Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee
Meeting date: Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Official Report 591KB pdf
Agenda: European Union Exit, Petitions
- European Union Exit
Our next item is consideration of 11 petitions that have been referred to this committee by the Public Petitions Committee. Members have a discussion paper, which sets out what is happening with each of the petitions—what stage they are at—and any recommendations.
As the current parliamentary session is due to end in just a few weeks—it is five weeks, I think—the options that are available to the committee are either to keep a petition open and include it in the report that the committee will leave for its successor committee, or to close the petition.
I will make a couple of points to frame the discussion. For the avoidance of doubt, our report for the next committee cannot bind that committee to any course of action. It is up to the next committee to decide what to do, and it must decide what its work programme will include.
In closing a petition, the committee can recognise that the petitioner may remain convinced that work is still required, and the option to engage with other bodies or to maintain a watching brief is available to them, with a view to potentially lodging a new petition.
Once petitions are lodged, things happen during the parliamentary session that can impact on the issues raised in them. I will go through each petition before us and members can indicate in the chat box if they wish to make any comments in relation to each one. We will then make a decision on whether to keep them open or to close them off, and on any other recommendations that we may wish to make regarding what the petitioners can do.
All the petitioners have been contacted by the committee to say that we will be discussing their petitions this morning.
Control of Wild Geese (PE1490)
We start with PE1490, on the control of wild goose numbers. Angus MacDonald has something to say on this petition.
As one crofter commented in the West Highland Free Press a few years ago, it used to be the geese that were endangered; now it is the crofters who are endangered, thanks to the geese.
I have been following the petition closely since it was lodged in 2013. I served on the Public Petitions Committee at the time, and I was also on the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee. As a result of the petition, there has been progress—albeit slow progress—from ministers and NatureScot. It is a fact, however, that the geese remain a threat to crofting in the Outer and Inner Hebrides and in the northern isles.
I note that, in their joint submission to us, Scottish Land & Estates and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation state that greylag geese are probably the species capable of causing the greatest damage to crofting interests. However, they go on to recommend that the petition be closed.
With the greatest of respect to SLE, it does not represent many crofters, if any, whereas the Scottish Crofting Federation, which lodged the petition, does.
With that in mind, and given that we have been informed that the current health pandemic has affected the ability of NatureScot to carry out fieldwork for goose management schemes, I believe that the petition should be kept open to allow our successor committee to hear from the Government about its review and about how it plans to resource goose management in the next session.
Resourcing is an issue. We cannot allow the Government to backtrack on funding future schemes. I suggest that the petition be kept open and placed in the legacy paper for the successor committee to continue.
I agree with Angus. There are serious issues for crofters. I am no expert, but I have followed the petition and the issues that have been caused by greylag geese in Orkney, and I am aware that there are growing concerns about Canada geese in my part of Perthshire. I agree with Angus that it is well worth ensuring that Parliament looks at the petition again in the next session.
I will not go over the points that have been raised already, but I agree with them all. I have been aware of the issue since I was a student in Aberdeen, when one of my colleagues sat counting geese for days on end. The problem has still not been resolved. I support any move to continue the petition into the next session of Parliament.
I also support continuation of the petition. Someone should speak up for the geese, as they are internationally important populations. However, I recognise the pressures, particularly on crofters in remote areas, which is why it is important to have clarity on how the next Scottish Government will incentivise nature management and the protection of areas and of key species. There is more to do on the issue. There might be more clarity in the next session about how compensation and support can be delivered for crofters and farmers as they meet nature targets and protect key species that are under threat from climate change and other issues.
Claudia Beamish wants to come in.
I hope that you can hear me.
Yes, we can hear you now.
That is reassuring.
I do not want to reiterate what other members have said, but I agree that the petition should be kept open. I was previously on the RACCE Committee and I identify particularly with the comments made by Angus MacDonald.
I agree with all the comments that have been made. The work programmes of this committee and of Government agencies have been punished by two things: Brexit preparations and the Covid pandemic. In addition to what Angus MacDonald said about NatureScot, the committee has not been able to take a lot of evidence relating to these petitions. It is worth bearing that in mind as we work through the petitions.
We agree that the petition should stay open for consideration by our successor committee.
