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Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill – Update

August 17, 2023

There are widespread concerns in rural Scotland that proposed restrictions in the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill could have a detrimental impact upon rural businesses, communities, tourism, and the wider economy.

The bill was presented to the Scottish Parliament on 21 March 2023 and is currently at Stage 1 of the Scottish Parliamentary process.  Consultation closed in May and the lead committee, the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, received more than 5,000 submissions, underlining the importance of the proposed measures to the rural economy.

The bill was introduced as ‘An Act of the Scottish Parliament to make provision for the management of wildlife through the prohibition of glue traps and regulation of other wildlife traps and the licensing of land on which certain birds are to be killed or taken; and for the licensing of the making of muirburn; and for connected purposes.’.

It is comprised of two main parts, the first concerning wildlife management and the second making changes to the regulation of muirburn (the controlled burning of heather to promote new growth).  

Part 1 of the bill contains certain bans on the purchase and use of glue traps, the introduction of licensing and additional training for particular types of wildlife traps, and, most significantly, a licensing regime for the killing or taking of red grouse.

Part 2 of the bill extends the present licensing system for muirburn, requiring a muirburn licence at all times of the year.

The management of grouse moors involves planning, organising and balancing a number of interests such as environmental, welfare, cultural and economic considerations and there are concerns that the bill does not reflect the recommendations in the preceding independent review of grouse moor management and will have a significant impact in the countryside.  

Submissions to the Committee express concerns that the bill gives the Scottish Government powers to add further birds to the licensing regime through secondary legislation and that a lack of detail in the bill in relation to the grant, terms and operation of proposed short-term licences makes planning very difficult for land managers.  There are concerns that the additional cost of compliance will make it challenging to keep some shoots going and Scotland’s remoter communities can be economically and socially reliant upon shooting activity where there is no sustainable alternative land use in the area.

Through valuable investment and the work of local keepers, heather-dominated habitats support a range of upland bird species and are maintained by grazing, disease control and muirburn, reducing the risk of wildfire and countering climate change.  Controlled heather provides nesting cover and an important source of protein for many species while white grass and rank heather offer little nutritional value and are potentially combustable in dry spells.

The regulations must find a balance to allow historic driven grouse moor businesses to manage upland, along with predator control sustainably. 

The next steps in the legislative process are that the committee will produce a report and provide its own view of the bill, with recommendations to the Scottish Parliament who will then debate it and decide if it should progress to the next stage.

At Blackadders, our rural property lawyers have considerable experience in the legal aspects of land management matters.  For further information about this, or any other rural property matter, please contact me or your usual contact in our Rural Land & Business department.

The opinions expressed in this site are of the author(s) only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Blackadders LLP.

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