has been a code of conduct, a code of practice, has that not been sufficient? Presumably not if you’re thinking that should be turned in to regulation?
Professor Werritty – The most obvious code of practice is the one relating to muirburn which was revised in 2017. This however is a voluntary code and there is not a great deal of monitoring of compliance with the code and this is one of our concerns, that where there are codes of practice of this kind they’re currently lacking teeth.
Kevin Keane – Clearly, there are lots of different areas such as that, mountain hares and medicated grit but there’s an over-arching issue of whether or not there should be a licence for shooting estates but you’ve decided to give essentially a five-year grace period before Government decides on that. Why that? Why five years?
Professor Werritty – The reason for that I think goes back to the composition of my committee, of my review group. When the review group was set up I was determined that it would represent both ends of the arguments, so I have two conservation scientists on the group and I have two practitioners well-versed in grouse moor practice and management. I should stress that all the members of the group were invited to join it as independent experts and it’s on the basis of their expertise and their knowledge that they were appointed. They have not been beholden to any external interests.
When we came to consider whether and when to introduce licensing of grouse shooting, the review group was divided 3 : 3. We had quite a robust debate over this and we concluded that in order to get a unanimous recommendation we would opt for a probationary period of five years before licensing might be introduced. During that probationary period we are proposing that there be a monitoring of the population status of raptors on and near grouse moors. Should the raptors show signs of recovery then the need for licensing disappears. Should that recovery not take place, then in our view licensing should be introduced.
Kevin Keane – So effectively it’s a carrot and a stick isn’t it, it’s saying if you, if this situation doesn’t improve in the next five years then we’re going to have to do something about it, so how hopeful are you that will change this situation, the landscape?
Professor Werritty – That’s precisely what we’re saying and my advice to those estates which continue to indulge in persecuting raptors is, ‘Clean up your act, stop killing the birds illegally, then licensing will not be needed. If you fail to do that then licensing is almost inevitably going to come’.
Because licensing, we have now discovered, is the only way forward of dealing with this issue. One of the most striking features of this recommendation which, I would like to remind you was a unanimous one, is that it has great authority. We have represented on the group people who represent the interests of the shooting community and they have now come round to the view that in the situation of no recovery then licensing is the only way forward.
Just to clarify, licensing is NOT the only way forward of dealing with the environmental devastation wrought by driven grouse shooting – banning it is another option, although this option was not presented in the review group’s remit as prescribed by the Scottish Government.