Game Bird Hunting (Licensing) (PE1615)
PE1615 calls on the Government to introduce a state-regulated licensing system for game bird hunting.
We might wish to consider closing the petition and encouraging the petitioner to monitor developments over the next year. Do members have any comments on the petition?
There are no comments.
Do we agree that we should close the petition and write to the petitioner to ask them to consider monitoring developments over the next session and engaging with any future consultation about the development of a licensing regime?
I see members nodding. Thank you. We will close the petition.
Mountain Hares (Protection) (PE1664)
PE1664 calls for greater protection for mountain hares. Members know that the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 was amended at stage 3 by Alison Johnstone’s amendment, which offered protection for mountain hares. We might therefore wish to close the petition because the issues that it addresses have been addressed by the act.
Obviously, there is legislation. The Conservatives did not vote for it, for several reasons, but we accept that it is now in place. Since the act was passed, I have been approached by falconers who have concerns and I know that people working in falconry have recently approached several members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. It would be very helpful if we could keep a watching brief on that aspect.
It was a very effective petition and the issue has been considered in Parliament several times over many years, culminating in the amendment to the 2020 act. There are questions about how the licensing scheme in relation to hares will operate, so it is clear that the matter needs on-going scrutiny by the Parliament. I am sure that the petitioner will engage with that, too. For the time being, the particular matter addressed by the petition is closed, but scrutiny will continue and perhaps that is something that could be picked up in the legacy report for our successor committee.
The Conservatives raised concerns about the way in which the amendment was made. As my colleague, Liz Smith, has mentioned, there have already been issues with it. Further scrutiny is needed, which should have been carried out prior to the Parliament’s introducing legislation. I hope that in the next session, the Parliament will address any issues that have arisen. We should close the petition but keep an eye on what happens with the legislation that was introduced.
As we always do.
I see that members agree to close the petition; we will write to the petitioners to say so.
Wildlife Crime (Penalties and Investigation) (PE1705)
PE1705 is on wildlife crime. Given that we have just been talking about the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, which dealt with many of the issues raised in the petition, we might want to consider closing it for the same reason.
Do members agree that we should close the petition? We are in agreement.
Satellite Tags on Raptors (Monitoring) (PE1750)
PE1750 is on the independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors. Over the past couple of weeks, we have had correspondence from supporters of the petition, as members will have seen. We need to discuss whether we wish to keep the petition open and pass it on to our successor committee, or to close it.
It is a very important issue and has had a controversial history. As satellite tagging becomes more widespread and the functionality increases, it is essential that we gain as much information as possible from what the tags can tell us. It is also important that estate owners have faith in the process, because that has been a major part of the controversy. It is important that whatever data that is used is seen to be as robust and transparent as possible.
There has been a little bit of progress in the aftermath of the Werritty review. There is an argument that those measures go some way towards addressing the issues in the petition, but I do not think that they go the whole way. It is essential that we have a much better understanding of the data and that the information required is robust enough before we make a decision on the petition. Many stakeholders, including the police and, as I understand it, the Parliament, have not heard enough about the evidence and data. I am in favour of keeping the petition open as I think that there is a lot more to come on that aspect. I urge the committee to keep the petition open.10:30
I hear what Liz Smith says. However, if there are any substantive issues raised by the petition, they were dealt with by the independent review of grouse moor management. I note that we received a submission that reveals that there have been meetings between the Scottish Raptor Study Group and NatureScot. It says:
“It was made clear to us that neither NatureScot nor Police Scotland had any substantive concerns about the way we operate or communicate with the licensing and police authorities.”
I am not clear what more there is to do on the issue—if there is a substantive issue. I favour closing the petition, but I will listen to what my colleagues have to say. It is not clear to me what the substantive issue is and it is obviously not clear to NatureScot or Police Scotland either.
There are still some doubts about the robustness of the information that is gathered. We need to have absolute faith in the information, but there is a lack of trust and transparency in the information that has been published. We are still seeing issues.
I am surprised that Mark Ruskell does not want to see that tightened up, as it can only be in the interests of protecting raptors to ensure that we get the most robust information. We have to look forward. Legislation was put in place that will potentially bring in licensing and in that situation, tagging information will be critical to looking at populations of raptors and so on. That information needs to be clear and transparently obtained.
