NEARLY 400 rural businesses have asked the Scottish Government to re-think plans to licence grouse shooting, claiming the practice will be "disastrous" for private estates and local economies.
Upland estates, farmers, tradespeople and hotels are among those who have written to environment minister Gillian Martin calling for changes to the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill.
The Scottish Government is seeking to minimise the environmental damage caused by grouse moors and put an end to the illegal persecution of birds of prey, which have often been found shot or poisoned on estates.
The bill seeks to implement many recommendations of the Werritty review in December 2019, which called for widespread changes to grouse moor management and the regulation of traps in Scotland.
In the letter, businesses raise concerns over the proposed licence duration of only one year, which they said would provide no long-term business certainty and would also create an “administrative burden” for estates and NatureScot.
Ross Ewing, director of moorland at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “If the proposed licensing scheme is introduced without amendments, then it would be disastrous – not only for moorland estates but also for the broad range of businesses and communities that rely on them across rural Scotland.
“Scottish Government-commissioned research has shown that, compared to other upland land uses, grouse shooting provides the greatest number of jobs per hectare, the highest levels of local and regional spending, and the greatest levels of investment per hectare without public subsidy.
“The Scottish Government will jeopardise this if it does not bring forward amendments that will provide certainty to businesses and legal safeguards for licence holders.
“We believe that by working with us on the suggestions set out in this letter, the Scottish Government will be able to achieve its policy objective without running the risk of fatally damaging a vital rural sector. We very much hope they will be willing to constructively engage.”
The businesses also express concerns over the broad discretionary power of the Government’s nature body NatureScot to decide whether it is “appropriate” to grant a licence, and the power it would have to suspend licences.
Another issue raised in the letter to Martin is the wide range of offences – not just raptor persecution – that could lead to a licence being modified, suspended or revoked.
Businesses say the game and country sports sector is worth more than £350 million per year to the Scottish economy and more than 11,000 full-time jobs are supported by sporting shooting, often in rural areas where alternative sources of employment are scarce.
Mike Smith, owner of Tay House which provides sporting accommodation in Dunkeld, Perthshire, said: “Country sports are an integral part of the rural economy and provide businesses like mine with a much-needed boost beyond the conventional summer tourism season.
“To see the Scottish Government playing Russian roulette with rural businesses and livelihoods in this way is frankly unconscionable.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the valuable contribution that grouse shooting makes to our rural economy and the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill is not about preventing this activity.
“But it is clear that grouse moors must be managed in a sustainable and responsible way that minimises environmental impacts and helps to protect nature and wildlife.
“The provisions in the bill provide for a practical, proportionate and targeted licensing regime which will support those carrying out activities appropriately and in line with the law, and will have consequences for those that don’t.”