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The Scottish government plans to issue licenses for grouse moors in order to safeguard birds of prey.
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The Scottish government plans to issue licenses for grouse moors in order to safeguard birds of prey.

On Thursday, MSPs approved drastic measures to prevent the persecution of birds of prey, which will oblige grouse moors in Scotland to obtain licenses and may result in shooting restrictions.

The Scottish government passed regulations due to significant pressure from experts in preserving wildlife and activists, who had been advocating for many years against the unlawful targeting of birds of prey by gamekeepers who were tasked with safeguarding grouse on hunting grounds from being preyed upon.

The bill for managing wildlife and implementing muirburn in Scotland prohibits the use of snares for foxes and rabbits. It also requires licenses for muirburn, the practice of controlled burning that produces food for grouse, and for the use of traps to capture crows, weasels, moles, and stoats.

According to Jim Fairlie, the current minister of rural affairs and a former hill farmer, these measures would safeguard our wildlife, aid our countryside enterprises, and defend our beloved moorlands. It aims to put an end to the disgraceful practice of targeting birds of prey and prioritize animal well-being in responsible land management practices.

An inquiry headed by Prof Alan Werritty in 2019 has suggested that MSPs enforce licensing for grouse moors. This measure is necessary due to the failure of the shooting industry to regulate itself, despite multiple warnings, and take action against those responsible for harming birds of prey. The responsibility falls upon us now.

Shortly before the vote, it was discovered that authorities were looking into the mysterious disappearance of a hen harrier with a satellite tag. These birds of prey are often victims of persecution by gamekeepers and this particular incident occurred on a grouse moor located in the Angus Glens near Dundee.

The RSPB stated that Shalimar, a bird of the hen harrier species, was the fourth to disappear in a region known for bird persecution. This bird had been tagged at Mar Lodge estate, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, in the previous year.

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On February 15th, the signal from Shalimar’s tracking device suddenly ceased. Despite the efforts of Police Scotland, the National Wildlife Crime Unit, and RSPB investigators, the bird and its tag could not be found in the searched area.

Ian Thomson, the head investigator for RSPB Scotland, expressed that although these measures were implemented too late to save Shalimar from being another victim of illegal activities, he is hopeful that the new laws will put an end to raptor persecution in Scotland.

Some people who own grouse moors and are involved in gun sports believe that licensing is excessive and will harm a delicate industry that provides jobs for many people living in rural areas. They also claim that instances of persecution are uncommon and isolated.

Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners, and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said banning snaring would mean more endangered ground-nesting birds would be eaten by predators.

MSP Rachael Hamilton of the Scottish Conservative party was the sole member to vote against the bill. She criticized the government’s disregard for evidence and scientific input, calling it shocking. Additionally, last year saw the lowest number of recorded incidents in recent history, with only four reported. Hamilton accused ministers of showing a lack of respect for policymaking based on evidence.

From 2007 to 2022, 488 instances of bird of prey persecution were reported by RSPB in Scotland. These incidents were mainly centered around grouse moors located in the Highlands and southern uplands, and included various methods such as shooting, poisoning, snaring, trapping, and nest destruction.

The researchers suspect that numerous other murders have gone unnoticed due to the destruction of evidence. A comprehensive examination of golden eagles in Scotland revealed that they were unable to find roosting or breeding spots in heavily populated areas of the Highlands that were used for shooting.

Source: theguardian.com