LICENSING for the killing of protected animals lacks transparency and should be reformed, the Scottish Greens have said.

Almost 3000 Species Licences were issued in 2018 to allow otherwise-illegal activities such as the killing of animals deemed to be pests, according to information obtained by the party.

An estimated £450,000 of public money is used to fund the licensing system, which the Greens described as an “extraordinary” use of taxpayers’ money.

Responding to the figures revealed by the Scottish Government showing 2980 licences were issued last year, Alison Johnstone MSP questioned why the Government shoulders the financial burden, and said there was a lack of transparency around the system.

Johnstone, the Scottish Greens’ parliamentary co-leader, said: “This data raises serious questions about Scottish Natural Heritage’s commitment to transparency and ensuring protected species are only killed or disturbed as a last resort.

“As the public purse is bearing the cost of this activity, it shouldn’t take repeated questioning and Freedom of Information requests to force a government agency to be transparent.

“This information should be in the public domain. I will be asking for a full explanation as to how many protected species were killed last year and in what circumstances, particularly for those species that are in trouble such as mountain hares and grey partridge. It’s extraordinary that licensing for killing and disturbing protected wildlife is entirely funded by taxpayers.

“It’s perfectly normal for licences to be charged for in other sectors, so I’m calling on the Scottish Government to commit to making this scheme revenue-neutral so that Scottish Natural Heritage can spend their money on protecting wildlife rather than facilitating its destruction.”

The Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage were contacted for comment.