Grouse moor reform is ‘matter of urgency’ under new Scottish Government/Greens draft powershare agreement

The new draft powershare agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens announced on Friday has received a fair bit of media coverage, as you’d expect.

So far the general response from the conservation world has been cautiously optimistic (e.g. see RSPB response here) whilst the response from land and estate owners has been nervous and uneasy (e.g. see SLE response here) and the response from gamekeepers has been malicious, personally abusive and entirely expected (I won’t post that here).

The best response to the proposed powershare agreement I’ve read so far was from Friends of the Earth Scotland Director (and partner in the REVIVE coalition for grouse moor reform), Dr Richard Dixon, who was quoted in The Guardian on Friday and said that on balance, the proposed deal should lead to stronger climate action:

When two parties work together there has to be compromise … The question for the environment is whether this agreement pushes the SNP sufficiently further than they would already have gone for it to be worth the Greens having to make their own compromises. On the basis of this draft, the answer is likely yes with strong extra action on areas that make a difference to climate change and a review of oil and gas promised“.

The new draft agreement has been approved by the SNP’s ruling body but members of the Scottish Greens will not vote on it until next weekend.

The draft agreement is based on two key documents:

First there’s the draft ‘cooperation agreement’, which details how this powershare is envisioned to work, the expectations of both parties and the processes put in place to facilitate this new agreement.

Download the draft cooperation agreement here:

The second document is the draft ‘policy programme’ which details the key areas of policy on which the two parties have agreed to cooperate. The policy areas where the two parties have agreed to disagree can be found in Annex 1 of the draft ‘cooperation agreement’.

Download the draft policy agreement here:

If you turn to page 50 of this draft policy programme you’ll find this important statement on species protection:

This policy statement isn’t offering us anything new at all in terms of grouse moor reform and increased powers for the SSPCA, but what it does do is underline the commitment previously made by the SNP (although as ever, we’re still waiting for them to deliver on both issues, even though grouse moor reform & tackling wildlife crime are both described as being ‘a matter of urgency’ in this policy document).

However, as the overall cooperative agreement would place the Scottish Greens right at the heart of the decision-making process on these issues, which are both subjects on which the Greens have campaigned with tenacity and determination, then I think we could expect faster progress than we’d otherwise get with just the SNP in charge.

The very first part of this policy statement on species protection, ‘We will review the wider species licensing system with a view to ensuring that the law is being applied correctly and that lethal control is only licensed where the conditions required for such a licence are demonstrably being met‘ is also of significant interest and it’s worth reading Mark Avery’s take on it (here).

I understand that NatureScot is already engaged in behind-the-scenes discussions with various stakeholders on the subject of a licensing review, and not just those from the dark side either, but it’ll need to go to public consultation if any changes are to be made to improve what is currently a light touch and thus open-to-abuse licensing scheme.

On the whole I don’t think this powershare agreement is going to deliver anything dramatic or particularly game-changing within its five-year duration, but what it does do is provide an important opportunity for the Scottish Greens to apply pressure from within to try and stop the SNP’s can-kicking marathons on issues it has promised to deal with for years and years but still hasn’t.

That’s surely worth a go, right?

28 thoughts on “Grouse moor reform is ‘matter of urgency’ under new Scottish Government/Greens draft powershare agreement”

  1. Hmm. Whilst an SNP Government propped up by the Greens is, arguably, the best result for improvement on environmental issues of all kinds in Scotland, I’m finding it hard to get enthusiastic after so little action by the SNP and many years of talk. Let’s hope the Greens do indeed have an effect, but for me I’m afraid the jury is still well and truly out.

    1. I rather think that almost nothing will get done here. You see, there are a series of delicate political balancing acts at play here. First and foremost we have the Conservative government down in London. They do not want to undermine the SNP in Scotland (or at least not until the SNP have comprehensively dug themselves a fiscal grave) because the SNP are at the moment soaking up Leftie votes which would otherwise go to Labour. Therefore the SNP are preventing the UK Labour Party getting back into power.

