I would like to make a brief opening statement. Much of the evidence behind the petition seems to revolve around grouse moors, although the petition covers all kinds of shooting, and I would like to cover one or two points in that regard.
Thank you for the opportunity to come here today. I am talking on behalf of the 2,500 or so people who operate Scotland’s 140 grouse moors. They are passionate about the work that they do looking after the uplands, the birds and the habitats. The petitioners say that environmental concerns are behind their call for licensing, but there is solid evidence that the muirburn, the predator control and the other work that goes on around moorlands is a positive net contribution to the environment—for example, it helps waders, whose numbers are fast declining elsewhere.
Colin Shedden has outlined the regulations, and there is a long list of other things that keepers have to abide by every minute of the day—what they do is heavily regulated. The petitioners have not put forward any detail about how a licensing system could add benefit to all the regulation that is already in place.
The petition rests mainly on grouse moors, but we do not recognise the picture that the petitioners paint about how grouse moors are managed. We condemn any form of wildlife crime. Like the petitioners, we are members of PAWS—partnership for action against wildlife crime Scotland—and share the same objectives. However, the evidence shows that grouse shooting is not “sustained by criminality”, as the petitioners allege.
We would like to mention the positive impact that the tighter regulation has had, particularly in the past five years, and the actions of PAWS. There is a lot of partnership working on this issue.
We question why the RSPB chose to refer to its own report, which goes back over the past 20 years, rather than focusing on the most recent five years, which is the most relevant period.
Earlier, the new Government wildlife crime report was mentioned. I do not think that it had come out the last time the committee met. Broadly speaking, it shows that there has been a gradual decrease in wildlife crime over the past five years. We think that the figures for crime relating to raptors in the past three to five years are the lowest that they have been. That suggests to us that the current measures are working.
The petitioners also said that crimes were going undetected. That is often mentioned. However, earlier this year, in his evidence to Parliament, Assistant Chief Constable Graham did not accept that we were seeing only the tip of the iceberg. He said that the police were not missing the vast majority of what is going on.
On the other side of the coin, we have helped to develop voluntary schemes, such as the wildlife estate Scotland Initiative, which is supported by Government. Currently, 43 estates, covering 1.1 million acres, are accredited, and another 29 are under assessment or are getting ready to be assessed in the next year or so.
We work in partnership with PAWS and SNH in the heads up for harriers project, and we are also involved with the south of Scotland golden eagle project, which is just getting going after many years of gestation, and the east Cairngorms moorland partnership. All those projects have raptor conservation at their core. We are doing everything that we can through voluntary initiatives to help with raptors in particular.
We do not recognise the impression that is given by the petitioners that grouse moors are raptor deserts. Since the committee last met, the golden eagle survey has been published. It shows a 20 per cent increase in golden eagles since 2003, many of which are on managed grouse moors.
The committee might be interested in hearing about our positive four-point plan, which we think could deal with the issue once and for all, hopefully. I would be happy to discuss it with the committee.