Our previous update tracked the progress of the Wildlife Management and Muirburn legislation. Since that update, the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Act 2024 has received Royal Assent and became an Act of the Scottish Parliament on 30 April 2024.

There are five key changes introduced by the Act:

  1. Introducing a licensing scheme for the killing or taking of red grouse.
  2. Introducing a licensing scheme for muirburn.
  3. Introducing a licensing scheme for the use of certain traps.
  4. Prohibiting the use of snares.
  5. Expanding the investigation powers of Scottish SPCA inspectors.

In this update, we focus on the licensing scheme for the killing or taking of red grouse. The scheme is due to 'go live' on 12 August 2024.

What requires to be licensed?

The land over which red grouse can be taken or killed must be licensed by NatureScot via what will be known as 'section 16AA licences'.

NatureScot will grant section 16AA licenses provided they consider that it is "appropriate" to do so. What is appropriate is not further defined but will turn on compliance with a Code of Practice for Moorland Management which we understand is in draft form.

Licences will be granted for up to five years.

NatureScot powers

NatureScot can refuse to grant a licence. In addition, they can impose and modify licence conditions.

NautreScot can also suspend or revoke licences in certain circumstances, for instance where they are satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that:

  1. A "relevant offence" has been committed. A "relevant offence" includes, but is not limited to, breaches of Part 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act 2023 and section 19 of Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.
  2. The "relevant offence" was committed on the land to which the licence relates.
  3. The "relevant offence" was committed by the licence holder or "a person involved in managing the land". "A person involved in managing the land" may include a keeper or contractor.

What to do if a licence is refused / suspended / revoked

There is a right to appeal, by way of Summary Application, to a Sheriff Court against a decision of NatureScot to:

  1. Refuse to grant a section 16AA licence.
  2. Attach a condition to the licence.
  3. Suspend the licence.
  4. Revoke the licence.

An appeal must be lodged within 21 days of notice of the NatureScot decision. There will be no exception to this time limit.

Interim orders can be sought suspending the NatureScot decision until the appeal is determined.

This appeal route is similar to the existing appeal framework to challenge the revocation of firearms under the Firearms Act 1968. Our team has experience of successfully appealing firearms revocation decisions, and we are therefore well placed to provide advice and representation to section 16AA licence holders in relation to an adverse decision from NatureScot, and are on hand to provide advice more generally on the compliance issues surrounding this new licensing regime.


Clare Bone

Partner & Solicitor Advocate

Ramsay Hall

Legal Director