I am in favour of there being further work done on the issue and of keeping the petition open.
I, too, am keen to keep the petition open. I have had quite a lot of contact with the Scottish Raptor Study Group and I am also aware of the issues of trust that have been highlighted by members. It is important for groups such as RSPB Scotland and others who are involved in the work to protect raptors, including the many volunteers, that we have a clear idea of the way forward.
In keeping the petition open, we will highlight that point to our successor committee and it will be regarded as being significant as we make progress on the licensing of grouse moors and, beyond that, on the range of issues relating to the dire situation that we continue to face in respect of raptor persecution. I would like us to keep the petition open.
We have had the Werritty review and the Government has said that it accepts the review’s recommendations. However, we need to monitor progress in respect of the issues raised in the petition. I hear what members are saying. Mark Ruskell, you are keen to close the petition, but what are your thoughts now that you have heard the arguments from committee colleagues and given the fact that there appears to be a majority view that we should keep the petition open to be passed on to our successor committee?
I am content to go with the consensus of the rest of the committee. There is clearly some debate around the matters that the petitioners have raised. If that is to be dealt with in the next session as part of monitoring how satellite tagging fits in with the licensing regime that is yet to be developed, I am content for us to keep the petition open, given that that appears to be the balance of opinion in the committee.
Does Liz Smith want to come back in?
[Inaudible.]—of the data. I know that people on both sides of the debate feel strongly about it and might draw different conclusions, but technology is changing all the time. We are likely to have better data in the not-too-distant future. That data is essential to making decisions and the Parliament should be able to scrutinise it, which is the basic reason why I am very much in favour of keeping the petition open.
We agree to keep it open.
Grouse Moors (Killing of Wildlife) (PE1762)
PE1762 is entitled “End the killing of wildlife on grouse moors and elsewhere in Scotland”. Do we want to close the petition, given that the NatureScot review of snaring is due in 2021 and we have the newly established Scottish animal welfare commission, which is expected to scope out work on the matter? The petition might fall into the category of those that are being actively looked at by another body—the animal welfare commission, in this case—so a lot of the objectives of the petitioners are being acknowledged by that body. However, I will come to members.
It is welcome that the Scottish animal welfare commission is completing its work on glue traps, which is one aspect of the petition. It is good that that work has been done and will be published soon. However, given that the wider NatureScot review of snaring is due this year, I wonder whether it is premature to close the petition ahead of the publication of that review. Our successor committee could take the NatureScot review, when it comes out, and the petition and put the two together. At that point, it would be able to draw conclusions and perhaps bring the petition to a close. It is almost ready to be closed, but not quite yet. The NatureScot review is the last piece.
It is worth making the point that petitioners can lodge a new petition, after a year, if they feel that progress has not been made. Closing a petition does not mean that the issue can never come back. Work is definitely being done on the issue. Members might want to bear that in mind.
The ask of the petition was for the Scottish Government to conduct a full review of the animal welfare impacts of traps and snares. As we have heard, NatureScot will review that in 2021, so I suggest that the petitioners have got exactly what they asked for. I am sure that our successor committee will review the NatureScot report, and I would like to think that it will scrutinise the matter fully at that point. Therefore, I see no point in extending the petition.
I agree. The petitioners called for a review and that is what is happening.
I agree with the points that Finlay Carson made. There are quite disparate positions on the issue. My party holds the position that the traps and snares should all be illegal, but there are many other views, on a spectrum. Although I am okay with having the petition closed on the basis of what Finlay Carson highlighted, it might be appropriate to highlight in our legacy report that there was a petition. The new committee should be aware that there are a range of animal welfare concerns, and there are concerns from people working in rural Scotland about how to deal with difficulties that occur for which traps and snares are used at the moment. There may well be alternatives—in fact, I understand that there are. Therefore, I am happy for the petition to be closed at this stage.
I guess that it shows that, when people lodge petitions, those can feed into the other work of committees and perhaps be addressed in other ways. We should keep that in mind.
Clearly, the petition has had a degree of success. The petitioners will have the opportunity to engage with the Scottish animal welfare commission. If what transpires is not satisfactory, the petitioners will have the option of lodging a fresh petition, as the convener mentioned, so I am minded to close the petition.
