Preying new bill works

Alex Hogg, chairman of Scottish Gamekeeper Association.

Alex Hogg, chairman of Scottish Gamekeeper Association.

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MSPs voted unanimously in favour of the principles of a bill to crack down on wildlife crime earlier this month.

The Scottish Government is hoping to update game law and tighten up regulations concerning wild animals with the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill, which passed stage one at the beginning of December.

Environment minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “The overall aim is to protect the high quality of our natural environment and its biodiversity.”

She hopes the legislation will help stop the illegal killing of birds of prey and the bill includes measures which could see land managers and owners facing up to six months in jail if their workers are caught poisoning protected species.

Over the last five years police figures show 19 birds of prey have been killed illegally in the Borders – with a high of seven in 2005 – but none have been recorded so far this year.

Both the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), which is involved in the Langholm Moor project to run a grouse moor hand in hand with conservation, and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA), chaired by a Peeblesshire gamekeeper, hope the use of snares will continue to be allowed.

The bill’s proposals also include changes to the running of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and doing away with the areas of special protection.

It looks to modernise game law including abolishing game licences; make it an offence to take or kill hares during the close season; change deer management; make law that snares be tagged and operators be trained; tighten up rules on invasive non-native species; improve species licensing; increase flexibility on the controlled moorland burning and increase badger protection.

SGA chairman Alex Hogg said: “One of the key priorities for the SGA is to ensure that snaring remains a tool for land managers and the SGA has already trained more than 600 practitioners in readiness for the new legislation. It’s reassuring that the Scottish Parliament’s rural affairs and environment committee has given it their backing. “

GWCT Scottish director Dr Adam Smith believes a visit by MSPs and officials to the Langholm project in September helped.

He told us: “We can see the influence, probably in the tacit support they have given for snaring and other issues, such as more and better licensing. It is important that the bill recognises the importance of pheasant releasing, both for economic and sporting side of pheasant shooting, but also because of the environmental management that goes hand in hand with it. Until we can find a better solution, we need snaring for game and conservation.”

Downsides are that land owners and managers do not want more regulation and how regulation on invasive non-native species will work in practice is not yet clear.

Scottish Wildlife Trust’s policy chief, Tony King said: “A bill that purports to be about ‘wildlife and natural environment’ must address one of the fundamental reasons for the decline in biodiversity and ecosystem health, namely, habitat fragmentation.

“It’s important to recognise that the significance of this bill spans far further than the poisoning of birds of prey. It is vital that all the elements of this bill strike the right balance for it to stand a real chance of delivering legislative protection for all of Scotland’s wildlife.”