MSPs dissect Scottish grouse Bill in first evidence session

A red grouse standing on a rock

BASC was present at the first of several oral evidence sessions of the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill last week in the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Government Bill Team were the first witnesses, giving evidence to the Rural Affairs and Islands (RAI) Committee on the Bill itself. The Bill team took questions from MSPs on all sections of the Bill, including traps, muirburn and grouse shoot licensing. 

It follows the committee’s call for views, which generated more than 5,000 responses, demonstrating that the weight of public opinion is against further regulation and licensing of grouse shooting.

Further consideration was given to granting additional specific powers to the SSPCA, through a draft amendment. BASC remains opposed to this proposal, given the SSPCA’s capacity to be impartial, and such powers should be retained by statutory bodies – not charities.

The Bill Team could not clarify the extent of wildlife trap tampering or damage, despite BASC members such as gamekeepers, reporting it as a significant issue. BASC is calling for stand-alone primary legislation to introduce tougher penalties for those who purposefully tamper with, damage, or move wildlife traps.

When considering sections pertaining to grouse shoot licensing, MSPs queried its potential infringement of property rights regarding the European Convention on Human Rights.


On muirburn, doubt was cast by MSPs over the method of gathering data on peatland depth. BASC remains opposed to further regulation and licensing of muirburn and is concerned that the Muirburn Code of Practice won’t be developed until the Bill has passed, leaving land managers in the dark. 

Numerous questions still exist around the licensing of land containing peatland, measuring peat depth across large tracts of moor and the precautionary principle vs. scientific approach when determining a figure for peat depth. BASC rejects the Scottish Government’s arbitrary figure for peat depth of 40cm, given the science is evolving. 

As the science and our understanding of peatland ecology continues to grow, BASC rejects the Scottish Government’s arbitrary figure for peat depth of 40cm. It would be unfeasible and impractical for land managers to be expected to measure peat depth across their land as part of a licensing regime, in order to establish the depth of peatland to determine whether burning could take place.

BASC is also calling for the Scottish Government, ahead of Stage 2, to bring forward a properly researched Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment, displaying the Bill’s impact on estates, jobs and livelihoods, where licences are suspended or revoked. 

There is genuine concern, that front-loaded investment in grouse shooting, estates and rural jobs could be in jeopardy. This is due to the burdensome nature of the licensing process, and the disproportionate powers allowing for the suspension of a licence based on vexatious allegations.

BASC will be giving oral evidence on 21 June on grouse shoot licensing and is continuing to work with MSPs on ensuring the Bill does not hinder grouse moor management.