That will give NatureScot the chance to conduct the review.
Mark Ruskell has some reservations, but the majority view seems to be that we should close the petition and allow the review to take place. Are you satisfied with that, Mark?
It is key that we leave a firm milestone in our legacy report to allow our successor committee to come back to the issue following the NatureScot review of snaring. It would be disappointing if, after the review took place, the successor committee got very busy and did not return to the issue. I think that the petitioners would also be very disappointed if that happened. If we offer a clear view in our legacy paper that the successor committee should return to the issue, we will take the matter forward in an appropriate way. As the convener said, it is up to the petitioners to consider the outcome of the review. If there are still concerns about aspects of that and the animal welfare commission’s work on glue traps, the petitioners have the option of lodging a similar petition.
Okay—so we agree to close the petition. I totally take Mark Ruskell’s point about the legacy report.
Protected Beavers (Translocation) (PE1815)
PE1815 calls for the translocation of protected beavers in order to reduce licensed killing. We have not really had an opportunity to consider the petition, so we might want to consider keeping it open and passing it on to our successor committee for it to decide what it wants to do with it.
I definitely think that the petition should be kept open. It concerns a huge and, in some ways, controversial issue. There are arguments on both sides. An important study is taking place down in Devon, on the River Otter, and we will get a lot more information about translocation from that study. Beavers are on the agenda of just about every NFU Scotland meeting that I go to in Mid Scotland and Fife. There is a balance to be struck between ensuring that the natural world is protected and controlling the damage that is done to arable farms and many riverbanks, where beavers are clearly quite destructive. It is essential that the petition be kept open, because there is a lot more to come on the issue.
Although I do not agree with the petition’s ask because of the lack of information, it is important that the matter is kept high on our successor committee’s agenda, because there is a wide range of concerns regarding the reintroduction of beavers. The Parliament should keep a close eye on the matter. Given that the issues in the petition have not been addressed, I strongly recommend that our successor committee takes it on. I was going to say that the matter should be considered in the same way that we have considered the deer review, but let us hope that we can actually come to some conclusions. I suggest that we pass on the petition.
There are lots of issues—including some that the petitions that we are considering address—that we would have liked to have made space for in our work programme, but the session has been extremely busy.
It is important that the petition is kept open. We are a year and a half on from beavers in Scotland getting European protected species status and from the management regime being put in place, and there are questions around that. Some farmers in my constituency—they are probably the same constituents who have been talking to Liz Smith, given that we share a region—want beavers to be translocated out of Tayside and into the Forth valley.
There are issues about economic benefit and about mitigating and managing some of the negative impacts of beavers in inappropriate areas while also ensuring that we can bring positive economic benefit and natural rewilding benefits to areas that need them. Getting that management regime and the balance right needs a bit of care and attention during the next year, which is why I would welcome the petition being kept open.10:45
I agree that the petition should be kept open for all the reasons that have been stated. I want to put on the record, as I have in the past, that individuals in Scotland taking unilateral actions that lead to a reintroduction of species without proper consideration and management of the negative impacts that may arise in certain circumstances is utterly unacceptable. The individuals who are behind the introduction of beavers in Tayside continue to have my utter contempt.
We remember that a managed situation turned out to be an unmanaged one.
We agree that we will keep that petition open.
Single-use Drinks Cups (PE1636)
PE1636 calls for it to be made a requirement for single-use drinks cups to be biodegradable. We might want to consider closing the petition, because a great deal of work is being done by the expert panel on environmental charging and other measures, and what the petition is calling for is largely being addressed. The recommendation is that we close the petition. I do not know whether any colleagues want to come in on that. Do we agree to close the petition?
I see from members that we do.
Single-use Plastics (PE1755)
PE1755 is in a similar vein—it calls for all single-use plastics to be banned across Scotland. It is recommended that we close the petition. The petitioner could be encouraged to engage with the Scottish Government and the work that it will undertake following the report from the expert panel on environmental charging and other measures. The situation is similar to the one concerning the previous petition. Does everyone agree that we should close the petition, as there is a route for the petitioners to follow?
That is agreed.
