Landowners’ lobby group who called for muirburn moratorium now complains about the ban!

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

On 25th March 2020, the landowners’ lobby group, Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) urged its members to use voluntary restraint and stop setting fire to grouse moors, to ensure ‘there was no chance for additional strain on public services’ (i.e. the fire and rescue service, if a so-called ‘controlled’ burn became, er, uncontrolled) (see here).

This call to halt muirburning was welcomed by many, not just with respect for the emergency services during a national crisis but for many, many environmental and conservation reasons too, not least the climate emergency. And whoever thinks that it’s a sensible idea, under the guise of so-called ‘conservation’, to set the moors alight at the onset of the bird breeding season (i.e. throughout April), even though the Muirburn Code permits it, is frankly deranged.

[Burning up a grouse moor, photo by Ruth Tingay]

However, the grouse shooting industry isn’t celebrated for its sensible ideas nor its willingness to self-regulate nor its participation in voluntary restraint, so it came as no surprise to see, five days later, evidence of selfish defiance of SLE’s call for restraint as smoke rose from grouse moors from the Borders to Morayshire (see here).

This led to Andy Wightman MSP proposing an amendment to The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill (Emergency Bill) calling for an immediate (but temporary) ban on all muirburn across Scotland (see here).

On 1st April Andy’s amendment received widespread cross-party support (apart from the Conservatives) and was passed (see here and here).

As of today (7 April), the emergency legislation is enacted and all muirburn is now illegal in Scotland (see here).

So how has Scottish Land & Estates reacted to the news that its call for a voluntary, temporary halt was ignored but has now been shored up by being written in to statute, thanks to Andy Wightman’s quick thinking? If you look at the SLE website you’ll not find any comment or statement about it, just silence. SLE probably took one look at BASC’s embarrassing public reaction (here) and thought better of exposing itself as being equally absurd.

But equally as absurd is exactly what SLE is. The day after Andy’s amendment was approved by the Scottish Parliament, but away from the public eye, SLE’s Chief Executive Sarah-Jane Laing sent a briefing email to SLE members to provide an ‘urgent update on emergency legislation’.

Here’s what she told members about the new muirburn ban:

So despite SLE calling for a halt to muirburn, and despite clear evidence that this call was being ignored by some grouse moor owners, SLE is now howling that the resulting enforced temporary ban, which in effect lasts for just four weeks and is what SLE wanted anyway, is ‘disproportionate and unnecessary’!

Does anyone still think the grouse shooting industry has the public interest at its core?

17 thoughts on “Landowners’ lobby group who called for muirburn moratorium now complains about the ban!”

    1. Probably the main reason they’re raising the issue – they really can’t be seen to be complacent at the legal ban imposed on them, no-matter how sensible it was. It’ll be interesting how they frame relative success or failure of the shoots later in the year.

  1. There was one interesting nugget in all the SLE claptrap: “…we will be speaking to the Scottish Government about the derogation required to enable muirburn to take place by land managers who are part of the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS).”. Eh? So, pardon my ignorance, but do they let in ‘land managers’ who routinely torch moorland (and give it the cuddly title of ‘muirburn’ that sounds so like something your wise old Granddad would do in his back garden) into the AESC with some derogation bullshit? WTF? That’s like eating chicken to become a vegan.

  2. what I am looking at in that response is the request to the public to reduce access to rural areas. Now I hope and believe that most of us have done this, but I am concerned that SLE are gearing up for a request to restrict the right to roam ( and of course notice what they might be up to). Some of us live in rural areas and walking, cycling and other types of exercise are legitimate activities as long as we agree to social distancing. My local council (East Lothian) has been closing parks and car parks locally, without coming forward with evidence of overuse, which I think will set a precedent for landowners to restrict access. I suspect my concerns are probably fuelled by my memories of the foot and mouth outbreak where the access ban was blanket, and then removed very tardily by landowners.

