Following yesterday’s announcement by the Scottish Government that the grouse shooting industry, having failed spectacularly to get its house in order despite a million and one opportunities to do so, will now be subject to a licensing regime (see here), has gone in to meltdown hysteria.
I’ll come to individual organisational responses shortly but to start with here is a joint statement issued by British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA), Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA), Scottish Association for Country Sports (SACS) and Scottish Land & Estates (SLE):
Rural organisations said today (26 November 2020) that the Scottish Government’s announcement that it is to develop a licensing scheme for grouse moors will be a seriously damaging blow to fragile rural communities.
Following publication of Scottish Government’s response to Werritty Review of grouse moor management, the following joint statement was issued by: British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scottish Association for Country Sports and Scottish Land & Estates.
“We are dismayed that the Scottish Government has not listened to the voice of some of our most fragile communities which are at the heart of a world class rural business sector. People involved in grouse shooting have already embraced a huge amount of legislation, regulation and guidance to make sure the highest standards are met. This includes estates embracing many of the recommendations contained within the Werritty report.
“Instead, the Scottish Government has paved the way for a very uncertain future for many rural people by announcing that it intends to introduce a licensing scheme for grouse moors which interferes with legitimate business activities and threatens to engulf the sector in a blizzard of red tape that is unprecedented and out of all proportion.
“Substantive work has already been done to improve Muirburn practices with more to come and we need to understand urgently what the Scottish Government envisages in terms of even further controls.
“We are not reassured that moor managers have ‘nothing to fear’. The Minister has herself described the potential withdrawal of a licence as a ‘serious sanction’ – there are real fears this could impact perfectly law-abiding shooting businesses.
“The Werritty Review group itself stated there is no scientific or evidential basis for introducing licensing and we are disappointed that this has been ignored. The real weakness is that this measure misses the target in relation to wildlife crime – which is already at its lowest level – and Scotland already has the most stringent laws to deal with raptor persecution in the UK. A one-size fits all licensing scheme will serve only to play into the hands of those who are dedicated to banning shooting altogether, regardless of the consequences for communities and the environment.
“Grouse shooting plays a vital role in rural Scotland, sustaining communities and delivering substantial economic and environmental benefits. It would be bad legislation if the unsubsidised private investment that underpins these benefits is put at risk by this unnecessary proposal. We also have serious concerns about how such a scheme would work in practice and will be seeking an urgent meeting with Ministers to discuss the details.
“Every element of the Scottish economy will need as much help as possible in the foreseeable future and the proposal to introduce licensing for grouse shooting will do nothing to help achieve this. We will be seeking an urgent meeting with Ministers to discuss how they see this being developed.”
[A dismal landscape of intensively-managed grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park. Photo by Ruth Tingay]
This hysterical scaremongering about so-called threats to the rural economy from the introduction of a grouse moor licensing scheme is nothing new from this lot (e.g. see here, here, here and here for previous histrionics).
Nor is it the first time we’ve heard the claim that any sort of enforced regulation will ‘threaten’ or ‘damage’ the rural economy.
When the Land Reform Bill was being debated the Scottish Landowners Federation (which later re-branded to call itself the Scottish Rural Property & Business Association (SRPBA) and then re-branded again to its current name of Scottish Land & Estates) warned that the legislation would do irreversible damage to rural economies and they threatened to block the legislation at the European Court of Human Rights (see here).
Scottish Land & Estates also bleated about further land reform measures when the Scottish Government proposed removing the two-decades-old exemption from business rates enjoyed by shooting estates. SLE claimed that, “We believe that there would be a negative impact on rural jobs, tourism and land management” (see here).
And then there was more bleating when the Scottish Government brought in vicarious liability to tackle the continued illegal persecution of birds of prey. David Johnstone, the then Chair of Scottish Land & Estates claimed this would introduce another layer of bureaucracy “When the Government should be doing what it can to help landowners and the rural economy” (see here).
Has the rural economy fallen flat on its arse as a result of these measures? Not according to the grouse shooting industry, which is still declaring itself indispensable to the Scottish economy (a claim strongly contested by others, e.g. see here).
As has been said before on this blog, the grouse shooting industry should be thanking its lucky stars that a licensing scheme is all it’s getting. The case for a ban on driven grouse shooting has been made many times over.
There are those of us who don’t believe for one second that a licensing scheme will be effectively enforced, although we’ll do our bloody level best to ensure it is enforced when breaches have been detected and are fully evidenced. And if/when the licensing scheme is shown to be failing, there’s only one place left to go.
It seems to me that the grouse shooting industry should be welcoming a licensing scheme, which should protect those who are complying with the law and remove those who are not. Gosh, a world where there are consequences for criminality. Imagine that! Is that really what this backlash is all about?