No Wild Camping Zones (PE1751)
PE1751 calls for the creation of zones where there can be no wild camping. Again, the recommendation is that the petition be closed. That is because the necessary powers to create legislation to enable local authorities to create zones where there can be no wild camping are now in place, and the matter is also under consideration by the Scottish Government. I see that Finlay Carson wants to comment.
I am quite concerned. The petition specifically addresses wild camping, but I wonder whether we need to keep the petition open so that we can look at—[Inaudible.]—and how local authorities—[Inaudible.]
[Inaudible.]—quite substantial. We saw such issues in some rural areas last summer, when there was a massive increase in so-called “dirty camping”. [Inaudible.]—difference between wild camping and dirty camping. I am in favour of our keeping the petition open—[Inaudible.]—the implications and impact of an increase in visitors to rural areas.
It is suggested that—[Inaudible.]—as we know. Sadly, there are only two national parks in Scotland—[Inaudible.]—just exactly what compulsion or desire there is in local authorities to spend more money that they do not have to enforce that. Therefore, I would like the petition to be kept open.
You were breaking up a little, Finlay.
I remind members that the petition calls on the Scottish Parliament
“to urge the Scottish Government to create legislation to enable local authorities to create no wild camp zones in Scotland.”
Such powers now exist, so it might be the case that, if the petitioner still has concerns about the issues that you just mentioned, they might come back with a petition with different wording. In effect, their objective—as set out in the wording of the original petition—has been achieved, but we can discuss that.
That is a sensible suggestion, because the issue is not going to go away. It is true that the Scottish Government has taken on board that there are lots of issues in the petition that need to be addressed. I very much distinguish between wild camping and dirty camping, which are two completely different things that are hitting against each other. It is important for many of our rural communities that we continue to consider the issue. Perhaps it is a case of saying in our legacy paper that, although measures have been taken, which we support, we recommend that the issue is looked at again. The circumstances in some of our rural areas last summer were very distressing, and I dare say that local communities probably want us to continue to oversee the situation.
I agree with you. We need to mention it in our legacy paper. Just because legislation and powers are in place does not mean that dirty camping is not an issue, as you and Finlay Carson have said.
There is an argument that enforcement might be more appropriately dealt with by the Local Government and Communities Committee, particularly given that the issue that the petitioner raises has been dealt with. Perhaps it would be possible to close the petition but to highlight the issue to the relevant committee.
I agree with the convener’s recommendation. The petitioner has certainly got what they asked for, but I endorse the idea that we address the issue in our legacy paper. As Angus MacDonald said, the issue should be highlighted to the Local Government and Communities Committee; it is certainly worth monitoring. In this instance, the petition can be closed, because it has achieved what it set out to achieve.
I back Angus MacDonald’s helpful suggestion. As well as enforcement, there is the issue of resources for wild camping in Scotland. Last summer, I did a bit of wild camping on Loch Tay and it was really busy. There are people who want to do wild camping responsibly. There is a wider economic issue about domestic tourism that the Parliament should be aware of.
Dirty camping is a straightforward enforcement issue. It is appropriate for the Local Government and Communities Committee—in whatever format it takes in the next parliamentary session—to consider that, particularly as we head into this summer, which will probably be even busier.
That is a good suggestion. We will do that. We will close the petition for the reasons that we have all stated, take up Angus MacDonald’s suggestion and mention the issue in our legacy report.
Greyhound Racing (PE1758)
PE1758 is on putting an end to greyhound racing in Scotland. We have received a considerable amount of correspondence from the petitioner and the supporters of the petition.
We need to discuss what to do with the petition. The Scottish animal welfare commission has been established, which has included the issue in its work plan, and we would encourage the petitioner to engage with the commission. However, we need to decide whether we want to hand on the petition to a successor committee, given that we have not taken an awful lot of evidence on it ourselves.
I would be disappointed if the committee closed the petition because there has been no progress in the past year on the need to enhance welfare standards for greyhounds. We recently examined the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill—it is now an act—in which we considered breeding and maximum penalties for welfare offences. However, the nature of greyhound racing and the way in which the industry conducts itself mean that it is often difficult to bring to bear cases and prosecutions in relation to animal welfare offences. The breeding aspect in relation to greyhounds is less of an issue; it is more about how the animals are treated and kept when they are in that racing environment.