    1. Good point Red. It’s a given that a lot of landowners would jump at the chance of restricting public access on a any spurious grounds. Interestingly, the police have been criticised for using drones to ‘spy on walkers’ etc. down in the Peak District. Perhaps, after all this COVID-19 stuff is over, where there is a wildlife crime hotspot the police could be persuaded to deploy said drones to see what the fun-killers are up to? I’m sure the landowners calling for Draconian bans on walkers et al would squeal that that would be Draconian. Just a thought.

    2. Yeah they’ve always done their utmost to vilify non estate related people on ‘their’ land, at best townie ingrates who don’t appreciate all the hard work put in by keepers and farmers without which they wouldn’t have this ‘beautiful’ countryside they’ve come to see. At worst they’ve even tried to blame them for scaring away hen harriers and other raptors from the grouse moors, and claim that many out of control moor fires were caused by people with disposable barbecues etc. They’ll criticise walkers for using the bull dozed tracks they themselves criticise when of course they had no choice as older and sensible tracks were destroyed. In spite of all this an acquaintance of mine had a private conversation with a VERY senior member of the SGA in which he couldn’t speak highly enough of ramblers and walkers that go on to estates. According to him they were the eyes and ears of the estate office reporting damaged fencing and gates, livestock in trouble, fly tipped rubbish…..Yet that very same person has also blogged very negatively about walkers, people he hadn’t actually met, that they were Munro baggers probably not interested in wildlife. I can’t recall him or any others of his ilk making any positive comments publicly about non field sport recreational users of the hills. The point maybe because they’re just too good as eyes and ears and there’s just a bit too much illegitimate activity on the moors for that.

  3. SLE, I’ve been trying without success to think of a more humorous name using this acronym but cannot they are a complete set of self serving numpties to put it politely. No access to the countryside means a free hand to do what they wish and those well known pals of the grouse botherers NFUS will turn a blind eye in the hope of a reciprocal arrangement for beaver bothering that may take place.

  4. I am increasingly concerned about the illegal clampdown being performed on the general public being outside – by Police forces in various parts of the UK – in the name of ‘Saving the NHS’. SLE may well seek to exploit this and prevent future public access to moorland, on an increasing wave of misinformed hysteria.

    There is no scientific basis for this undemocratic restriction. The chances of a virus as fragile as a coronavirus being transmitted in open air is vanishingly small, unless a carrier coughs, sneezes or spits directly into your face, or there is physical contact between you. All you have to do is sensibly keep your distance from non-household people whilst outside.

    Did Catherine Calderwood’s actions indicate that she believed her own message?

    Remember, the people who promote this ‘stay at home’ message are the very same people who said, in reference to 200,000 people attending the Cheltenham Festival – and who were standing shoulder-to-shoulder for hundreds of metres, and fifty metres deep – that such contact in the open air represented a low risk of virus transmission.

    Yet we now have Police intimidating middle aged couples out for a stroll with their dog in the countryside, with no one else in sight for miles, or sitting alone on a mile-long stretch of empty beach! It is an affront to science.

  5. Dare I assume that this briefing note from SLE will accidentally reach Roseanna Cunningham? …….

  6. As I returned to it, I was told by a copper that I shouldn’t use my car to travel for exercise. I believe he was badly informed. I’ve seen discussion of the same elsewhere: I found the following from the College of Policing briefing…

    “Use your judgement and common sense; for example, people will want to exercise locally and may need to travel to do so, we don’t want the public sanctioned for travelling a reasonable distance to exercise. Road checks on every vehicle is equallydisproportionate. We should reserve enforcement only for individuals who have not responded to Engage, Explain, and Encourage, where public health is at risk.”

    here, page 15…

    Click to access COVID-19-Police-brief-in-response-to-Coronavirus-Government-Legislation.pdf

    Wednesday morning.

    I have a family member who is a copper. They have my sympathry in dealing with Corona problems.

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