Nearly 400 businesses have joined together to urge the Scottish Government to avoid a ‘disastrous and irreversible’ outcome for rural Scotland from its plans to licence grouse shooting.

Butchers, hotels, tradespeople, farms and upland estates are amongst those to have written to Environment Minister, Gillan Martin MSP, seeking changes to be made to the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill, currently at stage 1 in the Scottish Parliament.

The game and country sports sector is worth over £350m per year to the Scottish economy. Over 11,000 full time jobs are supported by sporting shooting, often in rural areas where alternative sources of employment are scarce.

The letter urges the government to amend punitive and flawed provisions within the draft Bill that would render any licensing scheme disproportionate and unworkable, ultimately disincentivising investment in nature conservation as well as local businesses and jobs.

The main areas of concern, which are described in the letter as “fatal flaws” that will create “a climate of business uncertainty, exacerbated by a total lack of procedural safeguards for licence holders”, are:

  • The proposed licence duration of only one year, which would provide no long-term business certainty while also creating an administrative burden for estates and the government’s nature body, NatureScot, who will be tasked with operating the licensing scheme;
  • The broad discretionary power of NatureScot to decide whether or not it is “appropriate” to grant a licence, again providing a complete deficit of certainty for business;
  • The power NatureScot would have to suspend licences – even when it is not satisfied that a relevant offence has been committed – which is described in the letter as being “wide open to exploitation” and something that “would inevitably be subject to legal challenge”;
  • The wide range of offences – not just raptor persecution – that could lead to a licence being modified, suspended or revoked, which is described in the letter as being “disproportionate, unreasonable, completely unsupported by empirical evidence and would inevitably be subject to legal challenge”.

Ross Ewing, Director of Moorland at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “If the proposed licensing scheme is introduced without amendments, then it would be disastrous – not only for moorland estates; but also for the broad range of businesses and communities that rely on them across rural Scotland.

“Scottish Government commissioned research has shown that, compared to other upland land uses, grouse shooting provides: the greatest number of jobs per hectare; the highest levels of local and regional spending; and the greatest levels of investment per hectare without public subsidy. The Scottish Government will jeopardise this if it does not bring forward amendments that will provide certainty to businesses and legal safeguards for licence holders.

“We believe that – by working with us on the suggestions set out in this letter – the Scottish Government will be able to achieve its policy objective, without running the risk of fatally damaging a vital rural sector. We very much hope they will be willing to constructively engage.”

Mike Smith, owner of the Tay House which provides sporting accommodation in Dunkeld, said: “As the owner of a business with a significant reliance on visitors who come to Scotland to shoot grouse, I am alarmed by contents of the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill and the obvious adverse impact it will have on investment in moorland management for grouse shooting.

“Country sports are an integral part of the rural economy, and provide businesses like mine with a much needed boost beyond the conventional summer tourism season. To see the Scottish Government playing Russian roulette with rural businesses and livelihoods in this way is frankly unconscionable. It is not difficult to see why grouse moor owners are looking at licensing scheme with trepidation, especially when licences can be suspended without satisfying any burden of proof whatsoever. The scheme is ripe for vexatious influence.

“Government ministers must listen to the widespread concern of businesses that are the backbone of Scotland’s rural economy, and take urgent action to bring forward amendments that will make the scheme workable. Should they fail to do so, the consequences for businesses like mine would be disastrous.”

Graeme McNeil, owner of Graeme McNeil Decorating based in Brechin, said: “As a business owner who benefits from a significant amount of trade from estates in the Angus Glens, I cannot overstate how worried I am about the potential implications of this Bill.

“If the government introduce measures that will ultimately disincentivise investment in grouse shooting, the knock-on implications for businesses like mine could be huge. Many local businesses are reliant on estates that shoot grouse, and we all stand to be adversely impacted if the investment is in any way compromised.”

Mark Tyndall, owner of the Horseupcleugh Farm in the Lammermuirs, said: “There is deep-seated concern among rural farms and estates about the total lack of procedural safeguards within the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill, as well as the disproportionate nature of several provisions outlined in our letter.

“The Scottish Government must see that the Bill, in its present form, goes way further than is required to address the policy aim of reducing raptor persecution. Furthermore there are significant questions over whether the bill is compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“We sincerely hope that the Scottish Government is willing to address the problems with this Bill and avoid protracted litigation, so that moorland management can continue to deliver biodiversity gains as well as a sustainable rural economy with unparalleled levels of employment and investment, all at virtually no cost to the public purse.”