I do not think that the legislation has addressed any of the concerns that the petitioners have. I am disappointed by the response from the Scottish animal welfare commission, because I would have expected such a long-running issue with a lot of public support to be at the top of its agenda. Although it appears that it might consider the issue as part of a longer-term work plan, there are clearly issues in the racing industry in Scotland now. Unregulated tracks are in operation, including in my region of Fife. We need action now; the need to consider the issue as an industry that has a very particular form of self-regulation is critical. It does not fit into some of the wider animal welfare issues that we have been concerned about. There is more to unpick and I would like to see the petitioners given the opportunity to address a parliamentary committee—not in this session, because we have run out of time, but certainly in the next session.
Again, sadly, the work programme pressures that we have been under have not allowed us time to take evidence.
Given that the new Scottish animal welfare commission has suggested that the issue will be included in its work plan, I suggest that we write to it asking it to review it in a shorter timescale rather than a longer one. We have brought in new legislation about breeding and so on, which will make some difference. However, I suggest that we write to the commission to ask it to deal with the issue in a timelier manner, given the concerns.
Although I suggest that we close the petition, I hope that the petitioners do not consider that we are not taking the issue seriously; I believe that the right body to investigate it further is the Scottish animal welfare commission. I suggest that we ask it to report back to the new committee in the new Parliament as soon as possible with any concerns that it has around animal welfare issues for greyhounds at licensed tracks.
A number of constituents have approached me on this subject—and, indeed, brought rescue greyhounds to meet me—over the years. I feel very uncomfortable about the existence of unregulated unlicensed tracks—the so-called flapper tracks. The current arrangements are not adequate to protect the interests of greyhounds. I would prefer to see the petition kept open until we see a more definitive resolution to the issues that are properly being raised by people. Although I will not divide the committee on it, because there will be ways for the issue to be pursued whether we agree to keep it open or close it, my preference would be to keep it open.
I would like the committee to keep the petition open. I am aware of the issues that there have been at the Dumfries track over the years. I am also concerned that, as I understand it, the new Scottish animal welfare commission has not made the matter one of its priority issues. Although I agree with Fin Carson that it would be good to write to the commission, I would not feel comfortable with closing the petition until we get an answer. We will not necessarily have the opportunity to revisit the issue as a committee, but I would like to keep it open and highlight any response from the commission.
You are quite right, convener, that we have faced an enormous amount of pressure because of the legislation before us, but I feel that we as a committee have not taken enough evidence to be able to show how serious some of us—I will not speak for everybody—regard some of the issues to be. I am in favour of keeping the petition open and of highlighting it in our legacy report.11:00
I think that you are right. We should write to the Scottish animal welfare commission. Given that we are probably unlikely to get a response in time to—[Inaudible.]—we should keep the petition open and see what comes back. Your points are valid; we have not taken much in the way of evidence on the issue.
Finlay Carson made the useful suggestion of writing to the commission asking it whether it could bring this—[Inaudible.]—in its work programme in the short term. I think that we should do that and keep the petition open. If the commission is able to report back, that might help the future committee.
We must bear in mind that it will be for the future committee to decide what it does with the petition. After receiving a response, it might agree to take more evidence or it might make a different decision to ours.
I have listened to the comments and, on reflection, I am happy that we keep the petition open. As you say, it is up to the next committee to decide whether to do anything. However, the concerns are considerable enough that we should ask the commission to produce a report in any event, so that a report is on the table for the future committee to decide on whether it wants to progress the issue. That is important.
We should keep the petition open but write a strongly worded letter encouraging the commission to do some work so that the new committee has some evidence to work on.
Those are good suggestions. We agree to keep the petition open and will write to the Scottish animal welfare commission on the issues that members have raised and those that are in the petition.
We have discussed all the petitions, and the clerks have a record of which ones we want to close and which ones we want to keep open. A lot of the petitioners will have been watching, but we will contact all of them about our decisions.
At our next meeting, on 2 March, the committee plans to meet wholly in private to consider the legacy report and to continue consideration of our report on the climate change plan update.
That concludes the public part of our meeting. Thank you, colleagues.11:02 Meeting continued in private until 12:24.
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