      The Greens are committed to whichever of the zero carbon targets seems least implausible this day of the week. Heather moor managed for grouse soaks up and retains more carbon than any other vegetation type; more than rough grassland and much more than upland woodland (which is what most of Scotland would turn into, if the deer population were properly managed). That gives them a bit of a dilemma: regulate grouse moorland out of existence and land themselves with a huge bill for maintaining it (and a hole in the tax revenue) or retain it and piss off their supporters.

      Finally the SNP have a bugger of a situation going on. They are no nearer to an independent Scotland than they have ever been, but they don’t half have themselves a fiscal deficit. The moment the Bank of England pipes up and says “We do not underwrite the debts of the semi-independant People’s Republic of Scotlandistan, they own them all” then all of a sudden lenders are going to look at the SNP, and think “Coo, what a bunch of anti-commerce berks! I want more yield on my bond from those buggers”.

      And at that point, all bets are off.

      1. “Heather moor managed for grouse soaks up and retains more carbon than any other vegetation type”

        Shooters’ piffle.

        For either of the erica or calluna species to survive the moors have to be permanently drained. The process of anaerobic decomposition is therefore suspended or severely diminished, so peat formation is markedly attenuated. And as everybody knows, aerobic decomposition releases carbon dioxide.

        In addition, heather moorland managed for grouse has to be regularly burnt, releasing its sequestered carbon directly back into the atmosphere.

        “I rather think that almost nothing will get done here”

        You hope.

      2. Aye Dan, you tell ’em. “Let them (the Scots) eat cake”. Just don’t let them have the slightest say in managing their own land. Best leave that to the City spivs, the archaic-titled parasites and the foreign monarchies who are expert in repressing people in their own countries.

  2. A licence requirement must be seen as a ban unless strict well defined conditions are met. I am certain that NaturistScot will have set out to deliberately obfiscate the issue and to build in loopholes. They will manipulate the public consultation so that they stay in control of the dialogue…look what happened to the terms of reference of the Werrity review.

    The licence must be clearly defined….whats it for and what will it allow?

    Firstly, what is driven grouse shooting? Lots of people say that walked up shooting is ok but will it be covered by the licence? What if a party of dog walkers “accidently” walk accross the moor towards a party of walked up shooters?
    What if they decide to release and shoot red-legged partridges on the “grouse moor”?
    Will the licence include all sporting shooting?
    Will the licence cover driven grouse shooting events or driven grouse shooting management? The destructive management practices are really what we need brought under control.

    We only have to look at fox hunting to see how loosely the rules are applied and the lengths that the hunters go to bend or reinterpret the laws. I am sure that the legal advsors at SLE are looking at how they can change the running of these events so that they are almost but not quite DGS.

    1. Yep, some legal genius might just try and argue that “walked-up grouse” includes getting dropped off from the vehicles at the bottom Butt and “walking up” the row to your own Butt while carrying your own gun. Only joking of course…I hope.

      1. Unfortunately as we have seen with the alleged fox hunting ban, and the legal counsel that the older generation of gamekeepers can afford, that the people who pursue these barbaric practices can also afford barristers that can win the argument the black is legally greyishwhite. So even an outright ban will not stop these people.

        1. The way the Hunting Act got done was it was shoved in by the Parliament Act, it never got put through committee stages to tidy it up so the Act that’s there now is exactly what was first written. So, to any folks that are out complaining about it being a bit of a pile of crap now, I say this: you should’ve bloody well done a decent job of things in the first place!

    2. For all the failures of the Hunting and Protection of Wild Mammals Acts, it is still worth remembering that there is considerably less fox hunting. The practise is politically marginalised while the pressure to stop what remains continues to rise…

      When it comes to the licensing of grouse shooting the key, as always, will lie with the wording and what the licensing criteria are. Relying solely on prosecutions may not be good enough, even if the Police are instructed to ‘take the gloves off’ and serious resources are supplied. But, together with severe restrictions on the prophylactic use of medication and muirburn, the industry would be placed under considerable additional strain.

      This is unlikely to be the end, or the beginning of the end, but the Greens will be judged on this issue, so things are heating up.

  3. The seeds of progress are certainly contained within this agreement. For me one of the most important intimations is the reconsideration of allowing the SSPCA the powers to investigate wildlife crime. This would turn the current “closed shop” overseen by a small number of highly paid civil servants on it’s head. That said, extreme diligence must be applied between now and then as to any new appointees in the areas within the SSPCA that might be expected to deal with this field, if approved.
    Well done all involved. Hope remains.

