The Grouse Moor Management Group – established in 2017 – was commissioned by the Scottish government to investigate the environmental impact of grouse moor estates after the country’s nature regulator, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), reported that one third of tagged golden eagles had disappeared on or around driven grouse moors in Scotland.
Last week, the expert group led by Alan Werritty, professor of geography and environmental science at the University of Dundee, published its long-awaited report looking into grouse moor reform.
The panel rejected calls from animal rights groups to outlaw driven grouse moors.
Instead it advised Holyrood that if there was “no marked improvement” in the ecological sustainability of grouse moor management, then failing estates should be brought under licence within five years. To avoid regulation, grouse moor estates would need to be able to prove that populations of breeding golden eagles, hen harriers and peregrines on or within the vicinity of grouse moors were in a “favourable condition” it added.
Following the publication of the review, first minister Nicola Sturgeon told members of the Scottish Parliament that the government was reviewing the recommendations of the report, including whether or not to move to a licensing scheme “much earlier than the five-year timeframe that was suggested by the review group”.
Some gamekeepers have been prosecuted for using poisoned baits, traps, shooting and nest disturbance of raptors in the past, while several estates have been banned from controlling birds altogether because of suspected systematic persecution, but prosecutions are still rare.
The review has backed proposals for tougher maximum penalties for wildlife crimes with a maximum term of imprisonment of up to five years and fines of at least £40,000.
In a joint press statement, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, BASC, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Association for Country Sports and Scottish Land & Estates said the shooting review would equate to a “seismic change” for moors in Scotland.
“This report has recommended a barrage of measures that will leave the grouse shooting sector engulfed by legislation and red tape. On top of that, penalties for wildlife crime in Scotland are about to get much tougher,” the statement said.
But some conservationists have criticised the report for not going far enough.
Sarah Robinson, director of conservation at the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said it lacked detail on how environmental improvements will be measured.
“We call on the Scottish government and SNH to set out what evidence they will use and what standards need to be met, to show whether regulation is required,” she said.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said more urgency was now needed to address the “criminality and poor land management practices on Scottish grouse moors that have been highlighted for decades”.
To view the report in full click here