Ministers to look 'carefully' at game bird hunting report

Scottish gamekeeper with his rifle Image copyright PA

Many other European countries have more regulation of game bird hunting than Scotland, a report has found.

The Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) study compared regulations on hunting game birds in 14 different European countries.

The Scottish government said it now planned to look "very carefully" at the report.

It wants to see if it can learn lessons on issues such as tackling wildlife crime and raptor persecution.

All 14 countries studied regulate game bird hunting through legislation and use a system of licensing of individual hunters, with the strictest form of the requirement making harvest quota and bag reporting a condition of the licence.

In many of the countries examined, hunters must pass a two-part practical and theoretical examination in order to qualify for a hunting licence.

Raptor persecution

All 14 countries are able to revoke hunting licences if the legislation is contravened and most also penalise serious breaches of hunting law.

In Scotland, game birds can be shot during their open season, which vary according to the species.

Other than the firearms legislation, which provides the necessary control for access to firearms, there is very little regulation associated with hunting game birds.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: "We will be looking very carefully at these different management approaches to see whether they offer the means to address issues such as raptor persecution.

"Already we have committed to a number of new measures to tackle wildlife crime within Scotland including; increases in criminal penalties, a prevention review and the creation of a dedicated investigative support unit within Police Scotland."

Sustainable hunting

The Scottish government requested the report as part of a package of work to tackle wildlife crime and, particularly, the illegal killing of raptors.

It also forms part of an ongoing, broader discussion about how land is owned and managed for public benefit.

The 14 countries reviewed were Germany, Norway, Sweden, Spain, France, Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, Finland, Romania, Estonia, Bulgaria, and Denmark, with five chosen as case studies.

All the case-study countries drew a link between the regulation of sustainable hunting and the conservation of game bird species.

Earlier research found the countries with the most significant problem with the illegal killing of predatory birds included the UK and Spain.

'Tougher sentences'

SNH chairman Ian Ross said: "This review provides an in-depth look at how other countries in Europe control game bird hunting to make sure it's safe and sustainable.

"It can also inform our thinking on tackling wildlife crime."

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: "We are clear that the failure by grouse moor owners over decades to self-regulate and put a stop to the illegal killing of raptors and the carrying-out of other unsustainable land management practices has led us to this point.

"We support the licensing of 'driven' grouse shooting, with clear sanctions to remove such licences on individual landholdings if there is evidence of illegal practice."

A spokesman for Scottish Land & Estates said: "The research demonstrates that although a licensing system may be in operation, the nature of what that licensing regime entails varies significantly from country to country, and is frequently determined by historical traditions and government structures.

"We have and continue to support tougher sentences for wildlife crime in Scotland, but what this research also makes clear is that wildlife crime remains a concern in many countries that have licensing regulation."

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