The long-awaited Scottish Government-commissioned review of game bird hunting regulations in other European countries has finally been published today.
First commissioned by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse back in 2014, there has been growing impatience to see this report published, especially as the Scottish Parliament’s Environment (ECCLR) Committee is now considering the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for the introduction of a licensing system for all game bird hunting in Scotland.
The report can be read here: a-review-of-game-bird-law-licensing-in-selected-european-countries
The report reviews game bird hunting regulations in 14 European countries and as expected, the lack of regulation in Scotland contrasts sharply with the licensing systems in place in these other countries. In Scotland (and the rest of the UK), game bird hunting is only partially and lightly regulated by (a) having an open and closed season, restricting the time of year when game birds may be shot, and (b) firearms legislation which places restrictions on who may have access to guns. That’s pretty much it. There is other legislation covering the use of traps, snares etc but this legislation is rarely enforced with vigour and when a General Licence has been removed for alleged raptor persecution, SNH has simply replaced it with an individual licence, making the supposed sanction wholly redundant.
The review reveals that in these 14 other countries, game bird hunting is regulated by legislation which includes individual licenses for hunters and the ability for regulators to revoke a licence if the legislation is contravened. In some countries the legislation includes strict harvest quotas and bag reporting and in many countries, would-be hunters have to pass a two-part practical and theoretical examination to qualify for a hunting licence.
Cabinet Secretary for the Environment Roseanna Cunningham said:
“I welcome the publication of this report. It shows that there is more regulation of game bird hunting in many other countries than we have in Scotland. We will be looking very carefully at these different management approaches to see whether they offer the means to address issues such as raptor persecution.
Already we have committed to a number of new measures to tackle wildlife crime within Scotland including increases in criminal penalties, a prevention review and the creation of a dedicated investigative support unit within Police Scotland. These measures clearly demonstrate our resolve to tackle raptor persecution.
This new report and the forthcoming review of satellite tagging data will help determine our next steps“.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland said:
“We welcome the publication of this SNH report which will contribute to current discussions in the Scottish Parliament about potential options for licensing of intensive gamebird management practices in Scotland, such as “driven” grouse shooting. We are clear that the failure by grouse moor owners over decades to self regulate and put a stop to the illegal killing of raptors and the carrying out of other unsustainable land management practices has led us to this point.
We support the licensing of “driven” grouse shooting, with clear sanctions to remove such licences on individual landholdings if there is evidence of illegal practice. As the SNH report suggests, such regulation is commonplace in other European countries and those landowners who operate legally and comply with the terms and conditions of the licence should have nothing to fear from such a system.”
An unidentified spokesman for the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates said:
“The research demonstrates that although a licensing system may be in operation, the nature of what that licensing regime entails varies significantly from country to country, and is frequently determined by historical traditions and government structures.
We have and continue to support tougher sentences for wildlife crime in Scotland, but what this research also makes clear is that wildlife crime remains a concern in many countries that have licensing regulation”.
It’s looking more and more likely that some sort of licensing scheme for game bird hunting will be introduced in Scotland at some point, and we welcome that direction of travel. If it does happen, it is unlikely to solve the issue of systemic raptor persecution unless more effective enforcement measures are also introduced, to ensure any legislation is adhered to. But nevertheless, a licensing scheme would take us closer to addressing the problems and is a necessary step on that path. If licensing works and the game shooting industry finally cleans up its act, then great. But if it doesn’t work, for whatever reason, the Government only has one place left to go.
This morning, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham will be welcomed to the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s annual conference and the topic of regulating game bird hunting will no doubt be discussed.