Further to this afternoon’s post (here) outlining Andy Wightman’s proposal to seek a temporary legislative ban on muirburn in Scotland for the duration of the Coronavirus lockdown – he was successful!
After welcoming Scottish Land and Estate’s call for a voluntary halt to setting the moors alight, Andy pointed out that some landowners had ignored the call and were continuing to light fires on grouse moors. He also pointed to the latest wildfire danger assessment published this morning by the Scottish Wildfire Forum which rates the danger of wildfire in the coming week in parts of southern and eastern Scotland as ‘VERY HIGH’ and ‘EXTREME’ (see here).
[Muirburn, photo by Ruth Tingay]
Andy’s amendment was challenged by Murdo Fraser MSP (Conservatives) who claimed, falsely, that there was no evidence of continued muirburn in Scotland (he must have missed this and this) and that even if there was (which there was/is), it still didn’t necessitate legislation because, he argued, that the muirburn season would practically be over by the time the legislation is enacted anyway. He ‘forgot’ to factor in the additional two weeks between 15-30 April during which muirburn may continue at the landowner’s discretion.
Andy came back at him and argued that all he was seeking to do was give some legislative power to Scottish Land and Estate’s call for voluntary restraint.
Minister Mike Russell provided support for Andy’s amendment and said that if burning was continuing it needed to stop now.
The amendment was put to the vote and it passed 59 to 17.
This means that when the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill (Emergency Bill) gains royal assent (and thus becomes an Act), all muirburn must stop. If anyone continues to light fires on grouse moors (or indeed on any land covered by the muirburn section (23) of the Hill Farming Act 1946) they will be breaking the law and could face prosecution.
Judging by the hysteria being generated by some within the grouse shooting industry this evening (including predictably abusive attacks on Andy’s character and integrity), you’d think that muirburn had been banned forever. If only! However, the reality is it has only been banned for the remainder of this season (up until 30 April). This is emergency legislation and thus it doesn’t ban muirburn for all time. Currently, the legislation bans muirburn for the duration of the Coronavirus crisis (the Bill provides this is currently 30 Sept but with power to extend by six months). However, it’ll provide useful food for thought for the Scottish Government as we continue to wait for its response to the Werritty Review on grouse moor management.
Instead of attacking Andy, who was simply making full use of the democratic process, those critics should be looking at those estates who ignored last week’s call to stop burning…..it’s thanks to them that the legislation passed with such ease!
Well done, Andy and the Scottish Greens – this is a fantastic result!
The transcript and voting record of this amendment can be read here: amendment 53_debate and vote