The Scottish Government introduced the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament on 21 March 2023.

The Bill contains 2 parts:

  • The first relates to wildlife management and contains a ban on the use of glue traps, a licensing scheme for the use of specific traps and a licensing scheme for the killing of red grouse.
  • The second part relates to muirburn and contains provisions to extend the licensing system for muirburn.

The Scottish Government's Policy Memorandum states that the Bill has been introduced to address raptor persecution and ensure that the management of grouse moors and related activities are undertaken in an "environmentally sustainable and welfare conscious manner".

Whilst the Bill covers a number of topics, it is the proposed introduction of a licensing scheme for the killing of red grouse which has caught headlines.

What is the background to the Bill's provisions on grouse moor licensing?

The Bill follows a Report published by the Grouse Moor Management Group in December 2019 (often referred to as the Werritty Report). In particular, the Werritty Report recommended that:

"a licensing scheme be introduced for the shooting of grouse if, within five years from the Scottish Government publishing this report, 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 being in favourable condition"

The foreword to the Werritty Report highlights that the licensing of grouse shooting was contested within the Group and, in order for the Group to make a unanimous recommendation, the 5 year probationary period was proposed. The 5 year period ends in December 2024.

The Scottish Government's Response to the Werritty Report was published in November 2020. The response in relation to licensing grouse shooting was that:

"The Scottish Government agrees that a licensing scheme should be introduced. However, we believe that it should be implemented earlier than the five-year timeframe suggested by the review group."

The Bill's Policy Memorandum makes reference to the Werritty Report's recommendation on grouse moor licensing and simply notes that it was a "compromise".  It also refers to the statement in the Scottish Government's Repose that raptor persecution "continues to be a significant and ongoing issue in Scotland".

Neither the Scottish Government's Response to the Werritty Report nor the Bill's Policy Memorandum contain data relating to the extent of raptor persecution in Scotland, nor data on the populations of breeding Golden Eagles, Hen Harriers or Peregrine Falcons (which are referred to in the Werritty Report's recommendation).

What does the Bill propose in relation to the licensing of land for grouse shooting?

Section 6 of the Bill amends the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The provisions mean that it will not be an offence to kill red grouse if the owner or occupier of the land on which the bird was killed holds a licence (or the person who killed the bird reasonably believed that the owner/occupier held a licence).

The provisions relating to the licensing scheme include:

  • The Relevant Authority (the Scottish Ministers or Scottish Natural Heritage where the Scottish Ministers have delegated the relevant powers to them) may on the application of an owner or occupier of land grant a licence if the Relevant Authority is satisfied that it is appropriate to do so.
  • When determining whether or not to grant a licence, the Relevant Authority is to have regard to the owner or occupier's compliance with a Code of Practice which the Scottish Ministers are to introduce. The Code of Practice may in particular provide guidance on how land should be managed to reduce disturbance of and harm to any wild animal, how the killing of wild birds is to be carried out and how predators should be controlled. The Code of Practice must be reviewed within 5 years.
  • The licence must specify the person to whom it is granted, the area of land to which it relates and any specific conditions which the Relevant Authority considers appropriate. Every licence is to be subject to the condition that the licence holder must have regard to the Code of Practice.
  • A licence can only be granted for up to 1 year.
  • A licence can be suspended or revoked if:
    • The licence holder fails to comply with any of the conditions of the licence or ceases to be in a position to ensure compliance.
    • The relevant authority is satisfied that the licence holder or manager of the land has committed a "relevant offence" or has knowingly caused or permitted another person to do so. A relevant offence includes offences under Part 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (which contains provisions relating to the protection of wild birds).
  • The Relevant Authority's decision to refuse, attach a condition to or suspend/revoke a licence is subject to an appeals process. The appeal is to the Sheriff Court and the appeal must be raised within 21 days from the Relevant Authority's decision.

What happens next?

The Bill is at stage 1 and has been sent to the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee for consideration. The Committee has issued a call for views which closes on 5 May. The Committee will report to the Scottish Parliament and the Bill will be debated before it is either rejected or moved to Stage 2.


Kate McLeish