Scotland is recognised as having good wildlife protection laws in general. As we have heard, the issue is enforcement of the good laws that the Scottish Parliament has put in place; it was mentioned earlier that consideration is being given to increasing the Scottish SPCA’s powers slightly, and we think that that would help with the enforcement side of things.
However, as the SNH review has shown, Scotland is unique among the European countries that have been studied in not having an effective licensing system for game birds. Our concerns are mostly about driven grouse shooting, the intensification of management and the business model that involves the illegal killing of birds of prey. However, we recognise that it might not be possible to design a system that focuses on just that form of hunting and that a system might have to encompass all forms of game bird hunting.
We suggest that a licensing system be attached to the kind of statutory code that we have for other forms of natural resources management, which should define clearly the public interest and what the people who manage the land need to adhere to with regard to hare culling, muirburn and the other issues that have been raised at this forum as public interest concerns.
It is also worth noting that the SNH review states that the European Commission has called for
“‘well-regulated hunting’ and stipulated that the essential characteristics of sustainable hunting include: hunting within the framework of a management plan; temporary or permanent ‘no take’ zones; full compliance with the law”,
none of which we have, as well as
“awareness raising and training both of hunters and environmentalists”.
We have that partially, as we heard earlier, but some countries have formal tests in which hunters have to identify, for example, quarry species. It also called for
“willingness to assess impacts of hunting and to adapt sustainable practices where problems are identified”
—we do not have that entirely—and
“collection of good quality data”.
Most countries have compulsory bag returns, and their equivalents of SNH collect bag data that informs and helps to set hunting quotas and identifies whether species should be hunted, but we do not have that in place, either. There is therefore quite a bit of work to be done here. Certainly, the RSPB’s view is that all those issues are best encapsulated in a formal licensing regime.