Pros and cons in Wildlife Management Bill session 1

The Stage 2 amendment session (part 1) on the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill concluded this afternoon (Wed 21st Feb) with a mixed bag for workers in the sector.


Whilst the Bill initially stated that a 16AA grouse moor licence would have to be applied for annually, that will now move to 5 years following an amendment.


This move is likely to give grouse moor businesses more security regarding future investment in their operations and will be welcomed by operators. Regulator NatureScot had indicated in earlier evidence sessions that a 3-5 year timescale would be appropriate.

New Minister Jim Fairlie, MSP (above) gave early assurances that the SGA’s expertise would be called upon in the development of new trap training, which the Bill will require for all trap users.


However, it was disappointing that Amendment 17 in the name of Edward Mountain fell by 7-2. 


Mr Mountain sought to safeguard against other game birds being added to 16AA licences at a future date, without there being a clear rationale based on a decline in conservation status.


Unfortunately, this amendment was defeated. 


Minister Jim Fairlie voiced assurances that any move to add other birds would have to subject to consultation and proper Committee scrutiny. However, it remains a possibility that other game birds could be added to the licensing scheme at a future date if this was deemed appropriate.


The Minister suggested the Government sought to ‘future proof’ the Bill, allowing action by secondary legislation should it be deemed that raptor persecution had become associated with other forms of gamebird shooting not tied to red grouse.

As expected, Amendment 71 in the name of former Minister Gillian Martin MSP, which extends the power of the SSPCA to investigate wildlife crime was passed, 7-2.


Part of the Bute House Agreement between the SNP and the Green party, it was inevitable this measure achieve the numbers, although Minister Jim Fairlie set out the conditions of the new powers, aware of concerns from Police, the sector and those involved in the judicial process in Scotland.


He argued that the ‘small extension of powers' struck a balance between legitimate concerns regarding a third sector organisation administering the law whilst enabling SSPCA inspectors to be able to respond appropriately when witnessing potential crimes, whilst in the process of investigating cruelty cases.


The new measure, it was stated, will only come into place when protocols have been agreed with Police Scotland, who retain primacy in cases. SSPCA inspectors would only be able to search for evidence of crimes when already attending a case under their existing powers, and which involved a live animal.


Should they find evidence of suspected criminality, the evidence would have to be turned over immediately to Police Scotland to investigate. The Minister stated that appointment of inspectors would be subject to Ministerial oversight and that SSPCA inspectors would not have powers of search and arrest when it comes to individuals.


The SGA strongly opposed this extension of powers, both during stakeholder consultation and throughout the Bill. This development, although inevitable, is disappointing but the SGA took some comfort in the promise of a Stage 3 amendment which would see Parliamentary review of how this extension of powers is operating in practice.

On a positive note, reflecting an amendment strongly supported by SGA, the Bill will not now give NatureScot the discretion to suspend or revoke a 16AA grouse licence if they, themselves, are not convinced a relevant offence has taken place.


This stipulation, included in the original version of the Bill, in our view, over-extended the scope of NatureScot’s powers and the SGA argued it could have significant ramifications regarding the human rights of gamekeepers. 


*** Part 2 of the session will reconvene this evening at 6pm.

The SGA will post a second update for members either late this evening or on Thursday, given the evening timetable.

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