Scotland published a draft new law on Wednesday seeking to limit the impact of grouse moors and tackle the persecution of birds of prey, saying the nation’s natural environment must be protected.

Introduction of the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill would allow the government to licence grouse shooting estates and place restrictions on the burning of heather on peatlands, on condition of Holyrood’s approval.

The move drew support from conservation organisations, who want the government to take bold action to restore wildlife and habitats across Scotland’s vast upland landscape, as well as government officials who have been closely watching the continued persecution of birds of prey on some grouse moors.

Scottish Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said that the illegal killing of Scotland’s wildlife cannot be tolerated and that “grouse moors must be managed in a sustainable way ensuring any environmental impacts are minimised.”

She added that the regulation and protection of Scotland’s natural environment is an important issue for many, with over 4,500 responses received to the government’s consultation on the reforms.

The licensing of grouse moors takes place against a background of increased recognition of wildlife crime in the uplands, with frequent incidents of birds of prey having been found shot, poisoned, trapped and vanishing under suspicious circumstances.

Holyrood has long said that grouse moors implicated in wildlife crime could face their licences being restricted or taken away under the new rules.

Over recent years, conservationists have also raised the alarm over the burning of heather on peat moors to provide younger, fresher vegetation to be eaten by grouse, which are fired on in sports shoots.

More than 80% of Scotland’s peatlands are degraded, converting the fragile habitats from huge carbon stores into carbon emitters, with the Climate Change Committee recommending a complete ban on burning to protect peatlands from further harm.

McAllen said that the Bill will implement the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation, with a new framework set to be published outlining how the new rules will work and the specific circumstances when a licence to perform burning may be granted.

Wild Moors’ contribution to the consultation on grouse moor licensing in Scotland can be viewed here.