Reform needed to enforce wildlife crime laws on shooting estates
A SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE considering calls for new regulations on shooting estates has called for the Scottish Government to intervene on the issue and make it’s position clear.
The Scottish Raptor Study Group proposed a petition to the Environment committee calling for a licensing scheme for game bird hunting. The Environment Committee, by six votes to four, decided that the petition should progress onto hearing the views of the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment Roseanna Cunningham’s views on the proposal.
“The burden of proof remains far too high to bring about successful convictions”. Mark Ruskell MSP
The move follows concerns over difficulties in criminal prosecutions of wildlife crime, which must reach a higher criminal rather than civil standard of evidence for prosecution.
Mark Ruskell MSP, who sits on the committee, said: “Bird of prey populations have been decimated by decades of persecution while a voluntary approach has had limited success in tackling wildlife crime. The burden of proof remains far too high to bring about successful convictions and we have seen a string of cases abandoned by the Crown Office Prosecution Service. That’s why we need a licensing regime backed up by civil law.
"I’m very pleased our committee agreed the next step towards licensing for driven grouse shoots and urge the Scottish Government to immediately bring interests together to look at a trial introduction in an area where persecution is rife. Sporting estates that do not have raptor persecution as part of their business model should have nothing to fear from a licensing regime designed to enforce existing law.”
Raptor Persecution Scotland, who followed the committee meeting closely, said the outcome was “fantastic and very welcome news”.
In one case - the conviction of gamekeeper George Mutch for wildlife crimes committed in 2012 on Kildrummy Estate - Police Scotland found it was impossible to even identify the landowner for prosecution within the three year time period required, due to the complexity of offshore ownership structure.
The regulation of shooting estates, which cover over a million hectares of Scottish land, has proved controversial as part of the reignited debate on land reform.
In 2016 MSPs backed government proposals to reintroduce tax rates on shooting estates, which were exempted from non-domestic rates by the Tory government in 1995.
According to a report publish by the League Against Cruel Sports, grouse shooting is destructive for the environment and rural economies.
The report called for a culture change and tighter regulation including ending tax-payer-funded subsidies of around £300,000 a year, regulating the burning of heather, and requiring an equal system of planning permission for road building on the moors.
Figures also suggested that shooting estates suffered from a low wage culture - with former Scottish Government minister Aileen McLeod providing evidence of payments below the minimum wage.
These claims are denied by lobbyists for the shooting estate industry, who argue that the sector provides jobs, investments, and takes its biodiversity role seriously.
Picture courtesy of FieldsportsChannel
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