  4. with almost a fifth of Scotland covered by Grouse moors and by the grouse shooters own admissions none make any money yet are heavily subsidised by the tax payer wouldn’t it be appropriate for the government to compulsory purchase the worst one’s and rewild them, saving the tax payer money and helping in the battle against climate change

    1. Why continue to subsidise them at all; remove the subsidy; let the land value fall and nature will rewild substantial sections; but I do believe an Enclosure Act is appropriate for all moors stolen from the common.

  5. All we have is words from an inglorious group that has consistently failed to make any progress in combating wildlife crime.
    Their words are of no more value than throwaway remarks. They don’t seem to realise that years and years making proposals and promises then failing to achieve anything puts them in a position of being viewed as untrustworthy.
    Failure to properly punish the wildlife criminals is total failure. Until we see some major successes in the fight what they say is trumpery. I view their position as being unrecoverable. The Sc. Gov. lacks the will and the spine to change their way.

    1. As the old saying goes: “it doesn’t matter who you vote for the government always gets in”. Count me in amongst the cynics until we see proof of action.

    2. Agreed. Until we see legally binding targets and dates, then these words are merely an expression of an intention. Personally, I would like to see politicians held accountable through being set legally binding targets. Failure to meet those targets within the agreed timeframe, would be removal from office.
      Politicians seem to be very good at talking, making proposals, and then finding every excuse under the sun as to why they haven’t kept those proposals, or the proposals have been distorted in such a way that they are barely recognisable.
      The legislation to ban fox hunting is a good example of this failure. We need to be very watchful that grouse moor licensing legislation doesn’t follow suit.

      1. “The legislation to ban fox hunting is a good example of this failure. We need to be very watchful that grouse moor licensing legislation doesn’t follow suit.” Therein lies the rub John. I would disagree slightly though. The fox hunting ban is generally seen as ‘good’ and there have been a reasonable number of successful prosecutions (paltry penalties though) and, at long last, the ‘trail hunting’ loophole sham has been exposed with a high profile trial pending. This has piled on the pressure on those that illegally kill foxes for fun. Having said all that, as you say, it comes down to enforcement which I’m sure many would agree still remains insufficient.

        At least a ban – however lacking enforcement may be – is relatively clear, whereas licensing would be unclear by design (a lawyers’ paradise) and it would also not address all of the many structural ills of DGS and DGS will remain more or less intact as a result. A DGS ban, is the only answer and I think it would be a lot easier to enforce than the fox hunting ban due to the highly visible and static nature of DGS. The other huge problem with licensing is that it will move us further away from a ban than ever as the Government will see it as ‘problem solved’. Additionally, I do not buy the often touted argument that licensing is a ‘stepping stone’ to a ban. This is wishful thinking as it too would depend on rigorous enforcement and subsequent effective sanctions. Right now we have laws (never mind any, weaker, licence conditions) being broken constantly and prosecutions are notable because of their rarity.

        1. “Additionally, I do not buy the often touted argument that licensing is a ‘stepping stone’ to a ban”

          So, if licensing fails to halt raptor prosecution, you’re saying that would weaken the argument for a complete ban?

        2. Dougie, you’ve summed up the SNP’s position on raptor persecution pefectly. No genuine commitment & no resolve.

  6. I’ve emailed my SNP MSP seeking her support for strong legislation to stamp out raptor persecution.

    1. As far as I can make out, there is not any specific subsidy for grouse moors per se. The only subsidy scheme I can find is one to support farmers grazing rough grassland, presumably with sheep or cattle. Quite a lot of Scottish grouse moorland is open, grazed only by unenclosed deer and thus isn’t eligible for any subsidy at all.

      So, I rather think that your call to remove the subsidy on grouse moors might be filed in the round filing cabinet on the floor.

  7. It is also a great pity that Andy Wightman is no longer a Green MSP as he would have been brilliant at holding the SNP to account on land and environment matters. A sad loss.

  8. The Boys in the Bothy will no’ be too chuffed that those sleekit Green Party baskets have got their hand in. Re. ‘we will be pushed no further’ , etc

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