SCOTTISH politicians last week unanimously passed a wildlife protection act which changes some law that is more than 200 years old.
Animal rights activists have criticised the act for not banning snares, though there will be new controls on the practice.
The legislation will bring those landowners turning a blind eye to the persecution of birds of prey such as the golden eagle (pictured top of page) to book for the first time. It also includes strong action on invasive species and changes deer management.
Environment minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “We have taken a huge step forward in the prevention of wildlife crime by introducing a criminal vicarious liability offence. This will provide a deterrent for those who think they can get away with allowing the deliberate poisoning of some of our most iconic birds of prey.
“The bill also puts measures in place to protect against invasive non-native species which threaten our natural environment and cost the Scottish economy £245million every year. It will tighten the laws to prevent non-native animals and plants being released into the wider environment and will provide control powers to deal with problem species.”
She went on: “One of the most difficult aspects of developing this legislation was balancing the often conflicting demands on our countryside. This is a significant moment for one of our nation’s greatest assets.”
Snaring will not be outlawed, which pleases Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg, a Peeblesshire gamekeeper.
He said: “It has been a long, tough fight and we faced massive opposition from many high-profile pressure groups, but we must give credit to MSPs who acknowledged that snaring is essential for the survival of much of Scotland’s biodiversity.”
Snares will have to be tagged and operators must be trained.
“The SGA urges all practitioners to abide by these rules. We need to show that we can meet all the conditions laid down in the legislation because snaring will remain under review.”
There are new close seasons for hares, provision for licensing of muirburn out of season and changes to the muirburn season to protect ground-nesting birds. The practice of catching up game birds for breeding stock has been legally recognised and the law gives increased intervention powers to Scottish Natural Heritage if deer are not being managed or if they are causing damage to the environment.
Outdated game licences have been abolished and archaic poaching laws have been reformed. The legislation will be reviewed in five years.
Adam Smith, Scottish director of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, welcomed the snare controls, but said: “We think the additional burden of detailed record keeping goes far beyond that which is necessary. These may result in certain instances in snaring being discontinued, or that the police or local authority are inundated with data that they do not have the resources to monitor or to act on, or that the additional regulation will simply be ignored.”
OneKind (formerly Advocates for Animals) and the League Against Cruel Sports say they will keep campaigning to make Scotland snare-free.
OneKind’s policy director, Libby Anderson, said: “We intend to develop a system that will track the effectiveness of the new legislation. If, as we fear, it proves to be ineffective, we will lobby strongly for it to be amended and for the use of snares to be outlawed in Scotland.”