SNH show that licensing is flawed

North of the border, SNH has taken away licenses from grouse shooting estates to control predators of grouse and then given them back again.

SNH describe this as ‘robust licensing’. The ‘general licence’ was withdrawn from several estates but then specific licences, covering the same activities, were given back.

SNH would presumably regard taxing me and then giving me back the money as ‘robust taxation’ and reimbursing fines to offenders as ‘robust penalties’, and letting convicted criminals out of prison as ‘robust imprisonment’.

This news is highly embarrassing for Scottish government and also undermines the RSPB case for a licensing system in England to tackle the ills of driven grouse shooting. What hope is there that robust licensing measures could be brought in that wouldn’t be undermined by Natural England and Defra, the very bodies that should be regulating the hobby of grouse shooting?

Well done to Raptor Persecution UK for doing the detective work on this story and to the Herald Scotland for exposing the lack of teeth of the regulation applying to shooting estates.



So I’m asking you to write to your MP this weekend and ask them to attend the Westminster Hall debate on 31 October and make the following points:

  • wildlife crime is rife in the uplands.  This has major conservation impacts on birds of prey (see my written evidence).  Illegal killing of birds of prey is not caused by a few bad apples but is endemic to the activity of driven grouse shooting.
  • intensive management of our hills for driven grouse shooting causes many other problems (increased flooding, increased water treatment costs, culls of Mountain Hares, damage to protected habitats, increased greenhouse gas emissions) which could be tackled by stronger regulation and government should consider that as a serious option for those issues
  • but the government is not seriously addressing wildlife crime. The grouse shooting industry has shown no willingness or ability to tackle this issue despite decades of saying that it will. The status quo is not an option. Banning driven grouse shooting is the most effective way to end wildlife crime against birds of prey in our uplands and anything else will be weak and ineffective.

Please write to your MP and ask them to pass on your letter to Defra ahead of the debate if they are unable to attend and make these points themselves. Tell your MP that you will also write to them after the debate and that this is an issue about which you feel very strongly.


7 Replies to “SNH show that licensing is flawed”

  1. One of the other potential problems with licensing is that presumably licenses to shoot will only be withdrawn after a successful prosecution. That on the face of things looks OK until you realise that cases that get to court are the very tip of a huge iceberg and successful prosecutions even more so. The majority will still get away with killing our national heritage, it will just make them more professional in hiding the evidence.
    Also do people really think in the current economic climate that licensing will actually be anywhere near robust enough? I certainly don’t, it would be an on paper only exercise.

  2. Im afraid that this also highlights the serious flaws in our legal system – what actually is behind much apparent lack of tough action by SNH and the Police is a fear of losing in court.

  3. Thinking here from a mainly Scottish perspective, although the underlying principles are transferrable to other UK administrations, despite differences in political climate (oh and , sorry, it gets a bit long-winded):

    To use the argument that because the general licences are compete pish (and they are!) so therefore any future shoot licensing system would also be pish, is irrational. Of course, a licensing system can only ever be as good as the political will behind it and the design and administration of the system. So, yes, just having ‘a licensing system’ is no guarantee in itself of progress and can even just be a smokescreen – a pretence that proper regulation is happening, even when it patently is not. But to equate the utterly rubbish general licence system with some, as yet, undesigned system for overall licensing of sports shooting and to thereby condemn such a future system before it exists is a failure of rational argument. Yes, the GL system is a shambles (a slightly less shambolic shambles than it used to be, true, but still a shambles). It comes with over 60 years of cultural and legal baggage traceable right back to the 1954 Protection of Birds Act. It is almost certainly not compliant with the Birds Directive (Scot. Gov. offical, pers. comm!) but this has never been challenged in court. The withdrawal of GL privileges could even be made to work – up to a point – if SNH had the balls to make it work but, as the Herald piece indicates, they don’t. No surprise there, given SNH are increasingly NOT interested in nature conservation and are under the thumb of a Scottish Government that is ‘open for business’ and determined that the natural heritage shall not stand in the way of commercial interest. So, yes the GLs do a pretty useless job of protecting nature and we can certainly suspect that – in the current Scottish political climate – any shoot licensing system itself risks being just another bit of ineffectual window-dressing (the point Paul Irving makes). But if we are alert to that risk we can fight to counter it. Plenty of other countries have functional licensing systems, supported by a wide spectrum of stakeholders. And, even in the event of a ban on driven grouse shooting (hurrah!), there would remain a very pressing need for some form of EFFECTIVE shoot licensing, for all the other shooting activity. Yes, this ain’t going to be easy, but the alternative is just to carry on with a totally unregulated shooting system (regardless of whether or not DGS is still in the mix). Paul Irving also suggests that licensing controls must be dependent on criminal convictions. Not necessarily so. Licensing is usually a civil matter and functions at the civil level of evidence. Even the existing Scottish GL withdrawal sanction is not dependent on a criminal conviction.

  4. I think the inmates are running the asylum! Letter to MP winging its way to him as of this morning.

  5. I wrote to SNH in June about Raeshaw, the licensing fiasco and the impossibility of monitoring. Their eventual reply did nothing whatsoever to convince me that licensing could work …..

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