Licensing of Grouse Moors – the Werritty Report

10.01.20

The Report from the Grouse Moor Management Review Group (commonly referred to as the Werritty Review after the Chairman of the Group, Professor Alan Werritty) was published on 19 December 2019.  We summarised the recommendations contained in the Report in a previous blog.

Whilst the recommendations cover a range of topics including muirburn, medicated grit, mountain hare culls, types of regulation and land management practices in general, the Report highlights that "particular attention" was given to one specific issue within the Group's remit – the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.   

Licensing of grouse moors was specifically included in the Group's remit. Its terms of reference were:

"To examine the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls and advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses. In doing so it will look at what can be done to balance the Government's commitment to tackling wildlife crime with grouse moor management practices, so that this form of management continues to contribute to our rural economy, while being sustainable and compliant with the law"

What are the arguments for and against the licensing of grouse shooting?

It is worth noting that the fundamental principle of any licensing system (e g operating motor vehicles, sale of alcohol, possession of firearms) is to make illegal certain licensable activities unless and to the extent that the required licence is held.  Accordingly the licensing of grouse shooting would make it an illegal activity save where the correct permission is in place and, as the Report states, some people may perceive licensing as identifying grouse shooting as an inherently unwelcome activity to be tolerated only under strict conditions.

The Report notes that the difficulty of defining what is encompassed within the term "grouse shooting business" or "grouse moor" means that any licensing regime would need to be applied to the shooting of grouse.

The arguments for and against licensing are set out in Appendix 1 to the Report.

Arguments for licensing include:

  • An activity which has a major environmental impact should be subject to some form of central control, rather than relying on fragmented legal regulation.
  • The law regulating unacceptable conduct (e g killing of raptors) is not regarded as effective.
  • Introduction of a licensing scheme would reassure the public that concerns over unacceptable behaviour (e g suspected killing of protected birds of prey) are being taken seriously.

Arguments against licensing include:

  • The main forms of unacceptable behaviour are already unlawful and the emphasis should be on detecting and punishing wrongdoers (not additional control on and increased costs for others).
  • Anyone who deliberately breaks the existing laws would not be deterred by licensing.
  • To meet legal standards, the imposition of sanctions would require a substantial evidential basis – there would be a substantial challenge in establishing the case for stronger intervention. 

What does the Report recommend?

The Report states that the Group were evenly divided on the merits for and against licensing of grouse shooting.  The Chairman sought to use his casting vote in favour of the introduction of licensing but this was contested by two Group members.

Instead, the Group unanimously recommended that a licensing scheme be introduced if there is no marked improvement in the ecological sustainability of grouse moor management, as evidenced by the populations of breeding Golden Eagles, Hen Harriers and Peregrines on, or within the vicinity of, grouse moors, within a probationary period of 5 years from the publication of the Report. 

The Report acknowledges that, ultimately, whether or not to licence the shooting of grouse is a political decision. The aim of the recommendation is a decrease in the illegal killing of raptors on or within the vicinity of grouse moors, and a significant improvement in the conservation status of such birds in these areas.

Whilst the recommendation was not to introduce licensing of grouse shooting at this time, the Report did recommend the use of licensing for specific management activities:

  • Muirburn - this would involve a general licence to allow muirburn to take place without individual permission, provided that requirements set out in the Report are complied with (including compliance with the Muirburn Code and mandatory training for staff).
  • Mountain hare control – though only if the mountain hare population is found to be "unfavourable" following counts by SNH, (a legal obligation to report numbers being the Report's initial recommendation).

What is the Scottish Government's response to the Recommendation?

The Cabinet Secretary has stated that the Scottish Government will be meeting with stakeholders before giving a full response but that she believes that the option of licensing will need to be considered and, if required, implemented earlier than the 5 year probationary period recommended in the Report. 

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has also indicated that licensing could be introduced before the expiry of the 5 year period.