RSPB Scotland's Duncan Orr-Ewing discusses the recent incident of a poisoned sea eagle found in Strathdon, the Werritty review and why we can not delay the licensing of grouse moors.
Licensing of grouse moors can't wait five years - it must happen now
The recent appalling incident of a poisoned sea eagle found in Strathdon should be a further “wake up call” as to why we need licensing of driven grouse shooting, and sooner rather than later. The flagship East of Scotland Sea Eagle Project, supported by Scottish Government, continues to be undermined largely by the activities of wildlife criminals operating on grouse moors. The Cairngorms golden eagle population also remains at one third of its potential breeding population in terms of occupied traditional home ranges according to the last national survey in 2015, and in locations where golden eagles should be at their most productive due to abundant natural prey in terms of red grouse and mountain hares.
The Grouse Moor Review Group (The Werritty Review) was unanimous in its support for the introduction of licensing of grouse shooting in Scotland. We wholeheartedly support this. Unfortunately, it came with a big “if”. The Review goes on to say that licensing should only happen “if, within 5 years of the Scottish Government publishing its 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 conservation condition”.
It looks as though some of Scotland’s most senior politicians agree with us, Scotland’s First Minister stated during First Minister’s questions, on the Scottish Government’s response to the Werritty recommendations; “I want to be very clear that part of that consideration will be looking at whether we move to regulation on a much quicker time-frame”. The Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Rural Affairs, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, made a similar statement.
So, why do we consider that a five-year moratorium for bringing in licensing of grouse shooting in Scotland is both unnecessary and far too slow?
Licensing of grouse shooting does not mean an end to all grouse shooting. It simply puts it within a framework which respects the public as well as the private interests. We think that it is also possible to devise a licensing scheme which does not incur significant regulatory costs, or indeed costs to sporting estates. A licensing scheme would provide protection to those grouse shooting estates who want to work within the law. Almost all equivalent European countries already have some form of licensing of hunting or sport shooting. On this basis, there should be no more delay and the Scottish Government should bring in a licensing scheme as soon as possible.
1. Etheridge, B., Summers, R. W. & Green. R. E., 1997. The Effects of Illegal Killing and Destruction of Nests by Humans on the Population Dynamics of the Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus in Scotland. Journal of Applied Ecology 34(4), 1081-1105
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