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The Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill

Wednesday 27th March 2024, 9:00am

New legislation for grouse and muirburn management was passed in the Scottish Parliament on 21 March 2024. The Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament for discussion and adoption in March 2023, making its way through the Committee amendment stages over the past year to become law.

With shifts and changes in our natural environment, arising through the twin climate and biodiversity crises, this new Act focuses on how land is used and managed in Scotland. The main parts of the Act are to do with regulating the use of wildlife traps, introducing licensing for grouse moor owners, and changes to the regulations governing muirburn. 

This new Act arose from a report from NatureScot in May 2017 that found that around a third of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland had disappeared in suspicious circumstances, on or around grouse moors.

In response to this report, Roseanna Cunningham, the then Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, commissioned an independent group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management (the Werritty review).  The group’s remit was to examine the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls, and advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.

The Werritty review group published their report in November 2019, making over 40 recommendations relating to grouse moor management including recommendations on grouse shooting muirburn, the use of traps, and the introduction of a licensing scheme for grouse shooting.

The Scottish Government considered the options and Introduced a Bill to the Scottish Parliament in March 2023 to address the report’s recommendations.

What does the new Act do? 

The Act is in two main parts, with the first dealing with wildlife management. Amongst other items like regulating wildlife traps, it introduces a new scheme which will require the landowner to have a licence for shooting red grouse, and introduces a code of practice for managing that land.

The second part changes the regulation of muirburn. Muirburn is often carried out to encourage new heather growth for grouse chicks, maintain the open upland heath, and reduce the risk of wildfires in dry periods. The existing muirburn season is the period from 1 October to 15 April. 

There was discussion during the Bill’s passage through parliament about whether the season should finish earlier to ensure that the muirburn season does not overlap with the nesting season for ground nesting birds, and also included amendments to the definition of what muirburn is.

The Act as passed now states that muirburn is “intended to cover only the burning of vegetation on a heath or a muir”, to differentiate it from other land management activities that may involve burning vegetation, and changes the legal muirburn season, now starting from 15 September and running through to 31 March.

Any land manager engaged in muirburn must also receive training in order to comply with the Muirburn Code, which gives advice on how to make muirburn safely and appropriately.