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Seismic changes ahead: what Werritty means for Scottish grouse moors

Last week the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee sat down in an evidence session to review the contents of the long awaited Werritty report.


The measures being considered - which include a general licence for all grouse-related activities - have prompted a joint statement by a very concerned coalition of British conservation groups.


The British Association for Shooting and Conservation; the Scottish Countryside Alliance and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association were among the groups which voiced their alarm that Werritty’s recommendations would “wreak havoc” on Scotland’s rural economy.


But what did the report actually find? And how sweeping are its recommendations? To help you, we’ve whittled down Werritty to its main points below:


Muirburn


The Werritty report roundly condemned the government’s current Muirburn Code as insufficient and lacking in the sort of ‘statutory regulations’ the researchers would like to see pressed upon the rural population.


The group consequently recommended a programme of licensing for heather burning, as well as more robust and comprehensive monitoring by local authorities.


These recommendations were made on the alleged connection between muirburn and wildfires, despite the report’s own admission that there was presently a ‘poor understanding’ of this relationship. The report was also forced to concede that muirburn can have a largely positive impact in areas such as dry heathland.


This programme of licensing will likely be time-consuming and costly for gamekeepers, at a time when many grouse estates are already running at a loss. The need for licenses will also deter casual workers from helping out on estates, meaning that young people in rural communities will be the first to lose out.


Mountain Hares


The report found that the number of mountain hares shot for sport had a 'limited effect’ on the animal’s conservation status. Under present guidelines, the number of hares shot in open season is not regulated but land managers are expected to exercise moderation - as it would appear they do.


Nevertheless, the researchers made unequivocal recommendations for increased legal regulation of hare shooting, burying land managers under more unnecessary red tape.


These recommendations were made on the basis of what the report itself admits is wholly inadequate data. Yet the researchers have failed to exercise any restraint, instead recommending a raft of measures that will waste government and game keepers’ time. Not to mention the likely fines levied against working people for failing to brush up on the finer points of hare hunting law.


Medicated Grit


Medicated grit is a measure employed by grouse moor managers to combat the strongyle worm, a parasite which frequently infests the intestinal tracts of red grouse.


On this matter the researchers managed to briefly relax their regulatory trigger fingers, concluding that a voluntary code of practice was all that was required to properly administer this medicine.


Licensing


Finally, the Werritty report weighed up the implementation of various types of license, including a general license restricting all activities related to grouse shooting.


In the end, the researchers were evenly split over whether to recommend such a stringent piece of legislature, deciding instead to review the matter in another five years. If the ecological impact of grouse shooting has not improved, then a blanket license for all grouse-related activities will be recommended.


The report further concluded that should the regulation for mountain hares and medicated grit prove ineffective, then they too would be licensed.


Response


Understandably, moorland advocacy groups are distraught over the potential for such restrictive and unnecessary regulation. When the report was first published, the same coalition of conservation groups warned that the grouse shooting sector would become “engulfed by red tape”.


These restrictions will also have a knock-on effect for entire communities in Britain’s moorlands. Each of Scotland’s 1,072 jobs in grouse shooting is estimated to support a further 1.2 jobs elsewhere and the industry is thought to contribute 23.3million per year to Scotland’s GDP.


Not only do the recommendations seem totally out of proportion with the findings of the report, the researchers have also equivocated to the point of merely kicking the can down the road. The report could prove a serious headache for Britain’s moorlands and legislators would do well to read it closely and with a critical eye.

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