General licence restrictions in Scotland could affect innocent land managers

Larsen trap

A proposal to consider excluding the use of general licences over some areas of land in Scotland has been challenged by the UK’s largest shooting organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC).  BASC is concerned that this could penalise innocent land managers and affect their livelihoods.

The plan was announced by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Currently anyone convicted of wildlife crime in Scotland can be prohibited from operating under general licences, which allow the control of certain birds where they could affect the conservation of other wild birds, cause serious damage to agriculture or threaten public health and safety. Birds listed on general licences include crows, magpies, woodpigeons, and certain gulls amongst others.

The new proposal from SNH would extend restrictions to individuals and “certain areas of land” where SNH has “reason to believe” that wild birds have been illegally taken or killed. This    “reason to believe” will be assessed by SNH staff based on evidence received from the police.

BASC raised serious judicial concerns when the idea was first put forward in 2013. Some issues have been addressed but BASC believes there is still scope for innocent land managers to be   unfairly penalised and for necessary control of some bird species to be prevented.

BASC Scotland director Colin Shedden said: “The proposals have been improved by stipulating that only evidence from the police will be considered. This should reduce the possibility that   mere suspicion or unfounded allegations of wrong-doing could be factors in decision-making. However, if police evidence is robust, as it should be, it would be in the interests of natural      justice that a prosecution is pursued through the Sheriff Courts rather than restrictions being imposed over land for three years through an administrative procedure.”

Alan Balfour, Chairman of BASC’s Scottish Committee, said: “While we accept that the minister has now approved SNH’s framework for these new restrictions, we remain very concerned that the blanket nature of such restrictions will penalise innocent parties and prevent necessary management across areas of land.”

“For example, if an estate was to have the general licences withdrawn this would affect conservation and agricultural interests.  If a tenant farmer had been thought to be illegally using traps then gamekeepers on the same estate could be deprived of the ability to manage crows on the moorland to help the conservation of ground-nesting birds.  If a gamekeeper had been found to be in possession of illegal poisons then farming interests could lose their ability to control woodpigeons, which cause serious agricultural damage.”

“We recognise that the framework contains an appeal procedure, which we supported, and an option to allow land managers to apply for specific licences. However, there is no guarantee that these would be issued by SNH, despite livelihoods and other interests being at stake.”

“BASC has major concerns that evidence which falls below the level required for prosecution in court will be used for decisions with far-reaching consequences. We will be monitoring closely SNH’s use of these potential restrictions.”

Shooting is an important contributor to the Scottish economy, generating some £200 million per annum, attracting tourists and providing the equivalent of 8,800 full-time jobs.

For more information please call BASC Scotland on 01350 723226 or the BASC press office on 01244 573052